Confessions of a tech diehard: why the people perspective is imperative to the future of media

By Thomas Sundgren




This is a confession of sorts. It’s not brain surgery or anything new, but it might contribute to the conversation.

I’ve had the privilege to work in the media industry for several years — in a national media company, a high-class local one, as well as in innovative and exciting intrapreneurial start-ups within both of these. In recent years, I have been focused on product and business development, which often consists of approaching challenges and pain points from a purely technical standpoint.

People need to stand at the forefront of change management and innovation.
People need to stand at the forefront of change management and innovation.

Even though I enjoy working with people and totally acknowledge that business and product development must be completely user- and customer-centric, my approach to transformation has often tipped over to a focus on technology as the sole solution. I’ve been a diehard tech lover, and that stance has partly been a mistake. This approach needs to change in favour of more of a people-centric way of looking at challenges.

A modern way of working with products and tech

Yes, the media industry has certainly been excellent at creating structures and processes for business and product development from a tech perspective. Consider the following:

  • Models and execution of high-class product and business development.
  • Data-driven user and customer-centric development of products, and launching and refining digital B2C business.
  • Artificial Intelligence, automation, and personalisation in content and ad distribution.
  • Customer acquisition and retention.
  • New organisational models, work processes, and platforms for editorial.
  • Renewal of digital advertising in ad tech and offerings.
  • New tech and platforms for data and content/journalism.
  • Data-driven ways of doing business all over the line, top to bottom.

It is a successful approach, and efforts and investment aimed at tech and product development should neither stop nor pause. Tech is a crucial enabler when it comes to moving business forward and unlocking value, time, and energy.

Tech as an enabler in media are abundant

Data and data platforms give us possibilities to understand users and customers as well as how we can work even better with journalism and content. Personalisation serves end users with more accurate content and, therefore, unlocks time for editorial staff to produce more quality journalism.

An interesting example of tech as an enabler is the usage of robot journalism, an area in which Mittmedia has been a pioneer and others follow suit. Robots are serving readers and paid content customers with more and faster news and different kinds of content (such as breaking news, weather, traffic, house sales, and more). This enhances the user experience and expands Mittmedia’s ability to serve readers with essential information and drive digital business.

In addition, when we put robots to work doing the boring and static job of volume reporting, we unlock time and energy for editorial staff to create and enhance manual high-end journalism, both investigative and featured. In many ways, tech enables the unlocking of human energy and time.

Sharing in all circumstances

Also, in times of structural pressure, we’re sharing and caring in the media industry in a way that others can only dream of. Value is shared in meetings, events, conferences, sessions, webinars, study tours, and company-to-company visits. Best practice, knowledge, research, insights, and more are shared every day. As an institution, INMA is an invaluable force in this way, driving, enabling, and encouraging the sharing of value in our industry.

Adding the people perspective

We should, of course, continue to invest in technical development. But, going back to my personal confession, have we forgotten a bit about the people going to work in our companies each day? These are the people who create and carry content and advertising offerings to users and customers, the people within our organisations who need to be motivated and knowledgable enough to actually create sustainable digital transformation. 

To succeed in digital transformation, companies must invest in people, competence, and mindset. Findings, statements, knowledge, and research point to this.

“70% of all DT initiatives do not reach their goals. Of the US$1.3 trillion that was spent on DT last year, it was estimated that US$900 billion went to waste. Why do some DT efforts succeed and others fail? Fundamentally, it’s because most digital technologies provide possibilities for efficiency gains and customer intimacy. But if people lack the right mindset to change and the current organisational practices are flawed, DT will simply magnify those flaws.” — Behnam Tabrizi, Ed Lam, Kirk Girard, Vernon Irvin in Harvard Business Review.

“The existing assumption is that to digitally transform a company, you need to adopt the latest technologies. While this is partly correct, it doesn’t tell the whole story — what has to change isn’t only your technology, but also how you organise, operate, and behave as an organisation. Digital Transformation is just as much about people and organisational change as it is about the specific technologies being used.” — Anh Phillips, co-author of “The technology fallacy,” a publication from Deloitte and MIT.

“True transformation cannot occur if your people are not fully invested in it.” — Thiru Thangarathinam in Forbes.

So, we know sustainable transformation is about combining tech with people: mindsets, knowledge, and competence. Yet we do little with innovating and modernising models and how to work with people and competence in the media industry.


Maybe because it’s easier to focus on tech? Maybe because it’s easier to understand and work with tech? Working with people involves complex processes and requires a lot of patience.

Burned by the bad old way?

Also, maybe we’re ignoring the “people perspective” in the industry because we’re a bit burned by the old ways of working with knowledge and competence. That way of working with people and learning has often been:

  • Defined as a project rather than as a process.
  • Seen as an activity for HR rather than a core effort for the business.
  • A top-to-bottom activity where management pushes employees to acquire information instead of coaching them toward change.
  • Designed to push knowledge into people instead of achieving changed behaviour and measurable effect.
  • Not incorporated in the daily work processes, but rather an activity where people are taken out of work for crash courses in conference facilities where evening drinks are as incentive-driving as the actual learning.
  • Not designed for understanding long-term competence needs nor flexible enough to adjust to rapidly changing business needs.
  • Not focused on giving co-workers tools to do things differently in daily work.

To be clear, this blog post isn’t intended to depreciate the hard work done by HR departments throughout the industry. I’m just arguing that we might be better off in giving more focus to innovation by working with people, learning, and competence.

We should find models where we are not just educating co-workers but rather helping them act on knowledge in daily operations. Also, we might consider placing all of this front and centre of an actual business strategy and operative execution in a more focused way.

Elevating good examples

This is the point where I’ll end the list of suboptimal things and notes on what is needed when it comes to change management and competence. At least for now.

Because just as it is true that we should do things better, it’s also true we can — and are. Many companies out there are doing great work.

In Sweden, Mittmedia has been a frontrunner when it comes to competence and change management with innovative learning for the sales force and editorial staff. Surely, there are many more examples out there.

The main objective in blogging about this topic is to contribute to a conversation on innovation with working with people, competence, and change management. 

Hopefully, we’ll see a growing trend toward innovation in working with people paired with continued innovation in tech — innovative models in change management, learning, and competence to create sustainable transformation in a media industry dependent on its people to drive journalism, advertising value, customer experience, and, ultimately, democracy.

About Thomas Sundgren

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