Yesterday, my friend Jim Lenahan from Gannett dragged me and John Stone into the Gannett headquarters in McLean, Virginia to talk to their superstars about a software project we want to do with them. From the moment we got there, however, I found myself awash in pointers that indicate that Gannett is still making strides to innovate, carrying on a 26 year tradition of making first moves. And it all started with the Scandinavians.
What’s Swedish for “Mentoring?”
At 10AM, I wandered into the kickoff of a two day meeting where Jim addressed a room half full of Norwegian and half full of Swedish news professionals. Tord Nedrelid and Bjorn Ottersen were amongst the leaders in the room, learning from Gannett about how to innovate with their web properties, how to build community platforms around news, and how to build blogging into news.
Hanging With the Pirates
Before my 1PM meeting, Jim took John and I upstairs to 11g, the area led by Michael Maness, Vice President of Innovation. We saw their commitment to innovation practices such as those followed by Ideo and InnoSight. The whole area, by the way, was a total pirate ship zone, where all kinds of ideas were being considered. I can’t talk about specifics, because I’m not sure what wasn’t ready for prime time yet, but let’s say that if I were working for Gannett, I’d be looking to sneak in there.
No Scare Tactics Here
Later, at the meeting, I meet with Chris Saridakis, President of Gannett Digital, and some of his team (Jennifer Carroll, VP/content and audience, Kevin LeFew, VP/technology and operations, Peter Lundquist, VP/product development), and John Stone and I pitched our concept to the team. As part of my presentation, I did some of my best faux Jeff Jarvis, citing how media is screwed and they have to get on board, and throw out the old models, and…
..and they were very much in the, “yeah, we get that. We’re on board. Let’s do cool things!” camp.
They’re Already Doing It
Simply, not only did Chris Sardakis and team get it. They, along with Michael Maness’s team, were already doing some really forward-moving projects. For instance, have you seen Make the Charts? It’s local ranking charts for local bands. So, if you’re in a punk band in DC, you can see how you rank, according to the local community. Borrowing from the DNA of USAToday, one of the first truly national-focused papers (if not, the first) in the US, Make the Charts takes National-done-local to a new inflection.
Another project they’re behind is Moms Like Me, which aggregates a mom presence across several platforms.
If you haven’t looked at USAToday.com closely, you might not have noticed their implementation of the Pluck social components under the hood. That extends to their 80-something local area newspapers in the Gannett system. I’ve used USAToday.com on slide presentations forever, because of how there are commenting, voting, and profile elements built in. It was nice to hear some of the behind the scenes from Gannett’s James Ku from Reno, NV, too.
Live In Front of a Studio Audience
Later that night, I presented to a packed crowd at the 11g room. In the audience were all kinds of really interesting and engaged people. I was excited that USAToday’s Executive Editor, Ken Paulson, stayed through my presentation and seemed reasonably engaged (he didn’t jump up and yell bullsh!t at any point). I also had people like Broadcast president Dave Louge, and a few other executives that Jim Lenahan kindly named, but that I failed to write down (so sorry, but you were appreciated, too). I saw my friend Jodi, and my new friend, Mary, and I spoke to Larissa, and Eduardo (from the 11g) team, and lots of other people who I might not remember your names well enough to type here.
The presentation is balled up in a trash can somewhere, but essentially, I imparted a message that media makers need to atomize, to modularize, to give your ideas handles, and to start seeing themselves as being in the information business, not the newspaper business. I pushed with passion the idea that communities want better relationships with advertising, as opposed to simple placement against content, and that media organizations could actually lead this space, instead of accepting the editorial-only side of the business equation. The rest of what I said might eventually come available here, though Mogulus had trouble at the very moment we started recording.
What I Took Away
I never presume that companies “don’t get it,” at least not the companies kind enough to indulge my visits, and seek out what I think might come next. But I guess I do still have some bias around what I perceived would be the level-set of people inside a big news organization like Gannett. I need to keep myself open to the perspective that these big companies “get it” just fine, and that my role is to help further augment their visions with my industry learnings and implementation guidance, instead of thinking that I’m going to bring fire to the natives every time.
Sure, not every company gets it, and yes, every company has different views of how this will all go, but with my eyes opened by all the bright minds I encountered in my long day at Gannett, I feel that I’m going to presume that there are voices and minds inside who see the future just as clearly as you or me, and I’m going to listen better.
By the way, Jim Lenahan and I met at the first BlogWorld Expo, where I complimented him on being the only big media company there. I got more long tail business leads out of that one conference than any event before or since. I hope some day someone says that about my New Marketing Summit events.
What say you?