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Archive for the ‘Innovation in the media’ Category

I was the keynote speaker last night for the Future of Student Media Summit hosted by the Post, the student print and digital news operation at Ohio University.

Below is the blog version of the prepared part of my session, interspersed with tweets from the participants and hyperlinked. It’s not exactly what I said because I wasn’t reading a script. At the end of the post, I’ll explain how I prepared the speech and post and why they’re not identical. (more…)

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Boston_Globe logoI had a twofold reaction to Thursday’s news that the Boston Globe was trying to reinvent itself:

  1. Another fucking newspaper reinvention? How many times have we heard this?
  2. I hope it succeeds. Someone has to.

If you don’t want to read my whining/ranting about previous reinvention failures, skip to the “why I’m optimistic” heading, where I share my optimism for the Globe’s project. I am optimistic, but I need to share that frustration, too.

Why I’m frustrated

In both reactions, my thoughts turned to the American Press Institute. The current incarnation of API is helping the Globe, and I’ll address that in the optimistic section. And I was heavily involved in an initiative by an earlier version of API to lead reinvention of the newspaper business.

A decade ago, API developed a blueprint for newspaper reinvention (we called it a “Blueprint for Transformation”). Seriously, we published that advice in 2006, the year newspaper ad revenues first started to drop, by a tiny 1.7 percent. Ad revenue has dropped every year since, often by double-digit percentages and the Newspaper Association of America hasn’t even bothered to report the figures for 2014 and 2015. Those annual reports usually came out in April, and the most recent revenue report on the NAA website was published April 18, 2014.

I worked for API on the Newspaper Next project, and my colleagues and I presented those principles and techniques of reinvention more than a hundred times to newspaper audiences around the globe, from one-hour overviews for press associations to two-day workshops for specific newspapers and large newspaper companies. We produced at least three N2 reports, one of which I wrote.

Newspaper executives who proclaimed themselves eager to reinvent their organizations applauded our message and spent thousands of dollars (we charged $11,000 plus expenses for a one-day workshop) sharing the message with their staffs and executive teams. But their cultural and organizational inertia was so powerful that they took only tentative partial steps that didn’t come close to reinvention. (more…)

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American Press Institute logoI get a sense of déjà vu in the American Press Institute’s release this morning of a pair of reports on innovation in news organizations.

An important event in my career was the 2006 release of API’s report Newspaper Next: A Blueprint for Transformation, followed by my efforts to promote and teach the principles of the report to executives and organizations in the newspaper industry. As I noted five years later, and as API’s report today acknowledges, N2 fall far short of transforming the newspaper industry. (We’ll never know if the approach outlined in the report would have helped transform a newspaper company or the whole organization. The industry treated it as a buffet, tasting a few dishes it offered, when it was really offering a new diet. I know of no news organization that came close to attempting the transformation that N2 advocated.)

API’s latest effort to guide innovation in the news industry is a pair of reports released this morning, A culture-based strategy for creating innovation in news organizations by Jeff Sonderman and Tom Rosenstiel, and The best practices for innovation within news organizations by Craig Silverman.

I recommend both reports as important reading for leaders in news operations seeking to be more successful at innovation, especially if organizational culture is an issue for you. But I guess I’m jaded enough that I won’t predict a lot of cultural change as a result of the reports. N2 offered broader, deeper and more specific advice for changing a company. But maybe almost a decade later, some companies will be better able to use the advice API is offering today on workplace culture.

Adding to the N2 echoes of these reports are four mentions of Clayton Christensen in the Silverman report. The Sonderman/Rosenstiel report mentions API’s partnership with Christensen for Newspaper Next, which made heavy use of his principles of disruptive innovation. Between them, today’s reports make 10 mentions of some form of the word disrupt. I’m not sure what to make of this. Christensen’s theories apply to the news business as strongly now as they did in 2006, but I’ll be surprised if newspaper companies ever start operating by them. (The API reports do not share N2’s newspaper focus, studying digital startups as well as legacy media companies.)

I suspect the advice in the API reports might be more effective with news startups, building innovative structures and processes from scratch, rather than in established companies trying to overcome existing cultural problems without screwing up declining products that produce their revenue. (more…)

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Michelle Rogers

Michelle Rogers

I asked Michelle Rogers to share some links that show the work of the Redding Record Searchlight under the Four Platform Newsroom.

Michelle Rogers was a colleague of mine at Digital First Media, and I’m pleased she has found a new home as Content Editor at the Record Searchlight. In a companion post, her editor, Silas Lyons, answers some questions about the Four Platform Newsroom. Here are the links Michelle shared with me:

Shaping Our Future portal

Facebook group for Shaping our Future

Get Out portal

Facebook group for Get Out

Buttry comment: Facebook groups are great places for engagement about topics or within niches. I belong to several Facebook groups that include some of my most meaningful discussions on Facebook. For an excellent example of a newsroom using a Facebook group to improve its journalism and engagement, read about ProPublica’s Patient Harm group. Back to Michelle and her links: (more…)

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Silas Lyons

Silas Lyons

This guest post from Silas Lyons, editor of the Redding Record Searchlight in California, continues my discussion of the Four Platform Newsroom program at Journal Media Group. I blogged Wednesday about the Digital Leads report that reviewed the newsroom transformation efforts of the former E.W. Scripps Co. newsrooms. Friday I blogged the answers of three JMG editors to some questions I asked about the program.

Today I have two responses from Redding, Calif. Lyons sent his answers to my question after I published Friday’s post. Michelle Rogers, a former colleague of mine at Digital First Media, is Content Editor at the Record Searchlight and sent me links showing some of the Redding newsroom’s work.

I asked: “How did you choose and develop your franchise topics?”

Lyons: We learned the most from this part of the process. The smartest thing we did early on was to listen to Knight Digital’s advice to be very ambitious about outreach to people in our community who truly represented the personas – they were between 25 and 50 years old, professional, had kids or a mortgage or both. For a small newsroom (under 20 people including me) and a smaller Four Platform team (8), we put a huge effort into those interviews, netting close to 40 people and developing a very solid basis of data.

While not professional market research, it was better in some ways because the responses were very real to the people developing the plan. They didn’t just ask which topics would interest the personas, but where the interview subjects get that kind of information now, what they feel is missing, what kinds of devices they use to access different types of news and information, what kind of real-life situation they’re in when they’re using those devices. (more…)

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As I was working on Wednesday’s post about the Four Platform Newsroom program of Journal Media Group newsrooms, I emailed some of the editors asking for more details.

Below are the answers from three editors, Mizell Stewart III, Managing Director/Content of Journal Media; Mark Tomasik, editor of TCPalm.com and Treasure Coast Newspapers; and Jack McElroy, editor of the Knoxville News Sentinel.

Here are my questions (in bold) and their answers (with some links added by me):

You seem to have managed the right balance between a corporate imperative to change and local initiative in how to change. Too strong a corporate imperative results in one-size-fits-all solutions that don’t work and too much local initiative allows people to decide they don’t need to change (or that a little tinkering will suffice). What do you think were the most effective things you did to achieve and maintain this balance?

Mizell Stewart III

Mizell Stewart III

Mizell Stewart III: From my own perspective, corporate’s role is in creating a sense of urgency within each newsroom around digital transformation, setting priorities and making targeted investments. In the 4P project, we invested in consumer research and created a structure, with the help of the Knight Digital Media Center, to engage front-line and mid-level journalists in driving the change.

My observation is the typical corporate approach to newsroom change is to hammer on the top editor to make things happen or take away so much control that the editor feels powerless. We tried to strike a balance between those two extremes. By enabling the staff committees and putting the editor in the role of facilitator, we tried to create a process in which everyone is learning and growing at the same time. Investing in tools and training showed folks that we were serious. That opportunity for local initiative created the sense of ownership that helped us make great progress.

Mark Tomasik: The most effective things done to achieve and maintain this balance were:

  1. Corporate promised and then provided the unwavering training, the framework and the support (including financial support for market research and ongoing training). The local property had the freedom to choose the topics and the timing as well as how to utilize staff. The ability to customize to fit our market and our staff was a difference maker.
  2. Local decision-making was done largely by a Four Platform property-level newsroom committee (with support from other functions) that was comprised primarily of non-managers. Senior newsroom leaders, such as myself, attended all the meetings, but the role of senior newsroom leaders was to guide and support. The committee itself was empowered to make key recommendations and/or decisions and choices. So, for our staff, the changes felt like they came from them, from within, and not mandated by corporate.
  3. Because audience engagement and feedback was encouraged and baked into the equation from the start, the overwhelmingly positive responses we got from the audience, especially the personas, excited and inspired all of our staff, serving as a motivation to continue with the changes, and the early successes created an atmosphere of positive, progressive change rather than change for change sake.
Jack McElroy

Jack McElroy

Jack McElroy: Thanks for continuing the conversation on our 4P initiative. Regarding your question, I think the key was that Mizell (corporate) imposed a process but left it to local properties to execute the process and find the solutions that fit locally. The process was very deliberate, and it moved with its own inexorable logic. First came the research, followed by creation of local teams charged with dissecting the data and developing plans focused on the research. Training then followed based on the plan. Then came execution. We are now in a reiteration phase, examining results and making adjustments.

At each step, corporate resources were provided. Magid did the research. Knight Digital facilitated the examination of the data, the development of the plans and the training. Corporate webinars shared successes and best practices. We soon will be launching the use of the American Press Institute’s Metrics for News to study results. But throughout, the ownership of the initiatives was local.

In the past, we’ve sometimes seen solutions imposed from on high, or we’ve seen local properties seek solutions autonomously, without much corporate guidance or resources. This change process provided structure and momentum at the corporate level but gave local newsrooms ownership of what that change ultimately would be.

I’m interested in exploring the development of franchise topics and what they mean. Some of the topics are fairly general areas that a single media outlet can’t “own” (the language the report uses in defining the franchise topics) exclusively, such as local entertainment or Tennessee sports. Even if your local newsroom is the best in the community at that topic, alt weeklies (in the metro areas at least) cover entertainment, too, and everyone in Knoxville covers the Vols. Other topics were important local topics that others probably don’t cover much or well (water in Wichita Falls being the best example). So I want to understand franchise topics a little better: Does this just reflect how different newsrooms interpreted the franchises and the needs of their communities? Or did you start out saying the franchises should be a mix of those must-have topics that everyone covers, but we’re committing to be the best and those undercovered topics that are important to the community? Can a newsroom really “own” a big community topic in a competitive market? Or did each newsroom come up with different definitions of franchises that might not have revolved around ownership?

Stewart: I describe franchise topics as public-facing news brands that ground digital transformation in the pursuit of quality journalism. Sure, everyone can cover entertainment – but only Treasure Coast binds entertainment and things to do to social media and crowdsourcing through their pursuit of the #TCPalmSocial franchise. It does reflect how different newsrooms interpreted the franchises and the needs of their communities, and we fully expect those topics to change over time.

We talked more about franchise topics as not being a rehash or a relabel of existing work. They could incorporate existing beats and topics in a fresh, multiplatform way. There is no question that a lot of news organizations cover local government and politics, but I believe franchise is all about the approach rather than the specific topic. InforMemphis is a unique framework, in my opinion, for coverage of local government. That team didn’t restructure the newsroom to add a reporter about craft beer – but it did hold a forum for mayoral candidates that featured craft beer and barbecue for more than 100 participants from the community. Our news organization can own a specific approach to government and politics or college sports, for example, that sets it apart from other local news sources.

Tomasik: We made the choices based on two factors:

  1. Using market research that showed what topics potential readers would be willing to pay for.
  2. Matching any of those potential topics to staff skills. We focused on the topics in which we were certain we had the staff expertise and skills to produce consistently good content with the potential to grow it.

How did you choose and develop the personas to guide reporting of interest to target demographic groups?

Mark Tomasik

Mark Tomasik

Tomasik: We used a combination of the market research and staff on-the-street interviews with potential customers to develop personas. Using the personas was critical to making content decisions. For example, for our #TCPalmSocial franchise, the persona is a married woman with a child. So, if we had our choice of covering a family-oriented air show or an upscale art show in the same community on the same day, we followed the persona and chose the air show, knowing our use of resources had a greater chance of reaching the target audience.

What was the role of live coverage in your transformation?

Tomasik: Live coverage transformed into, first and foremost, a social media/audience engagement opportunity rather than a traditional text narrative opportunity. So, when President Obama visited the Treasure Coast in March, all our journalists used multiple social media platforms as their most effective storytelling device. The engagement with audience was constant and informative. The community used our social media posts for everything on how to avoid traffic snarls caused by the presidential visit (we had interactive maps of his route on mobile) to sharing celebrity sightings (Jay Leno, Ahmad Rashad) related to the visit. The audience demanded and expected information (including visuals) in that format and on those digital platforms; not waiting for narratives on dot.com or print.

This was a lot to undertake in normal times (if those even exist any more). But the corporate restructuring had to present a huge distraction during this process (and probably some skepticism about whether the initiative would survive the merger). How did you manage that external (to the newsroom) upheaval that you couldn’t control at the same time that you’re trying to cause upheaval to reach important goals?

Stewart: Fortunately, the initiative was well underway before the transition to Journal Media Group began. We worked to manage the upheaval by incorporating the transition into our in-house learning and development programs, such as conducting sessions for top newsroom leaders on what it takes to lead through change. It also validated our focus on baking the initiative into the newsroom.

During the rollout of the initiative, we had top editor changes in several newsrooms. In nearly every case, the newsroom committee continued their work on the rollout of local franchise topics while the search for a new editor was underway. This demonstrated to me that engaging leaders at every level is critical to achieving sustainable change.

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Digital LeadsI am cheering on the Four Platform Newsroom transformation efforts of the Journal Media Group newsrooms. And I encourage you to read a new report, published today, about the project in newsrooms of the former E.W. Scripps Co.: Digital Leads: 10 keys to newsroom transformation.

I have some experience with newsroom transformation efforts. As editor of the Cedar Rapids Gazette in 2008-9, I led a local effort to change how a newsroom worked. As digital transformation editor at Digital First Media, I led a companywide transformation effort, first an informal effort involving visits to 84 newsrooms, then helping hire and mentor new editors and finally Project Unbolt, focused on four pilot newsrooms shortly before I left the company last year.

I wouldn’t describe any of those efforts as a complete success, and I know none of them was a complete failure. However much we succeeded, I learned a lot and blogged a lot about what we did.

Michele McLellan, one of the Scripps consultants on the project, knew of my transformation efforts and gave me an advance copy of the report, so I’m going to share some observations here.

During the Scripps project, a corporate restructuring resulted in a merger of the Scripps newspapers with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel to create Journal Media Group. Since the Journal Sentinel wasn’t involved in the Four Platform Newsroom project, I will refer to the group here as Scripps. The company consulted with the Knight Digital Media Center at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California. Today’s Digital Leads report was produced and released by KDMC.

I have visited only one of the eight Scripps newsrooms where the transformation is considered to be working, and that was just briefly years ago. So my knowledge of the changes at Scripps is based solely on reading the report. As a result, I’m not going to praise or criticize specifics of what Scripps newsrooms have achieved or attempted. Instead, I’m going to summarize the 10 keys of the report, with some highlights from the report and advice for other newsrooms undertaking their own transformations: (more…)

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