How to take Innovation cash and waste it in five easy steps!

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth

![Sad n Scary]( 'n' Scary.jpg "Sad 'n' Scary.jpg")

[Photo by Orin Zebest on Flickr, and used under a Creative Commons licence]

It’s Carnival time. But I’m not really in a Carnival mood. Maybe it’s because of the sales or the mergers, or just a dodgy curry. I’m not sure. But I’m in a grumpy mood. So I’m not going to be all positive and optimistic and full of twinkly joy about innovation (which is what I’m meant to be blogging about).


I’m going to lecture those venerable US institutions that Mr Cohn has suggested we address about the sort of idiots they should throwing into the street, followed by their suitcases and battered hat. Here are the 5 biggest mistakes these guys are making:

1. Reinvent the wheel

For some reason, journalists and publishers have got in their heads that what we do is so very special that it warrants special technology. And so we try to build it. Quite why we feel the need to do this when we rarely felt the need to design our own, custom printing presses is quite beyond me. But we do. At worst, we spend millions on custom publishing tech that gets us maybe a 5% incremental improvement over the off the shelf stuff. At best, we buy the off-the-shelf stuff. And then we rewrite it until it breaks. Stop doing that. And sure as hell don’t fund people who are doing that. Please, please stop. This just upsets me.

2. Live in splendid isolation

Here a good question to ask someone who wants to spend your money for you: what do you read? If the answer to the question largely involves products that are rooted in killing trees and tattooing their corpses with words, then they don’t deserve your wonga. Any customer of an online journalism product is going to be a regular user of other online services. If I had a pound dollar for every time I saw a would be journo-startup say something like “yeah, we’re going to be a proper online news service, not a blog thing”, I’d be sat in a big leather chair, behind a huge oak desk making would-be journo-start-ups beg for their cash. Guys, reverse chronology has won. It’s at the heart of Twitter. It’s at the heart of Facebook. That’s how people consume stuff on the net. If the net’s not in your blood, net people’s cash is not going to be in your PayPal account. Capiche?

3. Believe in received wisdom

There are an awful lot of journalists who seem to feel that Moses actually came down the mountain with an extra tablet, one that had the commandments of journalism carved on it. The great, big immutable laws of reporting are apparently one of the fixed constants of the universe, much like the value of Pi or the inevitability of taxation. This is, of course, delusional self-aggrandisation. Much of what we think about journalism is, in fact, a characteristic of print, or an effect of management efficiency in the sort of large-scale media that justified the expense of presses and trucks and newsboys and that sort of thing. If your would-be innovation can’t grasp that the core of journalism is little more than “find stuff out that people need to know; tell them about it”, then they’re doomed. They’re too trapped in the strictures and concepts of a fading world to build something really innovative.

4. Delude yourself about the value of journalism

People have never bought journalism, yet we persist in the delusion that they do and did. In print, people have bought entertainment packages, which include news, fun reading material and even activities, like crosswords. We were actually selling them advertising delivery vehicles. The adverts paid for more of the journalism than the cover price did. Anybody who walks in the door with a proposal for a pure content sale business should be pushed straight back out of it.

5. Forget all about the business model

It’s pretty clear that the days of building a product and hoping that the path to monetisation will just materialise are done for web products generally. This applies just as much to journalism projects as anything else. If someone has an answer to the question “what is the journalism going to help you sell?” than you can start having that conversation, the one that might lead to cash changing hands. But if they don’t have a plan for getting other people to give them cash, then don’t be giving them any of yours, my friends.

There. Now you know everything you need to know to create your own failed hyper-local entrepreneurial journalism start-up. Go out there and fail!


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Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.