I was once waiting for a plane whose take off had been delayed and a well-dressed but obviously annoyed fellow passenger sat down next to me grousing about the airline, so I struck up a conversation to help him take the edge off.
"Going out or coming home?"
"Out," he said. "Speaking at a medical conference."
"Oh? What's your field?"
I thought that was fascinating and asked a few questions, like where he was educated, where he did his residency, how many years, etc. and we had an interesting discussion of his field. Then, being polite, he asked what I did.
I always struggle with that question. I've used the terms journalist and PR consultant, but in the past 10 years those terms have acquired inaccurate and unfavorable opinions about what they are. I've tried using professional communicator and content strategist for about 6 years, but even when I offer a simple explanation people have a hard time with the concept. So I've fallen into a pattern of just saying,
"I'm a writer."
That description, however always generates the same response, which makes me cringe... and the doctor used it.
"Really? I've often thought about doing some writing."
So I looked at him and said:
"That's interesting. I've been thinking about taking up brain surgery."
He wasn't pleased.
I've been a working in the field of human-to-human communication since I was 17 years old in both broadcast and print media, technical communication, editing, public relations, marketing communications and now in content development. I have a degree in journalism. It took me a good 10 years as a professional just to get to the point I felt adequate. Over the past 45 years I've spent every waking minute studying the art and practice of communication, reviewing technologies, honing my skill. I don't mind it if people want to enter into the profession and I highly encourage it, especially since I believe it will be entering the golden age soon. But it really annoys me that people think it requires absolutely no skill, dedication or knowledge to do.
I appreciate the ability of the web to lower the barrier for people to publish content because it truly simplifies my work, as well. But just because you can create a website and populate it with pictures and words does not make you an effective communicator, or a journalist, or even a writer.
It is said if you put an infinite number of monkeys in a room with an infinite number of typewriters, eventually they will produce the works of Shakespeare. There are not, however, an infinite number of monkeys and it's hard to find any typewriters anymore. If you really want to be a communicator, get ready to do some work and, for crying out loud, ask for help.
A good place to fine it will come in October at Information Development World coming to San Jose, October 22-24, organized by Content Rules and the Content Wrangler. This is the first big step toward making content development a serious profession.