Three lessons for adapting to disruptions

How do we fix news? We need an answer because having news reported accurately and quickly is a central part of well-functioning democracy. This makes the problems facing newspapers these critical. Arianna Huffington gave a talk yesterday at the journalism conference put together by the Federal Trade Commission in the US – here is the transcript. She provides a few ideas about how to go about building a better business model for news.

Huffington’s talk split into three parts. In the first, she talked about how the metaphors that people are using for news are all wrong.

So it’s a false metaphor. And if you start from a false premise, you will inevitably be led to a false conclusion. Or, to put it another way, if you chug-a-lug too many of old media’s metaphoric beers, you will end up staggering down the street of illogical thinking and banging into the lamp post of wrong revenue models.

I’ve talked previously about how getting your analogies right can make it easier to figure out how to adapt to disruptive innovations. The big problem here is that people are making analogies for news not to figure out a better business model, but to frame arguments designed to protect their current business models. The first lesson here is that if you have to go to the FTC to lobby for legislation, your business model is well and truly broken.

The second section of the speech discusses how the poor use of analogies has led to poor potential business models. She emphasises the importance of experimenting in this area.

And all across the country, passionate entrepreneurs are doing just that, experimenting with new and creative revenue models. is monetizing its engaged and highly informed community by turning them into focus-groups-for-hire. ProPublica is using a not-for-profit model to produce impact investigative journalism. And there are many different powerful local journalism models, including Voice of San Diego, which supports its award-winning local journalism with a combination of advertising and public radio-style contributions from foundations and users.

The new paths to success are still being charted — and much remains uncertain. But this much is clear: we can’t use an analog map and expect to find our way in a digital word.

Again, this is something we’ve talked about here. The key to innovation is experimentation. Jeff Jarvis and the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism have put together a list of twenty three ways that news organisations can generate revenue. The way to innovate out of the news business model problem is to experiment, find the things that work, and do more of them. This isn’t a very attractive model if you’re a gigantic oligopolist, so I guess I can see why lobbying the FTC seems like a better idea. Even so, that isn’t going to work. You have to try things.

Huffington concludes by talking about new models for generating news. Again, the key here is experimenting. Different combinations of content will support different revenue generation models. The thing that I particularly like about Huffington’s talk is that she has found a business model that works, but she doesn’t tell everyone that they must follow the same model. This is smart. We need to find multiple business models for news.

So the three lessons here for adapting to disruptive innovations:

  1. Get your analogies right – finding the right analogy can make it easier to adapt to an uncertain future.
  2. Experiment! Try different combinations of content and revenue generation, see which ones work, and do more of those things.
  3. There is not just one right solution – there are likely to be many.

These ideas aren’t just important for journalism, they apply to everyone that is facing a turbulent business environment. And who isn’t these days?

(All of our discussions of news business models are indexed here.)

Student and teacher of innovation - University of Queensland Business School - links to academic papers, twitter, and so on can be found here.

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