Rethinking the newsroom responsibilities of strategy

By Martha Ortiz

El Colombiano

Medellin, Colombia


Why is thinking strategically is so hard for the media industry?

A strategy, according to Wikipedia, is “a plan of action or policy designed to achieve a major or overall aim.” Let’s break that down.

“A plan of action or policy”: Several media experts will say that journalism is a methodology. Good media professionals know the ethical values of great journalism, so they will follow those steps religiously. They know this way they work achieves the best standards. As a consequence, it is hard for them to consider being a part from this line of thought. Journalist are purists.

“Designed”: This is a word that includes logical and lateral thinking. But in my experience, creativity is hard to find in newsrooms.

Why is so difficult to see it, especially in legacy media? Maybe because their credo is facts, facts, facts, so it is hard to open their minds and think out of the box. They are trained to follow the method and have been very successful by doing what they’ve been doing.

Maybe they find answering diverse topics with the heightened speed demanded on multiple platforms is overwhelming, so they just focus on effectiveness and nothing else.

Unfortunately, I also dont see the academia bringing us people trained with the skills that contemporary journalism and the media industry need.

“To achieve a major or overall aim”: Traditional journalism thinks that anything that is not pure journalism corrupts their jobs. A democracy needs journalism because a society without it is a slave.

Creating a strategic business approach requires consideration of many different factors.
Creating a strategic business approach requires consideration of many different factors.

However, keeping with their ethical commitment, newsrooms today need to understand their main role in media company success goes farther from just generating great content.

They have to play smart. And each time they face an issue they want to work on, they must think not only about truth but also about how are they going to use that opportunity to strategically cover what happened and add to the company success.

Newsrooms today cannot isolate themselves and delegate the future of the media industry to the commercial or distributions departments. They have to understand they are part of the team and do their part without sacrificing ethics, of course. It is possible.

How do you create that culture?

At El Colombiano, we are working on making journalists feel responsible for the sustainability of the business in four aspects that we evaluate:

  1. Relevance: How much of what I accomplish as a journalist makes the brand stronger and valuable by society’s standards so my brand is their first choice for news, analysis, opinion, entertainment, and advertising?
  2. Audience: How much of what I work on is close to the audience’s best interests and needs so I help maintain and increase the audience in any platform? The commercial department has better and new opportunities if I do so.
  3. Income: How much of what I do creates new sources of revenue (or expenses)?
  4. Innovation: How much of what I propose represents successful new ideas for the audience and helps the company’s sustainability and growth? New successful ideas could mean new opportunities for advertisers, too.

Creating a conscience is just the beginning. Each day brings the opportunity to find media companies with a complex mix of products and services: print, Web, social, magazines, distribution, advertising, innovation labs, events, 360 solutions, smart data, segmented audiences, programmatic … you name it!

So, if we want to move our companies further, we need to create differences strategies according to the brand situation, technology fragility, and level or regulation for each case.

Martin Reeves from Boston Consulting Group gave a speech on TED about strategy needing a strategy. What does he mean? The need for a strategy collage base on each case rather than on one long-term plan. We, as media companies, need to move fast in that direction.

Strategies need to be adaptive yet sustainable.
Strategies need to be adaptive yet sustainable.

To have the right approach for each situation according to Reeves, we must answer three questions:

  1. Can we predict/plan?
  2. Can we shape?
  3. Can we survive?

However, as the BCG’s consultant said, we need a mix. Creating the right combination of tailor-made strategies is even more challenging for us. But we need to make internal changes to be able not only to create an open mindset to the word “strategy,” but to the mix of different approaches about strategy.

If we need a new credo, it must be (with the same ethical values) strategy.

About Martha Ortiz

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