The house was packed with interns in the enviable position of hearing reflections on the media industry and the individual career paths and choices of senior executives. The tables then turned during breakout sessions where the 1stFivers had the opportunity to reflect on their summer experiences and project on their future prospects in media.
Mollie Rosen, Executive Vice President, 4As, led a spirited discussion about their individual internships, their projects and organizations, and most importantly their perception of the media industry. With skillful prodding and honest inquiry Rosen was able to engage these young people who shared their visions for future roles in the industry and important takeaways that even established leaders should heed.
- Uncertainty Is Opportunity. The only thing certain about business is that it is uncertain. The media business is ground zero for disruption and these interns know it. Of the 10 jobs that didn’t exist 10 years ago more than half of them are in media or are media adjacent. As much as this might be cause for trepidation for an uncertain job market the interns were enthusiastic. The uncertainty in the industry was viewed as an opportunity to find their niche. Rather than walking into an industry where job turnover might mean the end of a career their prevailing notion was there was a new job, a new segment, a new field that was waiting to be created. They cited being flexible and a high willingness to learn as the two primary assets needed to have a successful career.
- Academic versus Professional. When asked whether their academic work prepared them for the summer the majority of students felt that it hadn’t. It didn’t appear to be a failure of any particular school or program. Instead they cited how different, casual and intense actually working in media was on a real-life day-to-day basis vs their expectations. Classroom work might be adequate for a general overview but it could not take the place of active mentorship, projects and client interaction.
- Let Us Be Us. In the earlier session Myers emphasized the need for this generation to stake their claim as Generation Z. Gen Zers, he offered, are distinct and apart from Millennials and should be recognized for its unique characteristics. He praised their willingness to exist on a spectrum that embraced peoples’ racial, cultural and sexual backgrounds and perspectives. As much as the interns believed they were distinct they questioned exactly how and by what measure. They offered pushback as to exactly what their generation was and what they could become. Many students talked about being resistant to the idea of belonging to a generation at all. “Let us be us” was their shorthand for not wanting to be defined or placed in any one box. Many suggested they had the traits of Millennials while also understanding the yet unnamed “kids” that are younger than they are.
In many ways what they described was a conscious decision to adapt to what was expected of them, given the audience. In short, they mirrored the generational traits, as needed depending on the situation. This phenomenon parallels to what is popularly known as “code switching” among people of color, particularly African Americans. Code switching is defined in linguistics as occurring when a speaker alternates between at least two languages. In a cultural context it has come to be defined as the ability to move between the dominant culture and home culture. This type of natural cultural behavior was a prevalent thread throughout their conversation.
As the session wrapped up, the interns’ enthusiasm remained strong. Their reflections on their summer experience held the promise of long and winding careers in media. They might not know all the answers but they seemed unafraid to ask questions and comfortable with doing the hard work to blaze their own trail ahead.
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