Traditional newspapers all over the world are struggling – in many cases for survival. Several newspapers have already disappeared and there are predictions that all print newspapers will be gone within a few decades. The newspaper death process started long ago in most Western countries, but in many parts of the world the change still has to become evident. The reason for these deaths is mainly that traditional newspaper companies have difficulties in coping with a new media world and the digital transformation. As demonstrated by The Economist in a cover titled “Who killed the newspaper?” already in 2006, the phenomenon is not new. Company owners exit from the newspaper markets and/or try ventures in new areas.
Some newspaper companies have deliberately sought to adapt to the swiftly changing markets in various ways, leading to significant transformations. The institutional patterns embedded in the industry as a whole as well as internally within the companies have developed over a long time of relative stability. The ongoing transformation has put an end to stability. The implication is that traditional newspapers have to meet with new organizational forms adapted to dwindling markets and/or to emerging forms emanating from the digital ecosystem.
Strategies of renewal and change for many newspaper organizations have implied launching change projects in which solutions are put in place as a response to technological and societal developments. Our empirical observations show how different projects are launched – often in terms of change programs where strategy connections between different actions are stressed – in order to keep the companies in business and to restore profitability. De-learning seems to be needed to handle traditions and finding new avenues for profitability involves re-learning. In this paper we focus on how change projects in practice are combined into strategizing efforts. We rely on theories of projects and temporary organizations and literature on organizing and new media.
Empirically this paper is based on interviews with key persons working for newspapers in Europe with intentions to survive the current downturn. The newspapers – or the newspaper businesses – face similar problems and the purpose is to describe and analyse the patterns of survival efforts. Since the newspaper industry appears highly isomorphic, the patterns might be similar for newspapers around the world. However, that matter is a concern for extended studies of the processes involved on a world-wide basis where the prevailing institutions might imply different trajectories.
Our observations show that the survival efforts often take the form of change projects, sometimes packaged together in change programs. This illustrates a trend of projectification of activities observed in the contemporary society in other contexts. It also seems to be sets of projects that no longer have a limited time-span, nor a defined task, and often not even any sign of transition in terms of coming closer to any kind of termination (described as four core elements of projects). Instead, we argue using empirical examples from how the newspaper industry organize development projects, that (some) projects of today have become “garbage cans” for all kinds of development ideas where people, new technologies, professions, and vested interests are mixed in complex processes with often surprising outcomes.
Our empirical examples illustrate how projects become never-ending, and become “permanently temporary” since the outcome of the project will change depending on who is evaluating the project, according to what measures, and in relation to the purpose of the project and the program – which in turn will change during the course of time. Politics and vested interests in combination with the notoriously unpredictable future of digital, new media (“if it doesn’t make money today, it might still be useful for some other purpose in the future, but since we don’t know we cannot afford to scrap it yet”) make it almost impossible to terminate a newspaper development project based on any measurement of success.
To conclude, we propose that the contemporary measurement of project success is not of a project (or program) that is finished, but rather – like a marriage – a project that never ends but which develops over time. The rationale for starting a renewal effort sometimes is related to a “must” and sometimes to how new opportunities come up. This means that the goal (or task) for renewal efforts does not remain unfettered by time and experiences over time but should be thought of as dreams for the future – a tentative conception of an end state.
emma conference 2015, "Development and Sustainability in Media Business", The Business School of the University of Hamburg, Germany, May 28, 2015 – May 29, 2015