Can’t we just get to the business of DOING IT, already?
The wired world has plenty of pundits who will tell you that if newspapers would just get with the program and truly embrace the Web they could reverse their staggering recent declines and find a way to make money. If they would just open themselves up to greater interactivity and bring more readers into the news gathering process. Embrace multimedia. And so on.
Well, they are right. But here’s the catch.
These ideas are not “answers,” no matter how much those of us who care about democracy and, well, the bottom line that supports it, want them to be. Things are changing too fast. Websites and features that are popular one day are dropped the next as people move on to the next new thing. People’s tastes online move faster than the (astronomically slow) pace of most academic research, and even the most glib of early adopters can’t necessarily predict the next device that will eclipse the iPhone and how to produce content for it.
When you think about it, there’s nothing particularly surprising about this. Technology continues to change astronomically…but human beings are slower to change. They might experiment, try new things, take up the latest fad…but longer term shifts in their behavior and needs take longer to develop and to settle out. It may turn out in the end that after all, the more things change, the more they do indeed stay the same; or perhaps we are facing seismic shifts in terms of how people use information and relate to each other and their governments. But we don’t really know yet.
What this means to newspapers is that the answer is not do “do this” or “do that” but to create an environment in which constant change and learning can occur. And most importantly, it means a focus on finding ways to manage change to our product and our processes without changing those core values of journalism
Change — much less constant change — is extremely difficult. It’s difficult for all organizations and all industries. It’s difficult for all human beings and groups. However, a rich body of theory and research on organizational change can serve as a guide (not a blueprint) for this process.
This isn’t to say that the search for what kinds of online features will resonate with readers and draw them into important journalism isn’t also vitally important, and also interesting. It just means that we also have to put some time and attention in learning about change itself, and how to manage it.