Local Interactive Strategies

How news is done in the early 21st century

Rob Curley dissects the Las Vegas Sun’s coverage of last’s week’s big hotel fire and offers up important lessons for those of us trying to keep local newspapers relevant in the 21st century.

It’s no secret I’m fan of Rob, both as a person and as a guy who invents cool stuff like’s On Being. I sure wish he’d post more often.

You should read the entire post, but here’s an excerpt relevant to anyone in the business, journalist or not:

It seems to me that in 2008, there are probably about five ways a local newspaper might cover a breaking local news event like this:

  • No. 1 — Throw some resources at it in real-time, becoming the definitive source online for the story as it is happening. Constant news updates. Great background info. Multimedia that is worth looking at — at the very least, some decent photo galleries if you’re not going to do video. I’m talking about web reports that combine speed, accuracy and compelling visuals with overwhelming comprehensive coverage in a way that creates something that shows your readers that your newspaper’s website is the only place to go for information on this story.
  • No. 2 — At the very least, keep the web site updated. Even if in kind of a half-assed way.
  • No. 3 — Run a big story in print with a big photo. The next day. After the story is over. Treat it like your print predecessors would have back in 1978, pretending that no one knows about the story until you tell them about it in print. The next day.
  • No. 4 — Go apesh*t in print. The next day. But in the midst of the overkill print coverage, there are thoughtful analysis pieces that treat the story like a Day Two story. Which in 2008, it is.
  • No. 5 — Do a mixture of No. 1 and No. 4. Treat the web and print like they’re both important, with print coverage that acknowledges that we live in a world where both CNN and the Internet have been around for at least a few years. Or maybe even a few decades.

If you’re someone who worries about the changing business model of local newspapers, think about this: We may still be trying to figure out the business model, but if you’re not doing No. 5, there is no business model.


January 30, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

So, Local Interactive Strategies.

My upcoming consultancy practice is called Local Interactive Strategies. Here’s what it’s about.

After 12 years developing successful local interactive strategies in Maine, I want to help newspaper publishers through these challenging times.

Anyone around the newspaper business in 2001 thought it was tough then. In retrospect, those cost reductions might look easy. After years of continuing revenue decline, what  now?

On the contrary, I’m convinced that newspaper companies can survive, and again become successful, by re-envisioning their mission in their local communities.

I will work with newspaper publishers and their executive teams to develop the unique  vision that puts them on a new pathway to growth.
That vision will be unique because every community is unique, and every newspaper has unique strengths as part of that community.  Those strengths include the relationship  the newspaper brand has with the consumers and advertisers in the community. That relationship is an asset that cannot be underestimated. It’s the asset that competitors have tried and failed to overcome for years.

Yet the asset is at risk of losing value, rapidly. Newspaper companies must move more quickly to respond to their customers’ changing needs. It isn’t about technology and it isn’t even about “online.” It’s about being interactive and being local. And being strategic about it.

No question it’s a daunting task. Even with a new vision, it means rethinking products, processes, alignments, skillsets, expectations and rewards.

But I’m optimistic. Newspapers are in a position to learn from each other, from the successes and failures of other industries, and from breakthrough thinking  like Clayton Christensen’s Innovator’s Dilemma.  Newspapers have active revenue streams to support innovation and reinvention, revenue that any startup would salivate over.

Can 100-year-old newspapers sustain their core business and act like a startup at the same time? That’s the dilemma that Local Interactive Strategies hopes to help resolve.

January 23, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Changes ahead

Here’s the announcement I sent out today.  I’m sure it will filter around the grapevine, so  you might as well read it here first.

FROM:  Joe Michaud
Jan. 17,  2007
Subject:  Leaving MaineToday

At the end of April, I will be leaving MaineToday to start an independent consulting practice, helping newspapers with their interactive strategies.

This is the right time in the evolution of Blethen Maine Newspapers for me to step away. Interactive work is now part of almost everyone’s job in the company, and the momentum is clear.

It’s also the right time for me to move my career in a different direction. Many local newspapers are struggling to find their way in this new interactive world, and I believe I can help.

I have been with this company 28 years, and in online media for 12 of those. I am very proud of the work I participated in, from the important journalism during my years in the Press Herald newsroom, to the breakthrough thinking of the teams involved in online from 1995 to the present.

I was privileged to witness the total transformation of the Press Herald in the late 1980s into a new model of relevance to the community. I was again privileged to witness the blossoming of new audiences, new advertisers and new relevancy through our work in interactive media beginning in the 1990s. I feel blessed to have been part of such exciting change and impact, working alongside such talented and committed people.

When I brought my decision to leave to Blethen Maine CEO Chuck Cochrane, we both agreed that a smooth transition is extremely important. Between now and April 30, I will be working with everyone at MaineToday and with many others around the company to ensure that we maintain urgency and momentum during this period of change.

These are challenging times for all local media, and I am confident that Blethen Maine Newspapers has the right people, products, energy and attitudes to be successful in this new world.

There will be plenty of time for goodbyes before April 30. We have many exciting initiatives under way, so let’s not miss a beat.

January 16, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Culture shock

Steve Outing hits a well-frayed nerve with his latest column for E&P “What’s Needed in 2008: Serious Newsroom Cultural Change”

The smart news organization in 2008 will be the one that encourages innovation — no, requires it — from ALL its employees. It will get everyone involved: in planning meetings; in committees charged with specific research and/or implementation projects. It will create some time in the schedules of everyone in the organization to do the work of innovation, and make that an integral assignment.

Let’s go further. Innovation isn’t the key anymore. Results are. Innovation is one way to get results. Other ways include refocusing resources, stopping activities that don’t drive results, training or moving employees who don’t deliver results. Notice I didn’t mention multimedia or blogs.

The biggest culture shock isn’t changing from “getting the paper out” to “producing multimedia journalism” (though those are big).

The biggest shock is changing from a process culture to a results culture.

I would argue that the first step for newsrooms is to redefine their mission in this new world of fragmented media, and then build a plan to execute on that mission, including goals expressed as concrete results.

That mission should be understood, agreed to, written down, and everything should flow from it. The ideas that get the green light must drive the mission and be designed to achieve specific results.

For example, the mission might be “engage readers to build loyalty to our journalism and our brands.” A few tactics might be:

  • Start reporters’ blogs. Attach reasonable traffic goals. Heavily promote blogs that attract readers. Stop or refocus blogs that don’t engage readers.
  • Start doing multimedia. Pay attention to what draws audience. Do more of that. Stop doing multimedia that gets little traffic. Continually assess effort vs results.
  • Pay attention to traffic reports, heat maps, everything that helps understand user behavior. Gather user input both directly and anecdotally. Continually adjust pages and navigation to improve results.

Some might argue that we need to encourage more experimentation, and focus less on results.

Sorry, those days are over.

Things are changing too fast, and readers are too fickle, for this industry to tolerate anything but results-driven behavior from everyone in the organization.

January 4, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

“The Myths of Innovation”

I just finished reading Scott Berkun’s “The Myths of Innovation,” a book that belongs on any local newspaper leader’s bookshelf along with Jim Collins’ Good to Great, Clayton Christensen’s The Innovator’s Dilemma, and few others.

Berkun dissects the messy processes behind innovation, using well-known examples from both old and recent history. This isn’t just an exercise in mythbusting: Berkun discovers lessons for those who attempt to innovate.

After demystifying the innovation behind Galileo, eBay and Craigslist, Berkun goes on to reinforce principles we all know but often violate, for example:

  1. All innovations build on work done previously by someone else .
  2. Most innovators aren’t motivated by innovating, but by solving a problem.
  3. Ideas are cheap but innovators start with lots of them
  4. Those ideas need to get filtered through reality, then executed well, to get to innovation
  5. There’s more luck involved than we like to admit, and lots of failures (which is why it’s foolish to focus on only one idea)

I like Berkun’s take on innovation as problem solving:

“Problem finding — problem solving’s shy, freckled, but confident cousin — is the craft of defining challenges so they’re easier to solve.  Many bright would-be innovators … fail to spend enough time exploring and understanding problems before trying to solve them.”

If you’ve spent any time working through the Newspaper Next principles or Christensen’s “jobs to be done” concept, you’ve probably found it hard at times to escape your own world view. This short book (176 pages, 30 of which are notes) is a handy way to freshen your thinking.

January 1, 2008 Posted by | Newspaper Next | 1 Comment