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”
Two weeks ago, I outlined the new mindset, tasks and organization necessary to create C3. The week following, our senior managers met, and determined that we needed to really work hard to make sure that at least the top couple dozen managers in our company deeply understand the issues, so that we can divide up all the work that needs to be accomplished, and move faster.
Last week, a dismal week for our industry, I thought we made real progress in having our management team see what needs to be done, and to sign up for the task. Others played off the dismal/hope dichotomy. Steve Buttry summed up the dismal week and his hope for the future in his review of the week. Clay Shirky, the guru of hope, love and community, started quite a conversation by saying that this dismal week was predictable a decade ago. The Crunchberry team visited, and gave us not only a very hopeful prototype of a new organization of local news, but gave us recommendations for journalists which C3 embraces, and a list of what drove the prototype. ContentBlogger foreshadowed the dismal week, then echoed much of our C3 approach as the way to go.
The Harvard Business Review noted this week how hard it is to adapt a new business model:
Why is it so difficult to pull off the new growth that business model innovation can bring? Our research suggests two problems. The first is a lack of definition: Very little formal study has been done into the dynamics and processes of business model development. Second, few companies understand their existing business model well enough—the premise behind its development, its natural interdependencies, and its strengths and limitations. So they don’t know when they can leverage their core business and when success requires a new business model.
We have acknowledged that we need a new model, mindset, tasks and organization to move from the franchise megaphones of newspaper and television to an interconnected ecosystem of local information, available on all platforms, created “with and by” the communities we serve. We know that we have to separate content creation from product creation. We know that we need to develop a network of people creating blogs and wikis on key topics and communities. We know that we need to develop a common technical framework for that creation of content. Commercial content likewise must created in a more atomized and fluid way.
Entrepreneurial journalists will lead the way. Without them, we have nothing to offer. We need to create the systems to support them. In order to do so, we need to focus not only on the tasks at hand, but why we do them, in order to have the energy and patience to persevere through this great change.
I have written before on this subject. I am not sure it was sufficient. I believe that we can be better people, living in better communities, if we can make this happen. We will be better people because we will be better informed, on whatever issue we need to be informed, wherever we are. We will be better communities because we will be able to develop relationships within micro-geographic communities or communities of interest. Those relationships will make us stronger, and our communities stronger.
Our company might not be as big as when it was primarily a newspaper franchise, or worth as much money. But if we achieve our objectives, we will have succeeded.
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When I started this blog over seven months ago, I focused on mindset, as I had the sense that a completely new game was beginning:
Newspaper executives from around the world are trying to implement new business models. However, it is hard to implement a new model with an old mindset. Many are trying to arrange the concepts for a new ecosystem of local information. What I hope to do here is share my thoughts, and connections, as we explore these new frontiers.
If we were changing games from football to baseball, we would not have as many issues, as both games are very well understood, with many participants, observers, coaches and commentators. However, the local media game is changing so completely that we have difficulty conceptualizing the new game. John Steinbeck understood this well:
“And now a force was in hand how much more strong, and we hadn’t had time to develop the means to think, for man has to have feelings and then words before he can come close to thought and in the past at least, that has taken a long time.”
As we work to develop this new game, or business model, within our own company, conflicts arise. Those who see the future, but can’t articulate it, are frustrated. Those who see the future and want to make it happen quickly are very frustrated by those who don’t even perceive the need for a new game. Those who don’t perceive the need for a new game are frustrated by all the commotion.
These frustrations are playing out on the broader stage, summarized very well by Craig Stoltz. The New York Observer ran a cover story highlighting the conflicts between old and new media, and Jeff Jarvis wisely noted:
We’re all trying to figure what to do about it, and we all should have different answers and experiment with those answers.
Early on, I advocated moving away from an organization designed to produce “products”:
We cannot continue to focus on products. Products are just nodes on the network, promotional flags to local intelligence, in context.
So, the game is changing from a reliable cash-generating franchise focused on broadcasting authoritative snapshots reflecting the community to an entrepreneurial “elegant organization” to:
provide platforms that enable communities to do what they want to do, share what they want to share, know what they need to know together.
And, we cannot define these communities. As an individual, my interests are not easily discerned by my geographical location or demographics. So, I am looking for a way to keep up with friends, neighbors, certain local organizations, and certain local issues, while getting the overview of key issues that an editor thinks I should know. We need an elegant organization of information to make that happen. Several commentators are giving us perspective on that. Vickey Williams, exploring the “Six Competencies of the Next Generation News Organization” notes:
They rest heavily on the skills needed to personalize products and to build and serve communities of interest. The good news: Newspapers should be uniquely equipped to do these things.
Some other recent posts that I have appreciated are Jeff Jarvis with his “scenario for news” summary, Martin Langeveld describing his “future of journalism“, Steve Outing and his exhortation to “redefine news“, and Buzz Werzer’s “Checklist for Newspaper Publishers“.
It is my strong belief that an organization such as ours, with over 500 employees, cannot expect that we can change all the mindsets and pursue a new game by simply repeating the forces and ideas driving the change in a series of seminars or links to interesting articles. We need to change the tasks, titles and organization so that we are doing new tasks, in new ways, and making the results of our efforts available immediately to our communities as we begin the larger task of organizing all this information elegantly.
More on the new tasks and jobs in the next post!
What do you think?