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The 7 deadly sins of traditional media

07 April 2013 · By Anette Novak

As legacy news media organisations plot their resurrection in the digital age, they should devote serious thought to the seven “deadly” sins that damaged their former business model in the first place.

The old business model is broken.

Disruptives are grabbing the revenues – but not filling the old civic mission. And the print consumers are dying faster than marketing directors can get younger subscribers to venture out on the brand-new digital toll roads.

In short: Legacy media is dying.

This picture of dystopia has been painted over and over again; no need to describe the gloomy status quo of our industry any further. But let’s linger on the question of how we actually ended up here in the first place.

Easter is the perfect time to reflect on topics like life and death. And, in a way, the old Christian teachings on capital vice offer some clues to why and where we went wrong. If you never went to Sunday school, tag along and I will try to explain the seven “sins” and how legacy media committed them:

  1. Pride: The we-know-it-all attitude, predominant for much too long with media executives, as well as reporters.

    Born during the information monopoly days, when we thought we knew it all and had no lessons to receive from anyone. We owned multi-million dollar printing presses, prime property, and — even more important — the power to “package” reality, to decide who speaks and who doesn’t and on what topics.

  2. Sloth: After decades, even centuries, of astronomical profits just rolling in without any serious business development or innovation efforts whatsoever, why roll up the sleeves and suddenly start working hard from scratch?

  3. Lust: Instead of investing wisely, with a good return-on-investment (ROI) in sight, money has been poured into “sexy” events like jet-set galas, (organised just for the heck of sharing dinner tables with the Hollywood stars) and content strategies based on the news desk’s intuition about a cleavage click-monster (not on any actual data).

  4. Gluttony: Mergers and acquisitions might strengthen current operations; many have during the consolidation wave. But without a long-term vision and supportive strategies, some are starting to experience a certain hangover, now that the shopping spree has to be funded.

  5. Envy: Oh yes, it’s so much easier for Google and Facebook, with world domination as their mission, thousands of talents applying for every open position, and no old business model to keep alive.

  6. Greed: Print subscribers already pay serious amounts to us every year, but why should we give them the iPad edition for free?

  7. Wrath: This might be the only capital sin that legacy media is not guilty of committing. However, the results of the above six might be enough to draw this kind of reaction from the customers, who are sick and tired of over-paying for under-achievements.

If you don’t recognise any of the above, or if you do and that brings you down, here is an Easter egg filled with good advice. A short list of don’ts, if you wish to bring the “capital” out of the sin:

  • Don’t think it’s business as usual.

    It’s not. Today, any digital whiz kid can disrupt your business from her or his teenage room. Don’t fear failure.

    Invest in innovation. Try new business areas. Experiment.)

  • Don’t place your organisation’s needs first — and the customer’s second.

    The client perspective has changed forever, as brilliant creative director Fredrik Strömberg of Bonnier put it: From “can get” to “want to have.”

    (Do: Change your strategy from digital or mobile first to “customers first.”)

  • Don’t control.

    Control is dead. Any information you used to keep “secret” — news lists, prices, etc. — can and will be spread. Anything happening behind closed doors will be questioned. Within your organisation, as well as by the market.

    (Do: Work openly; you have nothing to hide. The transparency will make you better than ever, and it will help you keep the community’s trust.)

  • Don’t let your old identity — as “information central” — block you.
    Let’s face it: What is the market value of a company that brings more information in an information-overload era?

    (Do: Find a new identity, together with your staff and your community, along the lines of what your founders had in mind, with a civic mission.

  • Don’t fill open positions with the competence that just left.
    If you do, you are repeating the past. And we know where the past will lead us…

    (Do: Give every new recruit a title and a work-description never heard in your organisation before. Make your HR strategy a vehicle of change.)

  • Don’t get stuck in the silo trap.

    Don’t work linear or hierarchical.

    (Do: Try something completely different.The future is working cross-borders within the media house: sales, content, and ICT in an agile, start-up like culture.)

  • Don’t forget the passion. A long time ago when I was in high school, we were offered professional guidance, and this expert on future careers asked me what I wanted to do in life.

    I told her I was going to become a journalist. “Don’t,” she said. “There are too many of those around. There is only unemployment ahead.”

    I remember telling this woman, probably 40 years my senior: “If you are really passionate about something, you will do it well. And when you do something really well, there is always someone prepared to hire you.”

I might have been young and cocky, but I haven’t had a day of unemployment so far. And I still believe that If you invest passion in what you do, if you truly put your heart into your work, you can make a difference.

So off you go, and sin no more.

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About this blog

I am Anette Novak, CEO of Interactive Institute Swedish ICT, which conducts world-class applied research and innovation, creating groundbreaking user experiences. Also, I am an international media consultant, World Editors Forum board member, gourmet, long distance runner and Francophile – mainly because the Parisians walk and talk as fast as I do. I am former editor-in-chief of the Swedish regional media house Norran. I believe in digital opportunities for publishers, open innovation. The future belongs to media companies that are able to maintain the trust of the audience, who define themselves as active community players, and who are able to create amazing experiences.


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