Taking community seriously requires a greater allocation of resources toward both technology and the personnel who can use it effectively. “Many organizations only see one piece of the puzzle and want to do small experiments—hire an intern and a few people here and there—without seeing how that impacts the rest of the media,” says Ashish Soni, who directs the Information Technology Program at the University of Southern California. “People who do have knowledge of the other pieces of the puzzle can do real systemic innovation, and this is the highest area to impact.”
Investing in Capacity
“Publishers still see journalists as the core and that budget should go to editors/writers,” Soni notes. “You hear media companies talk about the importance of technology, but pay attention to what they actually do and not what they say. In my experience, they talk about tech but aren’t willing to pay for it.” At a large scale, it is often not enough to increase technology investment alone, but also the personnel to use it strategically. When OffTheBus crowdsourced fact-checking through a database, their strategy of pairing anecdotes with users’ information and sorting by zip code made the difference. Many people in media talk about the importance of building “lists” (i.e., databases of constituencies, donors or subscribers), but those lists are only as valuable as the engagement they create.
Merging Roles of Journalist and Technologist
Reflecting on her biggest lessons as general manager for NYTimes.com, Vivian Schiller, CEO of NPR, says, “Don’t think about technology as the end of the process but as integrated into the process. Developers should be part of the journalistic process, and depending on their training, the right developers are journalists. What the web is doing is not just converting news into an online experience, but it’s creating a whole new journalistic experience.”
Rapid, Low-cost Innovation
At a time when companies are cutting back and laying off employees, it is hard for organizations to innovate. “There is often an inability to do what I call rapid, low-cost innovation,” Soni says. “This kind of innovation is important because in these times we don’t know what’ll work and what won’t. All we can do is rapid experimentation and see how the consumer responds.” In this regard, Soni says that using search to understand customers is more valuable than running traditional focus groups. “Search is an active process—not passive. Actively looking for what demonstrates an intention makes it real.”
The lines separating print, radio, TV or film can still largely define the core competencies of publishers and producers. They have historical roots in these separate forms, each with its own set of business models, distribution systems, practices and professional fields.
Platform convergence can be as much of a cultural and organizational challenge, as a technical one. It can require media organizations to retrain or replace staff unable to manage multiplatform production. Adam Berrey, Senior Vice President at Brightcove, a leading online video platform, said that one of the mistakes he sees companies make is, “underestimating what it means to be in more than one platform and how each platform is actually distinct, even if you’re carrying a brand across them, and even if you’re leveraging content assets in both places.”
“To be a multi-platform media company,” Berrey explained, “means you have a great sales organization on the advertising side that knows how to build products, that knows how to construct sponsorships, that can work with editorial in really, really smart ways, and that can speak to advertisers on these different levels.” This level of multiplatform integration depends on what Battelle calls “Conversational Marketing,” which in a blog post he said meant more than simply putting Twitter search results on your website. “It means taking your core assets—the data that drives value and knowledge inside your enterprise—and offering it as fuel for the collective intelligence of all your partners—your channel, your vendors, and, ultimately, your customers.
Tightly Integrating Functions
Historically, traditional media organizations had their central competencies divided between highly trained journalists and business managers. This structure works when the benefits of specialization are greater than the benefits of being responsive to the market. In today’s rapidly changing market, media organizations need to integrate multiple functions to succeed, sometimes within one employee’s span of responsibilities.
Berrey has worked with many online publishers at Brightcove and believes that a successful media company must integrate three fundamental pillars. “First, can you create and put together content and service that are valuable? Second, can you market this content and service in a way that an audience of consumers is really engaged with and invested in? Lastly, can you turn the attention of that audience into viable advertising products and have a sales team that can really move those products with the advertisers that want to reach your audience?” Berrey went on to explain, “Often times, you’ll see people who might be good at one or two but rarely do you see folks that are really executing all three with excellence.”
“If the old model is broken, what will take its place?” Answering his own question, Clay Shirky wrote, “Nothing will work, but everything might. Now is the time for experiments, lots and lots of experiments, each of which will seem as minor at launch as Craigslist did, as Wikipedia did, as octavo volumes did.”
To see the complete analysis on strategic technology, download Vol. 2 of The Big Thaw.
This blog is an excerpt from The Big Thaw, a guide to the evolution of independent media, written by Tony Deifell of Q Media Labs and produced by The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets. Learn how your organization can use this report. For more information and recommendations from the study, click here.