News Leadership 3.0

April 29, 2009

An ambition to change

At Gazette Communications, Steve Buttry’s blueprint for a community news organization seeks to reshape roles and goals

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Steve Buttry’s “Blueprint for the Complete Community Connection” is its ambition.

At a time when energy, resources and innovation are in short supply in the news industry, many news organizations play defense or nibble around the edges of change as best they can.

Despite cutbacks and layoffs and the aftermath of massive flooding in the past year, The Gazette blueprint describes a radical shift in thinking about the role of the news organization and the jobs it will do.

It takes the often-articulated and usually lofty goals of community journalism and marries them with specifics about practice and potential business models. It marks an auspicious beginning for an ambitious and worthwhile experiment.

A few headlines:

-“For consumers, we will be their essential connection to community life - news, information, commerce, social lfe. LIke many Internet users turn first to Google, whatever their need, we want Eastern Iowans to turn first to Gazette Communications, whatever their need. For busiensses, we will be their essential connection to customers, often making the sale and collecting the money. We will become the Complete Community Connection.”
Finally, a news organization that will emulate Google’s considerable success on a local level.

- “News remains essential to our mission and our identity, but cannot limit our vision. We do need to add to our information content storehouse daily with news and other information, some of it perishable but much of it evergreen. We need to be a portal through which you can easily reach any information or activities in the community.”
Finally, recognition that information on demand is as important to consumers as today’s headlines.

- “Content and revenue must be planned together, so any innovation plan must address both needs.” And “Journalists can protect our integrity and still collaborate in developing a new business model.”
Finally, a willingness to partner with the revenue side while finding ways to maintain journalistic independence in service to the public.

Buttry, a veteran of the American Press Institute’s Newspaper Next project, has the title of Information Content Conductor (a recent switch from editor). His community content plan incorporates key features of Newspaper Next.

But his vision for the Gazette is more community-focused, less about delivering a particular product and more about connecting and re-connecting the multiple facets of community—the social, the business, the civic.

I hope the plan evolves and grows in Cedar Rapids. I hope it bolsters the ambition of other local news organizations as well.

I am still digesting the 30-page blueprint so these are just initial thoughts. I’ve also asked Steve to share his thoughts on the cultural and attititudinal changes this blueprint will require in his newsroom. More on that next week.

In the meantime, here’s a link to the full Complete Community Connection blueprint.

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Exploring innovation, transformation and leadership in a new ecosystem of news, by journalist and change advocate Michele McLellan.

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