Not saying ‘no’ is far from committing to ‘yes’

I had the good fortune of attending the Paley Center’s International Council in Madrid: “News at the Speed of Life: A Global Conversation on the Reinvention of Journalism

There were some very interesting themes on where journalism is heading including views from Facebook, Google, BBC, El Pais, Zeit Online, Hearst and some groundbreaking new services like Ushahidi and Newscred.

While the diversity of approaches seemed very healthy I was struck by an apparent divide between those who view technology as a threat to journalism vs those who see it as integral to its evolution.

Some, such as the Economist, have taken the view that platforms like the iPad may finally give them the digital positioning they’ve struggled to capture, a concession that nothing else digital has yet worked as well as print has for them in the past.

While others, such as Brazil’s Abril and Digital First Media, are seeking new ways to embrace all digital platforms and create new opportunities for themselves for the future.

In other words, technology is happening TO some media companies while others are making it work FOR them.

The danger in the victimized view is that the market will eventually erode every advantage your brand has achieved over many years. New startups will replace things your core business once benefitted from doing internally, and capabilities in the dominant technology platforms will squeeze out things you’ve always done your way by offering another, perhaps even more relevant version of the same.

Andrew Rashbass’ refreshingly humble perspective from the Economist is admirable, in many ways. In true British style he sarcastically noted that their failure in the past was not inventing the iPad. That’s not something any news org would’ve had the talent or resources to do.

Equally, I couldn’t help but think that the failure to try to think big even if it amounts to preposterous ideas is precisely why many traditional journalism outfits are struggling to make digital businesses really sing.

Success is not about developing a sustainability strategy. Reducing or offsetting the rate of decline is really more of a job protection plan. The best offense may be great defense, but you still have to score.

Actually being successful is about creating a meaningful business, a relevant business, one that makes money as a natural outcome of its value to people in their lives.

Given how dramatically technology is affecting the relationship people have with information and how important information is becoming in our lives, you can’t afford to play wait and see.

It’s not enough to not say ‘no’ to change.

Fueling new ways of approaching everything about the way journalism works and the business of media itself has to be a core competency at the very least. Otherwise, market forces will continue to happen TO you until you have nothing left but an ageing mission statement that you can’t execute.