Inspiration from the road: how digital dimes will save journalism


Clark Gilbert pointed to the concentric circles like a mad scientist might draw out the cure to a disease on a napkin.

Deep into Conference Season, Gilbert’s presentation to the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association (SNPA) in Williamsburg, Virginia, mesmerizes an audience of CEOs looking for the Holy Grail.

More precisely, his audience wants to know how to continue funding high-quality and high-quantity journalism with digital dimes — and how to work around the innovator’s dilemma with which he was once associated at Harvard University.

For media companies, the innovator’s dilemma is about playing defense with the legacy business while simultaneously playing offense with a new digital business going after revenue, Gilbert says. The concentric circles are the growing overlap of the two businesses over time.

The businesses that today are nipping at you initially had almost zero overlap with your space when they started. Over time, the new business encroaches on the old business and intensifies the natural desire to play defense. Disruption eventually creates new net growth, though the incumbent never sees it that way. The incumbent only looks at displacement.

Gilbert’s challenge now that he’s a media company CEO: confronting the dilemma.

The CEO of Deseret Media says that the lessons he took from academia suggest the only path to survival involves:

  • Reinvention of the existing model for now.

  • The launch of a digital business for the future.

The trick is, it’s almost impossible to do these two processes at once. The work-around, he suggests: don’t try.

Instead, Gilbert has focused on smartly taking the costs out of Deseret News with what once would have seemed a radical way to dramatically lower content development expenditures (a blog post unto itself).

Simultaneously, Deseret Media — a totally different company populated with digital executives from outside the newspaper industry — is attacking Utah’s digital space with one eye on traditional local competitors and the other eye on the more important global players localizing their services in Utah.

The net effect is that the legacy business is safe for now, while giving the new business precious time to develop unfettered — a model Gilbert believes will save journalism in the long-run.

Building on a theme INMA is pushing, Gilbert emphasises that none of this is possible without first making the correct cultural decisions.

Culture change is the key step in building a multi-media growth path moving forward.

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