Thoughts on The 10 Worst College Majors

[This article was first published in April, 2013, on my blog.]

I’ve been thinking a lot about careers in media recently.

It started with a recent blog I wrote, called: “Can You Still Have a Career in Editing?” which generated a LOT of comments, both pro and con.

Then, I was asked to moderate a panel as part of the Post-Production World at the 2013 NAB Show, discussing “The Future of Editing,” with Scott Simmons, Jeff Greenberg, Michael Cioni, and Tibor Spiegel. With more than 100 people in the audience, we had a wide-ranging, thoughtful discussion of our industry. (Sadly, our conversation was not recorded. However, I reference some of the key points that were made, later in this blog.)

Then, this week, Forbes ran an article, based on research from Georgetown University, called “The 10 Worst College Majors.” Georgetown analyzed career prospects and expected salary and mapped them against popular majors.

Well, when it comes to filmmakers, the results could be worse, but not by much. While Anthropology took the highly-uncoveted number 1 spot, Film, Video, and Photographic Arts ranked #2. Fine Arts was #3. Music #6. Graphic Design #8. How Dance managed to avoid this list amazes me. Otherwise, it was a clean sweep for the arts.

Desolation everywhere you looked. Gosh, this is depressing.

I have a hard time justifying studying media as a major today. However, I think media is an essential minor, as a support for whatever else you are learning. I teach my students at USC, none of whom are filmmakers, that their ability to succeed in business in the future will be based upon their ability to use images – both still and moving. Media skills today are similar to when I was going to high school and took a one-semester touch-typing course. NOTHING I’ve taken before or since, has been as essential to my career as that one skills class.

As I wrote in my earlier blog, I think we are in a “best of times/worst of times” situation. Visual literacy, the ability to communicate and tell stories using both still and video images, is an essential skill today. The need for this ability will only increase in the future, because, for a variety of reasons, reading has fallen into disfavor. Watching videos is the new norm.

Yet, there are so many new people trying to create careers in a media industry that can’t support them, that not enough newcomers are able to make a living at it.

I think careers in media are cyclical and are clearly tied to the economy. When the economy is doing well, companies and people are willing to spend on video. When times get tight, they aren’t. The last ten years have clearly illustrated the validity of this concept. Yes, it is getting cheaper to create media, but, in many cases, the media we create is “cheaper” as well; less visually interesting, more like an illustrated radio show.

However, I don’t think the answer is to give up.

At the NAB panel, I asked Jeff Greenberg if his training business had dried up. He said that training will always be in demand, as long as we focus on more than the technology. We need to focus on using technology to tell stories.

Here, I disagree with my good friend Norman Hollyn, who preaches the mantra that “story is everything.” To me, a successful career in our industry is built upon Four Foundations:

1. Our ability to use technology
2. To tell stories
3. That other people want to watch
4. By building on strengths that are unique to each of us.

Each of these is essential – but the last point is a bit obtuse. Before I explain it, though, let me talk about the first three.

Clearly, if we don’t know how to shoot or edit video, we need to partner with someone who does, if we want to tell a story. If we do know how to shoot and edit video, but don’t have anything to say, we also need to partner with someone who can tell stories. Partnerships and collaboration are long-standing elements of successful people in our industry. Very, very few people have all the necessary skills to do everything. And, the sooner a newcomer realizes that they don’t have to do everything, the sooner they start creating professional grade work by collaborating with people that can fill in the missing blanks.

But story-telling isn’t enough. We need to tell stories that others want to watch. Otherwise, we are shouting into the wind, with as much effect.

For me, though, my fourth foundation suggests a way to create a career. What strengths do you have that make you unique? I don’t speak Spanish, so I would lose a potential job to someone that does. Spanish isn’t my strength, but perhaps it is yours.

Or, I have no interest in motor sports. Someone that does would make a much better videographer than me, because they are leading into a strength – a love of motor sports.

One of my strengths is an ability to speak well in public. I enjoy it – a lot. And I’m good at it. But, that’s been true all my life. I don’t really consider it a strength, because its always been part of me. This is true for many of us, we worry about what we can’t do and minimize what we can; because “well, that’s always been easy for me.”

Taking the time to evaluate what makes you unique will give you the edge you need to explain to clients, and audiences, why you are exactly the person they need to tell their stories. A man who shoots weddings and a woman that shoots weddings can both create beautiful videos, but they won’t be the same. Each brings their unique perspective to the images and story they create.

And building on those personal strengths, combined with a knowledge of technology to tell the stories audiences want to watch, is the best way to build a career; whether you are just starting out, or have been in this industry for a while.

As always, I’m interesting in your comments.


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