Let’s talk about partnerships and relationships.
I spent the past two days with associate professor Rich Gordon and his graduate new media class from Northwestern‘s J-school, Medill. We’re partnering with them this semester on a community project (more details as they develop).
Frankly, I ran them ragged around the company and Cedar Rapids, trying to give them an overview of who we are, where we want to go and what obstacles stand in our way. By the time they left, they looked haggard and felt admittedly overwhelmed, but I’m looking forward to whatever they might ask for next on the path to a focused project.
It was great to hang out with some sharp, young people. Of course, it meant admitting that while I might still be sharp, I’m no longer young. (I’ll thank the peanut gallery not to comment on either of those assertions, please. Sigh.)
Student Brian Boyer, one of two programmers recruited to Medill with Knight Foundation fellowships, asked a great question: What’s the big, high-level goal of experimenting with online communities?
I don’t know that my answer was satisfactory for him, but here it is: To build relationships. Really, it’s that simple. It’s not about delivering news; we are doing that and will continue to do so, no matter the delivery method. It’s not about experimenting with social or new media tools; those tools are becoming ubiquitous and we simply must adopt them or die.
I know that sounds glib and dismissive of our core strengths and current initiatives. I’m looking beyond them, though. We can have the world’s best content in the world’s coolest presentation, but if we’re seen as just another Corridor business, just another faceless media company, what’s the incentive to come to us for anything?
Relationships drive us and our choices. We ask people we know for recommendations, references and help, and social media are teaching us that we are willing to accept the recommendation of Charity1313 over that of an “expert” based on a relationship, however shallow, cultivated on Twitter.
So experimenting with online communities is about trying to meet a basic human need for relationships, because this company wants to be here and be viable another 150 years from now. The range of products we offer will be entirely different, and there may not be a newspaper, in the traditional sense, in the lineup. That’s OK.
If we build real relationships with people — look, we’re people, too, and we’ll talk to you in an authentic human voice and we’ll help you build relationships with each other — it’s with the aim of becoming so entwined in the social fabric of local life that people don’t have to think about where to turn for information and context. They’ll assume we have it or can get it.