LISTEN TO CHANGE AGENTS AT YOUR STATIONS

In 1987, I attended a computer graphics conference in California, where I met a group of very talented animators. This group was developing extraordinary tools that I thought could be applied to news graphics.

I ran back to the newspaper where I worked as a graphic artist and said “I have seen the future. We HAVE to find a way to work with them.”

I was laughed at, ridiculed and the Design Director ordered my Macintosh removed from my desk. He said that computers were a distraction.

Furthermore, I was told that the company would never invest in such a ridiculous idea as animated graphics because they were betting on newspapers being read on television screens, so they invested millions of dollars into scrolling text-over-television technology. The company also said that animated graphics were useless because there was no way to deliver them to the public.

My former employer and the Design Director could not have been more wrong. The animation company was Pixar. The newspaper is now bankrupt. And the Internet has been very effective at delivering animated graphics.

The lesson is clear: Listen to the change agents inside your organization. Change agents within your organization may seem ‘flighty’ at the times, but they can be like canaries in a coal mine who warn of imminent doom.

I do not profess to be an oracle of technology, but I was able to take the same approach to a different newspaper, where we created one of the first newspaper-based, multimedia graphics departments in the U.S. The difference was that the second newspaper embraced new technology and listened to change agents. The newspaper went on to become one of the most decorated multimedia departments in the U.S. even after I moved one because they continued to evolve.

In addition to my story, the newspaper graveyard is paved with the bones of change agents who, like canaries in a coal mine, sounded the high tech alarms that could have helped newspapers retool, re-think and reexamine their business models.

Instead, newspapers lost considerable editorial and advertising ground to other communications channels that nibbled away at their market dominance.

Broadcast television stations are in a similar position today as technological advances, like streaming video over IP, are nibbling away at one of their most valuable franchises: breaking news.

Today, broadcast quality video over IP means that low-cost, high tech upstarts can eat into a station’s breaking news franchise with news blogs and local news web sites that stream weather, traffic, prep sports, press conferences and trials. And like newspapers, broadcasters may be overlooking an opportunity to maintain their franchise instead of maintaining expensive trucks and traditional newsgathering tools.

I can hear the change agents inside of the stations that I visit chirping like canaries in a coal mine now.

Will station management listen or suffer the same fate as newspapers?

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