In Professor Williams’ class, Financial Tools for Public Managers, Williams extracts lessons on transformational leadership that author Jim Collins expressed in his book, Good to Great. While exploring Collins’ website, I came across a piece Collins penned for Inc. called “Building Companies to Last” in which Collins shared his take on the “secret sauce” that enabled visionary companies like Hewlett Packard, 3M, and Wal-Mart to stay relevant during constantly evolving times. His secret sauce consists of two main ingredients: (1) “ability to change within the context of their core ideologies while also adhering to a few timeless fundamentals” and (2) “stimulate progress through [Big Hairy Audacious Goals], experimentation, and continuous improvement.”
I couldn’t help but reflect upon Collins’ words while reading pieces on the declining print journalism news industry. Alterman’s “Out of Print,” Winer’s “Sources go Direct,” Shirky’s “Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable,” Johnson’s “Old Growth Media and the Future of News,” Jarvis’ “The Last Presses,” and Carr’s “The Great Unbundling: Newspapers & The Net” pieces touch upon the following themes:
- “Newspaper companies are losing advertisers, readers, market value, and in some cases, their sense of mission at a pace that would have been imaginable just four years ago” (Alterman)
- “News has now become a commodity, thanks to the Internet, so we must differentiate ourselves in other ways.” (Jarvis)
- “There is going to be more content, not less; more information, more analysis, more precision, a wider range of niches covered.” (Johnson)
If I were to apply Collins’ secret sauce to the print media industry, I would question a news organization’s ability to (1) implement change and stay relevant in today’s fast-paced and internet-fueled news; and (2) integrate experimentation and innovation as readership and profits decline. Fortunately, further research revealed that news organizations have already altered their business strategies and are beginning to focus on innovation.
In the early 2000s, the Washington Post even re-evaluated its portfolio and rebranded itself as an “education and media company” once it acquired Quest Education (Kaplan) (see “The Trials of Kaplan Higher Ed and the education of the Washington Post Co.“). More recently, The New York Times, the Washington Post, The Guardian, and Focus magazine have altered their business strategies to focus on building relationships and communities with its readers via individual blogs, video reports, and “chat” opportunities. Such efforts have enabled online audiences to grow; in fact, Johnson estimated that 75 million people read news online.
Carr, Jarvis, and others have remarked that news organizations have been struggling with how to monetize online readership. Although Winer suggested that news organizations adopt membership models similar to NPR’s membership model, most have focused their revenue generation efforts on online advertising. In fact, Pew’s 2011 annual State of the Media report stated that online advertising outpaced newspaper advertising for the first time.
Media mogul Rupert Murdoch believes that new inventions will come along every month and in order to stay ahead of the curve, “one has to stay awake and race to stay up with it.” To do so, news organizations have to dedicate themselves to experimentation, innovation, and continuous improvement. The New York Times’ Digital Initiatives is one example of how a news organization was able to integrate its print and digital sales staff which enabled them to develop more targeted and creative solutions for our advertisers. Additionally, The New York Times created an R&D group, which has helped drive innovation across the Company by looking at trends in technology and consumer behavior and resulted in new products and services and strategic alliances.
In Robin Miller’s “A Recipe for Newspaper Survival in the Internet Age” and Dan Conover’s “2020 Vision: What’s Next for News,” Miller and Conover hypothesized the future of journalism and shared practical recommendations for ways new organizations can sustain their businesses in tomorrow’s media landscape. Both also emphasized the ingredients – adapting to change and implementing innovation and a culture of continuous improvement – that made up Collins’ secret sauce; I guess it’s not a secret anymore, but the proof will be in pudding.