Year in Review and Work Plan

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”

Exploration to Execution

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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.

There are many nuances to this plan, but the core of it revolves around Continue reading “Exploration to Execution”

Level Set

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It has been over a month since the employee meetings, and we are learning much every day.  As Mike Coleman, our Director of Technology likes to say: BLUF – Bottom Line Up Front – I am more convinced every day that we are on the right path, but we certainly don’t have the operational details of the transition all worked out, and we need lots of help to build the new local information system of the future.

That future is built on a network of information that is mobile (fluid and flexible), social, and location based.  From that network we can create better packaged products (web, print and broadcast) and with mobile and desktop applications we can let users Continue reading “Level Set”

Progress Report on C3 Organization

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People have asked me, often, why I don’t blog more about our progress in implementing our C3 organization.  The last post was May 10th, a quarter ago.

I try to wait until  I have something to say.  Something to say requires change.  Change requires time.  Sometimes too much time for my taste.  As the engraving here represents — time reveals all things, and truth is the daughter of time, adversely affected by hypocrisy.

The thoughts and comments of others are updated regularly, usually every week, in the right column, under what I am “paying attention to”.  After reviewing the links that have been noted there,  it is clear that the media environment has changed a great deal, and there have been many good ideas on how to proceed toward a new future.  But, the Three Gorillas noted here over a year ago still remain, blocking change in our traditional media company – organization, culture and technology.

This year, we realized that we would not be able to survive the deepest and steepest decline in our revenue in anyone’s memory, let alone attack the culture and technology issues of creating C3, without truly implementing one organization that separated content creation from product creation.  We needed to reduce our expenses.  We needed to create focused product management for our existing and contemplated products.  We needed services that could effectively support all of those products, including content creation.

As I noted in the May post, we took three operating companies focused on products and created 10 operating divisions which split content creation from product creation, and include:

  1. Content Creation and Collaboration – developing information content “without an agenda” other than strengthening communities in such a way that the elements are fluid and flexible, and that we can deliver “packages” to existing products
  2. Commercial Content – just like 1, except clearly with an agenda (buy, attend, believe) – commercial content elements that are fluid and flexible, as well as packaged messages for products
  3. Product Planning and Development – responsible for profitably reaching audiences with value added packaged products – print, broadcast and digital
  4. Sales – helping businesses and causes reach audiences
  5. Publisher – maintaining the integrity of the Opinion page of the newspaper and community development.  Works within the Product Planning and Development group (in 3 above) on the profitability of the product
  6. Digital production – the networks, websites and mobile applications – both development and production
  7. Broadcast production – transitioning our broadcast production to high definition digital production
  8. Print production and distribution – producing printed products for us and others, and getting them physically distributed
  9. Human Resources and facilities – leading us to the proper people, in the appropriate organizations and facilities
  10. Accounting – providing appropriate financial operating statistics and auditable financial statements

The ten people who agreed to lead these divisions are attacking their new responsibilities with vigor and dedication.  How is it going?

In a word, “messy” as recently noted by Becky Lutgen Gardner, who is responsible for the creation of information content without an agenda (#1 above).  While this should not have been a surprise, it is still no fun to live through the confusion and anger.    We are making progress every day, and have celebrated numerous small wins.  We are developing “service level agreements” to make roles and expectations as clear as possible.  Yet, the emotional connections we maintain to products and companies often blind us to the relevant tasks of creating a product agnostic local ecosystem of information.  Reforming these emotional connections will take time, tasking and new tools.

Even when we get over the emotional barriers, there are the very detailed issues of understanding who is taking primary responsibility for the numerous tasks that must be accomplished every day to keep our business flourishing.  Beckey Woodard Cole, who is leading our work force development efforts within the Human Resources division headed by Cathy Terukina (#9 above) created these slides to show the responsibilities for the judgments needed for individual products, while utilizing common content creation.

We have focused the organization on essential tasks and cut our expenses in line with our reduced revenues to maintain operating cash.  We have a long way to go to approach our work with the openness, transparency and engagement necessary for success.  While this reorganization was absolutely necessary for our survival, and to give us a place to stand to create the C3 local ecosystem of information, we will not make real progress unless and until we can create information in the first instance in such a way that it is fluid and flexible, and can serve multiple products and platforms.  That will take some tinkering with the technical infrastructure, another of those Three Gorillas.

Here’s hoping that the progress report on the technical infrastructure is not three months away!

What do you think?

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Relationship = Attention x Trust

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As I talk with many of you about the new mindset and business model for local information, you often say something like “There is just too much.  How do I use my limited time on information that is truly meaningful to me?”

Blogs, tweets, links, flashes, facebook, myspace, linkedin – it all becomes a blur, a cacophony, sometimes disorientating, or even nauseating.

A reaction of many is to avoid the cacophony, and retreat to the one-way, broadcast it to me, world of traditional newspapers, websites, and television stations.

However, many people are trying to drive through the cacophony, and figure out a way to create a new model, whereby any individual can develop a relationship with a network of information, to get what they want, when they want it, and be shown what might interest them, with a high likelihood of success.

As Clay Shirky said:

By the time that the publishing industries spun up in Venice in the early- to mid-1500s, the ability to have access to more reading material than you could finish in a lifetime is now starting to become a general problem of the educated classes. And by the 1800s, it’s a general problem of the middle class. So there is no such thing as information overload, there’s only filter failure, right? Which is to say the normal case of modern life is information overload for all educated members of society.

If you took the contents of an average Barnes and Noble, and you dumped it into the streets and said to someone, “You know what’s in there? There’s some works of Auden in there, there’s some Plato in there. Wade on in and you’ll find what you like.” And if you wade on in, you know what you’d get? You’d get Chicken Soup for the Soul. Or, you’d get Love’s Tender Fear. You’d get all this junk. The reason we think that there’s not an information overload problem in a Barnes and Noble or a library is that we’re actually used to the cataloging system. On the Web, we’re just not used to the filters yet, and so it seems like “Oh, there’s so much more information.” But, in fact, from the 1500s on, that’s been the normal case.

So, the real question is, how do we design filters that let us find our way through this particular abundance of information? And, you know, my answer to that question has been: the only group that can catalog everything is everybody. One of the reasons you see this enormous move towards social filters, as with Digg, as with del.icio.us, as with Google Reader, in a way, is simply that the scale of the problem has exceeded what professional catalogers can do. But, you know, you never hear twenty-year-olds talking about information overload because they understand the filters they’re given. You only hear, you know, forty- and fifty-year-olds taking about it, sixty-year-olds talking about because we grew up in the world of card catalogs and TV Guide. And now, all the filters we’re used to are broken and we’d like to blame it on the environment instead of admitting that we’re just, you know, we just don’t understand what’s going on.  (Emphasis in bold, underline and italics added by Chuck Peters on 12/21/08)

The ideas on this are not new.  As mentioned earlier, Bruno Giusanni noted many of the ideas over 11 years ago.  Tom Ratkovich outlined the role of the trusted “infomediary” over 6 years ago:

There are three essential qualities of the infomediary:

  1. Trust. As stated by Hagel and Singer, “Trust
    is the infomediary’s lifeblood.” Without trust, consumers
    will not share their personal information. Any doubt concerning
    the integrity and credibility of the infomediary will entirely
    undermine its ability to serve it that capacity.
  2. Existing relationships with consumers and
    merchants
    . While today’s newspaper is the logical entity to
    evolve into tomorrow’s infomediary, it is not the given entity.
    The Internet opens the door to numerous other institutions to
    usurp that role. The window of opportunity is not a large one,
    and those posturing to serve as the dominant infomediary will
    be disadvantaged if they must build these relationships from scratch.
  3. Channel integration. The ability to integrate
    the distribution of marketing communications across multiple channels
    is vital for two reasons. First, it allows for communication utilizing
    the preferred medium of the consumer. Second, it contributes to
    the optimization of merchant ROI by minimizing redundancy. (This
    is the primary impediment to companies like Amazon.com and Yahoo!
    in assuming the infomediary role.)

In order to engage and strengthen our communities, we need to engage and inform each individual.  We, as the local media company, cannot know what each individual is truly interested in.  The individual does not want to tell the whole world exactly what their interests are, for fear of loss of privacy, or being abused.

Yet, we are moving to a Relationship Economy, in which how we act will depend not only on the information we receive, but how those in trusted relationships with us inform and guide us.

The formula I have been testing lately is Relationship = Attention x Trust.  I am sure that others, at other points in time, have come up with this, but I could not find a direct citation.

In order to have a long relationship with a local information organization, I want to know that I will find everything happening in the community relating to those people, places, events or topics in which I have expressed an interest, without wading through lots of articles and content in which I am not interested.  I also want to be aware of other information which a trusted “conductor” thinks someone in my community should know, or someone with my particular interests should know.

Despite the running commentary on whether print newspapers or broadcast news can survive, I think Tom Ratkovich had it exactly right in his expression of complementarity in channel integration.  I want those broadcast sources to act like they know that I have the option to be plugged into a relevant network of information.  So, in those broadcasted, print media, provide overview, context and promotion of the network.

Those interested in the Semantic Web, including e-Me Ventures, recognize that machines reading code, tags and text can only do so much to serve relevant information.  Each individual needs to declare interests, pretty specifically.  They are not likely to do so without trust.

People working on the trust side of the equation include the Information Valet Project and Attention Trust.  What I think we need for C3 is a plug-in, widget, or service that will allow individuals to clearly express their interests, in exchange for our promise to only use that information to serve information of value to that individual, in a long term relationship.

That information of value can be information created without an agenda ( what we ideally think “news”  currently is) and information with an agenda (advertising and commercial content).

That relationship has to be built over time, with lots of conversation.   If something is no longer of interest, we need to know, and react quickly.

Without replaying the rest of this blog, we cannot actually serve as the trusted infomediary without the right mindset, tasks, organization, technology and persistence.  If we break trust, by failing to provide accurate, timely and relevant information, the game is over

With the daily bemoaning of the fate of local media, and the general economy, the time to act is now, with urgency, as this is our time of greatest opportunity to actually implement these old ideas.

What do you think?

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Much to be done

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My name is Chuck Peters (cpetersia on Twitter, and reachable on email at cpetersia@mac.com). I am the CEO of The Gazette Company in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, a local media company serving Eastern Iowa primarily through The Gazette newspaper and KCRG – TV9, an ABC affiliate, along with numerous niche print and online products. I just returned from the Newspaper Association of America annual meeting in Washington, DC. 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.