Thursday, June 14, 2012

A cadre of change agents for newspapers

Instead of merely talking about how much the newspaper industry has to change, the Inland Press Association has decided to do something about it – in a big and bold way.

The association has created the Executive Program for Innovative Change to provide senior publishing folks with the in-depth strategic perspectives and concrete entrepreneurial skills necessary to efficiently and effectively lead innovation in their organizations.

In other words, Inland is launching a boot camp for the change agents necessary to ensure the continued vitality of the industry. And I am pleased to report that I am leveraging my Silicon Valley background to partner with Inland as the director of the project.

You can hear more about the program in the video embedded below, but here’s a quick summary:

The association will admit up to 18 senior executives to the new program, who then meet as a group at regular intervals over 12 months to learn how to build the audience, revenue, productivity and profitability of their companies through transformational change.

Because the program is designed to deliver real-world results, every participant will be required to identify – and execute – a significant game-changing project at her or his newspaper that’s aimed at delivering a measurable return on investment. The projects, which will be selected by participants in consultation with the management of their papers, may address either legacy print products or digital initiatives.

Kicking off on Sept. 11 in Chicago, the program will consist of five onsite sessions throughout the year. The session next June will be held in Silicon Valley, where I will introduce participants to some of my friends at Google, Facebook and some of the up-and-coming companies most likely to affect the way we get and give information in the future.  

As interesting as the group get-togethers are bound to be, the most crucial work will take place in the weeks between sessions, as participants pursue their game-charging projects at their home papers. Because changing the game in a legacy organization can be lonely and challenging, the members of the group will support each other through ongoing collaboration and problem-solving via webinars and one-on-one calls. I’ll always be available to lend a hand, too.

Our work will be informed and supplemented by readings and guest speakers contributing everything from marketplace intelligence to management techniques.  Speakers will include not only effective newspaper executives but also academic experts and leaders from other industries.

Some of those who already have kindly committed to participate are Richard Gingras, the head of Google News; Tom Rosenstiel of the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism; Martin Till, the publisher of the Easton (PA) Express; Jay Small, the digital chief for the Evening Post and Courier Co.; Jim Brady, the editor in chief at Digital First, and Owen Youngman, one of the digital gurus on the faculty of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. Additional guest speakers will be added throughout the year, so we can keep the program as fresh as possible.  

The program is not just for Inland members.  It is open to all senior newspaper executives and publishers are welcome to nominate individuals who are being considered for eventual appointment to senior positions.  Applicants are asked to describe the project they want to pursue, along with a current resume and a letter of nomination from an officer of his or her newspaper.

The program has generated a lot of excitement since it was announced earlier this month to Inland;s membership and many applications already have been received. But there’s still time to go here to learn more and to apply.

In addition to the intrinsic value of the project delivered to each newspaper, the participants will gain the skills, confidence and motivation to cultivate cultures of continuous improvement at their respective organizations.

As the program is repeated over the years, it will build a growing network of knowledgeable and confident entrepreneurs within our industry. And that’s what newspapers will need to assure their strength and relevance for future generations.


Blogger John Robinson said...

Sounds valuable. Hope participants do something with it.

2:55 PM  
Blogger chuckl said...

Are you looking to save journalism or newspapers? Journalism we need, but do we really need newspapers?i

10:45 PM  
Blogger Larry G said...

How about including someone who has actually created a working and compelling digital revenue model. Trading dollars for dimes is not very attractive. Newspapers don't need help driving traffic--they need help creating a viable business model. It's all talk and no substance from this continuous stream of "experts".

4:45 AM  
Blogger Stephen said...

I totally agree with Larry G.
Please show me the digital revenue model that actually works, please. Here are my own thoughts- I really don't care to hear what Google's person has to say on news. It is a brilliant company, but they still get 95% of their revenue from search, not the kind of banner ads that newspapers do. Heck, Eric Schmidt said two years ago that Youtube was "near profit" and it has been radio silence since then. And per the Guardian, Google has done only 550M in Android revenues in 3 years. Google is less than authoritative when they leave their own sphere, which is search, and they're not about to tell newspapers anything that will give them a slice of Google's pie.
And I certainly see nothing out of Digital First or their analogue, Advance Publications, that increases the top-line number, just ceaseless, bloody 'cost cutting', driving cash flow for the likes of Alden Capital under a smoke-screen of social media, "innovation", "start-up mindset" and assorted pixie dust.
Here is a thought experiment- Facebook has over 800M users that average over 400 minutes per month on the site. This type of audience is multiples larger than all newspaper sites combined. It's estimated annual revenue is a little over 4 Billion dollars or less than 1/5 of advertising revenues at US newspapers. This is as good as online advertising gets right now and this is not worth fighting over.
Here is my plan-
1. No pub ever made money giving away beer and making it up on volume: paywall everything. Newspapers monopoly on local ads is over and they need to make content pay much more of the bills. People will pay a lot for news. Ask the 50,000 digital-only subscribers at the Dallas Morning News paying $200 per year after only one year of operation, in a news environment extremely hostile to paywalls. These people are not paying for the inserts.
2. Disband the AP: Yup, or refuse its services to everyone but a very select few. But I would prefer to disband it. Turn Yahoo, Google News and other sites into a wasteland. Viciously rob the public of news and make it scarce. Make local papers produce only local content. People would subscribe to their local paper and a national or metro paper, print or online. Journalists who only want to write so that 'everyone' can read their work can just wait till the next round of layoffs. Advance Publications just made this dream a possibility for 600 journalists in Louisiana and Alabama.

Newspaper/Media companies' days of monopolistic soft living are over. They are in the dogfight with the rest of us now. They need to go at it Exxon-Mobile style, with ruthlessness, and at least go down swinging. Even if they fail, this would pave the way for new news sources to rise up, as opposed to content-riders and reddit-spamming pretenders.

3:48 AM  

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