4 Things Media Can Learn from the Disruptors on Culture.

Culture Matters.

IKR? We have all heard it so many times. But experiencing the energy in many of the innovative companies we visited on this year’s trip (2014 Local Media Association’s Innovation Mission) was overwhelming. LinkedIn. Google. Buzzfeed. Simulmedia. Automattic. There was buzz. Smiles. Fun and creativity. Trust. Collaboration. Real-time communication whether in-person or via Skype/Hangouts. You could feel the electricity in the air. Yet, the staff was highly engaged and working. The Executive Suite and HR were not running the show by pushing out orders via the chain of command.


1. Space and Environment

This cannot be understated. The difference in staff morale and energy was very clear when compared to a traditional media company full of cubicles, sterile walls and stuck in old, dusty buildings with a thousand offices.

Wall cling at BuzzFeed

Start here:  Trash the cubes. Create open spaces with collaborative areas. Have play areas (many companies had video games, ping-pong tables and more) and powerful messages on the wall. Let teams group together and name themselves. People should face each other. Let staff personalize their space. These are helpful in attracting and retaining talent, and create a playful, creative environment necessary for problem-solving and dealing with the stress of a highly competitive marketplace.

 2. Benefits

Refreshment station at Automattic

This is an easy one. Provide benefits beyond the employee handbook. Be flexible. Examples include paid creative time, days off, ‘hack’ time, remote access, childcare, dry cleaning services and other perks. Budgets are tight, and media companies may not see the immediate ROI on such expenditures. But the reality is, the the number one asset any company has is its people. Treat them as you would your children.

Food and drink is prominent. Drink stations filled with coffee, juice, soda, energy drinks and more were available at multiple locations. Alcohol was also a common choice. Some included free food in cafeterias. We were able to eat at LinkedIn’s cafeteria which rivaled any buffet I have ever visited.

3. Leadership

Believe. Money and prestige are not the primary focus of any of the leaders we encountered. Their work is a calling and fulfills a personal mission much greater than a quarterly result for shareholders. The real cultural hook comes from leadership.

“Being around people you love, and those that love you, is very powerful.”

Allen Blue, Co-founder of LinkedIn, took the time to meet with us during our visit. It was a powerful discussion. He spent almost an hour talking about the company, its history, culture and future. He was sincere and deeply passionate. A very moving experience that will always be with me.

“Leadership is hard work and it is lonely”, said Eric Bright, VP E-Commerce at Deseret Digital, “CEO’s from companies like LinkedIn and Automattic are not interested in just building a business; they are also here to improve the world.”

4. Trust and Investing in Staff

Invest in people. Leaders with which we spoke referred time and time again to employee development, 360 feedback, fostering creativity, embracing mistakes, learning and providing clear expectations. One such conversation likened the relationship with an employee as a “Tour of Duty.” The staff needs to re-up during the 360 process. It is a choice.

When looking for the right talent, one leader said “Successful candidates must have a willingness to be critical of themselves. They must be willing to change their minds and be devoted to the things they are working on as bigger than all of us.”

“We can work remotely. We are trusted to do great work and we provide great results. It is all about the right mix of people and culture.”

Culture and leadership is about people, not systems and buildings. Love, trust and support them. Remove the obstacles and let them run.


News 2.0 – Is there a need for an editor anymore?

**Published originally on my work blog here.

Last week I attended the Social+Mobile, Show Me the Money Conference, put on by Borrell Associates, Local Media Association and Local Search Association in Chicago. (Twitter feed: #somoconf and also check here and here for coverage). There were some amazing, and frightening, statistics presented by comScore, Facebook, Google and other speakers including this eye-opening video shown by Mark Preston of Hubbard Radio.

The way we consume news and information is changing at a pace that is impossible to catch. Believe me, I know. I cannot tell you how many times I have been approached by family, friends and complete strangers in my local community offering their condolences about being a newspaper publisher. Fortunately, our influence and reach continues to grow each and every day through our use of social media and our coverage of the life of those in the Elkhart area. We reach more people than we ever have before. But let’s save that topic for another blog. What I want to discuss is whether there is a need for an editor. That is, someone to tell you what is important and to prioritize the news.

According to Nielsen, 92% of people trust recommendations from people they know.

“People don’t trust advertising, at least not as much as they trust recommendations from friends and consumer opinions expressed online.”

So, back in the day, a newspaper with your morning coffee, drive-time in the car (radio) and watching local TV before heading to bed was pretty much the way to get the news. The local newsrooms were the editors who fed you information that was “important” and provided the topics to discuss around the water cooler or dinner table.

Times have changed dramatically. I look at how technology has impacted my life and interactions. I have a cell phone that keeps me connected 24/7. I really no longer need a desk, or the company phone that sits on it, a home telephone, or in many cases, even a computer. My children and I communicate via text messages throughout the day. I look to apps from Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Flipboard and Pinterest to gather information and communicate with family, friends and peers. I keep my files in the cloud so they are available from anywhere. I even stream entertainment from Chromecast, YouTube, Pandora and Google Music.  But more often than not, I click on links that my friends “share” or “promote” and attach relevance to those before I go to other more traditional sources. I rely on their influence to guide me to what I need to know.

Unfortunately, there is a dark and dangerous side to this system. Many of the links take me to a source that is politically motivated or just plain incorrect. Our access to this breadth of information on the internet does not make any of it true. Frankly, it is difficult sorting through all the “tabloid” stories, blogs and even websites created by marketers or persons with agendas. How does one decipher what is real and what one can trust? Google makes its living off of search, and providing relevant results. But no matter what logic is programmed into the code, it cannot filter this stream of information and provide only the truth. Is there still value in investing in a trained journalist who adheres to a code of ethics?

Make no mistake, Facebook, LinkedIn and other social media services desperately want to be your editor, the position held by local media just a few short years ago. In fact, at the conference last week, I saw this slide:

A slide from a presentation at the Social+Mobile Conference 2013 by Matty de Castro of Facebook

A slide from a presentation at the Social+Mobile Conference 2013 by Matty de Castro of Facebook

Facebook indeed is personal, relevant and useful (based on your friends and likes). In this new world, you get to pick and choose what is important. All of social media gives you this choice, and I find myself quickly scanning through hundreds of posts, multiple times a day, stopping to click on a few that are of interest to me. Google and others are watching and recording my movements, and they serve up more and more content that an algorithm chooses based on my interests. In my case, I end up seeing more information about technology and fantasy football. It is like always eating dessert. The editor is just a self-serving computer script. And that is what worries me the most. What are you missing in your newsfeed? There are still veggies on the plate that we need to consume to be healthy.

The role of an editor is great in scope and growing with all of the additional ways we push information today. Assigning journalists to write stories, editing and deciding how information is “played” are some of the primary functions. They are vested and passionate about the areas in which they cover. They have an ego and make strong judgments on what is really important for the community to know. They should be like mom and espouse our local values. (If you can stomach having Marshall King as mom that is…) In reality, an editor takes the firehouse of information and filters it to a manageable stream that is prioritized and consumable. If you trust the brand for whom the editor works, you buy in to that particular set of importance. Trust is paramount.

Not one internet giant or social media company truly cares about my hometown here in Elkhart. In this new age, there is a need for balance. Social media is a great thing and has changed our lives for the better. But it does not replace the need for watchdog journalism. Someone that is monitoring the actions of local government officials, school boards and police. Someone that makes sure the community is up to speed on issues like taxes, budgets, crime, education, high school sports, etc. Someone who provides a voice to those that have none. We need to solve our problems on a local level, celebrate our successes and work through our unique challenges as a community. We can use social media as a tool to engage and communicate. In the end, I believe that an editor helps us see and prioritize those local issues most important to the health of our community.

So what do you think? Is it important to have an editor providing that front page story?