In his weekly post Ken Doctor (immediately below) makes a compelling case that news companies need to provide signature name-brand content to differentiate themselves from the multitude of information providers out there. It's not a new argument, but it's one of the better presentations of it. News organizations need to provide unique, original content that they can't get elsewhere ... or in a way or format that adds value that they won't get elsewhere ... or both. The recent drumbeat has been for local, local, local, but has also included themes of investigative, watchdog, accountability, trustworthy journalism. This obviously requires journalists. "Name-brand content is worth investing in — even if it means cutting back elsewhere," Doctor says. RJI's Esther Thorson last year presented research and analysis that puts muscle behind Doctor's viewpoint, showing how dollars invested in (or denied) the newsroom impacts the bottom line. Her work is worth revisiting.
About a decade ago, while working with industry think-tank New Directions for News here at Mizzou, we worked with multidisciplinary teams from several of the industry's leading digital divisions: Belo Interactive, Freedom Interactive, Morris, McClatchy, Cox and others. Most of the companies set up separate digital divisions thinking that they needed their own leadership, skill sets, and laser focus (shed the distractions of the legacy platforms) in order to grow. Splitting off from the mother ship (usually the dominant metro newspaper in the company) gave them an agility and freedom to innovate. And for the most part, those divisions were successful. Yet once successful, most of those divisions were merged back into the mother ship -- usually under cover of "integrated local branding," not to mention some cost savings achieved by merging business and marketing functions and promoting a single brand.
How'd that work out? Some would say it squelched innovation, and slowed the growth of digital development. The industry has recently participated in a similar discussion around digital sales: separate digital and print sales teams, or one integrated sales team? We can find experts and consultants on the speaking circuit on both sides of the argument. In the second item below, Gordon Borrell offers his latest findings.