#jcarn: Finding the communication ‘jobs to be done’

Note: This post is another installment for the Carnival of Journalism project, where people passionate about journalism are sharing ideas in the blogosphere about ways to preserve and improve the craft. This month’s prompt  from Donica Mensing: 

How do you get your own creative juices flowing? What sparks innovation in your own thinking, your newsroom or classroom?

As an editor and newsroom manager, I had been drawn to Michael Porter’s ideas of strategy, especially his 2001 essay “Strategy and the Internet.” Too often, I had watched my organization and others slash and trim to improve their bottom lines for short-term gains. Porter’s call for strategic positioning over operational effectiveness made more sense: Don’t sacrifice long-term advantage for ephemeral successes meant to appease the stock market.

It was a compelling idea that lingered with me as I pursued my doctorate and moved into research. As I worked my way through the program, I sifted through a number of ideas, hoping to find some frameworks and guides to help the news industry transition successfully to the world of the Web without sacrificing its long-term viability.

Then, Clayton Christensen disrupted my thinking.

Porter focused on the competitive environment at the industry level. Christensen’s research on innovation — most clearly articulated in his book “The Innovator’s Solution” with Michael Raynor — built on Porter’s work and put the focus in a news context squarely on the audience.

Christensen offered tangible advice for thinking meaningfully at the audience level. Don’t ask the audience directly what it wants; they often don’t know consciously. Instead, think in terms of jobs to be done. Through observation and contemplation, consider what audience members are “hiring” your content to do.

Emergent strategy

Too often, businesses overshoot consumer needs. Companies and their structures typically reward sustaining strategy, safer development supported by market research and proven products. They stick with what they’ve always done and applaud improving their best products.

The problem: They often end up overshooting consumer needs.

Christensen

Adapted from “The Innovator’s Solution” by Clayton Christensen and Michael Raynor

Into this environment comes disruption from new or lower-end products that fulfill jobs more in line with audience expectations. And by the time incumbents realize their flawed perspective, it is too late to recover.

Instead, they should rely on emergent strategy, bringing testable concepts to market more quickly with a willingness to fail. In “Seeing What’s Next,” Christensen and co-authors Erik Roth and Scott Anthony note:

When the functionality and reliability of products overshoot customer needs, then convenience, customization, and low prices become what are not good enough.

Well before their legacy counterparts, new sites embraced and experimented with aggregation and online story forms. Craigslist and Monster.com understood more quickly how to deliver cheaper, customized classifieds. And social media developed more convenient mechanisms for content discovery and sharing.

To survive in this environment, news organizations must become as experimental and nimble as the upstarts. They no longer have the luxury of lengthy content testing; they must push nascent products into the marketplace and iterate while learning from the audience.

With this framework, they can identify and fulfill the communication jobs to be done.

Uses and gratifications

Historically, mass-communication researchers have concentrated on the impact mass media have on the audience. In the Internet age, however, the power has shifted to the audience, as Jay Rosen, Clay Shirky, and other media scholars have noted.

As the traditional mass media weaken, the uses-and-gratifications thread of media research offers a more useful framework for uncovering the audience’s jobs to be done. Tapping into the long line of uses-and-gratifications research (as media scholars Esther Thorson and Margaret Duffy did with their Media Choice Model), we can focus on the primary communication needs — the “jobs” in Christensen’s parlance — that users want to satisfy: information, entertainment, connectivity, and consumption (shopping).

In the searchable, clickable world of the Web, it is so much easier for the audience to satisfy those needs quickly. In my content-creation classes today, I repeat usability expert Jakob Nielsen’s mantra:

In addition to the detailed insights offered by individual models, it’s healthy to remember that users are selfish, lazy, and ruthless in applying their cost-benefit analyses.

As we develop the next generation of news content, we must embrace the audience and its needs. Such a focus doesn’t mean we should shamelessly cater to all audience wants and desires. It just means we must consider the audience and the contexts of media consumption more completely as we develop our content, whatever form it may take.

Otherwise, our audience will selfishly, ruthlessly go elsewhere.

Carnival of Journalism (#jcarn): Tips for using your iPhone as a jack-of-all-media-devices

Note: This post is another installment for the Reynolds Journalism Institute’s Carnival of Journalism project (#jcarn), where people passionate about journalism are sharing ideas in the blogosphere about ways to preserve and improve the craft. This month’s topic: Hack my workflow. What are the tools, apps, etc. that make you more efficient?

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For years, I used my mobile phone as just that: a phone.

I resisted the push toward the cool, shiny smartphones. I didn’t buy into the Blackberry hype. I was fine with the Nokia hockey puck that came free with my less-than-geek phone plan.

And then came Father’s Day 2008.

That’s when my wife generously bought me a first-generation iPhone, and the device morphed from phone to the jack-of-all-media-devices.

Since that time, I have loaded and unloaded dozens of apps — yes, I’ve since upgraded to an iPhone 4 — trying to find the best way to configure the machine for maximum usability and efficiency.

Here are a few of my favorite iPhone tips:

  • Integrate Twitter and Instapaper: The Twitter app is the most frequently used on my phone. I check it whenever I have spare moments, waiting in line or sitting at a doctor’s office. I have three primary accounts for various purposes, and all can be accessed by this single app. My main account, @grovesprof, serves as my main news feed, and often, people I follow recommend fabulous links that I just don’t have time to read when I’m scanning headlines. So I quickly open the link and then hit the forward button (the square with an arrow bounding out of it) and click “Read Later.” The added benefit: If it’s a full Web site, Instapaper automatically formats the page for mobile reading. And when you update your Instapaper feed, it’s readable even when you’re offline (such as on an airplane).
  • Turn the phone into your social-media device: In addition to Twitter, I have my e-mail accounts as well as Facebook, Tumblr, Foursquare, and WordPress all available. I don’t check them as frequently as Twitter, but I can quickly scan those sites as well to ensure I’m not missing important messages. Also, use the camera on your phone; you can share photos almost instantaneously. It’s a great way of capturing life as it happens.
  • Take advantage of Calendar alerts: I admit it. I am the quintessential absent-minded professor. I forget stuff all the time. So I sync my iPhone calendar with Microsoft Outlook, load in all of my events, and have the calendar remind one day before an event/meeting happens. For some reason, the full-day alert helps me remember more effectively.
  • Train your brain with Brain Trainer/Words With Friends/Bejeweled 2 Blitz: Yes, I do have a few games to while away the time. I find these three allow you to have fun in small one- to five-minute increments and strengthen your brain in the process. I swear these apps have improved my attention and ability to sight-read music.
  • Limit your pushes: I don’t have apps push me data, in part because it’s a drain on the battery. Instead, I’ve set my Twitter account to alert me via text message only when someone @mentions me or DMs me. It’s far more efficient.
  • Connect to the cloud: Dropbox is a fabulous tool for multiple-access folders in the cloud. It appears on your home computer and laptop, and it’s accessible via Web and iPhone app. The app is great for accessing and editing documents on the fly.
  • Don’t forget the iPod: For years, I had a phone and an iPod, and the primary draw of the iPhone to me was its built-in iPod. Each week, I load a variety of podcasts and play them at double-speed. At first, the semi-chipmunk voices are disconcerting, but I’ve learned to listen this way over the past several months to consume more podcasts in less time. They’re great for car rides and treadmill runs. My favs: PBS NewsHour, NPR’s Fresh Air, and This American Life.
  • Learn to read on an iPhone: At first, it’s a bit awkward to read for lengthy periods of time on the tiny screen. But I’ve found a number of free books and discovered a great app called Overdrive Media Console at our library that allows me to check out e-books on my phone. (The iPhone 4′s diamond-sharp Retina screen definitely helps.)

Carnival of Journalism: Bringing change agents into newsrooms

Note: This post is another installment for the Reynolds Journalism Institute’s Carnival of Journalism project, where people passionate about journalism are sharing ideas in the blogosphere about ways to preserve and improve the craft.

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The newsrooms I visit don’t lack innovative ideas. They lack resources.

As the cuts go deeper, fewer people are responsible for more journalism. And as managers ask their reporters to do more with less — create a podcast, write a blog post, crank out that raw video, and do your daily package/story — those reporters tend to default to their previous routines, their comfort zones to churn out as much news as quickly as they can. They don’t always have the time to develop new routines in an efficient manner.

It’s a phenomenon my colleague Dr. Carrie Brown-Smith and I have found among many journalists we’ve interviewed in our studies of newsroom change.

Driving innovation means understanding the routines reinforced by a deeply ingrained journalistic culture.

What should Knight and Reynolds do next? Sponsor innovation change agents to help newsrooms transform their routines of old.

One newspaper newsroom I studied added a new content-management system with the idea of becoming Web-first. The message from above: Blog and update when you can.

Though the newsroom spoke of being Web-first, it remained focused on the print product. As a result, blog posts went by the wayside because they weren’t seen as “stories.” Reporters were left on their own to figure out how to incorporate the blog into their daily job, and consequently, very few became regular bloggers. Even fewer became successful.

Without guidance, they didn’t make the time to develop new routines.

In 2009, Carrie and I began studying the Christian Science Monitor, which abandoned its daily print edition in favor of its Web site and a weekly magazine. Editor John Yemma and Online Editor Jimmy Orr became key change agents in disrupting the traditional routines by setting a clear agenda: more frequent updates, shorter posts, and headlines optimized with search engines in mind.

Despite resistance, reporters and editors slowly began changing their routines. And such changes brought about tangible successes in terms of page views: from 9.5 million when we began our study in December 2009 to 19.4 million in January of this year.

Not every newsroom has its own effective change agent. Smaller newsrooms have established staffs and routines, embedded by years of journalistic success, and not everyone can afford to hire a John Yemma or a Jimmy Orr (who is now at the Los Angeles Times leading Web efforts there).

But Knight and/or Reynolds could sponsor “innovation fellowships.” Those funds could pay for cutting-edge innovators to serve as innovation coaches. They could spend three months, six months, maybe even a year working with news organizations to transform traditional news routines into the innovative ones required of today’s fast-changing news ecosystem.

Lessons from a micromanager: Don’t say these words on WGN

Someone send a management consultant to Tribune Tower, please.

This week, Chicago media watcher and blogger Robert Feder provided the inside scoop on the 119 things you can’t say on WGN-AM radio. CEO Randy Michaels dictated a list of “forbidden ‘newsspeak’ words and phrases” that should never be said on the station.

And the news director added another wrinkle: Turn in your fellow workers who use such phrases on air.

My gag reflex kicks in at the thought of the CEO dictating taboo words such as “laud,” “seek,” and “youth,” and asking coworkers to report violators to the higher-ups.

What’s sad about this scenario is that the idea is noble: Eliminate newsspeak and catch phrases from the airwaves. I found myself nodding in agreement with most items identified in the memo. What self-respecting writer wouldn’t cringe at “close proximity” or “completely destroyed”?

But I recoil at the thought of being ordered to speak in a certain way. Journalists and newscasters are knowledge workers who need creative freedom to thrive, especially in a newsroom environment fractured by economic chaos.

Management study after management study shows such workers respond poorly to top-down edicts. Why not appeal to their sense of professionalism instead?

Bank bonuses: Recapture the outrage

JPMorgan Chase has announced profits of $11.9 billion in 2009, and the other large banks we bailed out are expected to follow.

Ah, we can heave a sigh of relief. All must be well with the financial system!

Wrong.

The bankers are prancing merrily along, returning to their derivative ways and awarding large bonuses. (JPMorgan, for example, has set aside $26.9 billion for compensation for 2009.)

Some analysts far smarter than I am have pointed out the bubble once again brewing as the financial wizards work their balance-sheet magic. What’s more appalling is that the banks do not seem interested in assisting the rest of us out of the financial mess they helped create.

My fear is we have lost the tangible moment to repair our broken financial-regulatory system. We must recapture the outrage from a year ago and continue to demand meaningful financial reform from the federal government.

Back then, the banking crisis was still fresh in our minds. Many of us were frustrated by a system consumed by greed — and the billions in taxpayer money being spent to bail out those foolhardy bankers.

Yes, we had to suffer bailout pain to prevent the global economy from spiraling downward. The key was seizing that opportunity to change the broken free-market ethos that had hijacked our economic thinking.

But efforts to overhaul the financial regulatory system — emasculated by the Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999 — stalled. The bill passed recently by the House gave new meaning to the phrase “watered down.”

Now, we are hearing reports about the billions in bonuses. Big dollars speak to people. Perhaps the outrage will be rekindled.

President Obama has tried to attack the bonuses, but that’s not enough. He should focus on the financial system.

A few suggestions:

  • Consolidate the plethora of financial agencies into one oversight body.
  • Do not allow investment houses, commercial banks, and insurance agencies to cross-breed.
  • Limit how big banks may become.

Have we not learned the lessons of the Great Depression and the S&L crisis of the 1980s/90s? In a completely free market, there are too many willing to risk it all, regardless of how many it may hurt.

Mr. President, reform now — before the momentum is lost once again. And let’s make sure the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission (which started meetings this week) accomplishes something real, something that will actually prevent such a crisis from happening again.

(Addendum 1/16/09: The commission hearings confirm we should not listen to Wall Street, according to an excellent column by economist Paul Krugman.)

Part II: What the Dell? The saga continues

Editor’s note: When we last left our Intrepid Whiner, he had kept his Dell order and sent a frustrated e-mail to Ikjot, the first customer-service human to call our hero by name. Still, the Dell rep refused to grant an inconvenience discount.

It appears the kudos Dell has received for social media is not unwarranted.

Within hours of posting my frustrated rant on Jan. 8, @LisaG_atDell commented on my post with a sincere apology and an invitation to correspond via Twitter. I promptly did so and asked once again for my inconvenience discount.

Her response:

I wish I could do that for you & several others. At this time, there’s nothing available to offer except for a Point of Contact

She lost me at “Point of Contact.” It sounded like a subsection in the Customer Service Manual. *Sigh*

So I chalked it up to the Corporate Decline of America (taking some solace in the power of capitalization) and waited to see what would happen next.

On Jan. 11, the beginning of the next work week, I received a flier in the mail from Dell touting another sale. Apparently, my request for discount was read as “Please send me more junk mail.”

Then, this morning, Jan. 12, came the most laughable missive of all:

Mr. Dell, if I were a “valued customer,” you would have:

  • Responded to my last disappointed e-mail and assured me the computer was coming.
  • Given me my discount (or some token freebie).
  • Not set another deadline for your survey.
  • Not referred to me as a case number and an order number.

Next time: Does the computer arrive? Have the makers spit on our hero’s processor? Stay tuned…

What the Dell? A tale of customer-service gone awry

Dell has gotten some notice for its inspired use of Twitter to connect with customers and earn money.  But customer service is more than posting a few tweets about bargains.

On Dec. 10, I discovered a great deal at dell.com: $400 off a powerful i5-series Intel processor with 8 gigabytes of RAM and a 1 terabyte hard drive. I decided on Dell for another computer because my previous Dell machine (with a few low-cost upgrades) is still chugging along after seven years.

After clicking through the shopping cart, Dell estimated a delivery date of Jan. 5. I hopped on the customer-service chat, hoping to change to a faster delivery method, but the representative said an order could not be changed once it was in the system.

For a $400 savings, I was willing to wait. I should have realized it was a warning from the heavens.

On Dec. 29, I received an e-mail from Dell Inc. (who was the listed sender):

No “Dear Mr. Groves.” No clear explanation as to why the delay occurred. No contact information for a real person.

It was becoming the Best Buy Trade-Off: Suffer through painfully poor customer service for low prices.

So I waited. On Jan. 6, I received an e-mail with this threat:

It is true the Federal Trade Commission has a 30-day rule regarding telephone and mail orders. But 30 days from the original order would be Jan. 9 — three days later. Why the fear-inducing urgency?

That day, I received a call on my cell phone from an automated Dell woman, threatening to cancel my order unless I took action today. I responded to US_Dell_Notify@dell.com and then called a customer-service rep — just to make sure. He told me my request had be noted and hung up, without giving me a confirmation number.

Later in the day, the automated Dell woman called again threatening to cancel my order.

I buzzed Dell again and was put on hold for five minutes. I gave the representative my name and told him my situation. “Do you have your order number?” he asked. I admitted I didn’t, and he said he could not look up my information without the order number. I was told to call back when I had the order number.

A computer company that can’t search by name? Argh.

I checked my e-mail and noticed US_Dell_Notify had not replied. I sent another e-mail, this time with my nine-digit customer number, my nine-digit order number, and my 13-digit Dell Product ID.

I called Dell again. This time, I was on hold for 10 minutes, and when the person came on, I requested a discount for the inconvenience the company had caused me. He said he could not do that because he handled only order queries; he would have to transfer me to the customer-care department.

Another wait. This time, it was 13 minutes. A man named Fiel — he said it so quickly I didn’t quite catch it — popped on and said “Thank you for holding. We are experiencing high call volume. Please call back in 15 minutes.”

Click.

Yes, he hung up on me. Really.

I began to suspect an evil ploy on Dell’s part: Offer a really great discount, but delay the promise so long that the consumer gives up and buys something else, at full price.

An hour later, I called again. This time, I was on hold for 20 minutes before Abi answered. I told her my situation, and she said, “Our systems are down. I cannot help you.” Pause. No apology. No offer of other assistance.

A computer company whose order systems are down? A R G H.

At 8 p.m., I received a third call from the automated Dell woman threatening to cancel my order.

Frustrated, I churned out a long complaint letter demanding a discount for the inconvenience.

This morning, this e-mail appeared from US_CAG_Customer_Care@dell.com:

Well, “Dear Jonathan” is better than no salutation.

I replied with an e-mail of disappointment and a threat of my own: I would tell everyone I know of this customer-service nightmare.

Consider this my shout to the world.