Sunday, September 24, 2017

Number One Obstacle to Change for Newspapers (and Non-Profits?): Organizational Culture

"It is difficult to get someone to understand something when their salary depends on them not understanding it."

Internet guru Clay Shirky is famous for his statement about the state of newspapers today.

In his seminal 2009 essay Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable, he wrote that people committed to saving newspapers would often ask him: “If the old model is broken, what will work in its place?”

To which he replied: “The answer is: Nothing. Nothing will work. There is no general model for newspapers to replace the one the internet just broke.

But that doesn’t mean newspaper editors aren’t trying to find the “thing” that will save them.

Recently, the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers asked its members: “What is the single most important risk to a news organization’s future success?”

The answer? Reluctance to innovate.

The number two answer was finding a new business model—which is related to innovation.

And what is the main thing they need to do to be innovative?

Change their organizational culture.

“Getting all staff to share to embrace and share new ideas, techniques and strategies to keep the newspaper alive and exciting,” said one editor.

Change is Hard for Non-Profits, Too

This report is about newspapers, and their future, but it applies equally as well to other media, businesses and organizations—including non-profits.

As many of us know, changing a culture is hard. It’s doubly hard when revenues are falling—as they are for many newspapers and some charities—and resources are tight, as they are for most organizations these days.

And if change means some people might lose their jobs, then it’s even harder.

As American writer Upton Sinclair observed: "It is difficult to get someone to understand something when their salary depends on them not understanding it."

Nobody votes to eliminate their job, in other words.

In my world of international relief and development, a conversation is beginning about the need to collaborate more, or even merge.

It might make economic sense, and even enhance the mission and allow groups to raise more money and help more people.

But if you merge three NGOs, you only need one executive director, one financial officer, one director of communications, etc.

See where this is going?

But back to the report and the future of newspapers.

After changing their culture, what practical things did leaders of newspapers think they should do?

The number one priority was video, presumably because more and more people are watching videos online.

What is not clear to me is whether people want to watch news video, or whether they prefer cute animals and pratfalls.

That’s also the conclusion of Joshua Benton, director of Neiman Journalism Lab.

“I am 100 percent prepared to be wrong about this, but I think many publishers’ continued investment in video will prove to be a waste of time and money . . . the accurate belief that people love consuming video doesn’t mean people love consuming news video.

I would say the same for non-profits and, for my sector, NGOs. Just because people like watching video doesn’t mean they will like watching our videos.

One last thing newspapers say they should be doing more: Investing in social media.

Ultimately, it may not matterin North America, at least. 

If, as a recent study found, a majority of Canadians say they can live without a daily newspaper, and ad revenues keep dropping, newspapers may simply run out of runway.

One day the expense line will rise above the revenue line and it will be over.

Or maybe, just maybe, something new will emerge, something nobody has thought of before.

We can only hope—for newspapers, and maybe for the non-profit sector, too.

You can read a summary of the World News Publishers Outlook 2017 here.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Can you Live without a Newspaper? Almost 9 out of 10 Canadians Say Yes

Could you live without a newspaper?

86% of Canadians say yes.

That information comes from a survey conducted in June by Abacus Data.

According to the survey, almost 9 out of 10 people in Canada say they’d be fine if their local newspaper went out of business—they’d still be able to get all the news and information they need.

If Canadians aren’t turning to newspapers for news, where are they going?


In another survey conducted by Abacus in 2016, they found that 21% of Canadians turn to Facebook first for news.

Altogether, a total of 41% of Canadians go online for breaking news, either to social media or a news website—not to print.
For people ages 18-29, that figure is 69%, with 43% turning to Facebook first.
It’s a generational thing, in other words. While 40% of those aged 60 and over read a printed newspaper each day that number falls to just 10% of those aged 18 to 29.
24% of people aged 18-29 never read a newspaper. 25% might check one once a month.
“If you want to get a story or opinion in front of a Canadian audience, you need to make sure you’re making it available to consumers in an attention-getting and engaging way on Facebook,” Abacus says, noting that 82% of Canadians use it to read news stories.
The challenge of Facebook is that the range of knowledge tends to narrow for people who use it as a main source of information.
As Abacus discovered, only 28% of younger Canadians report using Facebook to follow a broad range of topics. 51% pursue only what interests them.
Older age groups are more likely to keep up with a variety of topics.

With Facebook’s algorithms designed to cater news and information to each user’s unique interests, this means the likelihood of them encountering new ideas or stories is limited.

As Abacus put it: “The resulting reliance on Facebook as a primary source means users are getting a limited world view and a limited set of opinions that most closely match their own (confirmation bias).

“To get messages and stories to reach a wider untapped audience, organizations need to be creative with organic online activities and clever with paid online activities.”

(Interestingly, 19% of Facebook users say they follow charities on that platform, which is a good bit of news for non-profits. 10% say they follow religious organizations. The trick is how to get them to like and then share information sent to them.)

Many will lament this situation, but there’s no going back.

Says Abacus: “Offline breaking news sources are being eclipsed by digital news sources as generational disruption and widespread use of social media and mobile technology radically alters the news and information landscape.

“The change we are witnessing is moving so quickly that we anticipate within another five years, how Canadians consume news and information will look nothing like it did two decades before.

And you won’t find that in a newspaperif you can find a newspaper at all.

Facebook: Not Just for the Old, Younger People Like it Too

For some time it has been axiomatic to believe that Facebook is for old people—that youth have fled that social media platform for cooler ways of interacting.

It’s apparently not true.

Research by social media strategist Vincenzo Cosenza, as reported by Digiday, found that Facebook reaches the most 18- to 29-year-old U.S. users, with 86% of people in that age group using it.

That is followed by 71% who use YouTube, and 58% who use Instagram.

Twitter is next in line with 47% of that age group, and Snapchat follows with 45%.

For those who are in the 30-59 age group, 81% use Facebook, 52% use YouTube, 39% use Twitter and 31% use Instagram.

What about people 60-plus? 67% use Facebook, 25% YouTube, 16% Twitter, 7% Instagram.

(In Canada, 75% of 18-29 year-olds use Facebook, according to Abacus Data. for the 60-plus demographic, 49% check it daily.)

While use of the various platforms varies by demographic, one thing is the same across all ages: Facebook is dominant.

Facebook is the leader in 119 of 149 countries analyzed by Cosenza on his World Map of Social Networks. This includes Canada and the U.S.

What’s in second place in those two countries? In Canada, it’s Reddit. In the U.S., it’s Twitter.

In other words, it’s true what I wrote about before: Facebook is eating the world. 

And that includes younger people, too.

(On the other hand, an e-marketing company, called EMarketer, predicts the number of young people on Facebook will fall this year by 3.4%. They will migrate to Snapchat and Instagram. I guess we'll see in late December if that is true.)

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Is Movement Journalism an Answer for Social Justice & Change Groups?

I was talking to someone who works with Indigenous people about the challenges facing that group in Canada today—how it seems that all we tend to hear about them is bad news, things like suicides, crime, family breakdown, community dysfunction, etc.

Those aren’t the only stories, of course; there is lots of good news. But they can be hard to find in the media.

It was similar, we agreed, to what it’s like in the international relief and development world.

In that world, which I am most familiar with, there are lots of good stories in the developing world, but places like Africa only seem to make the news when there is disaster, starvation, war or corruption.

But what to do?

One initiative being undertaken by Journalists for Human Rights is training Indigenous reporters so they can pursue careers in media, as well as training non-Indigenous journalists to do a better job of reporting on Indigenous  people, culture and issues.

That’s a good thing but opportunities for journalists of any kind in the mainstream media are limited—simply not enough money to hire more people or have more beats.

At the same time, fewer and fewer Canadians turn to the mainstream media for their news.

But maybe there’s another way: Movement Journalism.

Earlier I wrote about Solutions Journalism, the kind of journalism where the media offer ideas for how to fix problems, not just report about them.

Movement Journalism is the kind of journalism directed and operated by people who are experiencing the problems the media writes about, living with the issues every day.

It seems to be a concept coined by Anna Simonton, an Atlanta-based freelance reporter and researcher for racial and economic justice nonprofit Project South.

She came up with idea after doing a year-long research project in the U.S. south.

Her report, called Out of Struggle, takes stock of the independent media landscape in the 13 states of the traditional south.

“We have good stuff that people are doing, [but] it’s very localized,” she told Nieman Lab. “How do we strengthen that and expand that impact?”

Her goal is to provide support and training to social and racial justice organizations, many of them serving minority groups, so they can do a better job of telling their own stories and promoting their issues. 

Simonton’s motivation for the research was the need for “more coverage of people who are taking action to change their lives for the better, more reporting that sheds light on the forces they are up against—how is oppression functioning, why do these problems exist, who is responsible for them.”

For her, Movement Journalism “is about realizing there are people who are trying to build collective power and organizing together to make fundamental shifts in the power dynamics of our society. That’s our priority in terms of coverage.”

Two media outlets she points to that are doing Movement Journalism are the Banyan Project in the U.S., and the Media Co-op in Canada.

Is Movement Journalism an answer for groups and issues that aren’t getting enough attention in the media?

Maybe. The challenge is not training people to tell stories—that can be done. People can be trained to spot a good story, do interviews, and write in news style.

The main challenge is getting anyone at all to pay attention.

In this media multi-verse, with so many online options, how can any group attract readers? Especially when research shows that people seem to be most interested in partisan political topics and stories with emotional triggers.

Maybe that's not the point. Maybe the point will be for people in those groups to see their stories being told, to hear their own voices for a change, and to be empowered by the experience.

If they also happen to catch the ear of those in power, or the general public who might lend a hand, that would be a bonus.

Thinking back to my conversation about Indigenous people in Canada, all I can think is that It might be worth a try. 

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Of Wetbutt, Sports Journalism and the Future of Communications

In Clay Shirky's seminal 2010 essay “Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable” (the “unthinkable” being a world without newspapers—something not so unthinkable anymore), he wrote about the time in 1993 when the Knight-Ridder newspaper chain investigated the online piracy of a popular humour column.

They discovered the pirate was a teen in the Midwest who loved the column, and wanted to share them with others online.

Shirky quoted a newspaper editor who said of that experience: “When a 14 year-old kid can blow up your business in his spare time, not because he hates you but because he loves you, then you got a problem.”

That experience reported by Shirky came to mind for me after reading a column by Winnipeg Free Press sports reporter Paul Wiecek.

In the column, Wiecek wrote about how one of the biggest scoops of the 2017 Major League Baseball season (a trade between the Chicago Cubs and White Sox) came not from the traditional media, but from two members of Reddit.

“It was as close to a clean kill as you can get in the reporting business these days,” Wiecek wrote.

“A stunning trade that came out of the blue, with huge implications for both teams, and no one had even a sniff of it until two users on a subreddit devoted to White Sox gossip broke the story.”

Who was this intrepid reporting tandem? Reddit users KatyPerrysBootyHole and Wetbutt23.

As Wiecek wrote: “You can’t make this stuff up.”

When the Cubs President of Baseball Operations was asked a day after the trade whether he had any other big trades up his sleeve, he replied: "Ask Wetbutt."

“Welcome to 2017,” Wiecek wrote, where huge corporations like baseball teams can be scooped by social media users named  KatyPerrysBootyHole and Wetbutt23.

It’s a world, he wrote where “it’s not just that the old rules of sports journalism don’t apply—it’s that there aren’t any rules in the first place.”

While sports has always had "a guy who knows a guy whose brother is the assistant trainer," he added, “the game-changer in recent years was the evolution of the internet and the megaphone that it provided via social media.”

Now, that same guy “has a platform to distribute his information that is at least as powerful as the Fox Sports portal.”

For sports teams, which employ armies of PR and media relations people to control the message, and the media itself, which has seen itself as the main conduit of information about sport and most anything else in the world, this is now become an issue of “trying to control the uncontrollable.”

What does this mean for non-profits?

Unlike major league sports teams and corporations, we don’t have the resources to try to control the message (not that it is even possible these days).

Like the Chicago Cubs and Whitesox, we are just as susceptible to seeing news about our programs broken by people on social media (but hopefully with better monikers).

For international NGOs, this means that programs done far away are not so far away that someone can’t post a photo or post a comment about it—whether that’s a visitor or a local person.

This is a change from the past, when it was impossible for donors and others to learn anything about our work, unless we reported it—the costs, in terms of travel and access on the ground—were just too high for the average person.

But now anyone with a cell phone could share his or her observations with the world about a feeding program or development project—both good, and bad.

For domestic non-profits, this has been an issue for a longer time, if not forever. Someone unhappy with their meal at the homeless mission or service at the shelter could always go to the media.

The challenge always was to get the media’s attention, or hope the media had enough resources to want to tell the story.

Now those constraints are gone. Think the meal at the mission is slop? Up goes a photo and maybe it goes viral.

As Wiecek said, it is “trying to control the uncontrollable.”

When the “uncontrollable” is positive, it works in our favour. When it isn’t, well . . . that’s a problem.

Whatever it is, we are losing—maybe we have already lost—the ability to control the message. (Whether that was entirely a good thing is a debatable point.)

The question then is: How to respond? When the Wetbutts of the world have as much power and reach as the mainstream media (or more among the younger demographic), how do we communicate about our work and the people we serve?

I don’t have all the answers. Over the next few months, together with a colleague, I hope to find some ideas that might work. 

Or maybe just more questions.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

What Can the Media Learn From Churches?

What can newsrooms learn from churches?

If there ever was a title that was made for this Faith Page columnist and media junkie, that is it.

It appeared on an article by by Benjamin Mullin on the Poynter Institute earlier this month.

(It also reminded me of my earlier post about what the mainstream media might learn from church publications.)

In the article, Mullin notes that prior to the Internet and social media, the media didn’t need to innovate. Profits were strong and steady, so why change?

Today, however, the traditional business model for legacy media “has been gutted.” 

Advertising has declined precipitously, and circulation, viewers and listeners are decreasing across the board.

In response, the media has been casting around for an answer. The problem is, Mullin says, they keep asking each other how to get out of the fix they’re in. 

Problem is, none of them have an answer, either.

So what if instead of seeking answers in the same old places, the media looked elsewhere—like to churches and other membership organizations?

That’s what New York University professor Jay Rosen says they need to do.

“In the news industry, it's very common for managers, when confronted with something different, to say: ‘Who else is doing this?’” Rosen said. 

“But what they mean by ‘who else is doing this’ is, ‘who else in news?’ And, more specifically, ‘who else in our category?’

“They tend to look horizontally at their own kind.”

What they should do, he suggests, is look to churches, orchestras, activist organizations — to groups that have managed to build and keep devoted, paying followings.

To learn more, Rosen created that the Membership Puzzle Project, a
collaboration between the Dutch journalism platform de Correspondent and New York University. 

The aim of the project is to “gather knowledge about the most important question for the future of high quality, public-service journalism: How do we build a sustainable news organization that restores trust in journalism and moves readers to become paying members of an online community?”

Or, to put it another way, the Project wants to find out what makes membership programs successful.

Based on the success of de Correspondent, Rosen believes the membership model holds a lot of promise for news organizations.

And what is he learning so far?

Again, based on what’s happening at de Correspondent, he believes a key to success is for everyone in the newsroom to accept the principle of connecting with members and engaging with people as knowledgeable readers.

He also thinks it is important for the media to customers, but as people who are engaged in the creation of the news.

When people are engaged with journalism and they feel a part of it, a “strong bond” is created between members and journalists, he says.

At de Correspondent, a way this happens is that reporters are required to do weekly emails that explain what they're working on and the knowledge needs they have.

“They ask for help from the membership,” Rosen says. “And so they're constantly drawing information — knowledge, tips, contacts, links — from the members . . . they treat the members not just as financial supporters, but as a knowledge community.

What he’s trying to figure out is how to create “a more muscular notion of membership than simply, ‘Donate money to support this site?’ That has become our headlight observation.”

To come up with is more “muscular” model, Rosen intends to research a variety of membership organizations. Churches are of particular interest.

Reflecting on the Project, part of me wants to warn Rosen—churches aren’t doing as well as he thinks. Like the media, and every other group or organization, they are challenged by a greying and shrinking audience.

But I applaud him for looking beyond the usual places for answers. This is something I think all groups, organizations, faith groups, and the media should do.

What if we got the leaders from all those different groups in a room and invited them to work at the common challenges together? What kind of wisdom might arise?

Who knows—maybe the answer might be found in the place that is least suspected and expected.

And if it can’t be found—if there truly is no new model to replace all the models the Internet broke, to paraphrase Clay Shirky—then at least, at the end of the day, we can say we tried our best.  

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Cut the Jargon, and Other Tips for Sharing About International Development with the Public

The way most NGOs speak about the topic a “foreign language” to most people

“The public needs the bigger picture for aid to survive.”

That was the headline for an article on the website of Bond, an organization in Great Britain that works on behalf of international NGOs.

Written in June after that country’s general election, author Melissa Paramasivan said that British NGOs “should consider themselves lucky that their budget battleground wasn’t bloodier.”

Despite concerns that aid might be cut, “most parties pledged to keep the UK’s commitment 0.7% of GDP to aid,” she wrote.

But that doesn’t mean NGOs can rest, she added; aid has become a target for politicians, the media and those who call for more money to be spent at home—where an estimated 1.1 million Britons use food banks.

If NGOs want to preserve aid funding, then they need to help the public understand what the money is spent on—they need to do better communications, Paramasivan stated.

Unlike health, education or transport, “aid is not a service that you see or experience every day in the UK,” she wrote.

“This means communicators should be working even harder to tell us what the budget is being used for and how it relates to the wider work of the government, and the world.”

NGO communicators need to do the same thing as any other marketer: “Convince people that what you’re selling is worth parting money for.”

Currently, she went on, NGOs are doing a very poor job at that.

NGO communications tends to consist of “quarterly reports, riddled with jargon, written for a target audience already working in the sector, generally indigestible to the general public.”

It needs to change, she added, “otherwise the funding will.”

One way to do this is social media. But many NGOs aim their social media messages at specialists, not the generalists—the public, the people the politicians listen to.

“To borrow from business, aid used to be a Business to Business (B2B) model,” she wrote, noting how aid groups used to think all they needed to do was get money from the government and then report to them how they spent it.

But now, she said, “it’s a Business to Consumer model (B2C) driven by the growth of digital and social media. The public has an ever-increasing influence on how money is spent, especially when aid is brought into election campaigns.”

Now aid groups need to not just report back to government how they spent their money, but also to the public who makes that expenditure possible, she says.

So, what’s the solution for those who fear aid cuts? “Cut the jargon and stop underestimating people,” Paramasivan says.

International Development is a complex concept, she acknowledges. But the way most NGOs talk about it, “it’s a foreign language” for most people—and it doesn’t help that most of the discussion takes place in lecture halls and insider meetings, conferences and roundtables.

Communicators, she says, “need to share stories in easy-to-find arenas and with accessible messaging.”

She is quick to note that she isn’t advocating dumbing things down; “people understand a lot more than you think,” she stataes. “They just need to see where it fits into the bigger picture.”

Her suggestions for breaking “the cycle of introverted communications? Get practical. Invest in communications; it’s as important as monitoring and evaluation.”

“Strip back the jargon when pitching to journalists. There is every chance your story fits the global news agenda, don’t package it as ‘development news.’”

“Think about it as a conversation in the pub—you are telling an interesting topical story to a general audience. Leave the jargon for conferences.”

Use Facebook live, hackathons, twitter chat; “there are more and more ways to reach people than press releases.”

And don’t be surprised when your case study gets three likes, she says. Groups need to ask: Why should anyone read this story? How are we leading people to it? What’s their experience when they get there?

Sounds like good advice to me.

For more on this, see my post “When it Comes to International Development, Are We Nuts?” about the one question that NGOs may need to answer  above all others.