The I’s Have It

Two very different companies but similarly minded initiatives are helping these newspaper companies transform. The key ingredients to both — employee involvement and management gets out of the way.

Innovation At Work

Early in the New Year, the SNA Foundation hosted a webinar featuring Mark Briggs, co-author of the Foundation’s latest e-course Innovation at Work: Making New Ideas Succeed. Briggs took center stage to introduce the course and the guiding principles behind the process of creating an innovative culture in the workplace. (Access his presentation here)

Among the 140 registrants drawn to this webinar was Southwest Newspapers (MN) General Manager Mark Weber, who was inspired by Briggs’ suggestion to launch innovation-minded work groups in your company to help push the process of innovation along.

Briggs’ advice: Start small. Think divide and conquer and seed each team with folks with varied areas of expertise. Establish 2 or 3 small groups and give them the authority to launch anything that the whole team agrees they should try. Give them the power to fail. Take care to pick the right people. “Avoid planners,” says Briggs. “You want do-ers.”

And that’s exactly what Mark Weber did.

One idea that resulted from the Innovation Challenge was an “X Marks the Spot” icon and map that appears regularly to alert readers to community landmarks and leisure spots worth visiting.

A one-month “Innovation Challenge” was launched and participants from all departments stepped up to become part of four-person, diversely talented teams. The goal was to create lasting content improvements for the seven weekly newspapers in this suburban Minneapolis company.

“The Innovation Challenge reignited employee interest, in part because we made it a volunteer event and offered some nice prizes,” says Weber.

The ideas, several of which have already been implemented by editors, range from a “News Tracker” graphic that outlines a story topic’s long history, to an “‘X’ Marks the Spot” feature that draws readers’ attention to community landmarks and leisure spots worth visiting.

Mark Weber is happy to share details of the program and can be reached at


New Journal Register Company CEO John Paton is making big strides in a short time and an apparent hallmark of his leadership style is very open dialogue with employees in the company. He regularly contributes to his blog, asks for and receives feedback and it’s in this blog that he just announced his latest JRC initiative — the ideasLab.

The strategy is brilliant for its simplicity.

Innovation at Work: Making New Ideas Succeed is the 4th in a series of e-learning modules sponsored by the SNA Foundation and produced by Poynter Institute’s NewsU division.Mark Briggs and David M. Cole, the editor and publisher of NewsInc, are the e-course guest authors — their contributions have helped to create a compelling and informative learning experience that is receiving high praise. “This is the best online course from Poynter’s NewsU that I have ever taken! Hands down, this is invaluable in today’s newsrooms,” says Heather Elizabeth Provencher, Content Coordinator @

The course is free, self-paced and interactive.

Thank you to the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation for funding this important work.

Paton is inviting any employee to apply for one of 15 slots in the ideasLab and JRC will equip the chosen with the latest tools, the time and some extra pay to experiment. Initially, each will be given an iPhone, iPad and a Netbook. “We will carve out 10 hours a week from their jobs to allow them time to experiment with these tools and report back on how we can change our business for the better. And we will add an extra $500 per month to their pay,” says Paton on his blog.

In addition to e-mailing Paton directly, applicants can make a very public overture by posting their 200 word “why you should pick me” comment to Paton’s blog.

For a company that, until Paton’s arrival, very publicly suffered from depressed employee morale, what happened next is remarkable. One hundred and sixty nine public applicants and counting have made open, mostly thoughtful and earnest postings on Paton’s blog.

Many concrete ideas are bubbling up already. “We could implement on site interaction like radio stations do” and “Use the iPhone to create an “instant” blog on tumblr or called Unsung Heroes that highlights officials, scorekeepers, trainers, managers and bus drivers that help support high school sports” are a couple gleaned from the posts. A circulator makes his pitch by suggesting that picking someone from a circulation department is probably crazy, like a fox. He goes on to suggest numerous ways the tools could be used to build revenue, save time, reduce paper but it’s his closer that really sums up the beauty of this program.“There is so much we can do if we don’t let anyone tell us that we can’t!”


Free Webinar on Thursday June 17 at 11am ET

Sponsored by the SNA Foundation with a grant from the John S. & James L. Knight Foundation

Topic: Content Differentiation: How To Drive Online Audience Without Cannibalizing Print

Presenters: Brad Dennison, VP News & Interactive, GateHouse Media and colleague David Arkin, Director of News & Interactive, will take center stage for a 60 minute webinar in which they will share the basics of “Web Cube”, a multi-dimensional approach to driving audience that also focuses on what content belongs on the online platform.

Who Should Attend: Publishers, Editors, New Media Managers, Audience Development Managers

Register Now