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The Media industry: stuck in a rut of daily chaos

What if it's that endless routine of trying to create some sort of order out chaos, minute by minute, day by day, that's to blame for the media's challenges in coping with change?

I've been listening to Robert Picard, currently director of research at the Reuters Institute, again. He was in Oslo today giving a talk on Business Models and why the media is having a hard time grappling with change.

If you're a regular reader of this blog you may remember that when I interviewed him last year he talked about of how deadline pressure was negatively affecting the media's ability to innovate.

Today he talked a lot about path dependencies, and how your structures make you vulnerable.

On the one hand he referred to many historical examples on how path dependencies make it difficult to see the opportunities along the way:

From an early stage railway companies saw themselves as railway, not transportation, companies. So when trucking and airlines came along they didn't see either as a threat. And by the time they realised they'd been in the transportation industry all along, they had a big problem on their hands.

"It's the same with media, we used to think we were in the newspaper industry," said Picard. "Our business consisted of creating and printing newspapers. So when radio came along we thought that's not the business we're in, so we dropped it. You could say the same for the Internet or mobiles."

As a side note, I think this has changed a bit over the last few years with what we sometimes call "the mobile revolution", but what perhaps should be more accurately called a revolution in mobile payment.

On the other hand, Picard talked about how routines and processes combine with company culture to stifle change and innovation – whereas start-ups have no organisational inertia of this kind to hold them back.

Among media's inertia problems he listed:

- Most involve highly structured and complex entities

- Most have really strong process orientation to accommodate ongoing production

- Most have personnel with strong professional values which limits the field for innovation and create institutionalised roles which undercut innovation.

- Media's tendency to reuse things that worked once

I think, as I mentioned, that media's attitude to the evolving mobile market of the last few years is a slightly different story. You could argue that the innovation in formats have been insufficient, but most media organisations have embraced mobile platforms wholeheartedly.

As for what was perhaps last year's most hyped gadget however, Picard said he was a bit of a cynic.

"If you look at the electronics markets most devices top out at 20 or 30 per cent of the market. A tablet is a consumption device, most people don't use it to create stuff on so you need at least two devices. The many different tablet sizes will also be a problem in terms of penetration"

That fragmentation, both in the mobile- and tablet market, might spell more chaos to come, in other words. That is, if media companies try to develop native apps for all the new mobile platforms and don't look more to developing web apps that can run on all platforms. But that is a different debate.

Back to the issue chaos and how our daily chaos affects the industry's ability to innovate, I'm reminded of an excellent quote I first picked up via Paal Leveraas:

"We stand in the stream of events, while busy chasing deadlines the world changes and we are too busy to notice the change."

Actually, while searching for various takes on "stuck in a rut", Google suggested I'd take a look at U2's classic "Stuck in a moment". I think Google might be on to something, keeping in mind this Picard quote from last year ( the slight changes in brackets are mine):

"Because of the pressures of news – you can’t have dead air or blank pages – so much of your focus and time spend is on today [the here and now, on moments in time] that you don’t have much time to think about tomorrow."



This is exactly the focus of Clayton Christensen's research on disruptive innovation, which provided the basis for the American Press Institute's Newspaper Next research project five years ago. (Disclosure: former employer.)

Yes, I am aware that I really should re-read Christensen's work properly - just skimmed thru parts the last time, due to pressing deadlines of course;-) It's also both sad and a bit confouding he's work is not referred to more when media and innovation is debated.

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