New Start

Title page of The Passionate Pilgrim
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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.

What do you think?

Thanks for reading.


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17 thoughts on “New Start”

  1. A story worth sharing, or so I think…

    I’ve been trying to observe my husband’s user habits more. That’s because despite my years in the media business and love of news, I’d consider him an ‘occasional’ news consumer. He does sit on at work all day. He sometimes reads the newspaper and sometimes watches a newscast. (Should I be admitting this?)

    One thing he really cares about is… FISHING! Just this weekend I heard a video playing from the computer room and this is what I discovered. My husband visits this site regularly: and watches the YouTube fishing reports posted there.

    Some examples:

    The site isn’t super fancy. The videos are likely from a FlipCam. The audio on the video I saw/heard was so-so… it was windy and the video was a little shaky… but my husband watched it ’til the end. When I started asking him questions about why he likes the site and the
    so-so videos, he said… “It’s the information I’m after.” I did not make this up.

    He’s part of a passion group. He checks in multiple times a day. He feels connected. And yes he does purchase stuff from these sites and he does donate dollars to what HE considers a worthy cause.

    There is great opportunity in changing the way we do things. What stuck with me from Peter Block’s book “Community” is the push for “associational life” vs. “system life.” Quoting from the book about associational life: “…referring to the myraid ways citizens come together to do good work and serve the public interest. Whether in clubs, associations, informal gatherings, special events or just on the street at breakfast, neighborly contact constitutes an uncounted and unnoticed glue and connection that makes good communities work.”

    Here’s to a great New Year!

  2. Great discussion already to start off the new year.

    As you both know I’m passionate about this:

    “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.”

    As I talk to people, who don’t work in the  media business, I see all the time that this is needed.

    But, I also think that there are several obstacles that we are facing.

    The community (not just here locally, but all over the place) has been conditioned so much on how to talk (or in many cases NOT talk to the media) that getting people to participate in anything public can be a challenge.

    Two recent examples:

    1) I sat on a local committee that was focusing on how to help kids reach their full potential and stay out of trouble. When I introduced myself as: “Christoph Trappe, I’m with SourceMedia Group, which owns and operates The Gazette and KCRG …”

    The reaction in the room was something similar to: “Oh…” as in: oh there’ll be a story…

    I continued: “but I’m not here to write an article, but if you’d like to file something I’d be happy to talk to you…”

    “Collective sigh of relief.” As you may imagine nobody new (who wasn’t participating already) talked to me about the offer.

    Now, I’m not saying everyone in the room had that same reaction, but many did. I even ran this by a couple of people on the committee to see if I misread the reaction and they agreed that I hadn’t.

    2) I talked to an organization, with a well defined mission, last week. We discussed how it would be great if they help us define some of the “critical issues” through one of the mechanisms ( that I’m currently aware of.

    We probably chatted for about 45 minutes. They kept the door open to participate but also made this point:

    Them: “So then people can offer their point of view.”
    Me: “Yes”
    “And then we should respond.”
    “Yes, that would help the conversation.”
    “We’d have to look at the resources needed.”

    (Please note: This is not word for word, but that’s the jist of it.)

    It takes work and training for the community and us to overcome this. 

    Lastly (for now), we have to invite people in to play: We want to hear from you … and not just through a phone call to a newsroom so we can see if we can fit the information into the newscast or into a newspaper brief.

    And then we have to be open to listen and respond when necessary.

    A journalist and I were talking about the “when necessary” part the other day, because sometimes it may not be necessary. We had a number of perhaps traditional “no response needed” examples and ended up finding things to say that would add to the conversation. It was a very eye opening conversation!

    On Shannon’s point: Great observation! I also do that (not for fishing, though). I like the Yankees, Redskins, New York Rangers and Iowa Hawkeyes in my free time. 

    I downloaded the ESPN SportsCenter App. on the iPad and it offers me a screen with just “my teams” news. It’s not extremely interactive (because as far as I can tell I can’t offer my input there) but it’s great because it’s all I want from Sportscenter. 

    Chuck: Any way to make this comment window a bit bigger? 

  3. Thanks Christoph. I don’t know the way to comment on the draft document, so just leave the comments here. I feel that it is incorporated by reference into this blog.

    As to the comment window, I don’t have control over it, but will see if someone else knows how.

    As to your experience, it seems similar to mine. We have the industrial command and control model in our heads, with heavy emphasis on control, credit and cash. The reason that I promote small groups with shared passion is that seems to be a way to keep the best of the industrial model, but move beyond it.


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  5. It’s invigorating and powerful when small communities coalesce around a shared passion and again when they take action. It’s spontaneous, though, and isn’t forced.

    If we provide the space where such spontaneity can happen, what does such a media company gain from it — besides residual good will and the energetic high of being within the perimeter of such passion and action? Those things are wonderful but don’t meet our covenants.

    The nagging, niggling damn-it-don’t-be-a-downer question remains: What’s the business model? We were asking that question five years ago at Northwestern’s Readership Leadership Institute. We’re still asking it. Diversification? Micropayments? Shared profits on e-commerce?

    Don’t mistake me, Chuck. I’m not quibbling with the vision. I LIKE THE COMMUNITY CONCEPT and have since we began fleshing it out 4-5 years ago. Being a catalyst is a wonderful role; ask any editor. So let’s be a catalyst for our communities.

    And keep looking for the business model.

  6. Annette, I prefer “darn-it…”, but then I’m pretty conservative with my speech.

    What I’ve learned about all of this during the past 20 months is that the “business model” is a journey, not a destination. The technology, business opportunities, tastes of consumers, demands of advertisers and changes to the market happen too rapidly (and too frequently) to ever figure and decide upon a set business model again.

    The key is to develop an ever-evolving and flexible business model based on the following:

    *All products have a beginning and an end. ALL products. You simply continue to evolve them based on the needs of the audience and keep them viable until they inevitably die and are replaced by something more relevant. Much like taking care of your own health, the more you ignore warning signs and don’t take action to improve things, the faster (and perhaps more painfully) you will die.

    *The health of the product is dictated by TODAY’S audience, not relative comparisons of yesteryear. Things move way to fast for historical comparisons to mean a whole lot moving forward. So, you have to balance and set a new bar for one product while moving to where some of that audience is shifting with others.

    *In my opinion, that’s where the community interaction and dialog takes over. The closer we get and the more we listen, the faster we can develop communication vehicles that audiences value, adveristers crave and new revenue streams will spring out of these conversations.

    We have to give up control of our products in order for communities to tell us what they want and what they will pay for.

  7. I’m encouraged by our new mission statement, Chuck. I wish our company spent a little less time planning and much more energy experimenting with new things, and empowering employees with ideas to develop possible solutions.

    I appreciate how quickly some areas of the company have already moved to connect and engage with the community. I’d like to see more skunkworks in action here.

    I have some thoughts about how we might further enable the community to connect and engage, and how we might accelerate towards node creation and proliferation as part of the Complete Community Connection vision. It’s a fairly simple approach that I believe is the least forced, while potentially returning immediate opportunities for traditional and new advertisers to connect with groups of consumers joined by their passions.

    I’m in the process of organizing my thoughts about this and hope to share details soon!

  8. Chuck,

    Well said! As my favorite systems scientist says, “A multiminded, socio-cultural system is a voluntary association of purposeful members in which the bonding is achieved by a second-degree agreement, which is an agreement based on a common perception.” 1st degree agreements require that actors only agree on a course of action while second degree agreement requires agreement on the why question.

    I think this is exactly the direction and intent of “why” you are advocating for and moving in this direction. Your comment: “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.” demonstrates this very thing. You are in essence trying to create an organization that helps people form a socio-cultural system – a group who agrees in the second-degree!

    As Jamshid also has taught me, “It is the shared image that constitutes the principal bond among members of a human community and provides the necessary conditions for any meaningful communication. . . culture can be transformed and reproduced by purposeful action and it is here that the key obstacles and opportunities for development are found.”

    Thank you for helping our community move forward in this line of thinking and action. I know many won’t “get it” but enough of us do that we can create the “tribes” necessary to make it happen.

    (And I just exposed you to a little Jamshid! 🙂 Despite my saying you didn’t have to read it, I really think you should so this is my attempt at influencing you.)

  9. Trace’s comment triggered an auto-alert, which caused me to go back through the comments here again.

    Yes, we need to figure out the business model. Annette is right. But what I’d suggest (this may echo Chris’s thoughts a bit), is that we don’t have to figure it out before we start diving in.

    In other words, it may be hard or impossible to discover the business model driven by creating a more highly engaged community when we haven’t yet figured out the ‘how’ and ‘what will it take’ part of building (or discovering and enabling) highly engaged communities.

    We need practice at that. We need to exercise those muscles and good at it if we believe (and I do) that doing so is critical to the future of our organization.

    Becoming skilled at providing this kind of service will make the business model opportunities easier to see.

    His isn’t such a radical thought, by the way. You don’t have to go back far to find a slew of articles on how, for example, Facebook was a great service but nobody had an idea on how to monetize it. We need to provide a great service that creates value for our community first. The question of how to monetize gets easier once you’ve created something people agree has value.

    What I really like about Annette’s comment, and what gets me fired up, is her pointing out that creating engaged communities like this is often what those of us in local media are passionate about in the first place.

    So … how do we become great at something we’re passionate about? And make a business out of it? That’s a great lens to view this through.

  10. Interesting discussion – but seems like a lot a avoiding the real issue – it’s not the business model it’s the content.
    You can try and connect with consumers by any variety of technologies – Apps, QR codes, Facebook pages etc, but if the content is boring – i.e not able to excite, stir an emotion, solve a problem than the rest doesn’t matter.
    You’ve reformatted the website on The Gazette but let’s face it – the content is still the same. (Boring/not engaging/not at all appealing to new users)
    You know when the most popular section of your paper/website happens to be the Obits – than that is a clear sign of a dying franchise.
    Take some risks – not in technology but in content and message
    The Gazette does not have the scale or resources to compete on tech – but given it’s expertise and passion for the CR community it can change the game on consumer engagement.

  11. Thanks David. As I just posted on Twitter, your comments are directionally aligned with where we are going. It is about content and connection, not technology.

    While many people love the newspaper in its current format, we are not doing all we can do to engage, connect and inform our communities. We are working on several initiatives, and I will be blogging soon on a recap of those.

    If you have a particular interest that you think would be of benefit to the community, please let us know.


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