What Alan said ...

Alan "Newsosaur" Mutter is one of my faves, and his brain drain post was a classic even before the comments started rolling in.

But the young net natives, for the most part, rank too low in the organizations that employ them to be invited to the pivotal discussions determining the stratgeic initiatives that could help their employers sustain their franchises.

“In most organizations, the people with the most online experience have the least political capital,” said one mid-level online editor at a newspaper. “It seems like the pace of change inside media is slowing, tied up in politics and lack of expertise in managing technical projects – while the pace of change is continuing apace outside our windows.”

This political-capital issue has long been my greatest concern about the organization fusion that's happening at many newspapers. I've seen it happen many times already: Newsroom resents not being in control of website. Editor maneuvers to gain control. Smart, creative new-media director is thrown overboard (or jumps overboard). Website takes a great leap backward, and only three or so years later does it begin to do creative work again.

There are many editors from the print side who are smart, thoughtful, observant and well grounded in the principles of operating on the Internet. There are others like this one cited by an anonymous poster on Mutter's site:

There's a story circulating about how the AME of online didn't know you could type a URL directly into a web browser... and there was that discussion on whether to include a blurb above a story describing, "what the blue underlined words were for".

Apocryphal, perhaps. But chillingly believable.

In a recent speech to the Arizona Newspaper Association, Tim McGuire said:

One last comment about innovation. It ain’t coming from anybody in this room. The chances of one of us here at the Scottsdale Chaparral going out of here an inventing a Google or even a viable innovation for newspapers is the same chance as all of us flying out of here on brooms. –None. So where is that innovation going to come from? Young people who, if we are smart, work for us. We don’t get the digital age and they do. And, that’s why its stupid, yes stupid for you to try to make every decision in your shop and act as if all wisdom resides in your office. It does not. If you want to foster true innovation in your organization involve your staff. Show them you trust them and build an environment which allows them to innovate.

Note that McGuire did NOT say "let them do whatever they want."

The role of a senior leader and manager is to cherish, coach, teach and grow talent. We need everything we can get from smart young people in our organizations. And we need senior leaders who know how to support them, how to clear middle-management roadblocks, how to say yes and when to say no.

We are at a critical turning point for American newspapers. We can't afford to drive away our smartest and most creative voices. The Internet not a publishing system, a Web site is not just another channel, and digitizing the thing we've been doing for the last century is not going to work. We need to think new thoughts, and pushing new thinkers out the door is a fatal mistake.


I agree with most of this.

However, I think the biggest roadblock to advancement are entrenched journalists and middle managers -- people who resist change.

And I'm going along fine until I get to the Tim McGuire quote.

Tim obviously hasn't read The Myths of Innovation.

There is no reason any person in his audience couldn't be an innovator. The web isn't about generational differences or skills set or background. It's about mind set. Anybody with the right mindset can be an innovator.

And the other problem with is quote is that setting up Google as the example of innovation we should aspire to also demonstrates a profound lack of understanding of the task before us.

It isn't about inventing the next Google. It's about taking what we already know, what we've already learned and using the available tools to build something that is really useful to people.

It doesn't take being young to do that.

Alan Mutter's post on the reactionary climate faced by digital natives working in trad media organisations has turned up on so many blogs I've visited over the past few days because everyone who reads it knows that he's right. Alan has nailed the biggest challenge old media managers like me face, that is, we manage for a past age. Everything we know about audiences and how they relate and respond to content is based on our experience in the one-to-many era of mass media. Those days are gone. We are living in a culture of convergence in which production and consumption of media are becoming the one process. When audiences have the tools, the skills and the distribution platforms to make and share media for themselves and for each other in ways that are utterly unlike anything that has gone before, then we - the managers of the past age - need the knowledge and the guidance of the younger generation of media workers in order to be able to respond. That is, if we're lucky enough to attract them into our organisations in the first place. I see older managers at the highest levels in big media organisations dismiss younger staff as being too pushy, or too impatient for change, or insufficiently versed in the company culture. The simple fact is that those younger staffers can see where we are going wrong and they're sick of being ignored and patronised by people who don't have a clue and don't want to learn. So they leave. Why wouldn't they? There's no shortage of opportunities for them where they can be innovative and constructive and where their skills are respected. That's why the mid-level exec quoted by Alan is right when he says “It seems like the pace of change inside media is slowing, tied up in politics and lack of expertise in managing technical projects – while the pace of change is continuing apace outside our windows.” Managers of the past age - like me - have to wake up to the fact that we no longer intuitively understand audiences the way we used to. Emerging new audiences are coming from a world that's completely different to ours, where they have been connecting for most of their lives to networks of creative people and engaging experiences. They have levels of understanding about media and its place in the lives of young people that we will never possess. We need to do a deal with the digital natives in our organisations: They guide and mentor us in the ways of the new media world, and we guide and mentor them in the ways of management, helping the best of them to take the reins of our organisations sooner rather than later. If we don't do this, many of the organisations that have sustained us all our working lives won't be around to sustain another generation. As managers, our legacy to our organisations has to be future audiences. We have to get it through our heads that we do not know how to deliver that. It can only be done by the people who are of those audiences. We have to get with their program and stop demanding that it be the other way around. That's the old way.

Unfortunately, some organizations don't have those senior leaders. Case in point - a shameful email that circulated around here recently.

An exec submitted a purchase order for "some new browser called Firefox" that people are talking about.

The thread was continued by the purchasing department, asking for further details including the company's name, mailing address, etc as well as a reminder that the IT department would need to approve any new software prior to purchasing.

When our execs are exposed like this, it only further erodes the sense that upper management simply doesn't get it and never will. If they don't know how to download and use an open source browser, how can we expect them to understand strategies behind social networking, collaborative journalism and how to (and not to) leverage our relationships with advertisers in this medium.

Bill, good comment ... it's nice to read something from a long-time newsroom professional who gets that he doesn't necessarily understand everything about online.

But the point must still be made: It's not about age. And it's not too late for you to learn. There are gray hairs who get it, and twentysomethings who don't ... throughout the industry.

@ Anon ... sad story ... but in some companies the execs do get it ... the roadblocks to progress are in the newsrooms.