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Taylor Swift and the Future of Local TV News

taylor swiftTaylor Swift, as it turns out, knows a thing or two about the local TV news biz. Just look at the lyrics of her hit song “Ours”: the stakes are high, the water’s rough, but this love is ours. That could easily be said about the love many of us feel for working in television, a business rich with history, but roiled by change.

This morning, The Wall Street Journal published an essay by Swift on the future of the music business, where she argues all is not lost in the face of declining sales, piracy, streaming, and audiences facing an endless sea of digital distractions. “Music is art, and art is important and rare. Important, rare things are valuable. Valuable things should be paid for.” You could say the same thing for journalism.

Millie Tran, a writer and editor at the American Press Institute, shared Swift’s WSJ piece on Twitter, noting “it has a lot of parallels for the news industry.” And it really does.

Swift’s best advice, both to aspiring singer-songwriters and journalists hoping to keep viewers coming to local news—whether it’s at six o’clock or via a station’s iPad app?

“This moment in music is so exciting because the creative avenues an artist can explore are limitless. In this moment in music, stepping out of your comfort zone is rewarded, and sonic evolution is not only accepted…it is celebrated. The only real risk is being too afraid to take a risk at all.”

Just swap the word “news” for “music” and she’s suggesting newsrooms that sit back and hope a business model built in the 1950s will continue to chug away is shortsighted at best. And yet, how many local TV newsrooms are truly being innovative and taking risks?

Swift also notes the shift in how talent will be discovered and rewarded. In the past, music labels signed promising young artists and made them stars. Today, it often works in reverse. “In the future, artists will get record deals because they have fans—not the other way around.”

If you think Twitter’s something you do once you’ve got the job, to push out links to your work, well Taylor Swift might warn you some j-school student’s out there hustling stories and building an audience on YouTube. That combination of work—and built-in audience—could mean they get the big job you were angling for.

So pop on some Taylor Swift in the livetruck and think about the future. And, you know, be Fearless.

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