Innovation & Ideas Vault Media Companies to New Heights
By Deb Shaw
Editor, Suburban Publisher
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
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
“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.
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
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
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 posterous.com 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
LEARNING OPPORTUNTY ALERT!
Free Webinar on Thursday June 17 at 11am ET
Sponsored by the SNA Foundation with a grant from the John S. & James L. Knight
Topic: Content Differentiation: How To Drive Online Audience Without
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
Who Should Attend: Publishers, Editors, New Media Managers, Audience