Disruption. Opportunity. A new approach

The disruption of the news industry is an opportunity to develop new approaches to produce and sustain quality journalism. My challenge in the fellowship has been: what can I do about it?

Looking over the year, I can see how the fellowship has helped me understand, value and sharpen my existing skill set — and, put a label on them! Equally importantly, it has given me the opportunity to learn a deeper set of skills: how to launch, monetize and grow new ventures; how to coach individuals, teams and startups; how to apply those critical design thinking skills and methodologies which (to me) are like the organizational operating system of innovation; and how to diagnose and address problems in organizational culture to build creative functioning teams.

Stage One

To apply these skills, we need, first, to understand the disruption. We need to learn from the mistakes and successes of others.

Through the Graduate School of Business and the JSK Fellowship program itself, by reading widely and by meeting with journalists, investors and editors, I have developed a far deeper understanding of the way in which the market is disrupting business models, both in the United States and around the world. This disruption has been driven by the shift in advertising (and attitudes toward advertising), the emerging dominance of the large tech platforms and by changing audience behaviors and desires, particularly the shift to mobile.

These studies also provided an opportunity to identify the way journalism is also acting as a disrupter and to find new ways of working right now in the United States in both not-for-profit and commercial journalism.

Stage Two: New opportunities

There are exciting prototypes of business models that can work for journalism. However, no one has the magic answer to key questions: What are the earned revenue opportunities? What funding is available to new ventures? How do we access funding?

Based on an understanding of the economics that are both disrupting old business models and driving the platforms increasingly central to journalism today, I worked at the Graduate School of Business (GSB) and the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design (d.school) to identify the strategic management challenges and responses for new ventures, including within traditional media, not-for-profits and social ventures.

I took a deep dive into the world of design thinking, working in the d.school’s Design Garage class with Mazda and other organizations to answer the question: How do traditional players develop a culture of innovation and creative confidence?

The combination of the d.school and the GSB gave me an opportunity to apply the principles of human-centred design to ask: What do people actually want from journalism? This in turn led me ask: What structures will give new media ventures the best chance of success in answering this question — not-for profit, nestled within traditional media or bootstrapped startups? What other issues do ventures need to consider?

Stage Three: New structures and new skills

If we know what we need — and understand what our audiences want — how do we design structures and programs that are sustainable outside the Silicon Valley context? It’s true that Silicon Valley is a bubble, but it’s a bubble in the way, say, of Medici Florence. So, how can I take this into the Australian media through my role as CEO of the Walkley Foundation?

I had the opportunity to put this question to U.S. experts to determine how to build the structures that support sustainable startups, particularly the emerging opportunities of startups with a focus on content.

The big learning from early stage startups is the role the design thinking process has played in their journey, almost as a sort of organizational operating system for Silicon Valley. The skills I’ve learned in the d.school provide pointers on how to work with traditional companies (in my case, Mazda) to work out how we can build a culture of innovation, creativity and human-centred design in traditional media.

Building on the existing innovation program in the Walkley Foundation, I’ve identified the key need and am now developing a cross between an incubator, accelerator and early stage funder for media startups based out of Australia. I’m excited about this concept and looking forward to taking the organizational OS I’ve learned this year to make this happen.

So what next? I’m diving in!