Even ten years after the landmark transformation of The Daily Telegraph newsroom, it remains equally hard for news media companies to fully seize the digital challenge, transit to multi-channel newsroom workflows, and engage old and new audiences with innovative content. Dietmar Schantin, founder of the Institute for Media Strategies, who has been working intensively on newsroom transformation with news media on all continents, has collected seven typical pitfalls that virtually all media companies risk encountering on their way to the transformation of their business. Even though Schantin’s catalogue of things that may go wrong during digital transformation maintains a strong insider focus, it is only a reflection of the nature of newspapers’ response to the digital challenge: it is a social process, rather than a mid-term change management programme.
Having worked with Mr Schantin in the past, I can only confirm the great relevance of all the issues he exposes as a harvest of his rich experience. Nevertheless, let me add another aspect to it. Many of the culprits described in Dietmar's recent article, published on the INMA blog (7 pitfalls of digital transformation), don't normally cross our paths one by one. They typically appear as interrelated issues, and are to a great extent unavoidable in any media house. Publishers should therefore not overlook this fact, which boils down to an understanding of the real nature of any newsroom transformation: it is more a social process than a business transformation project. This has to be taken into account when considering its setup, goals, and the allocation of human, real and financial resources, as well as the length and dynamics of the transformation process of the media house.
Schantin warns of the risk that efforts may be sabotaged from the inside by a number of all-too-familiar inhibitors acting alone or together against the digital transformation of any media house. However, he emphasises that it is not individuals, technologies, or cultures as such that stand in the way. The problem rather involves certain tendencies and temptations that most often manifest themselves as conceptual or cultural friction, which in fact derive from a failure to understand the very nature of the transformation itself. He shows that steering change, which is a social process, requires active leadership, and a much more comprehensive managerial approach than something which looks like a mid-term transformation programme. Leadership of the newsroom transformation must inevitably be set in a wider framework of change management in a news media house, within which technological platforms, venue and logistics issues, labour relations, training and the learning of new competencies, as well as the cultural aspects of news media organisations, are given equal ground with the reorganisation of the newsroom. This normally requires a multiple-phase process, a permanent “change mode” and leads towards the active portfolio management of innovation projects. Indeed, newsroom integration looks much more like fostering an innovative environment. To succeed, such a comprehensive change really needs an innovation mindset, along with an appropriate managerial framework within a sound leadership context.
Such a comprehensive change process takes into account both internal issues, such as initial organisational and technological boundaries and availability of resources and time, and external factors. As we often say, newspapers are merely a reflection of our society. Hence every newsroom transformation has to take into account the dynamics of changing reading – and overall media consumption – habits and the underlying factors which influence them in our very market. Furthermore, changing information infrastructure, single disruptive innovative phenomena, such as the iPad in 2010, a changing regulatory framework, and the current competitive and macroeconomic circumstances, all matter when assessing the odds of successfully carrying out changes in the newsroom.
The fact is that any news media house today finds itself in the middle of a complex transformation process, no matter how it is named or structured and regardless of whether the company has been more or less actively managing it. Taking into account the internally generated pitfalls is a must for every editor and manager involved. However, it would be equally fallacious to disregard external factors, as internal issues are most often their mere reflection.