In My Opinion: Craig McGill: Time to adopt ‘change philosophy’

IT’S an irony of newspapers that, while they are fast-moving organisations – breaking news incredibly quickly and producing large amounts of content to a regular and tight schedule – they are also slow to innovate.

Newspapers (and other Scottish mass Media, but let’s stick with the printed Media as they are often the worst offenders) seem not to like change.

Reporters often hate it because it’s disruptive to their way of doing things: they have their contacts and their inside experts and change might throw them off. Meanwhile, editors, managing directors and owners equally live and die by their networks and connections and having spent so long – as many have – getting to the top of the tree, why disrupt that?

It’s an understandable human condition. Fear of the new, fear of change. Unfortunately, it’s also been the wrong attitude to have as we see new operations start up and usurp roles that could have been owned by newspapers. We are told that the internet is all about quality content and decent-sized audiences to reach. Well, who had that first, eh?

Other examples of where newspapers could have been internet winners…

• Search engines? Could have been done by any newspaper – and they could have reaped the Google AdWords-sized reward that comes with it.

• Groupons and Itison-type offerings? They are only influential because of large databases of people to contact? Newspapers could have had those databases first, long before anyone else.

• Community-building sites? Again, newspapers could have been the hub of all.

• Making money via affiliates? Obvious, really.

• Reaching out to the likes of sports fans and becoming a more vital part of their day-to-day? So easy to do, but…

• Trusted news sources? ‘Low-hanging fruit’, with all the attendant SEO benefits (as well as financial and reputational).

Such potential, either ignored or not seen ‘galloping over the hill’. I’m reminded of the employee who thought he was being quite progressive at a Scottish newspaper when he bought a relevant domain name/URL for the paper and, instead of being praised for his efforts, was threatened with the sack if he didn’t hand it over right away.

There have been those who get it, but not every organisation has (or had) a Murray Cox, a Mark Coyle, Shaun Milne, a Neil McIntosh, an Iain Hepburn, Magnus Lllewellin, Ewan Watt or Stewart Kirkpatrick.

And no organisaion had Pete Cashmore – originator of Mashable – so they all missed out on something that would have seemed natural in any newspaper business section and is now estimated to be worth more than £100million.

But all is not lost for the Scottish Press, even if we are closer to full-time than kick-off.

Now, management can’t do it alone – they’ll need to bring in considerable help from their reporter pools. But the main thing is that they need to start leading. In part, that involves leading by example – look at how the likes of how Kenny Farquharson and Alison Gow ‘do it’.

Our editors need to be digitally more high profile. Their example will inspire others. An open attitude of embracing change is an incredible first step to take.

And it’s not necessarily just on the editorial side. HR and other admin functions need to look at what firms are doing in the 21st century to keep staff or bring staff in without hammering budgets.

BYOD (Bring Your Own Device)? Creches? Embracing your critics and not just hiding away, being proactive in sharing stories (and credit) online? Getting away from the idea of people needing to be in the office, payment by traffic/hits instead of wordcount? Unlimited holidays? All these ideas and more are out there. Some are good, some are not, but each organisation should be looking and seeing what could work for them.

But it starts with adopting a ‘change philosophy’. ‘Can’t do’ or ‘won’t do’ are no use at this stage in the game.

Craig McGill has written for – or been a member of staff at – TIME Magazine, The Guardian, Daily Mirror, The Scotsman, Evening Times, The Press & Journal, The Sun and Evening Times. An author of four non-fiction books, he has been recently appointed a lecturer in ‘cross-platform journalism’ at Edinburgh Napier University.