What got me anxious this morning is thinking about a recent interview I did with Tristan Harris the founder of Apture.com for my ongoing work with Jeff Jarvis. In the middle of the interview I ask Tristan about obstacles for a young entrepreneur in journalism. A smile crept across his face and I knew instantly what he was going to say, because I’ve experienced it as well. My words, not his: news organizations get boggled down in bureaucracy and take anyone that tries to interface with them along for the ride.
Apture is a perfect example. It’s a neat little tool any publisher could benefit from. According to Tristan it takes one line of code and just five minutes to implement. Average time before a large news organization actually implements it…. six months. Same could be said for Spot.Us – it requires no coding at all. News organizations merely need to register (15 seconds) and at the very least they’ll get content from us like a local wire service. Engaging in more meaningful ways is also relatively simple.
These pair perfectly with my theory: “It is cheaper and easier to just do something then it is to sit around and debate about whether or not to do something.”
There is a movement for change in journalism. I consider myself part of it, but make no mistake – this is much larger than any individual. It includes the president of the Knight Foundation, ad-hoc gatherings of change-makers, and goes all the way down to young reporters still in college.
There is a lot of talk about taking action, but we never discuss what obstacles are in the way for newspapers to actually make said change. This cry for change is no longer about being cute or techie and seeing who can find the next Twitter for bragging rights. Evangelizing changes to our industry is about making the logical choice for survival. So why isn’t every day a revolution?
Probably because it takes newspapers six months to try anything new!
Often people ask me why editors are so stupid or who they should blame for the fate of newspapers and my response is… They aren’t stupid and nobody in particular is to blame.
The fate of newspapers isn’t the fault of any individual editor, reporter, publisher, etc. They are all acting within the confines of institutions. Newspapers are industrial age institutions with momentum that could pummel an elephant. To use an analogy: They operate like the military. It might not be so strict that reporters have to salute their superiors – but there is a chain of command, an expected means of behavior and decisions must go through the proper channels. As a result – newspapers turn like battleships and even implementing one line of code can take upwards of six months.
If that is our problem what does it take to break out of it?
Ironically enough: I believe it is going to take brave individuals from WITHIN those institutions.
I don’t blame editors or publishers for the situation newspapers are in. It is much larger than any individual. Newspapers, like many right now, are being slapped in the face by the information age. I think institutions that continue to structure themselves based on industrial age values will continue to be slapped until they fail.
But I do believe individual editors or publishers can act within those institutions to try and cut through the bureaucracy. If they can do so – then their organizations may stand a chance.
I don’t blame individuals for the current situation – but they should be called out for lack of action – which could turn things around. I’m sure the jungle of bureaucracy is thick – but it is time for editors to whip out a machete and start chopping till they make a path. If you have an idea – you should get your organization equipped to execute on it within two weeks, maximum. If it takes you longer, fine – learn from that and figure out why it took so long and try again.
Talk is cheap and so is my blogging: Time for me to get back to work doing what I can. I recognize I’m in a place of privileged to write about breaking bureaucracy – I run a startup with no institutional inertia whatsoever. This is just me writing down what I’ve noticed when I interact with people who are working within those larger news organizations that so many of us are urging to take drastic steps but aren’t.
For now…. ONWARD!!!!