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”

C3?

We have our quarterly board and employee meetings this week.  We are an ESOP company, owned by our original founding families (over 126 years in business), and the Employee Stock Ownership Trust.  So everyone is interested.

The last time I made a formal report, we were having difficulty forecasting our sales, and we did not know if we would be able to cut sufficient expenses to offset our accelerating revenue declines.  We were in danger of not meeting our bank covenants.

Today, I am very appreciative that we have stabilized, thanks to the wonderful support of our customers and the hard work and dedication of our over 500 employees.  We are profitable, have positive cash flow, have met the bank covenants and have been able to maintain our cash position after paying millions of dollars to Continue reading “C3?”

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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RIF to RIF

This blog, which started with the hope of outlining the concepts which would lead to a Rich Information Format to strengthen communities, has not been updated recently because of another RIF, all too common today, the Reduction in Force.

As painful as this RIF was, we had no choice due to the abrupt decline in advertising revenues in the last three quarters, with no upturn in sight. On the same day we announced the RIF, we announced the first large step in actually creating the organization to support C3 – separating content creation from product creation.

Product is Separated from Content

In this model, Lyle Muller, Editor of The Gazette newspaper, working with Dave Storey, Publisher, is responsible for creating and maintaining the physical product of the printed newspaper, The Gazette.

Steve Buttry, Information Content Conductor, is responsible for creating another C3 – Content Creation & Collaboration, a networked set of blogs and information organized around topics or micro-geographical areas.  We are trying to create a visual description of this activity, and our current attempt is below, although we already know that we don’t like the name “Superblog”:

Information Topic Area Ecosystem

Because these announcements were made on the same day, amidst the largest Reduction in Force in the company’s history, we confused some people and aggravated others.  While we were cheered on by some, we were jeered by others.

Steve and Lyle decided that we should Live Blog about these changes, taking questions from the community.  What an hour that was!  Lyle, Steve and I were in separate rooms, on separate floors, with no way to know who was taking which questions, in what order.  You can see for yourself whether we helped our hurt ourselves.

In the coming days, I will be describing the other critical elements of our reorganization, as we put into place the foundation for C3.

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