Newly named Globe M.E. Skok discusses digital strategy

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David Skok

David Skok sees his mission at The Boston Globe as helping to define the organization’s RPP — “resources, priorities and processes,” in the words of Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen.

“Clay’s theory would argue that that’s what forms the culture,” Skok says.

Skok discussed the Globe’s digital strategy at an appearance earlier today at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy. Before he began, Shorenstein Center director Alex Jones announced that Skok, the Globe’s digital adviser, had just been named managing editor for digital — an announcement that was reported by Poynter’s Benjamin Mullin a few hours later. Skok has also been appointed general manager of BostonGlobe.com.

Christensen is the godfather of disruption theory — the idea that successful companies are vulnerable to competitors using low-cost technologies and ideas. Think of the way that personal computers brought down minicomputers and mainframes — or that once-lucrative classified ads were pretty much destroyed by Craigslist.

Skok told the Shorenstein crowd that he became attracted to disruption theory when he audited one of Christensen’s classes as a Nieman Fellow. He and Christensen later collaborated on a report about disruption and journalism called “Breaking News.” Last year I analyzed Christensen’s theories following a tough critique (flawed in my view) by Harvard historian Jill Lepore in The New Yorker.

“I sat in on Clay’s class and was immediately transfixed by some of the ideas and theories he put forward,” Skok said.

He added that though he largely agreed with the pessimism that pervaded the news business from a few years ago, since working with Christensen he has come to believe that “journalism will survive and thrive.”

How the Globe is leveraging social to cover #FITN

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A recent Pindell piece in Medium.

In his recent exhortation to accelerate the transition to digital, Boston Globe editor Brian McGrory singled out — among others — James Pindell, who’s covering the New Hampshire primary (or #FITN, as they say) as a digital-first reporter, “rapidly pushing webbier (sorry) stories that allow the site to look less like a digital reflection of that morning’s and the next morning’s print paper.”

Now Mashable has a close-up look at exactly how Pindell is accomplishing that. Jason Abbruzzese writes that Pindell has embraced a wide range of social media, including Twitter, Instagram, FacebookMedium and — shades of steam-powered presses from the 19th century — an email newsletter. (Not all of this is new. Pindell’s Twitter feed has been a must-read among political junkies for years.) Pindell’s work is gathered at a Globe site called Ground Game.

The approach has allowed Pindell to cover stories that are worth telling even if they’re not quite worthy of (or suitable for) print — such as his first-person account of covering Donald Trump and his hair during Trump’s recent foray into New Hampshire.

The idea, Abbruzzese reports, is to leverage Pindell’s coverage of across a variety of platforms in order to compete with national outlets like The New York Times and The Washington Post:

“We’re putting him out there deliberately in a very focused way saying, ‘This is our guy. This is the face of our coverage,'” says David Skok, digital adviser at the Globe, who helped form their strategy of pushing content out on social platforms via a single, recognizable reporter.

The strategy also fits with the Globe’s embrace of digital verticals such as Crux, which covers “all things Catholic”; BetaBoston, which follows tech and innovation; and more that I’ve heard are in the works.

Alas, as smart a move as Ground Game may be journalistically, it’s unclear, as always, how it will make money. From the Mashable piece:

The main question dogging media organizations that want to embrace this strategy of social publishing is how it affects their bottom line. Reaching more people is great, but the benefits are quickly offset if it comes at the behest of revenue.

Skok said that Pindell’s work outside of the Globe did not have direct monetization opportunities yet, but that the broader impact would hopefully attract advertisers that want to be associated with the paper’s authoritative coverage.

The folks at the Globe deserve a lot of credit for understanding the value of pushing ahead anyway.

A big year for Remy-related blog posts at Media Nation

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Photo (cc) by Paul. Some rights reserved.

On Tuesday I posted WordPress’ robo-generated report on my year in blogging. But you knew I wasn’t going to stop there, didn’t you? For the past several years I’ve been writing an end-of-the-year round-up of my top 10 posts. It’s always interesting to me to see what resonates most with my readers.

These lists always come with caveats, and this year’s has a big one. Starting last spring, I began offering what I thought were my better blog posts to my friends at WGBHNews.org, who published them first and promoted them on social media. Though I later reposted them on Media Nation, they had already lost a lot of their juice by that point. So it’s hard to know what my top 10 list really means. Maybe I should call this list “The Best of the Rest.”

And away we go.

1. Is Jerry Remy’s broadcasting career finally over? (March 23). The answer, as it turned out, was “no.” But following a devastating story in The Boston Globe by Eric Moskowitz on Remy’s homicidal son, Jared, and the lengths to which Jerry Remy and his wife, Phoebe, had enabled his violent behavior, it sure looked that way, if only for a brief moment. Within days, though, Jerry Remy was back in the broadcast booth, yukking it up uncomfortably with Don Orsillo during Red Sox games. There was all kinds of internal intrigue to this. Both the Globe and the Red Sox are owned by John Henry, who is also a part-owner of Remy’s employer, New England Sports Network. (Page views: 7,714.)

2. Boston.com retracts claim about racist email from professor (Dec. 11). In early December, Boston.com had a phenomenon on its hands: contentious, legalistic emails from Harvard Business School professor (and lawyer) Ben Edelman complaining to a Chinese restaurant about having been overcharged by $4. But then the Boston Globe Media-owned site overreached. Hilary Sargent, who had written the original story, cowrote a follow-up reporting that Edelman had sent one of the owners, Ran Duan, a racist email. It couldn’t be verified, and the story was pulled back. It got worse: It turned out that Sargent had also designed a T-shirt making fun of Edelman that she was selling online. Sargent, the site’s deputy editor (the top editing job was vacant), was suspended for a week. David Bernstein has a good overview of the whole affair at Boston magazine. (Page views: 2,827.)

3. Boston.com’s anonymous sports blogger to be unmasked (March 24). (Page views: 2,648.)

4. Meet the Obnoxious Boston Fan (March 25). I am startled that these two posts received the attention that they did. After the Globe’s exposé about the Remy family, an anonymous Boston.com blogger who writes as the Obnoxious Boston Fan posted a harsh commentary about Remy. It struck me as inappropriate that a Globe-affiliated site would allow anonymous attacks on anyone. Globe digital adviser David Skok told me that Mr. OBF would soon drop the anonymity — and in my follow-up post, I was able to identify him ahead of the official unveiling as Bill Speros. (Page views: 2,178.)

5. Big moves as Globe prepares to expand its business section (Nov. 13). (Page views: 1,870.)

6. Eagan leaves Herald, will write for Globe’s Catholic site (July 30). (Page views: 1,685.)

7. Globe executive announces digital moves (July 29). Probably the biggest ongoing local media story is Boston Globe owner John Henry’s various investments in growth — a new weekly political section (Capital), a Catholic website (Crux) and an expanded business section. These three posts documented a few of those developments. (Page views: 1,609.)

8. Jared Remy joins his dad in attacking Margery Eagan (April 25). The fourth Remy-related item in the top 10. Eagan, then with the Boston Herald, had the temerity to criticize Jerry Remy in her column. Jerry Remy went after her on the air — and Jared Remy joined in from his prison cell. (Page views: 1,495.)

9. Globe to offer buyouts to some staff members (Aug. 1). Not all the news from Globe headquarters in 2014 was about investment and expansion. Even as the news organization grew, it announced cuts in other areas. (Page views: 1,338.)

10. Boston Herald loses libel suit over false prison sex story (March 19). The plaintiff, Joanna Marinova, was awarded $563,000 over a story that falsely claimed she had engaged in “sexual acts” with an inmate during a 2009 trip to Bridgewater State Prison. Marinova and state Rep. Gloria Fox had visited the prison in order to investigate claims of inmate abuse. (Page views: 1,187.)

New York Times journos discuss Innovation Report

Screen Shot 2014-09-28 at 4.28.30 PMAn all-star panel came together on Friday evening at the Online News Association conference in Chicago to discuss The New York Times’ celebrated Innovation Report — an internal document about the Times’ efforts to adjust to the digital age that became public when it was leaked to BuzzFeed.

The report, wrote Joshua Benton of the Nieman Journalism Lab last May, is “one of the most remarkable documents I’ve seen in my years running the Lab.” Both the full document and a comprehensive summary are available as part of Benton’s piece, and they are well worth reading. The report describes how the Times — in many ways an innovator in the transition to digital — is still being held back by an antiquated management structure, an overemphasis on what goes on page one of the print edition, and a lack of understanding of how to promote and distribute the Times’ journalism.

The ONA panel was moderated by Ann Marie Lipinski (@AMLwhere), curator of Harvard’s Nieman Foundation. The panelists were Amy O’Leary (@amyoleary), deputy editor for digital operations at the Times and one of the authors of the report; Tyson Evans (@tysone), the Times’ editor of newsroom strategy, who also contributed to the report; and Alex MacCallum (@alexmaccallum), recently promoted to a newly created assistant managing editor’s slot to oversee audience engagement.

Hundreds of people were on hand, and many of them — including me — live-tweeted the panel. Bursts of fragmentary news are no substitute for a well-crafted story about the event (here’s one by a student who covered it), but they can give you some flavor of the discussion. Here’s what I had say, including a couple of retweets that I thought were worth sharing.

Billionaires’ bash: Big moves by Henry’s Globe, Bezos’ Post

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Previously published at WGBHNews.org.

Tuesday may have been the biggest day yet for billionaire newspaper owners John Henry and Jeff Bezos. Henry’s Boston Globe launched the long-anticipated Crux, a free standalone website that covers the Catholic Church. And Bezos replaced Katharine Weymouth as publisher of The Washington Post, bringing an end to the 81-year reign of the Meyer-Graham family.

At a time when the newspaper business remains besieged by cuts (including 22 Newspaper Guild positions at The Providence Journal this week, according to a report by Ian Donnis of Rhode Island Public Radio), Henry and Bezos are taking the opposite approach.

“You can’t shrink your way to success,” new Washington Post publisher Frederick Ryan told Michael Calderone of The Huffington Post. “Growth is the way to continue to build a strong news organization.” Ryan’s words were nearly identical to those of the Globe’s chief executive officer, Michael Sheehan, at the unveiling of the paper’s weekly political section, Capital, in June: “You can’t cut your way to success. You can only grow you way to success.”

First Crux. To my non-Catholic eyes, the site appears to offer an interesting mix of the serious and the not-so-serious. The centerpiece is John Allen’s deeply knowledgeable reporting and analysis, some of which will continue to appear in the Globe. (In late August, Publishers Marketplace reported that Allen is writing a biography of Pope Francis with the working title of “The Francis Miracle.” No publisher was named, but according to this, Time Home Entertainment will release it in March 2015.)

Crux national reporter Michael O’Loughlin has weighed in with features on Native American Catholics who blend tribal and Roman traditions and on the Vatican Secret Archives, whose contents turn out to be not as interesting as the phrase makes them sound. Vatican correspondent Inés San Martín covers stories such as Pope Francis’ call for peace in Gaza. WGBH’s Margery Eagan, a former Boston Herald columnist, is writing a column called “On Spirituality.” The events calendar makes it clear that Crux is a very Catholic venture.

There’s a lighter side to Crux, too, such as a trivia quiz on the saints and updates on football teams from Catholic colleges. Crux’s own reporters are supplemented with wire services, including the Associated Press, Catholic News Service and Religion News Service, as well as personal essays such as the Rev. Jonathan Duncan’s rumination on life as a married Catholic priest with children (he used to be an Episcopalian). Crux is also asking readers to write brief essays; the debut topic is illegal immigration.

Two quibbles. An article on the suffering of Iraqi Christians was published as a straight news story, even though the tagline identifies it as coming from “the pontifical organization Aid to the Church in Need.” When you click to “learn more,” you find out that Church in Need is an advocacy organization that is actively seeking donations. The disclosure is sufficient, but the placement strikes me as problematic. If Crux were a print newspaper, the article could have appeared on the op-ed page. Crux needs a clearly marked place for such material as well.

My other quibble is that content is undated, leaving the impression that everything is now. That can cause confusion, as with a John Allen Globe piece on immigration that refers to “Friday night” — and links to an Associated Press story published on Aug. 2. (Dates do appear on author bios.)

The site is beautifully designed, and it’s responsive, so it looks good on tablets and smartphones. There are a decent number of ads, though given the state of digital advertising, I think it would make sense — as I wrote earlier this summer — to take the best stuff and publish it in a paid, ad-supported print product.

Globe editor Brian McGrory, Crux editor Teresa Hanafin, digital adviser David Skok and company are off to a fine start. For more on Crux, see this article by David Uberti in the Columbia Journalism Review and this, by Justin Ellis, at the Nieman Journalism Lab.

***

A torrent of punditry has already accompanied the news that Frederick Ryan, a former chief executive of Politico, will become publisher of The Washington Post on Oct. 1.

The irony is thick. When Post political reporters John Harris and Jim VanDeHei proposed launching Politico under the newspaper’s auspices in 2006, they were turned down. Today, Politico often dominates the political conversation in a way that the Post used to (and, of course, sometimes still does). I’m not always a fan of Politico’s emphasis on politics as insider gamesmanship, but there’s no doubt the site has been successful.

As the Post’s own account makes clear, Ryan is a longtime Republican activist, and was close to both Ronald and Nancy Reagan. That shouldn’t affect the Post’s news operations, though it could affect the editorial page — hardly a bastion of liberalism even now. In another Post story, Ryan “endorsed” executive editor Marty Baron and editorial-page editor Fred Hiatt. Baron, a former Globe editor, may be the best newspaper editor working on this side of the Atlantic.

What concerns me is the strong scent of insiderism that is attached to Ryan. In an address to the staff, Ryan said one of his goals is “winning the morning,” according to a series of tweets by Post media blogger Erik Wemple (reported by Jim Romenesko). That might seem unremarkable, except that it sounds like something right out of the Politico playbook — um, make that “Playbook.”

A New York Times account by Ravi Somaiya dwells on Ryan’s obsession with the annual White House Correspondents Dinner, and quotes Ryan as calling it “an important event.” Those of us who find the dinner to be an unseemly display of Beltway clubbiness might agree that it’s important, but for different reasons.

Then again, if Ryan can fix the Post’s business model and show the way for other news organizations, all will be forgiven. The Post, like the Globe, has been expanding under new ownership. On Tuesday, the Post unveiled its most recent venture, The Most, an aggregation site.

Bezos’ track record at Amazon shows that he’s willing to take the long view. I suspect that he’s still just getting started with the Washington Post.

 

Globe executive announces digital moves

This email to Boston Globe and Boston.com employees was sent out a little while ago by Andrew Perlmutter, executive vice president of Boston Globe Media Partners. A source passed it along to Media Nation. The main news here seems to be that David Skok continues his rise on the Globe digital side and that the company is still in ramp-up mode with the new Boston.com. Interesting stuff if you geek out on these things, as I do.

Colleagues —

From launching Boston.com during the early days of the Internet to developing a responsively designed BostonGlobe.com in 2011, digital innovation and success have always been in our DNA here at Boston Globe Media. At the heart of this success lies the ability to evolve our products over time alongside new trends in digital consumption.

With the consumer web transforming faster than ever before, we must evolve again. In this phase in our evolution, we aim to become a world-class digital product operation. We must continue to produce great digital journalism. That is a given. But like the best web product companies today, we must also develop the ability to build and iterate products with great creativity, discipline, and efficiency. This requires a re-imagination of everything from the structure of the organization to our strategy for identifying and developing new content areas.

Luckily, we pursue this next phase with an incredibly strong foundation, anchored by our three core businesses: Boston.com, BostonGlobe.com, and our Digital Marketplaces. Because each business has the potential for independent growth, the initial step in our evolution is to build excellent, standalone digital product operations for all three properties. Great leadership and a top-notch talent base form the core of this strategy. With that as context, it is my pleasure to make some important personnel announcements.

First, I would like to formally announce that David Skok has, as part of his role as the Globe newsroom’s digital leader, taken the helm at BostonGlobe.com. David came to The Globe in early January and has been in the lead on BG.com since early April. An incredibly strong editorial and product leader, David comes to The Globe from Shaw Communications, where he ran the Global News’ website, Canada’s leading news organization. Additionally, Lauren Shea has joined the BG.com team as Product Director. Lauren comes to us from Arnold Worldwide and brings years of digital product expertise.

Second, I would like to announce that Corey Gottlieb and Angus Durocher will take over Boston.com and our Online Marketplace businesses as Executive Directors of Digital Strategy and Operations. Corey has spent five years building cutting edge digital media experiences at MLB Advanced Media. Meanwhile, Angus has over 15 years of consumer web experience, including leading and managing the front-end engineering team at YouTube for 5 years (both pre and post Google acquisition). With their remarkable combination of product, engineering, content, and marketing leadership skills, Boston.com and the Online Marketplace businesses are in great hands. In this updated structure, Corey will be responsible for Marketing, Content, and Business while Angus will oversee Technology and Design. And they will jointly guide our Product efforts.

Several other very talented individuals have also joined our digital operation recently. On the Boston.com editorial side, Adam Vacarro has joined us from Inc. Magazine while Sara Morrison and Eric Levenson have both come over from The Atlantic Wire. Please welcome them to the organization.

It is very exciting to bring these talented individuals to the organization. And this is just the beginning. Our leadership teams are building high-growth strategic roadmaps for their respective businesses, and we will continue to bring in top-tier talent to help us grow. In other words, the future looks very bright for us. We have a lot to accomplish and many challenges to overcome, but I know we are building the team to do it.

Here we go.

Andrew

Update. And now we learn that Laura Amico, the cofounder of Homicide Watch, will be joining BostonGlobe.com as news editor for multimedia and data projects. This is a huge move (disclosure: Laura and her husband and journalistic partner, Chris Amico, have worked with us at Northeastern) as well as a very smart one.

Still more. Here’s the announcement from David Skok:

I’m thrilled to announce that Laura Amico, the founder of Homicide Watch, will be joining the Globe newsroom to take on the new position of News Editor, Multimedia and Data Projects.

Without exaggeration, I can say that Laura is a bit of a rockstar and a trailblazer in the digital journalism community. She was both the first Nieman-Berkman Fellow in Journalism Innovation at Harvard and the first MJ Bear fellow through the Online News Association. She also teaches at Northeastern University and is the editor of WBUR’s Learning Lab.

Reporting to Jason Tuohey, Laura will oversee our talented data team along with our new metro producer, Andy Rosen.

Having someone of Laura’s pedigree to help push our creative efforts on story-centric journalism is a tremendous coup.  While Laura is most well-known for building the Homicide Watch platform, in our conversations, I’ve found that she possesses an intrinsic understanding of how to engage digital audiences in unique, purpose-driven, community journalism.

Laura understands that we’ve already had some great success with immersive multimedia reporting projects, most recently with Maria Sacchetti and Jessica Rinaldi’s ‘Unforgiven,’ the year-long Spotlight ‘Shadow Campus’ investigation, and the Filipov, Wen, Jacob’s triumvirate on the ‘Fall of the House of Tsarnaev.’ I’m confident that Laura’s diversity of thought will take us in new, extraordinary directions.

Laura (@LauraNorton) will join the Globe newsroom in late August.

— David

Disruptive innovation and the future of news

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Photo via ElationPress.com.

Previously published at Medium.

Toward the end of The Innovator’s Dilemma, Clayton Christensen’s influential 1997 book about why good companies sometimes fail, he writes, “I have found that many of life’s most useful insights are often quite simple.”

Indeed, the fundamental ideas at the heart of his book are so blindingly self-evident that, in retrospect, it is hard to imagine it took a Harvard Business School professor to describe them for the first time. And that poses a problem for Jill Lepore, a Harvard historian who recently wrote a scathingly critical essay about Christensen’s theories for the New Yorker titled “The Disruption Machine.” Call it the Skeptic’s Dilemma.

Christensen offers reams of data and graphs to support his claims, but his argument is easy to understand. Companies generally succeed by improving their products, upgrading their technology, and listening to their customers — processes that are at the heart of what Christensen calls “sustaining innovations.” What destroys some of those companies are “disruptive innovations” — crude, cheap at first, attacking from below, and gradually (or not) moving up the food chain. The “innovator’s dilemma” is that companies sometimes fail not in spite of doing everything right, but because they did everything right.

Some examples of this phenomenon make it easy to understand. Kodak, focusing its efforts on improving photographic film and paper, paid no attention to digital technology (invented by one of its own engineers), which at first could not compete on quality but which later swallowed the entire industry. Manufacturers of mainframe computers like IBM could not be bothered with the minicomputer market developed by companies like Digital Equipment Corporation; and DEC, in turn, failed to adapt to the personal computer revolution led by the likes of Apple and, yes, IBM. (Christensen shows how the success of the IBM PC actually validates his ideas: the company set up a separate, autonomous division, far from the mothership, to develop its once-ubiquitous personal computer.)

Clay Christensen in 2011. Photo (cc) by Betsy Weber. Some rights reserved.
Clay Christensen in 2011. Photo (cc) by Betsy Weber. Some rights reserved.

Christensen has applied his theories to journalism as well. In 2012 he wrote a long essay for Nieman Reports in collaboration with David Skok, a Canadian journalist who was then a Nieman Fellow and is now the digital adviser to Boston Globe editor Brian McGrory, and James Allworth, a regular contributor to the Harvard Business Review. In the essay, titled “Breaking News,” they describe how Time magazine began in the 1920s as a cheaply produced aggregator, full of “rip-and-read copy from the day’s major publications,” and gradually moved up the journalistic chain by hiring reporters and producing original reportage. Today, they note, websites like the Huffington Post and BuzzFeed, which began as little more than aggregators, have begun “their march up the value network” in much the same way as Time some 90 years ago.

And though Christensen, Skok, and Allworth don’t say it explicitly, Time magazine, once a disruptive innovator and long since ensconced as a crown jewel of the quality press, is now on the ropes — cast out of the Time Warner empire, as David Carr describes it in the New York Times, with little hope of long-term survival.

***

INTO THIS SEA of obviousness sails Lepore, an award-winning historian and an accomplished journalist. I am an admirer of her 1998 book The Name of War: King Philip’s War and American Identity. Her 2010 New Yorker article on the Tea Party stands as a particularly astute, historically aware examination of a movement that waxes and wanes but that will not (as Eric Cantor recently learned) go away.

Lepore pursues two approaches in her attempted takedown of Christensen. The first is to look at The Innovator’s Dilemma as a cultural critic would, arguing that Christensen popularized a concept — “disruption” — that resonates in an era when we are all fearful of our place in an uncertain, rapidly changing economy. In the face of that uncertainty, notions such as disruption offer a possible way out, provided you can find a way to be the disruptor. She writes:

The idea of innovation is the idea of progress stripped of the aspirations of the Enlightenment, scrubbed clean of the horrors of the twentieth century, and relieved of its critics. Disruptive innovation goes further, holding out the hope of salvation against the very damnation it describes: disrupt, and you will be saved.

The second approach Lepore pursues is more daring, as she takes the fight from her turf — history and culture — to Christensen’s. According to Lepore, Christensen made some key mistakes. The disk-drive companies that were supposedly done in by disruptive innovators eating away at their businesses from below actually did quite well, she writes. And she claims that his analysis of the steel industry is flawed by his failure to take into account the effects of labor strife. “Christensen’s sources are often dubious and his logic questionable,” Lepore argues.

Jill Lepore. Publicity photo from her Harvard bio.
Jill Lepore. Publicity photo from her Harvard bio.

But Lepore saves her real venom for the dubious effects she says the cult of disruption has had on society, from financial services (“it led to a global financial crisis”) to higher education (she partly blames a book Christensen co-authored, The Innovative University, for the rise of massive open online courses, or MOOCs, of which she takes a dim view) to journalism (one of several fields, she writes, with “obligations that lie outside the realm of earnings”).

Christensen has not yet written a response; perhaps he will, perhaps he won’t. But in an interview with Drake Bennett of Bloomberg Businessweek, he asserts that it was hardly his fault if the term “disruption” has become overused and misunderstood:

I was delighted that somebody with her standing would join me in trying to bring discipline and understanding around a very useful theory. I’ve been trying to do it for 20 years. And then in a stunning reversal, she starts instead to try to discredit Clay Christensen, in a really mean way. And mean is fine, but in order to discredit me, Jill had to break all of the rules of scholarship that she accused me of breaking — in just egregious ways, truly egregious ways.

As for the “egregious” behavior of which he accuses Lepore, Christensen is especially worked up that she read The Innovator’s Dilemma, published 17 years ago, yet seems not to have read any of his subsequent books — books in which he says he continued to develop and refine his theories about disruptive innovation. He defends his data. And he explains his prediction that Apple’s iPhone would fail (a prediction mocked by Lepore) by saying that he initially thought it was a sustaining innovation that built on less expensive smartphones. Only later, he says, did he realize that it was a disruptive innovation aimed at laptops — less capable than laptops, but also cheaper and easier to carry.

“I just missed that,” he tells Bennett. “And it really helped me with the theory, because I had to figure out: Who are you disrupting?”

Christensen also refers to Lepore as “Jill” so many times that Bennett finally asks him if he knows her. His response: “I’ve never met her in my life.”

***

CHRISTENSEN’S DESCRIPTION of how his understanding of the iPhone evolved demonstrates a weakness of disruption theory: It’s far easier to explain the rise and fall of companies in terms of sustaining and disruptive innovations after the fact, when you can pick them apart and make them the subject of case studies.

Continue reading “Disruptive innovation and the future of news”

How Clay Christensen’s thinking has influenced John Henry

Fall2012_185wHarvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen has an important article in The Boston Globe today on the disruptive changes coming to higher education, arguing that the fading away of MOOCs (massive online open courses) will amount to nothing more than a temporary reprieve for the old way of doing things.

Ultimately, Christensen and his co-author Michelle Weise argue, college and university administrators will have to deal with “disruptive innovations” coming from the outside as they find that their high and increasing costs are unsustainable.

But what I find at least as interesting as Christensen’s views on education is connecting the dots between him and the Globe. Consider:

  • In the fall of 2012, Christensen and two co-authors — David Skok and James Allworth — wrote the cover story for Nieman Reports, “Breaking News,” on the challenges facing the news business in a time of disruptive innovation.
  • Last October, John Henry, shortly after completing his purchase of the Globe, wrote a piece for his new paper outlining his vision — and citing Christensen’s oft-repeated mantra that business leaders should think in terms of “jobs to be done.”
  • A month later, Christensen’s co-author Skok, the former head of a Canadian news site called Global News, was hired as the digital adviser to Globe editor Brian McGrory. (And here is an article by Skok that accompanied the main Nieman Reports essay.)
  • In an exchange of emails with Boston magazine earlier this year, Henry expressed admiration for Christensen and Skok, adding, “I’m not sure it is necessarily up to the disrupted to be disruptive as a strategy, but virtually everything these days is subject to disruption.”

Given that context, Christensen’s appearance in today’s Globe would appear to be a side effect of the “jobs to be done” thinking that has already permeated John Henry’s news organization.

Boston.com’s anonymous sports blogger to be unmasked

Screen Shot 2014-03-24 at 7.41.18 PMOn Sunday at 5:11 p.m., The Boston Globe’s free Boston.com site published a toughly worded blog post about Jerry Remy’s future with New England Sports Network.

Headlined “Case closed: Red Sox fans not obligated to pay for Jared Remy’s defense,” the writer argued that NESN had a public-relations problem on its hands following a Globe investigation into Jerry Remy’s son Jared, accused of murdering his girlfriend, Jennifer Martel. The writer also found it ironic that NESN would remove Jenny Dell from Red Sox coverage because of her relationship with third baseman Will Middlebrooks while Jerry Remy stays in the broadcast booth.

And, oh yes, there was this: the writer was anonymous, identified only as the Obnoxious Boston Fan.

I’d never seen an anonymous blog on Boston.com before. And though I agreed with some of the sentiments he expressed in his post about Remy, it struck me as journalistically and ethically inappropriate for the Globe to be giving a platform to any anonymous writers — let alone one who was casting aspersions on others.

In response to my inquiry, David Skok, the digital adviser to Globe editor Brian McGrory, told me by email that Mr. OBF will henceforth be writing under his name. Skok said:

We are in the midst of reviewing all of the content being posted on Boston.com and BostonGlobe.com as we continue to move forward with the relaunch and the separation of the two properties.

During this review process, we discovered that one of our community voice bloggers was posting anonymously on the site. We don’t believe that this adequately meets our journalistic principles and practices for all of our Boston Globe Media Partners properties. As a result, the blogger known as the, ‘Obnoxious Boston Sports Fan’ will be identifying himself in all future posts.

We are also excited to announce that we are bringing several of our best ‘community voices’ on as freelance writers who will go through the standard copy editing process required for all of our freelancers. We believe that these voices are valued contributors to Boston.com and we look forward to giving their work the exposure and amplification that it deserves.

As a result of these changes, we have notified all of our contributors that the community voices program will be ending at the end of the month. We want to thank all of our bloggers for their contributions through the years and we hope that they will continue to be a part of our digital community.

And yes, according to Skok, Mr. OBF made the cut.

Here, by the way, is Boston.com’s Community Voices page. Other than Mr. OBF, Skok did not say who will be staying and who will be leaving.

On Twitter earlier today, Mr. OBF claimed he has won “multiple APSE awards” (and perhaps he has) as well as “a staff Pulitzer.” I have asked Mr. OBF for a response to the news that he will now have to identify himself, and I’ll post it if I hear from him. Regardless, it sounds like we’ll know who he is soon enough.

Update: And here is Mr. OBF’s response (drum roll, please): “Looking forward to it.”

Update II: Originally I wrote that Skok had told me Mr. OBF’s anonymous status had simply fallen through the cracks. I’ve removed it because it was my characterization of what he said, and it seems too close to a direct quote.

Update III: In case you’re clicking to this post directly, I want to let you know about this.