McGuire on Media

The lessons of Brad Flora

A lot of big thinkers organized and participated in last week’s Summit of Deans, Faculty, Students and Journalists sponsored by Carnegie Corporation of New York in partnership with the Paley Center for Media. The session was entitled Journalism in the Service of Democracy and a pretty fair summary can be found in this press release. 

What can’t be found in that press release, or anywhere else, is the excitement and indictment jointly represented by Brad Flora

Flora is a student at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism. Flora talks fast, loud and convincingly.  That speed talker in those old Fed Ex commercials would blush at Flora’s fast-talking salesmanship. Passion, thy name is Brad. He is one of the students who worked on one of the excellent Carnegie/Knight projects designed to explore innovative storytelling techniques.  This is foundation money being put to its finest use.

The web site featuring four very different presentations is worth spending a lot of time visiting. And the Christian tattoo project Flora worked on with his smart-as-a-whip, but much quieter, colleague Ben Helfrich is revealing for both its insights into Christian zeal and ground-breaking storytelling. These young men are obviously accomplished by any traditional storytelling standard and they proved they can bend every traditional boundary to make their stories more effective in a multimedia environment.

Provocateur that I am, I asked Brad what he’d do if Ii gave him $100,000. I will protect the young man’s intellectual property, but to my old media, hidebound mind he will make some savvy investor big-time money. I was blown away by his creativity, his practicality and his passion.  He knows story-telling, he knows local news and he fits in no newspaper box of which I’m aware.

So you might say, where is the indictment?  At a conference in which some very smart folks told the educators media has to figure out how to give true value to readers and they need to tap into the minds of young people to find that value, Brad Flora can’t find a job he wants.  Hell, he can’t find anybody who will stay in a conversation with him.

This young man sold himself and his ideas to me. I was actually thinking about how ticked my own kids would be if I gave him the 100 grand. Then he told me traditional media at traditional job recruitment fairs can find no place for him. He says everyone wants to make him a web developer, or a video producer, or a  reporter. “But I want to do all of that,” the young man insisted to me. He can’t quite figure out why the traditional media wants to treat him so, well, traditionally. 

He’d like to build web ideas from the ground up and then produce all sorts of content for those sites, but when he tells recruiters that they sort of clam up and move him along. They have specific spots they need to fill and “big thinker’ apparently isn’t one of those spots. They want copy editors, reporters, web developers etc. Creative entrepreneur is not on their list of job descriptions so goodbye, Brad.

A few months ago I got the stuffing kicked out of me by another blogger for saying newspapers are not doing enough to innovate. I won’t pretend to be an innovation guru, but it is pretty clear to me that if we won’t let young innovators in our door because they don’t fit into our preconceived notions innovation is only a fond dream. The people who understand what the future will look like do not have to play by the old media company rules.  They are going to invent their own rules with us or without us.

Smart entrepreneurs (or, gasp, traditional media companies) are going to gather hundreds of these bright thinkers, give them that $100 grand and take half the profits. That’s the real future of news unless newspapers hire the Brad Floras out there and let them run. Their innovation and experimentation needs to be encouraged and nurtured, not stapled, spindled and mutilated to the point that they think like everyone else in a newsroom.