Children's Media Career Symposium April 12, 2018

Students and early career professionals spent a wonderful spring evening at Temple University’s Annenberg Hall for the Children’s Media Career Symposium Thursday, April 12, 2018.

The goal of the event was to explore new developments in the children’s media industry and illuminate different avenues and career paths within it for interested students. By bringing together panelists from a close-knit industry, many of whom already knew each other, the event was able to dive right into expert analysis and real-world experiences pertinent to those in attendance.

The night’s agenda included two panels: Trends in the Children’s Media Industry and Career Opportunities. To kick things off, Sherri Hope Culver, director of the university’s Center for Media and Information Literacy, welcomed the attendees and panelists.

The Trends in the Children’s Media Industry panel was led by David Kleeman, Senior Vice President of Global Trends at DUBIT International. Kleeman moderated a conversation between:

  • Ed Greene, Vice President for Children, Youth, and Digital Media Literacy Initiatives at the Hispanic Information and Telecommunications Network
  • Meredith Halpern-Ranzer, Chief Executive Tinkerer at TINKERCAST
  • Linda Simensky, Vice President of Children’s Programming for PBS
  • Michael Fragale, Vice President of Education and Children’s Content at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting

To break the ice, Kleeman first had each panelist detail the moment they knew they wanted to work in children’s media, and their answers reflected the variety of pathways that can lead into the field. Kleeman, for one, initially wanted to be a pre-school teacher. Both Green and Fragale found their inspiration in professors during an undergraduate class. Halpern-Ranzer discovered her passion from behind a film camera. Only Simensky knew she was destined to work in children’s media, saying at 13, “I think I’d like to write for Bugs Bunny.”

Kleeman posed a critical question to the group: what’s the biggest trend you see in children’s media right now? Each panelist agreed that family engagement with media has come full circle.

With the advent of the radio and television, families once gathered around the same device to enjoy media together. But as those devices got smaller and smaller, media offerings began to target specific ages and audiences.

“I think there’s just such an abundance of media now and people are so overscheduled right now that when they do find time to unwind they really want that time to count with their family.” Halpern-Ranzer said. “I think people are hungry for human connections and looking up from their screens.”

“I think people are hungry for human connections and looking up from their screens.”

Simensky shared that the children’s media world used to emphasize “co-viewing,” encouraging parents and children to watch (or “consume”) media side-by-side, though they sometimes found they actually didn’t watch together. Now, she said, PBS has been experimenting with “Family Night” programming and “what we’re seeing is that parents are watching. They want something they can watch with their kids.”

Greene noted that another big trend in the industry right now is creating experiences for different platforms and mobile devices, as families seek diverse sources and content that they may not be able to find on mainstream cable channels.

This multi-device media diet creates overwhelming choices for consumers, especially for children. To counter this, Kleeman said he’s found children are taking to “emotional scheduling,” or self-selecting the content they wish to view and building their own schedules around it.

A prominent theme of the panel was the increase in children's ability to participate as creators. Children receive mobile phones and other devices at younger and younger ages, and they know how to use these devices to create videos and music.

Despite this increase in participation, representation is still an issue in much of the mainstream media and thus the panel agreed increasing representation of different races, genders, cultures, abilities, and perspectives is crucial.

The panel later opened up to questions from the audience. The first was posed by a graduate student studying children’s media. She asked whether, in light of Disney’s promise to create a streaming service to compete with Netflix, do the panelists expect most big companies to go a similar route until we’re all paying an online bill filled with so many subscription fees it simply replicates a costly cable bill?

Unfortunately for cable cutters looking to trim their bills, the panelists agreed that there’s just no way to tell what will happen. Greene mentioned that HITN is even trying out a video on demand model and Halpern-Razner’s company is trying a membership program where listeners can support the content they enjoy, but others aren’t denied access.

Simensky noted, however, that large corporations aren’t just going to let Netflix win the streaming wars and walk away. “They will figure out a way to survive,” she said. “We don’t know what that will look like but it’s safe to say it won’t just be Netflix and everyone else will give up.”

“We don’t know what that will look like but it’s safe to say it won’t just be Netflix and everyone else will give up.”

Another student asked, how are content creators trying to get parents and children to co-engage with their media?

Kleeman argued that today technology is facilitating richer, multi-dimensional experiences -- the Pokemon Go craze, for example, he said brought families together.

Because our media diets are scattered over so many devices, Fragale emphasized that creators need to be thinking about how their work fits into someone’s day, making sure it’s accessible to audiences in many contexts.

“We have to be available to the consumer whenever and wherever they want,” he said.

The Career Opportunities panel was moderated by Sherri Hope Culver and featured:

  • Alexandra Cassel, producer at Out of the Blue Enterprises and writer at Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood
  • Evan Baily, an independent producer
  • Courtney Wong, Director of Content and Research Evaluation at Sesame Workshop
  • Makeda Mays-Green, Senior Director of Interactive Research at Nickelodeon.

To start the panel, Culver had each of the guests explain how they got their jobs so attendees could understand the many pathways into the industry. Cassel studied media and psychology and always knew she wanted to marry her two passions. She thought children’s media would do the trick and used the Children’s Media Association job board to look for career opportunities. She landed a spot working on Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, where she’s been ever since. Now she manages the CMA job board and recommended each student in attendance give it a look.

Baily got his start interning at Nickelodeon, while both Wong and Mays-Green began their careers interning at Sesame Workshop. Each panelist stressed the importance of not only completing an internship before graduating, but also requesting informational interviews from others in the business along the way; interviews that focus on learning about different jobs, not on getting hired.

As Cassel noted, those in the children’s media industry are generally happy to take informational interviews and these meetings can be a huge help for students who know what industry they want to work in but not necessarily what job they’d like to have.

Baily agreed, and said they’re exciting for the interviewee, too. “It’s fun to tell our stories and talk about the mistakes that we’ve made.”

Wong suggested students do their research before an interview and use it wisely. Don’t spend precious time with an interviewee explaining everything you know; instead, use research to ask informed, specific questions.

“I like to know that you’ve done your homework and are asking really smart questions,” she said.

"I like to know that you’ve done your homework and are asking really smart questions."

Which brought Culver to her next question: how much experience do you expect someone to have when you’re considering hiring them for an entry-level job?

All agreed that passion for the industry and interpersonal skills were extremely important in the hiring process, often more so than someone’s resume. Mays-Green pointed out, “You can’t teach personality and passion.”

"You can't teach personality and passion."

No matter what someone’s level of work experience, all four panelists emphasized that great employers want to invest in their employees, so they expect employees to want to invest in their workplaces, too. That means a certain time commitment and an alignment of one’s personal brand and values.

During the question-and-answer period, a handful of attendees were curious about how to break into the industry without a degree in education or psychology or with only a seemingly unrelated job on their resume. Each time the panelists’ advice remained the same: don’t count yourself out!

That customer service job you’ve held for six years? “That shows commitment, real world experience, and great interpersonal skills. The fact that you have a relationship and you’ve sustained that relationship for an extended period of time says something about you. It says something about your ability to connect with people, to commit,” Mays-Green said.

Want to work in child psychology without a background in the field? “We’ve had interns and people that come from communications backgrounds that have a way of thinking very methodically that translates across all kinds of research,” Wong said.

Working as a performer? “Your ability to communicate, you might have that a little bit more, you may have worked more on that specifically...that may be a skill you already have,” Wong said.

The moral of the story: “Talk about what you bring to the table as opposed to what you don’t,” Mays-Green said.

“Talk about what you bring to the table as opposed to what you don’t”

With that said, specifically for children’s media, experience working with children is a huge plus – even if that just means babysitting. “It shows you have experience with kids and people are willing to trust with their kids,” Wong said.

The panelists were not shy about what candidates shouldn’t do on a resume, either. Absolute no’s include spelling errors, generic cover letters, and inflating a role to sound more prestigious than it is. As Mays-Green noted, you only get one chance to make a first impression.

The night concluded with students lingering to talk face-to-face with the expert guests. Surely, students in the audience came away with inspiration for their resumes and feeling confident that their passion will carry them far.

Many thanks to Aubrey Nagle who served as rapporteur for the event and this report. Find her on Twitter @aubsn

Weren't able to attend? Or just want to relive the great advice and conversation? See below to watch a video of the full symposium!

Created By
Abigail Turrisi

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