Media innovation: Like bathing a wailing newborn


The first time I bathed my newborn son, he screamed so loudly that nurses came in to check I was not harming him. The second time he went rigid and round-eyed in fear for several horrible moments before, again, screaming the hospital down. When not being immersed in warm water, he was a contented and beautiful baby.

The third and the fourth time, his cries were so loud and terror-filled, they made me sweaty-palmed with fear. I now officially dreaded bath time and worried I had given birth to a child who would grow up with hygiene issues. But as his mother, it was my job to submit him to the ordeal because it was for his own good, and it was my responsibility to do what was right for him, even if not doing it would have been easier.

By the fifth bath, the noise had become fitful. By bath 10, he even enjoyed it.

There is a moral to this story. At no stage did I throw the baby out with the bathwater just because the little bugger screamed throughout the wash. As the nurses said at the time, “Screaming is to be expected.” (He is now 21, and a sweet-smelling and gorgeous young man who bears no obvious psychological scars of this early childhood trauma.)

This is the challenge currently facing newspaper management as the industry faces the next stage of innovation.

Finally we are getting the technical specifications for what we need to deliver, in terms of new products and how they should be integrated into existing systems. Our ability to trial and test and learn from our technical mistakes has significantly improved over the past five years.

But the challenge is in the people issue. And, in all honesty, this is the hardest part – there is no shame in admitting that. You can have the most impressive and effective built-for-purpose, tested-within-an-inch-of-its-life piece of technology on the planet. But if your staff regards it with suspicion, or refuses to embrace it because they don’t like the idea of changing their existing work flows, the project will fail.

Let’s be really clear. In such an event, the failure should not be placed at the feet of the widget or app. Good projects regularly fail because of under-par change management skills. And good management skills require consistency, inspiration, energy, and practice.

Like good parents, managers who passionately believe and love the newspaper industry need to be disciplined and teeth-gritted about the importance of getting their people comfortable with change. It won’t always be fun. Just like my son objected to the feel of warm bathwater for the first few times, change feels weird and scary (“Weathering the seven stages of cultural change”) and change feels like loss (“News organisations must shake fear of loss to embrace change”).

Whether the way that works for your organisation is to embrace the command-and-control culture and simply mandate the change — and discipline those who refuse to comply — or to inspire and energise, change management is like sex and housework: It never stays done. To get the benefit, you have to do it all the time.

For an industry that has made so many great steps forward in how it technically innovates, now is not the time to decide not to change, or that it’s all a bit too hard to bother with simply because there is screaming. Just like the nurse said: “Screaming is to be expected.” Don’t let the loud noises from frightened babes in arms put you off doing what is right.

This is my last blog for INMA for a while, as I am leaving News Corp. to move across to the data industry. I’d like to thank readers for your comments over the years. It’s been a blast!