Digital Publishing
4 mins read

How legacy news organisations can innovate through partnerships

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While a survey from McKinsey found that 96% of executives view innovation as a strategic priority, only 6% are satisfied with their innovation performance. For a variety of reasons, legacy organisations have often been slow to react to changing situations and lacking a true innovation spirit.

On the other hand, there’s been startup after startup that appears to come out of nowhere and disrupt an entire industry. This division is especially true in the news media world, where there have been a variety of new digital media startups as well as tech platforms that spread like wildfire amongst news audiences.

We have a long track record of successful collaborations with large, traditional news organisation to advance their innovation agenda. Based on these experiences, we are sharing our insights on how legacy news organisations can innovate like startups.

Find the right partners

We often face the complexity in large organisations of having multiple departments with different stakeholders and views, across geographies. That’s why for The Times one of the key success factors of the JAMES project was working in collaboration with Twipe, as Pete Evia-Rhodes shared in the recent JAMES webinar.

The need to find the right partners is also true within the organisation itself. While it may be tempting to set up an innovation lab or accelerator, this risks signaling to the rest of the organisation that the responsibility to innovate is just with that team.

Our view is that if you charge a small team with innovation, then everyone else thinks that’s that team’s job and no one else’s. Everyone else just keeps on doing what they were doing before so you don’t really see change across the business.

John Wilpers, Innovation Media Consulting

It can work if the innovation lab is used as a way to transform the organisational culture from within. For example Ouest-France achieved this with their digital-only evening editionL’édition du Soir. By rotating newsroom staff through periods of working on this innovative product, they were able to bring the innovation spirit to the wider team as well.

Finally, it is important to make sure you have a diverse team working on innovation. A diversity of ideas is best achieved through a team with a diversity of experiences. This is one lesson we learned in our recent research report, where The Telegraph shared that having cross-functional teams working on new initiatives was key to their success. We are proud of the successful innovation collaboration we have had, which we look forward to sharing more about in a future article as well.

Don’t be afraid to fail

“Fail fast.” It has become a bit of a cliché, but for good reason. It is one reason why tech giants such as Google have been so successful: thanks to their beta culture, they take big swings that sometimes miss but the ones that last are what everyone remembers.

In the first 13 years of Google’s existence, more than a third of all products they released were ultimately cancelled. With those odds, anyone working on product innovations can expect to fail at least once in their career. So why do publishers still fear failure? In a report from FIPP, Lucy Kueng argues it has to do with the history of media; there are few industries so fastidious about correcting and highlighting their mistakes.

The media is a sector that has traditionally had to have its products perfect before the broadcast or print button was pushed. It was expensive and embarrassing to correct mistakes afterwards. In a world where products are made up of software that’s less and less the case, but it has left its mark in the culture in terms of a striving for perfection that can limit experimentation.

Lucy Kueng, Reuters Institute of Journalism

Finding the right partners that will help create a culture that embraces failure means that instead of worrying that one “failure” will end a career, your team will know that the only way to ensure they are thinking big enough is to have the occasional idea that doesn’t pan out. Without this acceptance of failure, there’s the risk people will only propose small, incremental changes that they are confident will be successful, instead of bold new ideas.

It is also key to understand the goal of an innovation project. If a project’s goal is to learn, such as with a pilot project, the only way to fail is to not learn from the experience.

Go for great, not just good ideas

Innovation and creativity go hand in hand, and there’s clearly no shortage of creativity in the world of journalism. However this creativity can also be a downfall for innovation.

There’s only so many resources in a news organisation, whether it be time, money, or people, and if they are taken up by good ideas, there’s no room for great ideas. That’s where the idea of a “Stop List” comes in: before brain-storming new ideas for innovation, smart organisations are creating stop lists of things they can stop doing and reallocate those resources.

Adding new activities without eliminating other tasks is a surefire way to sabotage a promising innovation. 

Frank Mungeam, Knight Professor of Practice at ASU Cronkite

While at times it can feel better to just do something versus nothing, the danger is that an abundance of good ideas can obscure a shortage of great ideas, and even worse, make it so there’s no more capacity to take on potentially great new ideas. A strong partnership will help ensure the great ideas are given room to breathe.

Mary-Katharine Phillips
Media innovation analyst @ Twipe

Original content republished with permission of Twipe