Last night, I searched out a piece of writing from late December 1978, when I had just arrived in Rhodesia at the start of an 18-month journalistic adventure, living through the end of the civil war there and the birth of Zimbabwe.
It was a classic piece of journalism from a young (just graduated) student journalist; where I interviewed students and administrators at the then-University of Rhodesia and uncovered a story about the new order; how students and friendly profs were secretly helping the student body prepare and cross over to the insurgency. (Reading the story, I’m quite amazed I wasn’t picked up by the authorities, arrested and deported — yet a few weeks later I received a work permit and a job as a sub-editor at the Bulawayo Chronicle.)
Looking ahead 40 years, we can see the writing through a different perspective. First, the old story published through the student newspaper wire service is now quite easy to retrieve online, even though back then it would have been available only in a few local places. In fact, research for any type of writing has become phenomenally easier. Critical facts are available instantly with a Google search; massive data archives can be retrieved within seconds. (I recall spending many hours in libraries researching material back then; going through files, dusty volumes, and reading, reading and reading some more.)
Second, while it was possible at great expense to “telex” stories half way around the world, journalistic organizations only saved this type of process for truly time-breaking material. (A small story would cost more than $100 to transmit.) So I wrote this story (and others) and went to the post office, and mailed it.
Third, and perhaps most important, the process of researching and writing was a one-to-many exercise, based on training, expertise, and journalistic talent. In 1978, I created my own opportunity by travelling at my own expense to a remote part of the world, finding a local job, and filing stories back to Canada to a national news service which paid a pittance for each published story, but allowed me plenty of credibility.
Today, anyone can publish from almost anywhere (subject to censorship, blocking and threats of retribution, of course) and the whole process is instant and highly visual/responsive.
These changes reflect both your opportunity and challenges in marketing communications. The wold is much more open and accessible than ever before, but you have a much bigger challenge in rising above the noise and being heard with all the easily available messages.
The solution: Maintain your professional excellence and narrow your focus so that you can truly stand out among the people who really matter. In other words, while you won’t need to travel half-way around the world to write a story about a remote university, the ability to generate thoughtful content relevant to your market and audience will pay dividends; especially if you can repeat the performance over a sustainable time period.