Teaching the teachers

A few weeks ago, Time Inc. announced that it was committing its senior managers to participate in a company-wide training effort to share best practices. This got me thinking about my own experience, teaching candidates for NYU’s M.S. in Publishing degree. I wonder if we’re doing the right thing in either case.

Insert the “don’t get me wrong” clause here: I am a big proponent of developing the next generation of publishing professionals. When the rules of the road are clear, that development can certainly take place in established ways using managers, directors and (even!) consultants with established professional credentials.

In this environment, though, the old training model raises two significant concerns: we’re training people now for the old jobs, not for the roles that will evolve in the next three to ten years; and we’re training staff in job skills (like “web marketing”) that will seem a quaint relic a stone’s throw into the future.

Publishers today face problems that demand a fundamental rethink of their business models, but the response to date has been largely decremental: cut most areas about the same relative amounts. Those cuts have fostered the idea that while the jobs may be harder, or less rewarding, the old skills, roles and processes haven’t really changed.

When I read about the relative health of the Financial Times, the Economist or Consumer Reports, publications that have consistently charged appropriately for their content (and foregone ad revenues that scale or a different corporate policy may have garnered), I see a canary in the coal mine. Teaching students how to launch and manage the next People may comfort those of us who launched ad-supported magazines, but it sidesteps the more important lessons about an era whose models no longer apply.

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.

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