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.