It’s mine ya’hear. Mine. All mine: Ownership and innovation

From Flickr user Andyi

From Flickr user Andyi

It’s Carnival of Journalism time and Ryan Sholin steps up to the plate to host. He helpfully suggests a question to chew over for this months meeting of j-minds

What should news organizations stop doing, today, immediately, to make more time for innovation?

Great question?

A lot of people have already posted great suggestions so some of the following may be repetitive (still it’s better to add a voice then stay quiet in agreement isn’t it)

So, the question. What should they stop doing? My answer: Stop trying to own everything.

We have an interesting problem in journalism at the moment, we don’t know who we are. Ask anyone in your newsroom what the function of journalism is, what is it for, and you get a number of different answers. (I know, we have tried) All of them are challenging or challenged by the ‘new’ media landscape.

You may answer, we are the fourth estate, we tell the audience what other people don’t want them to know. But a new media advocate may say that the audience can do that for themselves now, and (often) better.

You may answer that it is to entertain. That’s a great one for upsetting ‘trad’ journalists. Remember sonny, this job isn’t about fun.

For every defining action there is an equal and opposite old media reaction.

So given that we aren’t sure what we are or why we do what we do anymore, we revert to what we know best. Consolidate and protect. We strengthen the fortifications and move as much of the ‘community’ in to the city walls as we can.This isn’t just illustrated in attitudes. You can see the very real evidence of this all around us in the industry.

If a news org wants to do user generated photography it doesn’t use flickr or Photobucket. It builds it’s own photo sharing service. If it wants to run a blog, does it use Movable Type of WordPress. No, it builds its own blogging platform.

Why? Because then they can own the conversation.

This ownership thing, it must happen on our terms, is the single biggest problem the industry has right now and that stops innovation.

When it comes to technology, ownership encourages imitation and stifles innovation. When it comes to staff, ownership means the structures are there to support the company not the individual. They pay to own the innovators and then stop them innovating (hey, at least they aren’t innovating for anyone else). And when it comes to audience, ownership means taking and never giving.

So what do we do about it.

I think the first thing we can do is look at the ownership mindset. We need to try and educate people to a couple of simple points:

Ownership and control are not the same thing. You can be seen as owning something but not have control. That can be positive or negative.

Ownership is temporary: You’ve all heard the term no one owns the news. That’s been interpreted as meaning that we need to monitise it in a way that makes the maximum amount of profit in the shortest time. No. It actually means you need to keep turning out stuff that people want to see and so keep coming back.

Within the news rooms we can do one simple thing: Give away the one thing that you do own – time.

Give everyone in the newsroom playtime. I’ve said this again and again and other organisations like Google have so obviously benefited from it. Give every member of your newsroom staff a day a month (maybe) where they can explore, learn and develop skills. That doesn’t need to be on the web. It could be learning photography. Learning to dance at a local community center. It doesn’t matter. The key thing is that you only expect one in return – they share that experience. There is no budget line. If you get a story from it – bonus. If a great idea comes out then even better. But everyone shares.

If you asked me what the function of journalism is I would say that its ‘to be part of the society we live in and contributing to a greater understanding of that society by sharing information.’

That’s not about owning

From Flickr user occ4m

9 thoughts on “It’s mine ya’hear. Mine. All mine: Ownership and innovation”

  1. Great piece Andy, and oh so important that newspaper bosses and journalists see how the changing demands and skills of their readers will impact upon them.

    And if I had to describe in one word what a journalist should be in today’s modern publishing environment it would be a ‘connector’.

  2. Nice post. I particularly like the idea of ‘playtime’. I guess this is what Nick Davies means by giving journalists the chance to dig deeper, find contacts etc. Playtime for the traditional hack used to mean going to the pub at lunchtime
    I think another way to shape that ideas would be to ‘task’ the playtime (if that’s not a contradiction). So you should use the playtime to:
    1. learn one new online skill
    2. Go physically to meet a group of your customers
    3. Meet five new expert contacts.

  3. Spot on. There’s a long list of tools news organizations should stop either paying for or trying to reinvent: photo sharing, blog software, CMS. Pay for people who can use what’s already on the shelf–the free stuff–and who can build on those platforms.

  4. You can see why publishers want to hang onto the idea of ownership, though – access to presses and lorries gave them a significant advantage in the pre-internet era, making the cost of entry to publishing high, often terminally so for new publishes.

    However, in the internet age, clinging to the concept of ownership is actually a competitive disadvantage. If you’re developing your own publishing plat form, you’re getting yourself an inferior product at a higher price. And if you’re clinging to the idea of ownership of content – you’re actually clinging onto something that is being steadily devalued because there’s more and more of it available.

    But accepting this means a complete mindset shift, rather than steady change. And big organisations aren’t good at that.

  5. Thanks for the comments folks.

    Charlie – I think playtime should be a pririty no matter how structured. I would be a bit more anarchistic about what people do as long as it involves meeting people and learning a skill and see what comes out. But task would work just as well.

    Chris – I think that getting an open source mentality in to software and seeing the benefits is a neat first step in seeing how that mentality can work in all aspects of their business. Be more like your audience. They don’t decide that they need a car and chose to design and build their own. They go to a dealer or manufacturer who does and buy what everyone else has. They will stick with the ones who serve them well, recognise their individual needs and support them. MSM is in such a great postion to straddle both those areas. They can be the audience and drive the car but they can also be the trusted voice that those who want to buy will turn to. And god! didnt I just crash that metaphor. :)

    Adam- I agree its a hard shift to make all in one go. Things like playtime and little internal hearts and minds victories can help turn the tide – or at least grease the wheels through the tricky parts.

    Craig and Rick. I agree with both of those. Maybe ‘someone that people want to connect/talk to’ and thanks for the link Craig very interesting

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