Noel Burkman: Associated Press Institute

The American Press Institute (API) is a prestigious, non-for-profit organization charged with supporting strategy development, insight, research, and training of C-level news media executives to support the relevance and integrity of the industry.

The Challenge

The API had commissioned Innosight, the consulting firm founded by Clayton Christianson, to develop a thesis for transformation called Newspaper Next. I was charged with using this thesis, along with my own research and knowledge of emerging media-related trends like Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms, to develop strategies and projects. I also integrated  data, such as metadata, non-relational database, Optical Character Recognition (OCR), and cloud, to support my work. 

My Role

Director of Digital Transformation 

I was charged with identifying trends and threats to the core business of traditional news media and then developing new strategies and products to combat the threats. I worked directly with executives to educate and inform, and presented my findings as well as new product recommendations to the board of directors on a quarterly basis.

The Work
  • Working as a team of one was both exciting and challenging.
  • I acted as an educator, leading seminars to inform executives on emerging trends and technologies in media that were disrupting their business.
  • Based on my research, knowledge and insight, I developed strategies that addressed threats globally and by market, e.g., Classifieds, the one lucrative revenue source for local media that had been disrupted almost overnight by Craiglist.
  • From a marketing perspective, traditional news media had become almost obsolete. I identified new business models to identify potential product opportunities and go-to-market strategies.
  • Technically, I developed strategies to maximize the value of their existing assets strategy, such as centralizing related news data across multiple media organizations, keepinging customers within news medal ecosystems and deterring them from engaging with outside sources, such as Google, that were consistently trying to  aggregate news content and distribute it for free. 
  • I recommended against paywalls except for data and analysis-driven content like the Wall Street Journal.
  • Convincing cast-in-stone news executives to think about and invest in their business in fundamentally new ways was quite challenging.
The Outcome

There was a subset of more progressive companies willing to take risks. I worked with this group to develop new products focused on how to leverage social media to keep small (hyperlocal) markets at the center of community connection, and develop new revenue streams like digital advertising and sponsorship.

I ultimately went on to consult for the more progressive companies to develop in data-sharing models as well as early AI to explore new ways to distribute content and insight value. Multiple new products were developed and most were acquired by tech forward companies in Silicon Valley.

Disrupters Eroding The Newspaper Value Proposition

What started as a marketing and innovation exercise quickly came to include education, politics and anxiety management caused by the rapid decline of revenue. It was interesting to note that it was not so much resistance to the news ideas presented as much as discomfort with such radical shifts. Those that were flexible enough to trust the process and data lived to see another day. Those that didn’t, slowly and painfully fell away.

––Noel Burkman, Director of Digital Transformation