On Change

The new generation of publishing executives

By Norbert Specker/July 2003 ---Maeve Donovan, the chief executive officer of the Irish Times, just went through the radical process of reducing the work force of the company from more than 700 to just a bit more than 400 employees. „Those who stayed had to commit themselves to change“ was her demand.
Jo Van Croonenborch, chief executive officer for VUM Media in Belgium, approaches his work with a self-given mandate to ensure continuity — and tackles the culture of the company in a continued fashion. He considers „to engage and see,“ as did Napoleon, a key strategic approach.

All rules can be broken
In her job as editor-in-chief of Stockholm's Svenska Dagbladet (SvD), Lena K. Samuelsson redirected the newspaper editorially.  She included the staff in the process after she found that the top-down approach was a „big mistake.“ „There are no rules that you can't break as long as you do it in the interest of the reader,“ Lena holds.
Alan Brydon, advertising director for the Evening Standard in London, works on staff to abandon the silo management mentality and to increase inter-departmental communication. This reflects the need to engage in "intense brand management that communicates distinct values to readers and advertisers."
All four executives are around 40 years of age.

The vanguard is not afraid of risks
They are the vanguard of a new generation of publishers, of general mangers, of advertising directors, and editors-in-chief that appears on the horizon.
This generation on the up is not afraid to take risks — because instability has dominated most of its working life. They were told that the time of job security has gone, that they need to be self reliant, will always have to learn more, can not resist but have to embrace change. So they became people who can handle those challenges. They became people who can afford risks. Because they see that change is what will determine the rest of their lives anyway. It is life.

Fear is a lousy consultant
The fertile grounds these new executives thrive on are organizations and newspapers that are paralyzed. Companies that are frozen immobile by the knowledge that change will happen and that they have not the skill set to initialize it from within.  Instead they will be cornered by a world that moved on when many of of those companies did not. A scarry position.

New leaders - or new attitudes
In January, the online publishing directors of the leading European newspapers came together in Zurich. The workshop revealed that they have a generally optimistic belief in the future of their companies and departments. Why? The key reason for their positive outlook is that they are confident that the leaders of their publishing companies and newspapers will embrace change within the next 18 months — or be exchanged with new leaders. Through different people — or people who start to operate differently — they are confident newspapers will find a way to change into integrated companies. Integrated within and better integrated in the world they operate in.

The winds of change
A forceful wind of change is sweeping through the newspaper industry. It rattles at the barred windows of opportunities. It gnaws at the stale ideas and concepts of many exponents. It howls through the empty shells of newspaper buildings guarded by owners who pretend the main street still runs by their front door. It laughs at the notion that the same street will bustle to life again if only we wait long enough.
Change is positive, forward looking, unafraid if it is brought about by people. And it is reactive, defensive, fearful if it is brought about by circumstances. It comes either way, as surly as death or a new day.

A plethora of questions
For the next year in this new column, I plan to explore key aspects of a newspaper company culture of change. What is the nature of change? Why does it happen? Why does it often not happen when it should? What do we know about people and their needs regarding change? What do you really have to be afraid of? What can be done to force change? How can you make sure that the best brains are still around when you change? What can you learn from industries like banking, services or advertising and their cultures of change?

Tell us your success story
In addition, I would like to champion change success stories within the newspaper industry. Please point new ones out to us and tell us your story. How did you or your company initialize change? How do you ensure an ongoing culture of change? What kind of solutions have been created? What challenges mastered?

Index of change columns

Norbert Specker is the founder of Interactive Publishing GmbH, a service and intervention company dedicated to support the newspaper publishing industry.


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