Lightning and other flashes of news innovation

We Media partner Dale Peskin presented the following talk at the annual meeting of the American Society of News Editors (ASNE) on June 24, 2013, in Washington, DC.

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This is the fifth time I’ve been asked to speak at ASNE. I’ve presented as an editor, news executive, news-business developer and WONK. Each time I was asked by ASNE leadership to address an an inconvenient truth: the necessity for change. Innovation. Frankly, I don’t know why they keep asking me back.

Last time I was here, Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton were seeking the Democratic nomination for president. I followed Hilary. The room cleared. I told the stragglers that if they didn’t adapt quickly to a society connecting to news, information and each other through transformational new mediums that the news industry would be SMALLER the next time I addressed them. That time is here.

I believe in the social purpose of journalism. I believe in the financial one, too. Mostly, I believe in viable news organizations as vital instruments for knowledge and change, both here and throughout the world.

This is the mission for the 21st Century News Business as I see it:

— Create news experiences that serve the information needs of a connected society.

— Build transformational new businesses that do good, create economic growth and provide jobs for the journalism of now and of the future.

— Make every voice count.

There are viable solutions that I’d be pleased to talk with you about. I’m glad to be here. Really. But my job today is put lightning in a bottle for this Lightning Round on innovation. Five minutes to tidy up a short program on “leading innovation.” Five minutes on what ASNE says “has become essential for news leadership.”

Five minutes. An apt metaphor, I think, for how long the newspaper industry has left.

It’s almost the end of the day. I don’t want to keep you from the reception at the Newseum. The best I can do is leave you with questions to consider over cocktails amid the relics at the Newseum.

(1) Do you honestly desire change? Or would you rather do what you’ve always done, only more, but make sufficient revenue from it?

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Innovate? Who among you hasn’t been asked to innovate over the past two decades? Does anyone know what the word means any more? As editors, let’s strike the word “innovate” from the lexicon.

Here’s a better way to look at change: transformation. You’ll see in this slide of an enterprise’s life cycle. You’ll want to find yourself at the bull’s-eye of a preferred future rather than the bull’s-eye of crisis.

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(2) Do you truly understand behaviors and needs of the audience you have? The audience you don’t have? The audience you need? If so, why are you doing what you do now?

Smart brands, your competitors in every category of content, are going beyond analytics to understand a consumer’s experience with a product or services. Watch the latest TV ad from Apple.

“This is it. This is what matters. The experience of a product. How it makes someone feel. Will it make life better? Does it deserve to exist? We spend a lot of time on a few great things. Until every idea we touch enhances each life it touches. You may rarely look at it. But you’ll always feel it. This is our signature. And it means everything.”

Other brands are creating “experience maps” to chart the customer’s journey with a product, like this one from Desonance.
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My company, We Media, has created an approach called We First to put the values and behaviors of the audience at the forefront of content strategies and tactics. It is designed to create social value by empowering the audience through their media experiences. (Image from Fast Company, Generation Flux)

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(3) Do you have the vision, talent, capability and resources to do anything about it?

Consider the news industry’s reluctant dance with technology. A skeptical, wait-and-see approach to disruptive technologies such as the Internet and mobile Internet brings has damaged the industry’s ability to capture market share.

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This conversation is entirely about LEADERSHIP. There is enormous opportunity for an informed intermediary to use intelligent and efficient technologies to gather, organize and distribute news throughout society. There markets to beyond imagination to reach if you embrace the social code that now connects society.

These opportunities are now open to anyone. The handwriting on the wall is this: Lead follow or get out of the way.


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We hold in our hands the most powerful device in human civilization, a device capable of connecting the knowledge of humankind with almost everyone on the planet.

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And we use it to share photos of cats, try to impress our friends with self-gratifying minutia and help teens hook up. So here’s my final question in the Five Minute Drill: Do you want to get the your future of news up to speed? Or do you want to leave it to this guy?

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My five minutes are up. I probably won’t be invited back. But you can find me at the reception at the Newseum.
I’ll be among the editors drinking heavily, waiting for lighting to strike.

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Dale Peskin

Dale is co-founder emeritus of We Media.

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