How to help journalists and news organizations navigate change

A framework for change can certainly not be completely done, or else it would contradict its own purpose. It must remain agile and flexible in order to attain its main goal, which is help people to navigate through change and through the journey accomplish creative outcomes. The best way to achieve this is by constantly testing and researching.

From my point of view, the main questions these days around the future of our profession revolve around how to develop and distribute good journalism under a healthy business model. How can we reach the desired audiences? How can we create content that is relevant and appealing to a user who is a citizen, a consumer and also a member of a community.

With this in mind, in my third quarter at Stanford, I continued exploring activities to expand and understand the six aspects of a framework for change:  

  1. Be audience-centric
  2. Collaborate
  3. Create
  4. Measure
  5. Manage resources
  6. Imagine the future

I focused especially on the first aspect. To be audience-centric is to understand the information needs of the audiences, what they consume, how, when and how many times they use information to make decisions, to solve a problem, to know more about the world.

This is a challenge because, for instance, sometimes the types of content generated for a consumer collides with the kind of information needed to engage politically. Journalists and media companies have been the mediators in this interrelation between what has been called consumer culture and civic culture. This role creates demands and challenges for journalists and media, who can build a richer experience by adding the audience to this mix.

With this in mind, I accompanied some of my fellow fellows in using design thinking as a tool to go deeper into learning an audience’s information-needs. (By the way, the collaboration among the journalists to the specific project was a useful test/observation for module 2 of my own framework).

I conducted some interviews around the question of how do people use news? I focused on two extreme users. The first, a Stanford student who is a news-junkie, politically involved, aware of her confirmation bias and eager to explore more image-based information, and very concerned about who and how to trust news. The other, a journalist who lives and dies by the news-cycle, thinks that any visualization is a “nice-to-have” garnish of a written piece and a slight distrust of the power of distribution of social media.

My goal was to come up with a common thread among them and build on that, as an exercise for the audience-centric module.

They were both very heavy users of messaging apps. Understanding this and why and how they use these apps raises ideas for using such apps for news distribution, sharing and maybe micropayments. Messaging apps can be a hub of content distribution, and a business model could arise from that. I can build a prototype based on theirs needs as audience members and as journalists.

What does this small test say about the framework that I am working on? It shows that looking for needs in the audience can surface ideas for innovation and change. The framework is a guide to the defining the organizational behaviors you want to change, the scope of the initiatives (visionary or safe) you want to take, as well as the focus and goal of these initiatives, such as to seek new growth opportunities into new segments, markets or sectors.