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“We will rise from this abyss with experimentation, innovation and determination”: A Dickensian take on the media industry

Most of us naturally track our industry and know the score of what the plague and the media tech platforms (FANG) are doing to us. It is a toxic combination not only for our health but also for our careers and our business wellbeing.

I follow our industry very closely and read of layoffs and closures almost every day. We all read about them and absorb the data as shots from a sniper one information bullet at a time.  The article Advertising Slump During Virus Crisis Hits Media Jobs brings it into focus as a shotgun blast of intelligence right to the heart of our media industry. The entire global media workforce is shrinking. The plague and the media stress are a wide-spread phenomenon.

We are all hoping for a relatively fast vaccine and an equally speedy economic recovery.  When that happens, media will get back on track and rehire, reinvent and reestablish itself, but perhaps not as it was. We have all learned to do more with less. That is one of the new permanent conditions we will live with long after the new normal solidifies. Some of us might never work from an office again. Being self-employed I haven’t worked from an office since 1996.  This will be a change in lifestyles for many media professionals.

There are pluses and minuses. Between not commuting and lunches alone, I have saved a fortune in everyday expenses in the last 24 years. One of the minuses is the lost real-time relationships with co-workers and friends. The occasional drink together after work. But there is tremendous freedom working from a home office, and it can be accomplished from anywhere on the planet with a working internet connection.

As an example, in the last ten years I have been on the road for 920 days and visited 10 countries and 174 cities, some of them multiple times. (Data from In all that time, I have never missed my publishing news cycle.  

So, when we start the new part of our careers working solo, it can be an enjoyable experience. We just have to get through our tales of two careers.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us …”

Charles Dickens

Is it possible that Dickens was prescient and from the 1880s was forecasting the publishing business of the 21st century? How better to describe the current conditions of our industry in this COVID crisis? Is this not the best of times and the worst of times imaginable? Does not the media industry reflect a tale of two cities – one of prosperity and one of deprivation? We have parts of our industry that are doing well, while in other sectors, there is great angst, job loss, and contraction.

Do you know that Dickens’ second to last paragraph in A Tale of Two Cities also forecast the modern magazine industry?

“I see a beautiful city and a brilliant people rising from this abyss, and, in their struggles to be truly free, in their triumphs and defeats, through long years to come, I see the evil of this time and of the previous time of which this is the natural birth, gradually making expiation for itself and wearing out.”

Dickens is correct we will rise from this abyss with experimentation, innovation and determination. We will continue to entertain, educate and provide for the needs of a reading public. I am confident this observation is part of the still-evolving new normal of business models created and adjusted to on the fly through a global pandemic.

Yes, our industry will never be the same. We will never be the same. But I think a strong case can be made that it will hopefully and eventually be a better, more stable, and once again a beautiful place in which to work.

There are dark shadows on the earth, but its lights are stronger in the contrast.

Charles Dickens

Bo Sacks
President, Precision Media Group

This commentary originally appeared on Bo Sacks daily newsletter and is re-published with kind permission. You can subscribe to Bo’s e-newsletter here.