Last summer, I stopped updating this blog, except for the Twitter feed, because we had started a transaction to buy the shares of the families that had owned our company for nearly 130 years, and create a structure that is owned by a trust for the benefit of the employees (ESOP). We completed our transaction with the family in December, 2012, and finalized our new governance structure last month. What has changed?
Not much, yet everything. We have the same management team and the same board of directors. Our view of our changing environment, and our need to make fundamental changes has not changed. However, those who make those changes happen will be the beneficiaries. In essence, we have created a structure to support those who create value in the emerging environment.
In preparing to write this, I reviewed the summaries from 2011 and 2012, and revised our Elevator Speech. It is nice to see that the themes remain the same, and to note the progress we have made, but it also highlights how hard it is for individuals and communities to change narratives.
Last month, I was asked by Jim Burke to lead a team in our newsroom to create information differently in the first instance by building substantive and authentic networks, reflecting the insights of those networks digitally, and only then reflecting those insights in our core print and broadcast products. After some planning with management, and a vacation, we started talking more broadly with the newsroom last week and announced this to the company yesterday. As noted in the updated Elevator Speech
Our journalists cannot presume community, and journal about it. We need constructors of local, actionable information, deeply engaged with core contributors within selected communities of interest, and in connection with those who can also contribute to that effort in service to the larger community of interest. … We announced this week that I will be working with Jim Burke, Kiran Sood and Sarah Binder to develop a model for this process focused on how we create value in Iowa’s Creative Corridor.
I am now trying to figure out how I boil this all down to 530 words for a printed announcement in The Gazette next week. My first inkling is to make the theme of that announcement an invitation. In order to make this work, we need the community to play with us in new ways. We need to invite them to do so.
Your thoughts on how I approach this announcement? Key points?
Several people have asked me to succinctly describe what we are doing. This is my best shot as of now. If you have a better way to describe any part of this, please weigh in!
We need to act like a startup company. Yes, we have a long history, and many assets, but the changes we need to make are so great that we are in effect a startup.
Every startup needs an elevator speech – a quick proposal to potential investors describing what they’ll do, why it is special and how they will make money, all within the time of an elevator ride.
In 1883, and 2003, our speech would have been:
We live in a geographical community, and will serve it by creating a product that journals major events in that community and brings in news of the world to that community. We will pay for this effort, and provide a good return to investors, by selling space next to those journals for commercial messages.
That view was developed in a time of information scarcity. Community was presumed, and distributing what had occurred was adequate. We were a fire hose, spraying information across the community, and renting a part of the stream for advertisers – an impression based business. This is generally a high cost model, with particularly high costs-per-unit for local information. Whether newspaper or television (which have both been ported to the web), the costs of gathering, producing and distributing local information are high. We have been following this model profitably for a long time, but our communities are not as engaged, connected or informed as they could be. This suggests we are not adding all the value we could be adding.
Today, just reporting what happened is not adequate. The digital revolution gives publishing power to everyone, and the cost of distributing “what happened” now approaches zero. When we provide a high cost newspaper or television program, the result must be a remarkable user experience.
We need to reduce our costs, and greatly increase our value. Many companies try the traditional budget cuts, but one of the more powerful methods for reducing costs can come from sharing the costs of production with a much larger network. We are doing some of that now with regional printing, but can do much more in broadcasting and digital production.
The increase in value can come from two divergent paths. The first is to begin to act as a convener on selected critical community issues. We expand our role from simply journaling, and truly engage knowledgeable and progressive community members to develop local, actionable knowledge.
The second is to give people precisely the information they want, when they want it, in the format of their choosing. Our approach to that daunting but immensely valuable challenge is to create atomized information that flows through user-defined applications directly to the user’s location via any device, in real time.
Both of those paths require completely different approaches, skills, technology and culture than we were using last year. We cannot make these changes all at once, but we can start today.
Today, our elevator speech is:
We curate a usable and valuable local information network, and provide access to it through products and services that are built to adapt to the needs and aspirations of the people who use them, in real time, where they are. We will pay for this effort, and give a return to our investors, by getting paid by entities for valuable attention to and transactions with them, in addition to traditional impressions.
To enable this startup to survive, we must have a strong group of associates, each creating new tools and capabilities with a common purpose of enabling the creation of strong communities, and stronger individuals within those communities. Our allegiance is to the network of information, not to any particular access point.
Our mission is clear, to Engage, Connect and Inform our Communities, but our tools and capabilities are weak, having been designed for outdated purposes. We need to curate local, usable information to enable individual action and the development of multiple communities of interest. We must also act as a model for and provide tools to others wishing to do the same in a local information network. We then provide access to that network through multiple points of entry – mobile, online, broadcast and print – with each entry point designed to create a remarkable user experience.
Our journalists cannot presume community, and journal about it. We need constructors of local, actionable information, deeply engaged with core contributors within selected communities of interest, and in connection with those who can also contribute to that effort in service to the larger community of interest. We are not alone in this view. Many have articulated the need for fundamental changes in local information. In recent examples, Jonathan Stray called for usable information and The Guardian reviewed its open door for those wishing to contribute. Jay Rosen at NYU summed up 25 years of thinking about these issues. We announced this week that I will be working with Jim Burke, Kiran Sood and Sarah Binder to develop a model for this process focused on how we create value in Iowa’s Creative Corridor.
Our salespeople are not just selling white space or air time. They are engaged with those entities seeking attention and transactions, enabling them to use the most effective means to achieve their goals. We have organized to provide that service, and describe it in this new video. Dan Conover wrote about changing the game for local advertisers in 2005. Can we do it now? Chris Edwards is leading the charge. His group is exploring many new options, including completely individualized printing through our new press at ColorWeb Printers.
Our product creators should not be stuck in the current forms, seeking prizes for current standards of excellence. For example, we are trying to engage the community in new ways through our locally produced broadcasts on 9.2. Tim McDougall and the team at fusionfarm are exploring digital products and services, including direct commercial transactions. Polly Forinash and the team at Colorweb Printers is exploring very innovative ways to marry print and digital marketing.
We are attempting a very difficult task – taking a legacy business and transforming it in very fundamental ways, while keeping the old business thriving. Many have said that it is too hard – that we should just continue the old business and create a new business separate from it.
Our key value is our relationship with the communities we serve. If we split those relationships, we will only confuse ourselves and our communities.
What do you think?
NOTE: This post was updated September 21, 2013 from a post originally posted on April 26, 2011. It was nice to see that the themes have remained the same. It was updated to reflect the start of fusionfarm, and the announcement this week that I am starting a new initiative in the newsroom.
Last week I was struck by a relatively simple statement, and have been repeating it all week.
Jay Rosen was in a conversation that allowed me to simply frame our situation. We used to have a business model based on:
Some things happened yesterday or today, let us tell you about them. As you pay attention to those things, we will put a commercial advertisement next to it and hope to get your attention.
That old business model is not sufficient. We need to have a business model based on:
Let us help all of us co-create actionable local information so that we have a better opportunity to understand, and make good decisions regarding, our current area of interest, whether civic, entertainment or commercial transaction.
Seems simple. Yet, changing that purpose requires great change – in our habits, attitudes and beliefs, our systems and processes and our end products.
This blog has chronicled our journey from an inkling four years ago that we were not on the right path, to exploration of ideas and alternatives, to laying out our structure for change.
We have had fits and starts, but we are on the path to achieve our change of fundamental purpose.
This is a most hopeful time for our communities and our ability to serve them — a time filled with possibility.
Many of us recognize the limitations of the industrial model, which has been so materially good to us, and the potential for small groups of passionate people, networked in new ways, to achieve great things in a manner which is very rewarding to each participant, making good use of their time in service to others.
This still means great changes in how our communities function and how we serve them. I would like to put all that into context.
So — this blog has a new look, and a new purpose. When I started this blog in April, 2008, it was a cry for help. I knew we needed a whole new approach, but could not articulate it, and was looking for help. Two years ago I began to discover others on the same path, many of whom are referenced on the media blog roll on the right. I was able to connect with those people because Steve Buttry encouraged my use of Twitter, which resulted in virtual, and real world, conversations with those trying to pursue a new direction. The blog then became a link exploration tool, trying to reach out for many perspectives. The last posts, focused on the use of this blog in employee meetings, were to frame the scope of the project in which we are engaged, and to attract a new management team.
Many have asked why I have not blogged since May. My first response is that I think I am continually blogging, by linking to ideas I think are interesting through Twitter. Then I discovered that my Twitter feed was not effectively displayed on many computers. I hope we have fixed that, and that you see the current feed on the right.
But more fundamentally, I had reached the point where I thought I had taken the conversation as far as I could. We had appointed a new management team in late April, and I wanted to give them space to define their own vision of the future.
So, the purpose of this blog is now changing to be support for them and reflections on what they are trying to do, and to link their efforts with our overall role in community development.
That management team has developed a new mission statement, which I think is very powerful:
Engage, connect, and inform our communities.
Our communities don’t need a new mobile application, website, newspaper or television broadcast. They need the ability to define the critical issues in the community, connect with those who care about those issues and have a trusted source of information about the issues. They need to reduce the friction in accomplishing their goals, including commercial transactions. We want to help our communities achieve those goals, and be the best global citizens they can be, by being strong and healthy at home, and connected to the world. Each community needs to define their goals, starting with the individual, and the connections that are meaningful to that individual — connections that we cannot imagine in our relatively small, centralized role, but which we can enable by creating information more effectively in the first instance, and letting anyone in the community do the same; by providing engaging user interfaces, whether mobile, online, print or broadcast; and by providing a marketplace so that all in the value chain are rewarded.
I have been fascinated by, and working on, organizational development for the last 25 years. I now recognize the limitations of any organization’s role to enable community development, but am encouraged by what small groups of people, doing what they do best and care most about, can accomplish when they are linked to others who share the same interests.
A short draft of my thoughts on organizational development can be found at this link.
We will be live blogging our employee review meetings at 10 AM and 2 PM on Tuesday, May 4. This will be the first time that we have live blogged an annual review meeting, following our annual board and shareholder meetings, which were held last week. You can follow live, and contribute comments and questions, at the CoverItLive site noted below.
Last year at this time we were undertaking a major reorganization of the company — both to survive the most precipitous decline in revenue we had ever experienced and to position us for the speed and flexibility we need to thrive in the fast-changing local media world we are going to be experiencing for some time to come. I am very thankful that our team was able to cut expenses commensurate with the revenue decline so that Continue reading “Year in Review and Work Plan”
Our company is blessed with very strong brands, including The Gazette and KCRG. As I mentioned here recently,
We have created deep emotional ties to our products, both within our company and within our communities. We need to begin to create emotional ties to an integrated local information ecosystem, and the multiple ways we can access that system. That requires a definition of a brand promise and a new way to talk about the system, without regard to our existing products, which all have strong brands.
At the most basic level, this information system will be designed to provide an individualized two-way flow of information. While we want to still be the trusted source of accurate information, we need to have a brand to Continue reading “Branding a System of Information”
When I started this blog, in April, 2008, all I knew was that we needed to explore new ways to fulfill our mission of being the “information provider of choice”. After 21 months of exploration and experimentation we have a plan that needs to be executed.