Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, there was an emperor who was promised a brand new suit by two fraudulent tailors. It wasn’t just any old clothing; they promised it would be invisible to any person who was unfit or incompetent for the position.
The emperor loved the idea, imagining it would help him distinguish wise subjects from stupid. When the fabric was nearly ready, he sent one of his ministers to inspect it, but the gentleman could not detect anything. The cloth was invisible to him.
But did he admit it? Of course not. He was so scared that others would find out he was not good enough for his job that he remained silent. Playing along, he told the tailors the fabric was beautiful.
The tale by Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen might have ancient settings and origins, but the moral is a very live issue. It can be devastating when no one dares to contradict the crowd, by fear of coming across as stupid.
The news Web sites are well into their teens, but the companies behind them still haven’t changed their ways or their competence.
It was more than three years ago that John Paton said: Put the digital people in charge – of everything. But very few actually did.
As an international media consultant, I am privileged enough to meet media executives in most parts of the world. Often I am surprised by how strong the resistance to change is. Still.
But what is even more pervasive is the non-willingness at the highest management levels to learn. To start testing all these new digital tools and services. To actually interest themselves in the opportunities out there....[more]
07 April 2013 · by Anette Novak
The old business model is broken.
Disruptives are grabbing the revenues – but not filling the old civic mission. And the print consumers are dying faster than marketing directors can get younger subscribers to venture out on the brand-new digital toll roads.
In short: Legacy media is dying.
This picture of dystopia has been painted over and over again; no need to describe the gloomy status quo of our industry any further. But let’s linger on the question of how we actually ended up here in the first place.
Easter is the perfect time to reflect on topics like life and death. And, in a way, the old Christian teachings on capital vice offer some clues to why and where we went wrong. If you never went to Sunday school, tag along and I will try to explain the seven “sins” and how legacy media committed them:
- Pride: The we-know-it-all attitude, predominant for much too long with media executives, as well as reporters.
Born during the information monopoly days, when we thought we knew it all and had no lessons to receive from anyone. We owned multi-million dollar printing presses, prime property, and — even more important — the power to “package” reality, to decide who speaks and who doesn’t and on what topics.
- Sloth: After decades, even centuries, of astronomical profits just rolling in without any serious business development or <a title="innovation efforts"
11 March 2013 · by Anette Novak
Last week, while participating in a UNESCO conference on the Information Society and its challenges in Paris, I was asked to reflect on online comments and the disturbing phenomena of bad-mouthing and hate speech.
After a period of open approach, in the name of freedom of speech, Sweden and other countries are now evolving toward more restrictions; editors are taking steps ranging from harsher moderation to closing down the comments forums altogether.
The polite explanation for this evolution is that media executives are acting on an altruistic urge. They do not wish to contribute to the creation of a more segregated society, nor do they want their carefully constructed arenas to be soiled by extremist opinions.
The more realist version: They have concluded that welcoming anyone onto their platforms hurts their brands.
Recent research reveals that readers tend to mix up editorial content and comments. Hate speech in the comments section below an article seems to taint the overall experience, strengthening preconceived ideas and prejudice in the audience.
By closing down previously open platforms, your editors will get criticised, and the anonymous crowd will brand the move as “censorship.” Freedom of speech and the press, however, never meant allowing everyone to say whatever they want. Mass publication means power – and with power comes responsibility.
Throughout his successful career, business guru Warren Buffett has often stressed the importance of posing the right questions. Here’s my attempt to do the same:...[more]
11 February 2013 · by Anette Novak
Reporter on the phone with a reader: “Are you familiar with the Internet?”
I found the quote above from crowd-sourced, “Overheard in the Newsroom,” a feed of cynical, sexist, and occasionally funny remarks, made around news desks near and far.
After more than 100 years of information monopoly, one of the most difficult aspects of the restructuring that traditional media now have to navigate is the necessary attitude shift.
Not having “us” and our operations in focus, but “them” and their needs and aspirations.
This tendency of in-house put-downs of the people paying our wages needs to be addressed urgently if we are to succeed in what media managers in conferences all over the world refer to as “relationship building.”
There is a sense behind the buzz phrase, but to really get there we have to start building the base:
- Building block No 1: to respect.
- Building block No 2: to listen.
Only when the foundation is stable can we let the “prosumers” in on all the fun. Only then can we start filling “relationship building” with true meaning....[more]
13 January 2013 · by Anette Novak
A new year usually means new resolutions. But nothing points to the fact that the digital subscription wave rolling over the entire Western Hemisphere will lessen in force during 2013.
Media outlets on both sides of the Atlantic are putting part of their content behind digital entrances, to which only premium customers get the key.
The pioneers already are capable of drawing some conclusions from the first phases since the launch of their new business models.
The fear of losing traffic or having disruptive start-ups grab market shares, by offering similar services for free, seems to have melted away as more and more media executives have gone public, declaring their faith in paid digital content.
Some of the giants, like The New York Times, are hailed as success stories, but analysts worry that the smaller outlets following in their footsteps, with neither the traffic volumes nor the global market potential, will fail.
To me, there is yet another challenge at the core of the paid content strategy. In order to be able to sell something in a competitive environment, your offering has to be of the utmost quality.
Given the last decades of down-sizing newsrooms, while new platforms have emerged and added new tasks, we have actually been forcing fewer reporters and editors to produce more.
Not really a recipe for quality, is it? Even though there are some executives who turn against the current:
If we add to this picture the current level of digital competence within legacy media, the outset seems more than gloomy. A European colleague with whom I had a conversation not long ago said that if he could give notice to every person in his newsroom and rehire only the ones with the right competences, he would keep only one out of 10.
The Internet has moved out of its teens, but many old-school journalists still believe digital publishing is technically challenging and often blame management, claiming they have not provided enough in-house education.
Their weak desire to learn was understandable as long as the digital platforms were not generating revenues – since they saw their companies giving away the effort of their work.
And this is where we come to the hope part of this evolution....[more]
10 December 2012 · by Anette Novak
For most people in the Western hemisphere, Christmas is a peak time of the year for joy and hope. This holiday carries the promise of peace and happiness.
For some, this translates into the expectation of prosperity – or at least some nice presents.
Even though Christmas is still two weeks away, I wish to drop news media executives across the globe a bag full of seasonal gifts. My advice is to unwrap these packages fast – since they might just help your struggling operations in their search for the light at the end of the long and murky restructuring tunnel:
Gift No. 1: Stories around the fireplace.
There is one element that has withstood civilisation’s changes since the beginning of time: our thirst for stories. Our urge to gather and to listen to them. Our happiness when we share the best ones.
According to future scientist Rolf Jensen (@rolfjensen_dk) — whom I quoted in my last post, “Why we must tell the stories consumers long to hear” — telling amazing stories will be the sharpest tool in the box when we enter the “dream society.”
This society is a place where new individualists experiment on how far they can go in reinventing themselves, in their never-ending quest for an optimised life. A unique and plus-que-parfait “me.”
Quality content is, in this digital subscription launch era, absolutely business-critical.
You know how to. So start telling those amazing stories....[more]
12 November 2012 · by Anette Novak
A long, long time ago, when I was living in South Africa, our family was acquainted with a man who used to throw all of his nickels and dimes on the ground.
When asked why, he replied: “When others look down at their feet to catch them, I look ahead and make millions.”
The story came back to me recently when I looked at my social media feed on industry news. Many of the initiatives and the questions that preoccupy our business at present are the “nickels and dimes,” not the go-and-get-the-million subjects.
While preparing a lecture for a group of university teachers in Southeast Asia, I carried out some trend-spotting. One striking fact came to my attention: So many of the companies that sell analytics and forecasts are agreeing on the assumption that the future will be focused on values.
- London-based futurist Anne Lise Kjaer speaks of the “emotional consumer” — an individual who has discovered that money can buy fulfillment and who is looking for, and prepared to pay for, experiences.
- Danish futurist Rolf Jensen (@rolfjensen_dk), director of The Copenhagen Institute for Future Studies, one of the world’s most important future-oriented think tanks, has pointed out that we are moving toward the “dream society” — a place where corporations that base themselves on notions like “care,” “identity,” “safety,” and “ethics” will thrive.
In his new book (not yet translated into English), Jensen takes this reasoning one step further and claims that, in this context, storytelling will become increasingly important: “The dream society is the theory, storytelling is the tool.”
Now, how does all this connect to the media industry and our reality?
To guide you to where I am going, I will have to bring you back to my last post, “Content strategies must balance good and bad news.” In that post, I explored the connection between brand and content strategy, the necessity of seeing the output as part of the brand experience, and the need to make staff members, no matter where in the organisation they work, passionate brand ambassadors....[more]
08 October 2012 · by Anette Novak
If you take a serious look at your friends, I am certain you have become more picky about whom you spend time with as you grow older.
I tend to choose people who give more, or at least exert as much energy as they take. People who have a positive and constructive approach to life. People who spread warmth and happiness.
Let’s make friendship a metaphor for news operations. And let’s take a serious look at what kind of energy our platforms communicate every day.
A number of scientific studies have shown over the years that traditional media focus on negative stories. Be it for psycho-physiological reasons, as this study from 2010 claims, or merely for maximising profits.
But what if these short-term gains are backfiring in the long term?
What if this content strategy, triggering the reptile brain’s lust for the “candy and liquor” content, is slowly eroding not only the credibility of our operations, but the entire experience of our brands?
In this era, in which newsmedia executives all preach customer relationship building, I believe we have to seriously rethink current content strategies. We have to stop focusing on click-through rates (CTRs) and the number of “likes.” Instead, we need to find a way to engage with our audiences on a much deeper level, which will — in the long run — be more satisfactory, to everyone.
In order to succeed, we need to say, “Bye-bye, content candy,” and “Hello, carrots and whole wheat.”
One example I sometimes use when I lecture on journalism is that of the Swedish Midsummer. Great crowds gather at the end of June, when the Scandinavian summer climaxes in flowers and light.
Often, local organisations and clubs work the entire year to prepare elaborate programs with folk-dancing, flag parades, and ceremonies honoring new Swedish citizens. Families gather together, bringing picnic baskets and blankets. This celebration is a true manifestation of togetherness, of unity.
The local news media send a young female reporter to “do something” on the festivities. Not very pleased with this low-hierarchical task, the now-frustrated journalist takes a few photos of the people and flags and quickly returns to the newsroom. There, she immediately phones the local police to ask if anything “happened.” The officer on duty informs her of several driving-under-the-influence cases. Eureka! Finally, an angle!
Headline: Many drunk drivers on Midsummer roads
The families who attended the festivities are eager to see the reportage from the day. But when they encounter this angle, they are not only disappointed — they don’t even recognise the event they attended....[more]