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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Media: everyone worries about its survival, nobody knows how to make the Web pay, and for more people every day, it's a first-class ticket to layoffs.
That's the business that executives who came to the Reuters Global Media Summit this week said would be good for their children -- or yours -- to consider as a career.
They're kidding, right? Wrong.
"Absolutely. It's exciting!" said George Bodenheimer, head of Walt Disney's (DIS.N) ESPN cable sports network, when asked if he would advise his children to join the media industry. "It changes all the time, it has great people, it's a growth business."
Media is changing: newspapers, magazines, television and radio stations, even big-name websites are suffering from advertising sales declines. For some, the ads they need to survive will never come back.
As those ad dollars vaporize, so do jobs. U.S. newspapers alone have shed tens of thousands of jobs in the past three years, and if you work in media today, the chances are that you know someone who no longer does.
That's not different than many other industries. Take automakers and phone companies that sometimes slice away thousands of "redundancies" at a time. But media people cover their own beat in a more intimate way than other businesses, and journalism about the sector lately has highlighted how unstable it has become.
Still, executives said, media is malleable and people use it in different ways over time. That makes it a business that is always worth exploring for a career, they said.
"When my father was born, the industry I've spent my life in, television and the Internet, didn't really exist," said Virgin Media Chief Operating Officer Andrew Barron. "I suspect my kids will work in an industry that didn't exist when I was born in 1965, and almost anything techie and most of media counts."
People who believe in the value of "content" -- the media jargon for entertainment, news and any other kind of programing -- espouse a confidence in media that can feel more like an unshakable belief.
"I think, fundamentally, content has value," said Nikesh Arora, president of global sales operations and business development for search engine Google Inc (GOOG.O). "I think the crisis at hand in the content industry is a distribution problem, not a content value or a content consumption problem. So I definitely would send my daughter into the media industry."
Then there's the fun factor. "It brings together three or four of the key things that make life exciting: technology, entertainment and ... the whole business side of things," said Mike Fries, chief executive of Liberty Global (LBTYA.O).
Not everyone sees the positive side of the media equation. When asked if he would advise his children to get into media, Epix Chief Executive Mark Greenberg replied, "I guess so."
"My son's at Syracuse (University) in communications," said Greenberg, head of a new movie channel owned by three Hollywood studios. "It's too late."
"Who knows where they end up," he said. "I was a poli-sci major with a minor in Western civ in college."
Still, he said, it is a fun business because every day is a new one. "It isn't like we have a formula, that you put some syrup and club soda together and package it."
And for some, like ESPN's Bodenheimer, media might look like a steadier job than some.
"I have a daughter who's an actor," he said.
(For summit blog: blogs.reuters.com/summits/)
Editing by Steve Orlofsky