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Innovation ramblings to start 2014

Thoughts from my notebook that I’ve yet to do anything with:

  • Innovation only happens when people’s discomfort with the status quo exceeds their fear of change. Otherwise, it’s easiest to keep doing things the way we’ve always done. Want innovation? Foster a persistent realization that our products aren’t cutting it and we need to radically rethink them.
  • Newspapers haven’t lost customers because of a proliferation of free information online. They’ve lost their prominence because people have found different, easier and better ways to get certain jobs done. They aren’t loyal to products; they’re loyal to getting a job done, even if that job is just finding what time an interesting movie is playing at which theater.
  • At Amazon, you must write a business case to stop an innovation proposal, rather than to start one.
  • What if, instead of calling it a circulation manager or subscription salesperson, we called it a membership director? The New York Times won’t use that term, despite recently coming out with a “premium” product that includes access to their events and other “non-product” benefits. If we believe that, strategically, we should be building relationships with customers, then perhaps we’d be better served thinking of ourselves as organizers of a club that’s dedicated to an informed membership. (The LA Times calls it membership.)
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Update: Opportunity Knocks

I felt like the team was really starting to build some momentum in Lansing. We were producing some pretty compelling digital work, and there were hints of culture change, despite setbacks of the past year.

But when the offer came to tackle the challenge of a transforming industry at a higher level — with some very sharp people to boot — I leapt at the opportunity.

I start my first day today as vice president of innovation and product development at the Detroit Media Partnership. Our small but nimble team of project managers and digital developers will be supporting the other business units of the partnership, as well as 8 newsrooms and more than 400 journalists.

To say that I’m excited would be putting it mildly.

Here’s to the next rocket ride.

(And, if you missed it, here’s how I got to Lansing in the first place.)

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7 Things About Mobile That Keep David Payne Up At Night

Gannett’s Chief Digital Officer, David Payne, spoke to a group of the company’s journalists attending ONA 2013 in Atlanta last month. He presented the following points on thinking about mobile. (I’ve added some embellishments here and there.)

1. It’s a completely different habit. It’s so different from desktop user behavior. It’s with us all day, and does so many different things for us.

2. New is the new news. If you’re checking something 100 times a day, “new” is what’s important.

3. Mobile doesn’t necessarily mean mobile. A growing share of smartphone and tablet use occurs right in the home. It’s just the easiest screen to access closest to us.

4. Mobile applications have to be interesting, they have to have personality — but not our personality. Everyone’s device is individual to them, and we must fit in that way.

5. Because there’s so much noise, you’re competing with people’s emotional connections. When someone has 30 seconds, what are they doing on their phone? As journalists, we think about informing people and being a watchdog, but people are looking for something different.

6. Understand the competition: It’s Google, it’s Facebook, it’s Snapchat, it’s Candy Crush …

7. Recognize the old ways are not going to work. This includes advertising with banners on traditional articles. Facebook gets 45% of all mobile ad dollars. We’ll have to come up with something very different to take some of that back.

Quote IconThe challenge is to figure out what combination of things works that doesn’t make you into something you don’t want to be associated with.

NSFWCorp’s Paul Carr on the anti-Buzzfeed philosophy of business model iteration for journalism startups.

"America’s Next Top Media Mogul?"

I also like the sex and science editor’s comment:

"… the company is about a return to investigative journalism that gives people something to read ‘that cannot be Googled.’”

There’s something to said for not trying to win via SEO but to being the force that generates the word of mouth that generates searches in the first place.

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"[It’s] built on a foundation of GeoDjango and PostGIS. The backend software regularly scrapes, massages and summarizes the data … using the Socrata Open Data API.

"The frontend uses Django plus a client stack that includes a fork of Backbone that replaces default styles to mimic [the brand style guide], jQuery, Underscore, Leaflet, Tablechart + jqPlot. We used Tilemill to generate a map of [the city].

"It all runs on a basic application stack on Amazon EC2 using Apache and mod_wsgi. As always, we ensure performance with aggressive Varnish caching."

These are journalists talking

Do you speak this language? Talk to me. Opportunity abounds.