Digital Transformation and Counter-Culture Butterflies

(I recently left a comment on one of Wayne Garcia‘s blog posts that elicited some response and got me motivated to expand on it. So here’s the original post (with my comment) or just read the expanded 2.0 version):

newspapersAt Creative Loafing in Tampa, we recently went through a digital transformation and a shift to Web-first publishing. It has required a philosophical change throughout every department that wasn’t easy for some people (especially editorial, who suffered the most layoffs). We are by no means experts yet, but I believe that what we’ve accomplished can be viewed as a model for the future of journalism, and that our content will retain its voice if we can stay true to our mission, our vision and the cause of what until now has been the alternative newsweekly (Village Voice, etc.) a form of print media based on dissent, investigative journalism and counter-culturism.

People are consuming/using news and information very differently now. They get it online, they read it in print, sometimes in long-form in-depth stories, sometimes through sidebars or graphic-intensive blurbs, through video, on Twitter (try searching #green), via RSS, e-mail messaging and the mobile Web. You can’t really call a company that does all this a “newspaper” can you? Indeed, newspapers are changing into something else. And so are we all.

Writers or “Journalists” (yes, even Bloggers) there will soon come a time to put your egos down and allow your ‘editorial voice’ to be lost in a community of voices. This is OK. It’s like being Huey Lewis during the “We Are the World” sessions – you’ll eventually get your verse (or three). Professional writers will also need to become editors curators, and fast. There has been a shift in the food chain, and you’ll need to adapt to survive. You will learn to manage other people (the contributors to your blog or site) and will need the skills to headline, link, aggregate and tease in 140 characters with as much voice (and SEO-friendliness) as if you had 5,000 words to work with. This doesn’t mean that a Tweet can replace investigative journalism. We need both. Whoever writes the 5,000 word long-form piece needs to also be able to link to that story from other networks and Tweet the story to their followers. And have a digital camera with you at all times (I’ll say it again, the Flip cam is the new pencil), because there might not be a freelancer available to “get the shot” a week later. Not only are the lines between editorial, marketing and distribution becoming blurrier, but the methods of gathering news are changing. And it’s NEVER a question of either/or, we will always need an integral approach to all content across all platforms.

Marketing people, you’ll need to learn to let go of the “brand.” Let it seep down into social networks and get twisted by tweets and scrambled by tiny URLs. The conversation has become the content and the content has become the brand. Publish globally and engage locally. Befriend the influencers within your community, so that when you need to push content or promotions, it’s as easy as dropping it into fifty manholes (that’s right, I said manholes) and affecting the entire water supply. But stay on top of your feedback. The upside of a social network can quickly become a killer if your product isn’t of value. Don’t position your brand there unless you’re prepared to have that conversation. In the words of my new friend Chris Brogan, “If you want one-to-many, we already have that, it’s called traditional marketing.” Using social networks to promote your product without any customer service in place is “like installing a thousand telephones that you never plan on answering.”

Sales people: Not only is the economy struggling as a whole, but if you thought it was difficult prospecting and cold calling to sell print and Web display ads to your regional advertisers, now you’ll have to pitch digital ad networks, event sponsorships, e-newsletters, text messaging and Web services, video pre-roll, audio spots for podcasts, contextual SEO, sponsorships for each show as well as spots within each show and branded Web components that work on a client’s RSS feed. In short, a bunch of platforms that even the clients don’t yet understand. Yes, it means the fragmentation of your product line and it’s a lot to learn, but it’s also a much broader and more precise array of tools that you can eventually master to serve your customer’s needs. And just think, we’re nearing a point where we’ll be able to provide metrics for these services to track actual conversion on a given platform or network. Especially if they use Facebook Connect 😉 (OK, bad joke).

And finally, to the audience: Explore the city you live in. Buy more music and art. Keep your dollars local. Get involved online, but more importantly, get involved in the real world – whether it means volunteering for an organization you believe in, growing your own food or starting your own meet-up. When you are browsing a Web site or reading a blog, leave a comment. Don’t be a part of the silent majority. Continue to provide feedback about what you like and don’t like, about your tastes and your passions. The future of media and its content depends on you.

We’re all afraid of change, but we must remind ourselves daily that transformation happens every night when we shed our skin and regenerate new tissue. Our philosophies, values and beliefs change as we gain new perspectives and are able to take the role of others. Every day it comes from within us all and, while stressful, most times leads to new and greater heights. After all, we still remain human – for better or worse. Those of us working in media are present for a historic turning point, and need to be increasingly innovative and increasingly flexible enough to adapt to new technologies and adopt the new platforms. We also need to keep our goals and mission clear in our minds, whatever they may be. And above all, remember to have respect for one another and have fun.

Here’s to an optimistic 2009. Looking forward to 2010, the year we all make contact.

Stay up,


One response to “Digital Transformation and Counter-Culture Butterflies

  1. “Professional writers will also need to become editors, and fast. ” I don’t pretend to be professional but even just as a laymen blogger, one of those bajillion voices melding together out there in blog world I feel the necessity to cut the fat in my blogging and get to the point to keep readers attention. This may be cynical but the majority of readers only have time for a tweet and not a paragraph unless it’s a damn fine paragraph, but I’ll be the first to admit my lack of editorial skills when it comes to prose.
    Then you mentioned the lurkers…those who do not blog lurk, the shame is that they’re voices aren’t being heard, perhaps where they spend their dollars are though and hopefully the bloggers encourage local spending. That seems like a lot of pressure on the bloggers but once I heard of this thing called SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY and it’s kinda cool.
    Lastly I’m getting the impression that you want people to actually make face time with one another…..what a phenomenal forward thinker you are, er…I bet if you had an event where everyone’s tweets went up on a big screen at the front of the room you’d get all these people to come out and stand around pounding away at the keys of their iphones or blackberries and whatnot. This always raises the question for me “what are we hiding from behind our technology?”
    ” has the internet stunted our social skills?” I could expand on that topic for a few more paragraphs, but this isn’t my blog so I won’t harangue it.
    Final thought: “Let’s get together, yeah, yeah, yeah” (lyrics lovingly handcrafted by the makers of The Parent Trap)

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