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Out of the Box

6 strategies to assess if a bold new idea is worth the risk

10 March 2014 · By Kylie Davis

News companies have been urged to “try new ideas and fail fast” to inject entrepreneurial thinking and flexibility into our traditionally conservative management cultures.

The belief has been that, at a time of declining revenues, there is no such thing as a bad idea, and the only thing really holding us back is a fear of punishment for getting it wrong.

But the mantra is at risk of being abused in those instances where the need for urgent action to address declining revenues is being misinterpreted as “try anything, quickly, for the love of God, throw something – anything – at it.”

When we give ourselves permission to fail, it should NOT mean that failure is our ambition. And as we seek to fix our current predicament, we should not confuse the idea that a stupid action is better than no action at all.

In business development, there ARE such things as bad ideas. And in an industry facing unprecedented transformative change, there IS a need to recognise that being bold enough to try something new and fail fast is different than setting yourself up for failure.

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Why you shouldn’t craft a strategy for 2014

19 January 2014 · By Kylie Davis

One of the most misused words — possibly in the English language, but especially in newspaper company circles — is “strategy.” And I’m as mad as hell about it and I’m not taking it any more.

The issue popped up recently when a colleague asked me to brief her on my new strategy for 2014.

I astonished her when I told her I didn’t have one.

“But we all need a strategy in this company!” was her comment.

I explained what I did have was an operational/execution plan that I was happy to share with her, if that was what she meant. Because the key challenges we are facing as a business have not fundamentally changed in my area of real estate, our plan was to continue to execute the strategy developed a couple of years ago in conjunction with our sales and marketing teams, which was working extremely well.

Build upon it and refine it — sure — but not develop a “new strategy.” And, really, we just need one strategy as a company that each area of the business would align behind. We didn’t all need different strategies.

“Well, you will have to come up with something new,” she said. “Why don’t you just re-label what you have done as your strategy and hand that in?”

Now listen, people. We’re journalists. We’re supposed to care about words and use their meanings accurately. And as such, this abuse of “strategy” just has to stop.

Calling things a strategy doesn’t make us smarter or more business-like. Nor will it guarantee our success.

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Even Google knows the good old days weren’t always good

22 December 2013 · By Kylie Davis

TALL tales of the good old days of journalism featured at a Christmas lunch, as colleagues reminisced over a few glasses of wine about the big names, the big stories, the big deadlines, the big nights – and days – at the pub and the big personalities and colour characters that once ruled the industry.

In the days of hot metal and typewriters – and even the blinking green cursor – you didn’t have to be mad to work in newspapers. But there’s no doubt eccentricity, alcoholism, chain-smoking, and a strong streak of self-righteous hedonism (or an ability to tolerate all of the above) helped enormously.

Ah, the good old days!

As an industry with such a legacy of rule breakers and misfits doing good work for the fourth estate, is it any wonder we now have such trouble buckling down to business in the 21st century? Where is the fun in discipline, taking responsibility, good internal communication, and clear and transparent decision-making? Where is the creativity in that?

Well, it appears the engineers of Google and newspaper journalists have something in common – both have a deep and abiding distrust of the value of managers.

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3 weird apps that make Google Glass seem normal

03 November 2013 · By Kylie Davis

“Is Google Glass going to take off? Do you really think everyone will want to wear those ridiculous glasses?”

The grey-suited executive who asked me the question was in his early 50s and had 30 years of print experience, man and boy. It was true: He would look ridiculous in his suit wearing Google Glasses.

But across the way in the Googleplex, skinny-jeaned tech heads with shoulder bags, riding scooters, were inventing the future. On them, the look is pretty cool.

So I pointed out that hyper-colour T-shirts, bubble skirts, and mullet hairstyles were all really bad fashion statements. But we had loved them. And none of them connected us to the Internet as we walked down the street. So, yeah, I reckoned it was a technology we needed a strategy for.

But the precursor to Glass is a new breed of mobile apps that are here now. And because you can keep your mobile in your pocket, there is no need for us to feel obliged to go all Coco Chanel (let’s be honest – we’d never pull it off).

All three of these apps use a new technology that recognises your location and doesn’t just show you where you are, but connects you to things of interest, or people of interest, and helps you learn something new.

On the face of it, several are freaky in a “could be used by weird stalker and result in a tabloid headline” kind of way. But look past that and they become completely cool with enormous potential for news companies.

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Should a woman be your boss? Probably

16 September 2013 · By Kylie Davis

“Emotional. Bossy. Too Nice. The biases that still hold female leaders back – and how to overcome them.”

The headline on the cover of the September Harvard Business Review – like all good headlines – incited me to rage. Why, I fumed, are the stereotypes associated with “female styles” of management still seen as different, other, wrong, and in desperate need of being “overcome?”

The headline hit a nerve. Earlier in the week at the Future Forum conference for The Newspaperworks in Sydney, the four male CEOs of the Australian and New Zealand newspaper industry sat on stage together and admitted – somewhat sheepishly – that while there were lots of women in their organisations, none were at a level where they were likely to take over the top chair any time soon.

And that was rather a shame, but hey, what could you do? It wasn’t their fault. They loved women!

“C’mon, babe,” said my husband upon witnessing my reaction to the HBR headline. “You’ve got to admit it – that’s exactly what you’re all like!”

After more than 20 years together, he knows exactly how to push all my buttons.

There was a prolonged and intense period of spousal shouting, which we both thoroughly enjoyed. During the spat, he claimed I was proving his point on the “emotional and bossy” front. I countered that the three male stereotypes should be “Aggressive. Political. Self Important,” which he was demonstrating in spades.

No one in public debate however, was arguing that these were obnoxious traits that needed to be “overcome” – rather they were clichéd male behaviours that regularly resulted in promotion in media.

At which point we both stopped for air. 

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Print is not dead – it just has some company

05 August 2013 · By Kylie Davis

I’m sick to death of reading about the death of print – with stories written like suicide notes and printed lemming-like in our own publications, from journalists who believe an extremist fervour for “editorial independence” gives them the right to self-destruct and take everyone else with them.

I’m sick of it, because I know it not to be true.

As a journalist who covers real estate, I’ve seen markets in good times, in bad times, in amazing times, and in catastrophic times. And when things are catastrophic, there is often a sense that down is the only way things will ever go.

But every market bottoms (or tops) out eventually. And it is how you behave after the market has bottomed that decides if you will cut your losses and angrily lament to anyone who will listen, do nothing ever again out of sheer terror of a potential future loss, or learn the lessons of the fall and prosper.

My belief is this: Print is not dead. Print has just bottomed out.

We’re never going to see it return to the giddy, heady days of pre-2007. And we really do need to keep working on a more sustainable digital model to support quality journalism (one that embraces editorial independence, but not editorial idiocy). Because this is where the bulk of our audience is now, and they are there in greater numbers than they ever were in print.

Digital should be our first focus. Print no longer holds the monopoly on being the first source for information, or the fastest, or the only way to get a message out.

But print does still have a purpose. It’s a purpose that is different to the one it held originally, but that doesn’t make it any less valid.

For the print market to pick up, however, it needs to embrace this new USP. We need to start marketing the new uses for print and stop wringing our hands at the loss of the old.

What is that new purpose? We need to look at the data.

In my area of real estate in Australia, it’s true that the bulk of the dollars in advertising have gone online. As News Corporation Australia owns more than 60% of the country’s biggest online property site – realestate.com.au – we’re OK with that.

But over past years, the best real estate agents in the country have been getting angry at us. As more of their business moved online, they have found it harder and harder to stand out from the crowd.

It’s difficult, if not impossible, to brand yourself as an agent above all others – on a property listing site. Everyone is trying to do the same thing.

ot dead. Print has just bottomed out.

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6 mistakes newspapers make with data journalism

24 June 2013 · By Kylie Davis

Too much of what is claimed to be “data journalism” in today’s media is really just ego-driven “data porn” — pretty pictures created around numbers with no real reader value, according to an international “data guru” with strong journalism credentials.

Justin Arenstein, the chief strategist and Knight International Fellow at the International Center for Journalists in South Africa, told the World Editors Forum in Bangkok that news companies needed to stop trying to “get into” data journalism.

Instead, they should ask themselves how good storytelling can be aided by data.

“New tools don’t replace traditional journalism,” Arenstein told a captivated audience, as he took them through a three-hour data workshop that felt like three minutes.

Data journalism is “no longer just entertainment and no longer just voyeurism but creating decision-making tools based on news reporting.”

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World Congress speakers offer playbook on bringing sexy back

06 May 2013 · By Kylie Davis

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.”

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5 skills editors need for our industry’s transformation

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.

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Content marketing is our next big revenue threat — unless we embrace it now

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.

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About this blog

My name is Kylie Davis, and I'm national real estate editor for News Ltd. in Sydney, Australia, as well as an undergraduate at the AGSM MBA program at the University of New South Wales. I'm passionate about vibrant, creative and entrepreneurial newspapers; about giving oxygen to great journalism; creating connected and engaged communities of readers and advertisers; and smashing down any barriers or closed mindedness that prevents the above.


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