MORRIS: Innovation in news media

May 30, 2015

innovation-sig-morris-greg.jpgI’ve written many times over the past few years about new products, strategies and directions here at IBJ Media. I believe many of these moves have been innovative and resulted in benefits for our readers.

In reflecting back on the past seven years or so, I ask myself if the news industry had not been in such stress and transition, would we at IBJ have had the foresight and fortitude to make some of these changes? The honest answer to that question is no—at least not at the current pace.

Long-term continued growth and success, which is what IBJ pretty much experienced as a straight line up (with a couple of small blips) from 1992 through 2008, can hurt corporate behavior. I don’t care how much you talk about not being satisfied and always raising the bar and setting your sights higher, complacency and, frankly, fear of change and/or failure can creep into your organization.

It takes a lot of guts to just have had your best year in history and decide to turn everything upside down and be a disrupter in your own industry. Successful, innovative companies do just that because they know market conditions prevent them from continuing on their same path. You’re better off being the disrupter than letting another company come in and be the aggressor.

Can there be any better example of a disrupter in the news business than Amazon founder and billionaire Jeff Bezos’ purchase of The Washington Post in October 2013 for $250 million of his own money? Many predicted he would turn the place upside down and bring Amazon-type innovation to the newspaper. So what’s been going on there for the last year and a half?

From PBS Mediashift, Janet Asteroff wrote a recent article—“A progress report on Jeff Bezos transforming The Washington Post.” Here are excerpts from Asteroff’s article:

“If you don’t like change, don’t work at The Washington Post.

“But if you are a consumer of digital news, you can expect some interesting and perhaps delightful innovations. And if you are in the news business, you already know that the old kid on the block has a new owner who is sling-shotting The Washington Post into global digital journalism.

“Bezos demonstrated he came to play with the October 2014 hire of digital newsman Frederick J. Ryan Jr. as publisher, replacing Graham family member Katharine Weymouth. A co-founder of Politico and former staffer to President Ronald Reagan, Ryan is a Washington insider and communications veteran who gives the Post the leadership and street cred it needs to play alongside digital doyens not burdened with paper delivery systems. In addition, the Post hired 100 new journalists to support digital efforts.

“In Washington, efforts are underway to move to a new headquarters, where software engineers will sit alongside journalists, further integrating advertising sales and content. As expected, management and operations have changed to reflect the delivery of new forms and different content.

“The Washington Post will be staffed by an integrated digital news team, one in which reporting, editorial, sales and tech development functions intersect and work together in a symbiotic relationship. This is possibly a make-or-break goal for the new Post. There’s no turning back if this new alignment doesn’t work — there isn’t anything left to go back to.

“In November, Amazon Kindle Fire users were given access to a pre-installed package of unique morning and evening news covering national and international events, moving the Post away from local coverage, an early goal stated by Bezos. Newly hired national reporters work on making the content more appealing in a magazine format. This is one application of portable content.

“It is certainly not your daddy’s newsroom anymore; then again, it hasn’t been that for some time. How much Bezos can merge news with sales, technology and development, and be an able competitor in a crowded field, remains to be seen. But it’s challenges like these which create the next new paradigm for journalism.”

Asteroff’s article paints a fascinating picture of innovation and transformation of a behemoth legacy newspaper that has been struggling to survive. The rest of the story has yet to be written, but there are lessons to be learned that benefit any company looking to thrive in today’s transformative economy.

Back here in the nation’s heartland, thanks for reading and supporting IBJ. We will endeavor to continue developing new and innovative products and services that benefit you, our readers. Thank you for your business.•


Morris is publisher of IBJ. His column appears every other week. To comment on this column, send email to gmorris@ibj.com.

Check out the rest of IBJ's 2015 Innovation Issue.


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