McGuire on Media

A visioning process for web strategy

Thanks again to Romenesko’s blog I discovered a new blogger, Howard Owens, who hit my favorites list in a heart beat and stimulated some work I have since done for a consulting client. (It appears I am not one of Owen’s favorites, but  more on that later.) Last week Owens wrote a great piece on the 12 things journalists can do to save journalism in the 21st century.

Owens pithily described the new realities journalists face. 1)The user is in control. 2) Users don’t care about deadlines and they want to know what they want to know when they want to know it. 3) People want to participate.

Owens offers his 12-step prescription for how journalists can make giant strides toward being real players in the new digital age. It is absolutely worth reading and he also sends his readers to a compelling PDF file called Journalism 2.0 written by Mark Briggs.  That’s worth the price of admission all by itself.

Owens’ excellent approach forced me to codify the consulting work I did for a client last week. The client is a successful, small magazine. The client wants to build the magazine’s web site into a genuine traffic generator so I was asked to moderate a brain storming  session. The goal was to engage the staff in a “vision process” to understand what the desired end state for a great site would be and help develop a short-term path to facilitate the bigger vision.

I haven’t developed Owen’s finely tuned prescription list, but I do think I have an outline for one way to think strategically about your web site.

First I established the knowledge the group needed to guide their vision process. I started with Owens’ list of user characteristics; the user is in control, they want what the want right now and they want to participate.

Then I exposed the group to some important considerations I think must be considered for a competitive 2007 web site:

News content with depth and immediacy.
Community information in the form of calendars and schedules.
A “shtick,” that is, the idea that will make the client’s site unique and a “must visit” site.
Social networking potentials such as a community facebook approach.
A reputation function which allows viewers to rate experiences in the community.
Crowdsourcing capability, both for breaking news events and in-depth projects.
Gaming potential. Using the gaming concepts of collecting points, feedback, customization and exchange which the ASU Media Innovation Lab taught me last year. We need to find a way to develop gaming ideas which might help readers participate in understanding news and culture better.

At that point I asked the client’s staff to start visioning in three distinct areas.  First, I encouraged aggressive hoping and dreaming around audience needs and interests. Then I forced the group to shift to  revenue-centric ideas. Finally, I attempted to make sure the group was grounded in reality by urging them to envision capability-centric ideas. That is, what could they do that is consistent with the enterprise’s given resources?

That last approach may eliminate some great ideas which surfaced in the earlier exercises, but it also allows leadership to focus on those great ideas which the staff might have thought were outside the team’s capabilities.  Leadership can then think about reallocation of resources.

All of that dreaming should make the group ready to pull the best ideas from the the audience, revenue and capabilty visions and develop a long-term vision of what the web site can be.

That can’t be the final step though. As I told my client, grand plans and strategies can be great guides, but they can also be debilitating if people cannot see a clear path to accomplishing the vision.  A concrete list of things to do in the short-term is essential. It focuses the group as people walk out the door of the visioning meeting and it prevents “vision-creep.”

I’d love to hear ideas about better processes to accomplish this kind of visioning task and I welcome tweaks to this one.

ENCOURAGING INNOVATION AT NEWSPAPERS 

Now back to Owens. This guy is obviously smart and I admire his optimism. He recently wrote a post challenging my views on innovation. The problem is we’re on the same team. We’re in violent agreement. I buy everything in his post. He nailed it. 

I was obviously too reckless in my language for Owens’ taste, but we both want newspapers to stop fearing innovation and start playing. I am simply arguing that newspapers are so tight in the sphincter right now they are not willing to take even small leaps. Owens is right that innovation does not have to be Google-sized, but it sure as hell isn’t putting video online either and I have heard editors bragging about that sort of breakthrough.

My main point, and I apparently didn’t make it very well, is that innovation has to be part of the woodwork at newspapers and that’s going to require some courage I don’t see right now.

 SOUNDING THE BUGLE ON SPORTS COVERAGE

If you are not reading Le Ann Schreiber’s Ombudsman column on ESPN you are missing the most refreshing voice sports journalism has had in years. Her latest entry is a tour de force that must be read by anyone concerned about what’s happening to sports journalism. Two quotes are worth repeating.  “The rage is general all over the land of sport. Fans, not to mention coaches and athletes are sick and tired of being subjected to a relentless media onslaught of opinion that is simultaneously overheated and half-baked.”  And then  she lands another haymaker.”All I can say for sure is that factuality has been devalued in 24/7 sports media……it is clear that the main function of sports news is to serve as the molehill on which mountains of opinion are built. We don’t have news cycles anymore.  We have opinion cycles.”

Schreiber also had some choice thoughts on the column in the Daily Oklahoman that started the Mike Gundy rage ESPN delightedly showed over and over. Schreiber points out how that column was built on anonymous  sources, but that seldom got responsibly discussed.

I talked about this problem earlier this week.  The standards for sports writing must be reexamined.  Outrageous use of anonymous sources, rumors, “half-baked” opinion, and mean-spiritedness are real threats to responsible coverage of sports and to audience trust.

There is a major opening right now for rational, responsible and fair sports coverage. and newspapers ought to commit themselves to fill it.