Great Expectations

In that odd way that Technorati has of working,the serendipity of incoming links sent me to an old post by Howard Owens about dealing with change –the only thing constant in the news business now is change.

Here’s a competitive advantage, if you can harness it: Be ready for change.

  • There are newspaper companies that either don’t believe things are really going to change, aren’t changing that much, or change won’t effect their businesses.
  • There are newspaper companies that believe things are changing, and believe they are embracing change, but they are still chained to tradition or fixed mindsets.
  • There are newspaper companies that understand change and are ready.

By change, I don’t just mean things will be different. I mean change as a constant state.

Over the last few months I had the same conversation with my course delegates (mostly journos with a smattering of snappers) about why we were doing video. I talk a bit about disruptive technology (see Howard, it does go in 🙂 )- ‘the web has stuck it to you for ages, why not use it to stick it to others for a change’ – and, more importantly, the opportunity to explore new narratives. But whenever I have this chat it wasn’t long before talk came round to the common theme of time to do this thing.

Many feel that by simply coming on the course they left themselves open to the expectation that they could and would produce video straight away

Traditional expectations

I’m really sensitive to this position.

I think that there is still an unreasonable expectation that digital is quick and easy – throw money at the problem and the rest will follow. Video is a prime example of that writ large at the moment. As a recent comment from Mark Comerford points out:

There will be a lot of pressure to use video. Partly because it has a buzz about it and has (wrongly) come to be seen as synonymous with “going digital” and partly because the new kit cost a lot and should therefor be used often. editors and reporters need to be able to resist these pressures.

Thankfully recent comments from powerful voices like Pete Clifton and Mark Whitaker on the scattergun and carbon copy approach to video online go some way to arming the editors and reporters to take this on. But something about that idea of organizations ‘chained to tradition’  still resonated with me.

Sometimes it’s easy to see an organization as the management above you. It’s easy to forget that you are part of that organization and as such may be just as chained to tradition. Perhaps that expectation is the traditional way we deal with change. Perhaps, we are programmed to always believe that whenever something new comes along it will mean that we are expected to do more.

I’m certainly not being critical of the coal face journo or editor here – despite what some may think. More often than not it is poor strategy and communication that’s to blame and sometimes it’s a lack of honesty about the driving motivation behind the adoption of digital. Regardless of the reason, your average joe or jane is left fill the gap left by a lack of clarity and direction.

But it may not just be that your management isn’t communicating with you. Are you communicating with them?

Are you telling them what you can or can’t do or are you just sat there second guessing what they expect?

Even better, don’t wait for them to tell you. Explore, develop and do it anyway.

6 Replies to “Great Expectations”

  1. Good post. Thanks for the link. It was fun reading something I wrote a while back 🙂

    We’re trying to improve communication on these issues. We have e-mail discussion lists. I encourage people to read my blog and ask questions. I’ve started doing news staff meetings in the field when and where I can.

    It all takes time. But we’ll get there. It’ll be fine (sort of the motto in these parts).

  2. Thanks Howard

    I agree it will get there. It will be a painful trip for some but there is no going back.

    I think that idea of two-way communication is key. Getting out there and engaging. The models of ownership in the UK and US may be different but I think there is a common problem of dispersed offices as groups buy papers in different geographical locations. Communication tends to be by ‘remote control’ by necessity and culturally tends to be one way.

    I’m wondering whether some form of mentoring scheme across papers and groups may work; Tech savvy journalists and editors supporting counterparts in other papers. It could even be expanded so that every exec in the group is adopted by a digital savvy journo or editor so they can tell them about whats going on the web.

    I know a few execs in the UK who have a ‘guru’ that they turn to and they’re often a member of staff much lower in the organisation. Opens the lines of communication and shares best practice within the group.

  3. Another good post Andy, where do you get the time 🙂
    A couple of reflections. You write:
    “Many feel that by simply coming on the course they left themselves open to the expectation that they could and would produce video straight away”

    There is a very real empirical base for them thinking so. On a course for editors I gave last week, one of their MD:s sent a mail on the last day of the course (Friday) wanting a detailed action plan by Monday. No time for them to discuss with their staff, no time to let things sink in, no time for…

    You wrote:
    “But it may not just be that your management isn’t communicating with you. Are you communicating with them?”

    This is a valid point and an important one. There is a certain fear involved of course, no one likes to tell the boss: nope, cant do it (except maybe IT where it seems to be an embedded first response). But unless there are relative levels of mutual expectation then there will be problems. And with the best will in the world miss-communication can occur.
    My favored solution at the moment is a newsroom blog. The technology is simple and intuitive, it re-enforces the “going digital” vibe and it is scalable. It can be either in a single newsroom or a “dispersed office”. It allows both archiving and searching thus enabling the growth of knowledge in a newsroom or organization over time. The commenting allows for a conversation to develop and it brings a transparency to the follow up.

  4. Thanks Mark.

    The wife would say it’s because I’m a total geek. 🙂

    A newsroom blog is a really good idea. Howard points out in his comment above how he encourages people to read and comment on what he writes.

    I thought it would be a useful exercise to see how many newspaper execs spend more than 1hour a week on the web doing something other than email, shopping and booking tickets. Perhaps that mutual expectation would be better informed if everyone got time to play on the web a little.

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