It’s time for newspapers to take ‘wild but focused risks’

I’ve spent a fair amount of time recently extolling the virtues of entrepreneurial thinking for journalists in today’s digitally disrupted world. At a newspaper conference in Las Vegas this week, I’m seeing some exciting examples of entrepreneurial approaches for the business side of online newspaper operations.

Mostly, however, I’m hearing stories of the same organizational structure challenges at news companies that have long prevented them from keeping pace.

With 40-some new exhibitors at the conference, it’s apparent that many businesses see the disruption in the newspaper industry as being ripe with opportunity. Naturally, I agree. But there remains a significant gulf separating what newspapers want to do in terms of innovation, and what they are able to do.

One online newspaper executive told me it doesn’t matter what new project a site wants to launch; if the VP of advertising doesn’t get behind it, it won’t go anywhere. Others have told me new projects still go through the publisher.

It should be obvious by now: Newspapers (and every other company) need to be organized so that innovative projects can be launched much quicker.

As LinkedIn CEO Reid Hoffman said in a seminar at Stanford, entrepreneurial thinking means “taking wild but focused risks” and his approach to decision-making put a premium on speed. “I always tried to make the decision right away and then think about whether to un-make it,” Hoffman said. (He went on to explain that this entrepreneurial approach is how Steve Jobs was able to turn Apple around.)

Having Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh speak at this conference was certainly a step in the right direction.

Unfortunately, newspaper companies are forced to juggle too much these days. Online executives, the change agents that hold the keys to the digital future, are drowning in a sea of new ideas, new technologies and new companies attempting to solve their problems.

These are smart people who are committed to bringing change and innovation to their organizations. But unless the structure allows them to move quickly with new projects, they may end up just spinning their wheels.

 Attendees to the NAA MediaXchange conference seem to be flocking to panel discussions instead of the exhibit floor.

Attendees to the NAA MediaXchange conference seem to be flocking to panel discussions instead of the exhibit floor

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2 Responses to “It’s time for newspapers to take ‘wild but focused risks’”

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