Local news publishers understand the need to evolve their newsrooms. To attract advertisers, subscribers, and younger readers, change is essential—from digital conversion to newsroom diversity. The Tow Center for Digital Journalism’s new report, Life at Local Newspapers in a Turbulent Era, examines transformation progress at local newspapers through the eyes of those making the news.
The authors, Damian Radcliffe and Ryan Wallace, provide a candid industry perspective when they check in with newsrooms to look at the state of local publishing. The survey respondents include more than 300 U.S. editors, reporters, publishers in small-scale newspapers. It’s important to note that reporters and editors (section/managing) accounted for 66% of total respondents, and more than half of the sample (53%) worked 10+ years in the industry.
Local news landscape
Local news outlets are closing at an alarming rate. In the past 15 years, more than one-fourth of the country’s newspapers have disappeared, with 300 newspapers closing in the past two years. Further, during the first year of the pandemic, approximately 37,000 U.S. news media employees were laid off, furloughed, or had their pay reduced. However, while the pandemic brought many challenges, it also added relevance to local news.
Overtime is the norm for journalists. More than one-third of respondents (37%) report working more than 50 hours a week, and a half (50%) work 40 to 50 hours a week. Forty-five percent feel secure in their jobs, although they feel less secure than at the pandemic’s start. Given the overtime, it’s not surprising that half of the respondents (49%) report that they’ve increased the number of stories they produce each week compared to the 2016 survey results.
Transformation in progress
With the transition to digital, more than half of respondents (57%) state they spend more time on digital products than three years ago. Interestingly, the increased time spent on digital is not offset by spending less time on print.
Further, many reporters are wearing more than one hat. As one respondent noted, “An editor also has to be a reporter, photographer, newsletter writer, and social media expert, and a graphic designer also has to be the webmaster, community outreach point-person, and legal notice compiler/writer.” Unfortunately, wearing more than one hat and increasing workload concerns cause high burnout rates.
Focus on social, new tools and audience metrics
In addition, 62% of those surveyed believe that social media platforms are growing in importance to their newspaper, followed by increasing local coverage (36%) and the diversity of sources and voices (32%).
More than two-thirds of respondents (67%) report learning about new tools and technology through articles in publications like Nieman Lab, Poynter, and CJR. Use of new technology and tools include:
Analytics and metric tools 50%
Video reporting 39%
Live video services (e.g. Facebook Live) 37%
Alerts and push notifications 36%
Chat and messaging apps 24%
Investing in the future
Unfortunately, many respondents report low interest in (1-2 out of 5) in new tools and technology. Forty-two percent show low interest in learning more about automation, 35% report low interest in Story formats on social networks, and 31% show low interest in alerts and push notifications.
Local news media companies to experiment with new revenue models, adding revenue diversification and moving away from their reliance on advertising revenue. The pandemics’ spotlight on local and hyperlocal news was a catalyst for a renewed interest in subscriptions. Now is the time for local newspapers to fully engage in digital platforms, new technology and tools, and sustainable business models.
With wide-ranging changes pushed within a very short time span, the publishing world had to rapidly transform many workflows and strategies during the pandemic. We saw trends accelerate and tried and true strategies hold strong.
Fastly’s SVP of Engineering Nick Rockwell (the former CTO at the New York Times) sat down with a group of senior technology leaders from four global digital publishers earlier this summer to reflect on this challenging period.
Jorge M. Ibarra, CIO/CTO, El Pais
Mariot Chauvin, Head of Engineering, The Guardian
Marco Kaiser, CTO, Zeit Online
Sacha Morard, CTO, Le Monde
Here are a few of the key takeaways from the discussion that publishers everywhere can leverage as they adapt to the new normal.
Traffic surged and content strategies shifted
Unsurprisingly the four news outlets all saw large traffic spikes at the onset of the pandemic. Traffic records were shattered. What may be a surprise, though, is that though it is tapering off, visitor numbers are higher overall to this day.
A closer look at viewer behavior confirmed that expected content cannibalization took place. Readers flocked to COVID-19 coverage and spent little or no time with other sections of the website. To address this, they decided to expand the coverage of Covid-19 with additional content such as infographics, which are still being referenced by news sources to this day. However, this audience behavior also drove the creation of a “Covid-19-free content” hub, where readers could educate themselves on other world news and topics.
El Pais saw the record traffic extend into other areas such as sports coverage, educational content, and even radio broadcasts.The Guardian observed a similar trend. The site experienced a 25-day streak with more than 20 million visitors. Traffic surpassed 366 million visitors in one month alone – up 50% from the previous record. Like the other participants, they are seeing sustained higher traffic levels with readers being particularly interested in culture, education, food, and crossword puzzles.
Subscriptions numbers are up. Ad revenue, less so
A common thread among the digital publishers on the panel was that they were quick to move Covid-19 news outside their paywalls. (Note: The Guardian does not have a paywall). Therefore, it might be surprising that a news outlet such as Le Monde saw subscriptions jump 3x.
Prior to the pandemic, Le Monde set a long-term goal of reaching one million subscribers by 2025. During the pandemic, they reached 300,000 paying subscribers and found themselves fast-tracked to reach their target.
Still, not all business metrics were positive. Several of the panelists which were already experiencing ad revenue declines saw this trend accelerated by the pandemic. El Pais converted to a subscription model in March of this year, which worked well in terms of timing. However, it’s too early for them to comment on the success of the switch.
Zeit Online also saw a 2-3x increase in online subscriptions during the past 18 months. Interestingly, the uptake extended into the paper version (Die Zeit). In particular, they experienced an increase in non-subscription papers sold at kiosks, train stations, etc.
Strategies remain and are reinforced
One might think the recent 18 months had CTOs and engineering teams rethink strategy. But that was not necessarily the case. All four panelists indicated that the pandemic confirmed some strategies that were already in place. However, it spotlighted outdated technology and workflows and sped-up previously planned changes.
The Guardian, for example, already had a cloud migration underway. So, things like running and maintaining systems remotely were already possible because of the programmable content delivery network (CDN) in use. Currently, they are focusing on three specific areas:
Improving SEO optimization to help secure ranking at news aggregators;
Building a fast and responsive website that can effectively compete; and
Continuing to implement tooling that can help collect data to constantly optimize conversion. They recognize the importance of understanding new audiences to find out what motivates and converts them.
Zeit Online also found that some strategies remained consistent, although acquiring new subscribers and converting trial subscriptions took a backseat. They are planning to catch up on this, though, as there’s obviously a strong desire to capitalize on the additional visitors.
As far as news aggregators and SEO optimizations go, Zeit Online is currently analyzing the long-term effect of stories being picked up. As Kaiser put it, “We saw the sheer power of platforms like Apple News and Google News. If you get your story listed there, you have a strong increase in traffic. That’s great but it’s fly-by traffic. People will read the article but then they are gone again. It’s hard to convert them. It made us look at what’s really a qualified visitor for us – someone we can convert into a subscriber. It’s an interesting question: How do we engage these fly-by visitors”
The changing needs of the newsroom
As with strategy, the pandemic accelerated the switch from legacy and stationary systems to those able to offer remote access. While a portion of these publishers’ workforce already worked remotely, it was the minority. And, for several panelists, the exercise to get hundreds of laptops in very little time was a daunting task. As many newsrooms are built on proprietary content management systems, they offer very few options for remote access at the scale needed, and new systems had to be put in place.
Interestingly, both Zeit Online and The Guardian have seen newsrooms adopt tools from engineering and other parts of the house to increase productivity and bring together dispersed teams. These include things like stand-ups, JIRA tickets, and other agile tools that for years have helped keep track of progress.
The panel offered a rare opportunity for a discussion between four of the largest European news organizations. In addition to the topics I’ve covered here, their discussion touched on topics such as online security, potential negative effects of the changed workflows, and more. (Feel free to check out the whole thing here.)
It’s obvious that the pandemic profoundly impacted digital publishing. However, it looks like the changes it triggered were not all bad. The switch to a cloud-based workflow has proven especially useful for this segment and the media workflow has likely been changed for good. It remains to be seen if the increase in subscribers will remain but with added visitor and subscriber insight as well as an increase in appreciation for quality content, publishers are rightly optimistic.
the dawn of the new decade of 2020, DCN members gathered at the Mandarin
Oriental Miami January 16 and 17 to network, discuss victories and challenges
as media companies evolve, and explore industry predictions.
new decade calls for a perfect ‘20/20’ vision, said Jason Kint, CEO, Digital
Content Next as he kicked off the closed-door, off-the-record gathering. That
encompasses continued focus on audience desires, pushback against the myth that
all content has to be free, and the elevation of trust and transparency in an
era marked by ‘fake news’.
Union’s recently enacted copyright law is a win for the industry, with similar
discussions expected this year in the U.S, noted Kint. Federal and state
investigations as well as emerging regulations are all good signals toward protecting
consumer privacy, regulating data use and anti-trust concerns, notes Kint.
can also expect a steady rise in content investments. UBS estimates that in
2020, a combined 16 media firms will spend $100 billion to produce content.
More than $35 billion will allocated on streaming video content, as new players
such as Disney Plus and NBC’s Peacock emerge.
feeling really good this year about where things are headed,” said Kint.
Jim Bankoff, CEO, Vox Media said he valued being at the DCN Summit. He described it as a place where premium publishers come together to “find ways to partner and to check our healthy, competitive impulses … and figure out ways to work together” in the wake of ceding ground to third party big tech platform and ad network “that have proven time and again not to have our best interests in mind.”
journalist Carole Cadwalladr, who freelances for the Guardian and Observer,
captivated the audience by recounting her experiences unearthing the activities
of Cambridge Analytica and Facebook. She was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for
her work, which sparked international investigations as well as inspiring the
Netflix documentary, ‘The Great Hack’.
was my introduction to this world of creepy disinformation, but also complete
reluctance from the platforms to even acknowledge the problem, let alone deal
with it,” she noted. She was instead subjected to legal pushback from Google
and Facebook as well as online bullying.
also called for media companies to not compete against each other. Instead, she
encouraged those in the room to join together to “compete against lies and
falsehoods. We’ve seen it in Britain and you’re next,” said Cadwalladr.
Galloway, professor, NYU Stern School of Business, said
he believes that the big tech companies on the antitrust radar should be
broken up. Monopolies kill economic growth and are a “key step to tyranny,” he
contended, adding a co-opted government can’t serve as a dominating force for
pointed out that efforts to regulate the behavior of big tech fines have been
largely ineffectual. To date, the fines haven’t been punitive enough to
dissuade the big tech companies to modify behavior, he said. He also criticized
the federal government for being slow to act.
Monetization and concerns about subscription fatigue were recurring themes at the summit. Yet DCN research shows that younger audiences in particular appreciate the value of a subscription and finds that there is still consumer appetite for subscription products.
Peretti, founder and CEO, Buzzfeed noted that over the course of a few short
years, the company has begun to generate significant revenue from Facebook,
Google, Amazon, and Netflix from licensing.
don’t think Facebook or Google wants to buy news companies,” said Peretti. Of
the platforms movement toward paying for content, he said that “They get the
benefit of sharing some of the costs of the production of that content. News is
a great way to direct repeat visitors and to build trust in the platform to
avoid some of the problems of misinformation.”
Turpin II, president, National Journal, noted his longstanding publication adapted
to the changing media landscape by transforming itself from a media company to government
research and consulting services company for which subscribers are willing to
pay premium prices.
VandeHei, co-founder and CEO, Axios; Executive Producer, AXIOS on HBO said, “you
have to deliver content in a way that I would deliver in a conversation with
you over a drink, like what is new.” However, to create value, “Tell me why it
matters. Give me some context. Give me the power to go deeper.”
Complex, the path to success hasn’t been simple. Rich Antoniello, CEO and founder,
Complex Networks said, “we call ourselves a brand that happens to monetize
through media.” He said his company shifted from an ad-dependent model in 2016,
ahead of the curve.
example is the wild success of its “Hot Ones” program. It features10 questions
of its celebrity guests that get progressively more personal along with the consumption
of hot sauce that gets progressively hotter. And the business model is based
not on advertising, but on the sales of high-margin hot sauce.
also outlined the success of ComplexCon, the company’s flagship event, which connects
cultural icons with fans who spend $100 to $700 for VIP tickets, with hundreds
of thousands sold. Fans also snap up merchandise from Complex and its app-based
vendors such as Nike and Adidas.
power of fandom arose again when Howard Mittman, CEO, Bleacher Report spoke of
how his company’s app and successful franchises attract sports fans. He
described how individual athletes hold more sway in their fandom habits than sports
10 million fans have signed up for alerts and the app accounts for half of the
company’s user engagement. Bleacher Report’s focus is not on breaking sports
news, but creating engagement on its own platforms, according to Mittman.
continues to go through cultural shifts toward diversity both in company
staffing and in targeting readership such as women. “Women are generally not
seeing themselves in media and advertising to the extent that they should be,”
said Catherine Levene, president, chief digital officer, Meredith National
have been the first to support #SeeHer, a national organization committed to
accurate representation of women in media and advertising,” she said. She added
that’s not only good for supporting women, but also for the bottom line. Women
who see themselves in media and advertising are 45% more likely to recommend a product
to a friend and purchase it, said Levene.
the controversy it has attracted by those who question the veracity of its
science, Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop brand is growing, noted Elise Loehnen, chief
content officer. The platform embraces several media forms and covers topics
from relationships to health, including alternative therapies. She said that
the controversy has been good for keeping the brand at the forefront of popular
tired of being talked down to,” said Loehnen. “We’re a strong female brand
undisturbed by the chaos.”
Tobaccowala, chief growth officer, Publicis Group,noted that the only
way to get ahead as a legacy company is to “kill your core. You have to rethink
your entire business.”
Levene from Meredith believes that the mobile world and 5G will create an even greater market for video. And, with 50% of searches conducted on the more than 200 million voice-enabled devices in U.S. homes, opportunities and challenges will arise.
action to purge third-party cookies against the backdrop of GDPR and CCPA will
impact the entire digital ecosystem, Levene noted.
is going to be the currency of the future. Those who have it at scale and the
ability to drive a lot of insights from it are going to win,” she added.
In a social media environment that is being blamed for everything from decreasing personal contact to radicalizing disaffected youth and intensifying suicide rates among girls, Tatyana Mamut, head of product, Nextdoor, made the case that her platform is creating connections on a micro-level in a neighborhood at a time when people hardly know their neighbors
believe that kindness is the next big thing in tech,” she added.
Alto journalism educator Esther Wojcicki made the case that helicopter
parenting has impacted the workforce and its ability to embrace risk and
innovation. She calls for parenting – and management – to embrace trust,
respect, independence, collaboration and kindness. She also promotes the idea
that every student should take a journalism course to build media literacy skills.
future will be fraught with change. And as Tobaccowala pointed out, “human
beings know how difficult change is.” But to survive, media companies must
continue to evolve.
have the power to shape minds and hearts, to fill the world with laughter and
tears to inform the truth,” said Kint. “Here’s to 2020 bringing the roar of the
crowd as we focus on what matters most: the audiences we serve.”
Over the past 20 years, the “digital transformation” of the publishing industry has been—for the most part—a slow, incremental process. For too long, the publishing industry was mostly concerned with digital replicas, ebooks, and other superficial “transformation” efforts which, in fact, didn’t so much transform the business as copy legacy models in electronic form.
Suffice it to say that legacy media models are oriented around the process of producing a book, magazine, or newspaper and not necessarily based on the experience and circumstances of the digital consumer. As digital transformation enters a new, more advanced phase, many publishers are recognizing they have an opportunity to provide products that raise the value proposition to customers.
What does it all mean?
The term digital transformation can be defined as a multitude of activities and attitudes that a business could potentially pursue. But what digital transformation really requires is that business owners adopt the customer’s viewpoint and change their business philosophy accordingly – from a process orientation to one that is customer-centric.
Publishers in education, reference and professional segments are beginning to execute operational change which supports this evolving viewpoint. And of course, there are “born digital” media organizations that aren’t wedded to legacy models. However, some of the best examples come from sectors outside media. Amazon.com is frequently cited as a proponent of the customer-centric view and their willingness to continue to rethink their operations from the customer perspective results in initiatives such as ‘one-click’ ordering to their recently announced wireless checkout process. Payment is made automatically via the Amazon app as the customer leaves the store. And we’ve seen what Amazon-owner Jeff Bezos has done in terms of transforming processes at The Washington Post since he acquired it.
Creating an environment where change can occur is no easy thing. Detailed and comprehensive change management activities need to be adopted to help guide an organization through this process. By definition, a legacy business model carries with it deeply entrenched legacy processes that need to be changed, adapted, or discarded in order to forge a new environment for success. Engaging in a formal digital transformation initiative endorsed and supported by the highest level of management is a requirement, and nothing less will suffice if the business is going to succeed.
Where to start
Before this can happen, though, it’s important to understand your starting position. A complete review of the current state of the business is critical to defining your future objectives and targets. Digital transformation is a process that takes place over time, along a spectrum of capability, where the endpoint is a business (or a product line) that has been digitally transformed. Points along that spectrum should be predetermined, well-defined objectives, which also serve as opportunities to reevaluate and reassess whether the business is going in the right direction.
Recently, I was asked to conduct a workshop with an educational publisher that recognized the business imperative of digitally transforming their business. This is not an unsophisticated publisher; they realize they are still too far removed from the consumer experience and must establish new business processes, product development strategies, and distribution/access models to remain competitive over the next 20 years. That’s a tall order for any organization, which is why the digital transformation process needs to be embedded into the organization in a consistent and repeatable manner. So, I took a team of senior executives through a day session to explore how this transformation process could be executed within their organization. An important takeaway from our meeting was the recognition by the group that taking on too much to quickly will doom a transformation project before it has started.
On a project I worked on several years ago, we avoided this trap in three ways. We:
recognized that our content and editorial workflow needed to become digital-first;
identified three to four workflow products to implement early in the transition; and
implemented a number of quick wins such as metadata improvement, copyright clearance integration and the implementation of process improvements with our distribution partners.
Doing the first brought uniformity and control to the creation and management of content, while the second enabled the team to learn by experience. The third built confidence in our ability to execute. During the first and second year of this project, as progress was made on these initial initiatives, the team gained the time necessary to test their market and product assumptions directly with customers.
As a result, toward the end of the third year, the publisher had established and expanded range of integrated products combining traditional textbook and reference content with assessment, collaboration, and other tools that improved their effectiveness and established a sound foundation for further digital growth. Across a variety of products, they had begun to adopt a customer-centric publishing model with revenue models to match.
Leading long-term change
Generally, the critical components driving the success of the transformation effort will be collaboration, resources, leadership, a clear understanding of business value, creativity, and a deep understanding of customer wants/needs. No one person can affect all these factors. Therefore, a strong statement of intent from senior management, ownership of the process by the senior leadership team for the business unit, measurable performance factors, quick wins and identifiable success stories are critical to creating an environment for transformation success across the business.
Securing executive buy-in to support this transformation effort (led by the CEO reporting to the board) must be a given. The imposition of technology on businesses today is so vital to medium- to long-term business viability that this effort demands the active support of senior management. An effective tool in this process is the establishment of targets and key performance measures tied to the desired improvement in the customer experience. To drive change, these objectives should represent significant “step change” performance improvement. Setting these out clearly helps prevent back-sliding and guards against good-enough results masquerading as real change.
Taking an organization’s senior management through a workshop like this one is the first step in a good first step in driving a true digital transition process. But because digital transformation will ultimately touch every part of the organization in some way, all staff must be included in the process. All employees must understand the importance of the effort to the success of the business, how the process will unfold, its impact on their work and what their contribution will be.
And remember that a digital transformation effort is never over. In a truly customer-centric organization, the business will always be anticipating changing behavior, rapidly adapting, expanding capabilities, and building new and better customer solutions. Increasingly, legacy processes do not allow for that type of flexibility and that’s the imperative for digital transformation.
Michael Cairns has served as CEO and President of several technology and content-centric business supporting global media publishers, retailers, and service providers. He blogs at personanondata.com and can be reached here.
A study conducted by International Center for Journalists survey set out to answer a critical question: Are journalists keeping pace with the digital revolution? Despite making strides in leveraging new technologies, the study concluded that the answer is no.
The State of Technology in Global Newsrooms takes a deep look at the adoption of digital technologies at a wide range of news media organizations worldwide. Working with Georgetown University, the International Center for Journalists conducted the study in 12 languages, and received more than 2,700 responses from journalists and newsroom managers in 130 countries.
Key takeaways include:
Newsrooms still face a deep technology gap.
Digital journalism has made some substantial gains.
In an era when fake news and hacking have proliferated, too few journalists are taking the proper precautions.
While most newsrooms find it challenging to gain trust with their audiences, there are two major exceptions.
New revenue models are emerging, but not fast enough.
Newsrooms have yet to fully embrace analytics data to make decisions.
Journalism is a young person’s profession.
The digital training journalists want is not what their newsrooms think they need.
Today’s media organizations
The report examines technological investment, use, and staffing across different types of newsrooms in the digital age. ICFJ identified three newsroom types based on their primary distribution platforms:
Traditional news organizations, which disseminate information primarily in the legacy formats of newspaper, television, print magazines, and radio. Though these organizations may have a website or some digital presence, their primary platform is a traditional format.
Digital-only news organizations that exclusively publish in an online format.
Hybrid news organizations, which use a combination of traditional and digital formats. Many hybrid organizations have transitioned from being traditional news outlets.
The report finds that digital-only and hybrid newsrooms are outpacing traditional media in most of the world. In fact, according to the ICFJ, news organizations that disseminate content primarily in traditional print, television, and radio formats are disappearing from the global media landscape. Overall, the majority of journalists surveyed work for news organizations that are either fully digital (33%) or a hybrid of traditional and online (40%). About one-quarter are employed by traditional news organizations.
Today’s newsrooms have access to a multitude of new platforms and formats — from social media to mobile apps to virtual reality, which they use to distribute their stories and reach wider audiences. Though the range of tools has expanded, the news industry relies heavily on the two social media giants: Facebook and Twitter.
Though digital-only and hybrid newsrooms are more likely to use Facebook, traditional organizations (which use digital but not as a primary distribution format) are not very far behind. Three-quarters of traditional newsrooms reported using the social media site to push out content, compared to 93% of digital-only and 91% of hybrid.
Hybrid organizations are the most likely to cut their newsroom staffs, with 41% reporting that their staff size has decreased in the past year. Traditional newsrooms are a close second, at 38%. Digital-only newsrooms are at the opposite end of the spectrum, with only 17% reporting that their staff size has decreased, compared to the 50% that reported adding more staff members.
Digital-only newsrooms are also more likely to have older personnel – in the 51-55 age group – than both their traditional and hybrid counterparts. Traditional newsrooms also have a higher percentage of staff in the 25-29 age group than hybrid ones, following digital-only newsrooms in this category.
Hybrid and digital-only newsrooms are more likely than traditional newsrooms to have digital content producers/editors and tech professionals on staff, though the number of these positions remains small compared to established roles.
The study shows that many journalists are hired into their positions without experience working in digital media or significant digital skills. While on-the-job-training remains an essential tactic for staff-strapped media newsrooms. However, news professionals almost universally agree that training is important to help them meet the demands of their job.
As the report points out, the digital era is forcing newsrooms to adapt to a constantly evolving space. They face an array of major challenges, including shifting revenue models, attracting loyal advertisers, engaging audiences, and developing new storytelling formats. While journalists (and the media organizations they work for) continue to experiment with a range of digital tools, the report makes it clear that continued investment, innovation, and development of the digital skillset is required.
Today, business leaders across the US are aware of the importance of digital transformation, regardless of their industry. However, as most know, it is not an easy undertaking and needs to go well beyond buzzwords to truly change an organization.
It is helpful to understand how leaders prioritize digital transformation and how they evaluate their progress. To that end, digital consultant and company builder etventure, with the support of market research firm YouGov, has published the results of their study “Digital Transformation and Cooperation with Startups.” The aim of the study was to ascertain the current state of digital transformation in mid-to-large companies. It looks at the significance of digitization; progress and barriers; digital transformation activities; and the impact on employees. The report also examines cooperation with startups as a means to accelerate digital transformation in larger, more established organizations.
The State of Digital Transformation
The report identifies three levels of digitization: incremental, transformative and disruptive. Incremental digitization involves the digitization of existing business processes and customer experience. Transformative digitization involves new digital business models, while disruptive digitization is a radical reinvention of the existing business. Digital transformation, for the purposes of this study, include transformative and disruptive digitization. However, the report does not view incremental digitization as transformation.
Survey respondents recognize the importance of digital transformation and have made it a top priority. Unfortunately, while the overwhelming majority of companies surveyed rank digitization as critically important to their businesses, the study found that many of the activities classified as digital transformation are actually incremental changes. According to the report, “many businesses have a false sense of security.” They also find that transformation is often delegated rather than aggressively driven from the top.
Other key takeaways include:
There is a heavy reliance on IT teams to deliver transformation initiatives, even though many IT teams lack the entrepreneurial DNA required for true transformation.
Although survey respondents rank digital transformation as business-critical, only 3% of business state their CEOs are directly involved with management of digital transformation.
Nearly all survey respondents are currently undertaking some form of digital project. However, these projects are rarely disruptive or transformational.
Traditional business environments are poorly suited for digital transformation, as true transformation cannot be a part-time exercise.
Businesses lack an appreciation for how true transformation might lead to a fundamental shakeup of business, with a significant impact on employees at all levels.
The majority of businesses surveyed do not see startups as a threat.
While it is heartening to read that leaders believe that the vast majority of their staff are equipped to undertake digital transformation, they point out that it is unrealistic to assume, as survey respondents indicate, that 90% of employees are ready for the challenges make an impact on revenue or market share in less than one year. Digital transformation isn’t just about digital processes and business models. Instead, true digital transformation requires significant cultural change. Thus, it is essential to help employees prepare for digital transformation.
While many businesses put all their energy into driving digital transformation themselves, another way of coping with digital transformation is to cooperate with the disrupters themselves: startups. Most startups are in dire need of what traditional businesses have – an established customer base, market experience and reach. For traditional businesses, collaboration with startups enables them to get on the fast track to true transformation – with low risk. Cooperation between corporations and startups brings together two very different cultures, which can be challenging. However, the report views corporate/startup collaboration as typically a win-win.
In 2012, the Newspaper Division of The E.W. Scripps Company, now part of Journal Media Group, and the Knight Digital Media Center at USC/Annenberg formed a learning partnership designed to accelerate the transformation of newsrooms in 13 markets from print-focused organizations to multi-platform news and information providers. The partnership, called the Four Platform Newsroom initiative set its goal as producing “significantly more high-quality journalism and audience engagement first for the web, smart phones and tablets and then turn to print at the end of the cycle.”
A bit over two years into the initiative, the newsrooms are reporting significant progress despite many challenges, including ongoing staff downsizing. According to a report on the results and key learnings from the partnership so far, “Digital Leads: 10 keys to newsroom transformation,” these newsrooms have increased activity on digital and social platforms by developing unique coverage of local topics of high interest to their communities. They have embraced new ways of interacting with audiences, including social media, real-time coverage and hosting community forums. They have begun to regularly produce video, data and other non-narrative story forms. At the same time, they have found ways to streamline print production, focusing more effort on digital platforms.
Here is an executive summary the ten key elements presented in the report (which is organized around these elements and explores each in greater depth):
Strategy: The initiative was grounded in an overarching corporate strategy for multiplatform journalism that set a high standard but was flexible enough to evolve over the life of the initiative and to be adapted as necessary by each newsroom. It sought to focus efforts on watchdog, data, real-time, and grassroots journalism and on intensive coverage of “franchise topics,” unique coverage of high interest to potential digital subscribers.
Research: The company provided local consumer research to help newsrooms identify potential topics of high interest to target groups, generally younger than 55, who wanted their news and information on digital platforms.
Staff ownership: To foster staff ownership of changes, newsroom leaders appointed staff committees to determine key coverage priorities based on the research. The leaders took on the role of facilitator.
Process: Creating a consumer-focused newsroom culture was critical, so the process was designed to connect journalists with digital news consumers. Each newsroom committee identified two to four local “franchise” topics of high interest to specific target demographic groups. Then committee members interviewed dozens of people from these groups. They learned about their interests and media consumption habits, including which devices they used and when. Based on the interviews, the journalists created “personas,” composites that reflected the users they would make coverage and engagement plans to serve.
Leadership and culture: Corporate and newsroom leaders kept up a steady flow of clear, consistent communication about the initiative. In newsrooms with healthy cultures and collaborative leaders, the process was quick to take hold. The process also revealed newsrooms with cultures of control and mistrust.
Organization-wide buy-in: Newsroom leaders and committees made sure key people on the business side – particularly the publisher and the advertising and marketing staffs – understood and supported changes in coverage. Active engagement by marketing energized the process and paid dividends in raising the profile of franchise and other digital work.
Training and tools: The initiative included KDMC and company training in digital strategy and literacy as well as skills training, encouraging adoption of simple tools. It relied heavily on obtaining free or low-cost training as well as partnerships with the Poynter Institute and Investigative Reporters and Editors. Stewart also created regular opportunities for peer learning within and amongst the newsrooms.
Organizational change: The initiative did not prescribe templates. Asnewsrooms began to implement their digital and social media initiatives, they altered their organizational structures, workflows, job roles and other internal practices to meet the new priorities. They made significant changes in resources used for print production and began evolving the roles of copy editors and page designers.
Priorities: Editors relentlessly looked for ways to cut traditional coverage to free resources for more compelling digital work. The initiative offered newsrooms a framework (and permission) for deciding where to cut back using “filters” that reflected the new priorities.
Feedback loops: Through web and social metrics or by reconnecting with key audiences, newsroom teams assessed what was working and what was not. They saw evidence that they were connecting with digital audiences; some said their coverage was driving subscriptions and digital activation, where print subscribers gain unlimited access to smartphone, web and tablet channels.