P.J. Pereira told news executives at the INMA World Congress last week they had to “bring sexy back to newspapers.”
But how does an industry — one that traditionally has had a reputation for dancing like an elderly uncle with too many drinks under his belt at a family wedding — start busting a move like Timberlake or Beyoncé?
Below is a summary of the tweets and grabs that came out of the conference. Individually they made great headlines; but re-organised, they give us a great playbook for how we should be getting it on.
First of all, we need to recognise: “The future is here. It just isn’t evenly distributed.” (Rob Grimshaw, Financial Times)
And that’s because “You can’t run a $30 newsroom in a $2 world.” (Lewis D’Vorkin, Forbes Media)
Arianna Huffington (Huffington Post) touched on the fundamental shift saying we need to “Stop behaving like Mount Olympus” because it’s “all about participation, not presentation.”...[more]
01 April 2013 · By Kylie Davis
Editors have long held godlike positions in newsrooms. They are the omnipotent leaders whose authority is absolute, whose power to control and drive the delivery of news must be obeyed, and whose personal style and taste is reflected in story choices, opinion pieces, and the tone and colour of everything we produce.
Even today, back-benchers second-guess their whims, and reporters quake at sentences that start with “The boss ...”
This command-and-control structure has served newspapers well for decades. It provided the military precision necessary to successfully manufacture print day after day.
But it is a model that we now need to admit should be dead. And, indeed, our failure to kill it off for good is the source of so many of the ills now holding us back from real transformation.
No one can be personally responsible for every element of modern news delivery over so many platforms. Likewise, no individual reporter can cope with a conflicting list of instructions from multiple editors at the top who all think — by virtue of their titles — that their needs and authority mean their tasks should be prioritised immediately.
There is currently an extraordinary amount of tension and conflict in newsrooms. It is being blamed on transformation, which in many offices is being conducted like trench warfare. It is sad because it is unnecessary.
Since the 1980s (and even earlier), business thinking around what constitutes excellence in leadership and strong management has changed dramatically, as business structures have transformed in nearly every industry.
The skills we value in newsrooms, however, have not kept pace.
In a world of matrixes rather than silos, editors need to ask themselves, “What are the skills I need to lead in this new world?” We don’t have to invent them; there are perfectly good wheels already out there....[more]
25 February 2013 · By Kylie Davis
In the heat of a pitched newsroom debate, a former colleague once labeled me a “commercial whore” because I had dared to champion a project to save a weekly newspaper section from death.
I had asked its advertisers, who were leaving in droves, what changes we would need to initiate to give them confidence in the section again. I asked what content they might like to see and if — or how — they could see themselves participating in that content.
My colleague was adamant that my dangerous ideas would lead to the end of quality journalism as we knew it. “It is not the role of editors to worry about advertisers and revenue,” the colleague thundered.
My response was we already HAD reached the end of quality journalism as we knew it for this part of the newspaper. The section would be killed in less than a week — a legacy of arrogant editorial decisions and misguided content — unless we could come up with a way to restore confidence in its content from its advertiser base.
This did not mean we would simply publish everything advertisers wanted, but that we would use our editorial skills to marry their objective to be part of the section with some of our content planning, to create an engaged environment for both readers and commercial supporters.
“Editors who refuse to understand the commercial imperatives of advertisers and revenue will preside over redundancies in newsrooms,” I retorted. “I know what kind of editor I’d rather be!”
And, upon that, I spun on my heel and fled to the ladies’ room to sob for an hour before giving the sales presentation of my life — ironically, the one that did save the section.
It went on to publish for another three years before returning to its old ways, and recently closed. My colleague’s career likewise continued to ascend, with that individual presiding over some of the biggest newsroom redundancies in the country, including the colleague’s career itself.
The inability of too many senior editors to understand the importance of content engagement with our commercial partners still saddens me enormously, but there is no more time for tears. I am not crying wolf when I shout, “Wake up, people!”
A new competitor has arrived in town to further erode the revenue of newspaper companies. And like the searchable classified Web sites we dismissed 10 years or so ago, while we focused on the “real” issue of what our traditional print competitor was doing, this new competitor is going to take us by surprise and rip a major revenue stream from us unless we wise up right now.
Because our new competitors are actually our advertising clients....[more]
21 January 2013 · By Kylie Davis
“Why didn’t newspapers invent Facebook?” was a question that sparked widespread debate, both in the real world and on social media, at the 2011 INMA World Congress in New York.
Responses included that newspaper thinking was too slow, not innovative and entrepreneurial enough. That we weren’t prepared to try and fail. That senior management didn’t “get” it.
Our criteria for success was too rigid and out of date. And, alternatively, that there was “too much” innovation out there that was bamboozling and no proven way to know where to place your bets.
It is a question that has stuck with me ever since. Two years down the track, I still cannot see any compelling evidence that we as an industry really understand the criteria we should be using to assess new concepts — or even some of the old ones — that so successfully have cut our lunch.
Instead, we are still overwhelmingly looking for the next holy grail that will “fix” newspapers or grow or return or hold audiences to our publications, Internet, or mobile sites.
We are continuing to labour under the belief that writing, producing, and curating beautiful and compelling content is fundamentally enough, and the new media options just provide us with more ways to promote, distribute, and create it more efficiently — and occasionally reply or chat to readers. And advertisers should stick with us while we do that.
But, actually, it is our views on publishing that are broken. It’s not that this view is wrong — it’s just no longer the full picture.
The urgency is now upon us to recognise there is a whole new world of publishing out there in the form of innovative start-ups. And they’re inventing apps and technologies that fulfill the old newspaper criteria of connecting audiences, proclaiming and advocating on behalf of issues, and creating new efficiencies and services for readers and businesses.
As they do this, some of them even create content. Alert! Alert!!
So how should we be assessing new start-ups and deciding if they are right for us? By turning our criteria upside down and asking not which ones create content and could be a threat to journalism.
Instead, we should be asking which ones fulfill the other essential role of publishers that we once owned exclusively, through audience connection, advocacy, and efficiency.
To that end, here is a list of new start-ups out there now that newspaper companies need to pay attention to now!
26 December 2012 · By Kylie Davis
We need to talk about our relationship. For months now, I’ve been unhappy. It’s not me, it’s you. You have changed.
When we first hooked up, I loved how you knew all my friends. It was great finding out about the lives of people from across my life, seeing photos of their partners, their homes, sharing again in their silliness and smart comments, and engaging with their view on the world.
So many people who just hadn’t changed at all — making witty ripostes, getting advice. It was just like they were in the next room.
I loved how I had access again to the lives of people I genuinely cared about, even though we didn’t have time to catch up physically. I loved that I have seen photos of weddings, new babies, and videos of shining moments in real time, while debating politics, mourning losses, and receiving birthday greetings from ex-boyfriends long lost and now forgiven.
And you helped me reconnect to colleagues and people whose company I had enjoyed, but for whom time and circumstance had moved us on before the friendship could flourish. You gave us a space to get to know each other better.
And because of you, I now have a close friendship with my husband’s cousin who lives on the other side of the world, and we’re closer than ever to his Mum, which was difficult due to distance. I’m really grateful for that.
I have loved the shared recipes, been surprised by article recommendations, loved the silly memes, the cheering up when I was gloomy or down, and the occasional game across continents.
But then it took a turn. You changed your algorithm.
Suddenly, the memes were not well-thought out or occasional; they were everywhere. Instead of beloved friends in my feed, it became crowded with over-sharers — the occasional acquaintances, who were the most prolific, while genuine friends got lost in the white noise.
Attempts to downgrade them changed nothing. My feed is now cluttered with people I care only vaguely about.
And then came the advertising....[more]
26 November 2012 · By Kylie Davis
I am waging war against bad commercial content.
For the past 10 years, I have sought to cajole, enthuse, encourage, harass, and motivate the editorial teams I’ve led, to ensure that everything we do that involves a client is creative, of great quality and aligned to good news values, by being genuinely interesting and informative. Even, and especially, when that required some passionate conversations with clients.
But not everyone takes the same approach.
Many believe that, because a client controls the money, the way to do commercial content is to just give them what they say they want. The results are frequently dreary, painful, and an affront to intelligence. They also don’t work. And then clients get cranky and blame the medium, rather than their poor message.
It has to stop. There is enough dross parading as content in this current age without professional creatives — including journalists — selling out their talent because a marketing team is all hot and bothered about the desire to create an online viral campaign.
A case in point, I believe, are airline flight safety videos.
As Australia’s major airline, Qantas has been a sponsor of the Australian Olympic team and now the Australian cricket team. Clearly, someone in marketing decided that, given the size of their investment, they needed to leverage these dollars and do more.
With content creation the latest fad, they incorporated the Olympic team into the safety briefing, with a delivery awash with bad sporting cliches and jingoism. Servicing sponsors to this extent did not pay off for the Aussie Olympic team; many of the stars of the video failed to perform as expected in London.
I thought it was truly awful. And, with a busy travel schedule, I resented each time the video appeared and I was forced to watch it while captive in my airline seat. Then the Australian cricket team version appeared. I hate it even more.
To its sins of bad sporting cliches and jingoism, add sycophantic hero worship and faked laughter to appallingly bad jokes. My safety is actively compromised because I simply cannot watch it. And, unsurprisingly, it has not gone viral....[more]
04 November 2012 · By Kylie Davis
“You can’t do any worse.”
Rudy Giuliani won what many thought was the poisoned chalice of the office of the mayor of New York City with a slogan that was nothing if not refreshing in its honesty.
In 1994, the “Big rotten Apple” was a city of 2,000 murders a year, 1.1 million people on welfare, an enormous budget deficit, and 10% unemployment. The obstacles were seemingly insurmountable.
But, according to Giuliani, who spoke in Sydney recently, the secret to good leadership is to have a big idea, a vision of what you want things to look like, and the commitment to removing the obstacles that will prevent you from executing your plan.
He says to create real change is simple: You just need a philosophy and a process.
His inspiration came from standing in the middle of Times Square and thinking not about the problems of crime, poverty, prostitution, and urban decay, but dreaming of what the future would look like if those issues no longer existed.
“When I became the mayor I decided that the most important thing to have was a group of ideas — a vision for how things could and should be,” he said. “I was determined to change the way the way the city thought about itself.”
His lessons outlined a roadmap that could rescue a news company just as easily as it turned around a broken, crime-riddled, bankrupt city. (Not to say it’s easy. But if seemingly impossible obstacles have been accomplished in our time, why not again?)
Giuliani also did all these things with only minority political support; he was one of only four Republicans on the New York City legislature, with an opposition of six Democrats. He did it without any real power base except for the enthusiasm he could instill in his people and his constituents.
His leadership was also credited with helping New York both cope with and survive the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre.
It puts a totally fresh perspective on some of the dramas we all face back at the office.
So can newspapers change the way they think about themselves?
Here is my take on the leadership lessons for newspapers from Rudy Giuliani.
- Stop making the same mistakes. When Giuliani took over, the city was broke and business was moving out because taxes were so high. Government advisers recommended increasing taxes further.
“I threw their report in the garbage,” he said. “I said, ‘This has been going on for 30 years and it’s a sickness. We have a budget deficit and we raise taxes and then businesses move out so there’s a deficit again. We are going to do something different.’”
24 September 2012 · By Kylie Davis
Summer Saturday mornings in our house are spent at my son’s cricket game, which means four glorious hours of working my way through the newspaper from cover to cover. (This is the highlight; after seven years, I still have no idea what is going on in the field.)
The only interruption is the need to look up occasionally, say “good job,” and clap at some particularly capable piece of fielding or batting. (I confess I just follow the other parents in this regard.)
But what I love about the morning is how the newspapers are divided up and shared across the parents and the conversations about what we have read. You cannot read an iPad at the cricket. You cannot see the screen in the glare of the sun, for one thing, nor can you divide up the sections and physically share them around.
But I found myself deeply annoyed recently as I scoured the weekend cinema listings. Hubby and I thought we might check out a movie. We knew what we wanted to see and, as there were several full-page ads from local cinemas, it seemed a straightforward piece of planning: Identify cinema playing our movie, work out the time, nice night out.
One of the major cinema chains has decided to go down a new path of “branding” advertising. This involves listing all the movies that are playing at a particular cinema and insisting you go online to find out the screening time.
The advertisement was the same size (a full page) as its competitors. It had an identical “module” for each of the multiple cinemas in the chain, and it promoted heavily with symbols flagging 3-D and special wrap-around screens. But where its competitors listed the times the movies were playing, it offered “stylish” white space.
This ad said to consumers: “We’ve got all the movies you want to see at a cinema near you in the most modern and fabulously fitted-out environments. But we’re not going to tell you when they’re on. You have to go out of your way to find that out yourself. Download our app.”
So what did I do? I turned the page — and went with their competitor. Because while downloading their app might have been a good idea and allowed me to move across to booking a ticket, it was not possible in full sun and that wasn’t the problem I needed solved. I just wanted to know which cinema I should choose based on knowledge of what time the movie was screening. By not providing me with that information, they prompted me to choose the provider that did.
And that is telling on lots of levels....[more]
10 September 2012 · By Kylie Davis
“People don’t fear change, they fear loss.”
I heard this quote at the recent Future Connect Forum for Real Estate Agents in San Francisco. At the time, I didn’t think sitting in a room with 3,000 real estate agents and no windows for four days was going to be a great time.
But the impact of that quote alone was worth the price of admission and an overseas airfare. (It was a privilege to see an industry other than media discuss, debate, and engage around disruptive technological innovations that have changed the way they do business. Newspapers could learn something.)
As we work through major change projects back at News Ltd., thinking about this quote has helped me keep all the pushback and drama in perspective. It has helped me to hear — in what seems to be the never-ending process of communication — what is truly motivating people to resist: their fear. And it’s not their fear of change, but that they will lose something they truly love and value about their jobs or about their personal sense of security.
The economists have a rule for this. It’s called “loss aversion” (Tversky and Kahneman) and it argues there is a stronger human tendency to avoid loss than acquire gain. Maybe this is why we keep hearing that restructuring our industry is all about job losses, the destruction of the Fourth Estate and democracy, the death of quality reporting, etc. In other words, that restructuring is negative.
These are statements borne from a deep state of fear. And fair enough, it’s scary stuff. But our response as an industry to these comments has been simply to urge people onward to change, on the basis that we don’t have any other option, on the basis that if we don’t run fast enough, we will be overtaken and perish.
Management academics also have a phrase for this: “deficit approach.” As deficiencies and problems are identified, pain is necessary to break out of comfort zones and close the gaps. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, etc. But unlike the economists, management academics believe they have a way of dealing with it.
Gretchen Spreitzer, in her snappily titled work, “Leadership development lessons from positive organisational case studies,” argues that the power of “positive jolts” to stimulate learning and new behaviour is more powerful and lasting than fear....[more]
24 July 2012 · By Kylie Davis
When I ran my own newspaper company — The Balmain & Rozelle Village Voice — all my staff had a use-by date.
This was nothing nasty or sinister. We were a small, local newspaper that hired young journalism, design, and sales and marketing graduates. They would learn everything they could from me and then they would move on.
In most cases, staff would stay for about two years and then, as our office was open-plan, they would ask if they could talk to me in the meeting room, and I’d know exactly what was coming.
And it was perfectly OK.
The little old Village Voice — a proudly parochial, A4-sized group of newspapers — trained more than 40 young cub reporters, designers, and sales reps over the 10 years I owned and loved it. They would leave us to go to jobs at Fairfax and News Limited in Sydney, to wire services, the national broadcaster, and magazine publishers. A handful went overseas and worked for the Evening Standard, the United Nations, and Reuters in New York.
As the boss who was left behind, I was so proud I could burst. They got those jobs because I taught them well....[more]