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Time, Money Available for Newsroom Innovators

I spent a chunk of my weekend reading and thinking about the 96-page Newspaper Next: Blueprint for Transformation. Here is the good news, if Newspaper Next catches on, newspapers will be making money, time and resources available as catalysts for change. So if you are in a newsroom, get yourself involved and strive to make meaningful change.

Let others worry about the sites, you seek out ideas that will take the great traditions of journalism and build upon them.

If you can develop ideas to build community and civic life through community collaboration, you will get a shot because the blueprint stresses having lots of projects being started all the time.

Failure is okay, it is part of the Newspaper Next worldview. So nod to their jargon and then take their time, money and resources and truly innovate. It’s a golden opportunity.

By talking their jargon I mean speak in terms of innovation and information building rather than using news as a focus because according to the report:

…news will not be the magnet that attracts low-end consumers and nonconsumers.

On the other hand, at least at one newspaper, Gannett’s Desert Sun, found:

The newsroom is leading the change, and the managers believe other departments will follow their example.

The blueprint adds:

Some fear that the portfolio solution means abandoning news or deserting the civic mission that newspapers view as central. On the contrary, if companies succeed in engaging ever-larger shares of the local audience, they create the opportunity to incorporate news in forms these audiences will use and value. If they do not succeed, they will reach ever smaller minorities of the population, making it harder and harder to achieve civic impact.

Top management realizes there is a problem. After seeing the growth of innovations from Google to craiglist, the question asked is:

Why can’t newspaper companies do the same?

Newspaper Next’s conclusion: They can – but not without dramatic changes in the way they think, the strategies they adopt and the innovation processes they use.

As I said in an earlier post, the work here is developed almost exclusively in connection with Harvard business school professor Clayton M. Christensen’s books and is aided by his Innosight consulting firm. It’s not perfect, but it does provide a plan. At least something to get newspapers and their employees to start thinking about change.

However, the word journalism is used just nine times in the 96 pages. The blueprint stresses that newspapers are in the information business, of which news is just a part. If your agenda is to preserve the great traditions of journalism, yours might need to be a stealth endeavor. Remember: You can’t just leave this to the happy talk, bean counters.

The target audience is nonconsumers more than newspaper consumers. Discover what they need and provide it to them before anyone else can and in ways that will stymie competition. The report is filled with buzz words, which the blueprint refers to as a common language. (After I read the report, the first thing that came to mind was 10 Tips on how to be sure you are part of your newspaper’s innovation team. It includes the lingo you better start using now. I am posting that Tuesday morning. I think it’s pretty funny because it is grounded in truth.)

The blueprint includes six opportunity areas to connect with these nonconsumers. They include: Enlighten Me, Educate Me, Enrich Me, Entertain Me, Engage Me and Empower Me. They present some excellent opportunities for journalism or for providing worthwhile community and civic building information.

The blueprint sees further opportunities in developing:

(1) databases, (2) user knowledge exchanges (unlocking the “collective wisdom”) and (3) community (providing platforms for communities to form).

An innovative journalist or better yet a collaboration of innovative journalists, might see real possibilities in any of those three areas.

To make change, the blueprint emphasizes that less time must be spent with the core business because as one editor says:

“We found that if we take our eye off the core a little bit, we’ll be okay. If we take our eye off innovation a little bit, it will fail.”

And speaking of failure the report emphasizes:

“Invest a little, learn a lot” and “Fail fast, fail cheap”

In other words, keep the ideas coming, dump the bad ideas and capitalize on the ones that begin to show potential. With that attitude, even if the newspapers fail, they will be an exciting places to be, especially if you become one of those innovators.

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