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AN ONLINE CONTEST
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n 2007, I was at a party where
one of my friends rolled up
with her new iPhone. As she
flipped through its features,
showing me her New York Times app,
I remember thinking: This is going to
As a journalist, I was thinking about
how it would affect how people get their
news. I couldn’t have dreamed how it
would disrupt everything from education
to taxi service.
And that’s the problem. We don’t
know what’s coming next, and frankly,
newspapers aren’t the best at dreaming
of what could be.
Instead, it seems like we’re all search-
ing for the same thing: THE ANSWER.
The past five years feel like a flurry of
websites, digital initiatives, social media
and mobile adaptations.
We’ve developed apps, then we
scrapped them in favor of responsive
websites to accommodate readers pref-
erence for using browsers. Now we’re
migrating back to apps with the release of
Apple’s new ad blocker.
Add banner ads, remove banner ads,
start native advertising, add sponsored
content, boost posts on Facebook, train
reporters to post to Twitter first, post
photos to Instagram and hire some teen-
ager who can teach us what Snapchat is
and why it might be valuable. Stop doing
this, monetize that, do this, try that, ev-
eryone’s doing this.
Is your head spinning? Mine is.
COMMUNITY NEWSPAPER HOLDINGS, INC.
We are pleased to have represented CNHI in this transaction.
Dirks, Van Essen & Murray
Santa Fe, NM t: 505.820.2700 www.dirksvanessen.com
AMERICUS (GA) TIMES-RECORDER
6,960 weekly circulation
CORDELE (GA) DISPATCH
4,590 weekly circulation
TO AFFILIATES OF
BOONE NEWSPAPERS, INC.
Executive Editor, Observer Media Group
We don’t have the answer — and neither do you
Kat Hughes, far right, participating in this year’s Innovation Mission. Many lessons learned along the way
including that Yahoo!, like most of the disruptors visited, is obsessed with the user experience.
We’ve tried a lot of these things and more, yet despite all these efforts, we still don’t
have THE ANSWER. But here’s what we have learned, some of it the hard way:
1.] Know thyself.
Yes, in this new world, we as news organizations need to change. But if you’re having
success with what you’re doing, don’t stray too far unless: 1.) You are confident it’s a fit with your
company’s core competencies; and 2.) You have the talent to execute it well.
For example, a lot of newspaper companies started digital agencies to capture more of our
existing clients’ ad buys. What we learned is that’s a tough business that requires some unique
skills. If you have to change your whole organization to invest in that change, make sure the
dollars are there from the beginning.
2.] Be strategic, but flexible.
As a planner, I love having a strategy — a clear, measurable focus that helps everyone work
toward the same goal. But the digital world changes so quickly, you need to be able to shift that
strategy quickly when things change.
One thing we’ve changed over time is our approach to videos. When we were disappointed
in our traffic counts, we shifted from spending several hours on production-quality pieces to
doing shorter, quicker videos produced by reporters on the scene. We still do some high-quality
video projects, but this reduced the overhead for videos and keeps us in the game until our
digital audience catches up to the video trend and we can monetize it properly.
There are a million shiny new things in the digital world. Be discerning in choosing the ones
that make sense for you. Although many come with appealing revshare opportunities and tell
you how they’ll solve all your problems, rarely is that the case. Often it takes marketing, training
and technical expertise to make sure you are giving them the best chance to succeed. We have
partnered on a few digital products that were really cool, but they never gained traction because
we either didn’t make them a prominent part of our strategy or they weren’t a good fit with our
needs and content.
There are only so many things you can do and do well with limited resources. Unlike
technology companies that have the luxury of focusing on “user experience” for several years
while they spend investors’ money, we need to see a return fairly quickly.
So choose what you focus on in the areas that will give you the most return while also moving
in the direction of your goals.
4.] You will fail.
We wish we had the crystal ball that showed us the digital path to success, but that’s not how
No matter what it is, you will have to improve it as you go along — so plan and invest
knowing that this is part of the process.
We spent months mapping and designing a custom content management system for
editorial, invested heavily in its development, tested it and then launched it only to realize
instantly that it was cumbersome for reporters.
So now we’re working on the next version to simplify it and make it more functional.
You will fail. Just make sure you learn something from those failures and then take that
knowledge to help you innovate in the future.
That’s what moves us all forward, and how we get closer not to THE solution, but progress.
Because that’s how this digital battle gets waged and won — one step at a time.
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