Newspaper Next LogoAfter a couple of hectic days of air travel, it was great to see the snow-capped mountains of East Tennessee this weekend as the US Air puddle-jumper from Charlotte made its way back to my home here in the Tri-Cities.

Last week, I attended the acclaimed Newspaper Next session at the University of Central Florida along with managing editor for the Kingsport Times-News, Ted Como and Event Marketing Director Diana Meredith. We joined several other newspaper professionals for a day-long session focused on the new presentation developed by the American Press Institute along with the folks from Innosight – a consultant company founded by Chris Christensen, Harvard Business School professor and author of the ‘Innovator’s Dilemma.’

Newspaper Next is an acclaimed study making its way around the major media companies in the US. Our company, like many others have adopted this new zeitgeist and dipping their managers and creative staff into a report and process that delivers a sobering assessment of our industry as well as a mandate for change and innovation into the future.

Steven T. Gray was the speaker for the day-long session we attended in the communications building at UCF. A former third-generation publisher and editor for the Christian Science Monitor, Gray brings credibility and focus to the study about modern media and the way technology is disrupting the industry. Generally, it’s a sobering and evangelical assessment that was developed over the past two years and answers the current decline in circulation and advertising revenues as they are challenged by new media habits brought about by the Internet and other technical phenomena. In addition, “N2 method” is introduced to challenge newspapers to rise to the call of listening to their customers and advertisers and create new innovations within their organizations.

Keith Wilson shared the initial principles of Newspaper Next with our staff several weeks ago after hearing the ideas at the Inland Press Conferences in Chicago. They have a detailed report which we all studied and this conference was a good recap of that process. The travel and the session in Florida will certainly shape some of the future projects we will be focusing on for the rest of the year at our daily newspaper in Kingsport.

As mentioned, the Newspaper Next program is a rehab program for the industry as it looks at several challenges. There is a review of the history of disruptive technologies as studied by Christensen in his book and the way those technologies have ushered in new changes along the media landscape. It’s no secret we’re living in a hyper-media age. Even though each of us still share the same amount of time in a day, people are spending more and more time accessing a cascading downpour of new media. This finite source of time and ballooning media has shifted people not only from traditional forms of media, but super-sized our appetite for media in general. Wired magazine recently reported on the ‘Snack Culture’ phenomenon and has a startling timeline of how mediums continue to reduce themselves down into bite-size chunks. After all, who has time for lots of words…(personal note…consider blog post reductions).

Watching people scramble through airports in Orlando and Charlotte this weekend continues to fascinate me as young and old seem lost in their own world of cell-phone conversations, Mp3 players, computers, flight schedules, book stores, magazines and advertisements. For myself it was all so important to find a wireless connection to keep up with my own virtual world, but in a way, it seems like we’re all running full-throttle these days and the phrase ‘times are a changin'” seems almost trite anymore.

Nevertheless, the conference and the Newspaper Next tool sets are a good foundation for success. Like most consultant ideas, the new program doesn’t bring any answers to the table, but rather it gives you a process for tuning a new future. A future based on innovation.

The n2method may help cultures ideas within the organization by advocating interviews with customers to find about their needs and matching those needs with our talent pool to create innovative new products – ultimately creating a portfolio of opportunities for the future. The concentration on building the core strengths, analyzing new needs and focusing on programs to create a “jobs to be done scenario” is the building block for creating innovation. More importantly, the program has a cycle of feedback, response and ‘fail-fast-fail-cheap’ mantra that seems to be inspiring the industry.

I’m glad we made the trip, despite my apathy for US Air and the airlines industry. Stephen Gray’s most interesting conversations regarded several case studies of newspapers around the industry who are preparing several new ideas in the tradition of this process and they seem to be doing quite well as the ideas continue to expand into not only newspapers, but other media as well.

Do they have all the answers? No, they don’t. Many of the case studies have yet to be realized and the jury is still out as to whether this process will create profit-driven plug and play modules that will work in market after market. At best, it’s a modern playbook as we attempt to win back the interest from a market of consumers bombarded with new services every day.

We will begin our new projects based on Newspaper Next recommendations in the next several weeks and what I’m most excited about is reviewing the needs of our customers and our feedback based on those new efforts.

It was long day though. Sitting in a room for a full day of lectures and power-point slides is tiring. Later that night, I had a few shots of Patron at the bar at the Holiday Inn Express and Ted, Diana and I walked a short distance to a row of restaurants. Nothing fancy, but we did have a good steak, a margarita and interesting conversation before retiring for the night.

Saturday was interesting too as our driver, a Persian Dean Martin look-a-like drove us to the airport in Orlando, but that’s when the nightmare begin, but that’s another story. We finally arrived into Tri-Cities sometime after 4.00. The day before we were walking in a tropical breeze with temps in the low eighties, but I can’t tell you how beautiful those mountains near Watauga Lake were as we crossed back over into our small mountain communities here in the Tri-Cities. It’s small and it’s a bit out of the way, but that’s the way I like it. Let’s keep that a secret…