7 Steps to Save Your Local Newspaper: #1 – Shift Your Mindset

October 10, 2010

Last week I introduced my seven step plan to save your local newspaper. This week, we’ll dive right into step number one: shifting your mindset.

And really, this is the most important step of them all. If you can’t redirect your energies towards a business model that works and leave behind all of the “legacy” thinking that has been holding you back, you won’t be able to complete the next six steps. You simply won’t be in the right state of mind.

There’s a good reason why major corporations hire “change management teams” to help them get through this type of transition. Changing your business model is hard! The good news is that once you actually take this first step, once you change the way you think about your local newspaper, the other steps will be much easier.

But as a small local newspaper, you probably don’t have the resources to hire a change management team, and so you’ll have to find an alternative way to make this happen. I definitely recommend that you hire a “change consultant” if you can, but if isn’t financially viable, there are still a lot of great resources out there that you can use to get through this transition.

First, I recommend that you read John Kotter’s classic article from the Harvard Business Review, “Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail.” This article is about fourteen years old, but it is still the standard work on organizational change management and it will take you through the entire process of changing the mindset of your organization to fit the current market conditions. I strongly recommend reading this article as it is something like a bible of change management. You can download it from HBR’s website for $6.95.

The following are the eight elements of successful change management that Kotter identifies in his article. I won’t go into detail describing them here, but this should give you a taste for what his argument consists of.

  1. Establishing a Sense of Urgency
  2. Forming a Powerful Guiding Coalition
  3. Creating a Vision
  4. Communicating the Vision
  5. Empowering Others to Act on the Vision
  6. Planning for and Creating Short-Term Wins
  7. Consolidating Improvements and Producing Still More Change
  8. Institutionalizing New Approaches

Kotter goes into significant detail on all of these points in the article. There are also a couple of other more recent books which I strongly recommend for helping you through this stage of the process, both by Chip and Dan Heath. These two brothers have an excellent knack for taking the very complex ideas behind change management and breaking them down to a bite size level that people who don’t have a business background can understand easily.

The first of these books is Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, and in it they break the process down to a smaller three-pronged attack:

  1. Directing the Rider
  2. Motivating the Elephant
  3. Shape the Path

Their approach is slightly different from Kotter’s, but it is also very helpful. In an industry like local news that has operated in much the same way for decades, this is just the type of information that you need to make a meaningful mindset change that will help your news organization adapt to the reality of 21st century economics and information technology. And if you like this book, then you should also check out the Heath Brothers’ other work, Made to Stick, Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die.

Well, that’s it for this week. Next week, we’ll go into our next step to save your local newspaper: Become Comfortable with New Media.

Think outside the newsstand,

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