UK AOP: Ulrik Haagerup, leading new media change

This was the second time in a year that I’ve heard Ulrik speak, and it’s a real treat. I first heard him talk at an IFRA convergence workshop last summer. His ideas are compelling, but his new media leadership is some of the best in the world. He clearly communicates a plan of action for media organisations but he also has a management framework that helps organisations help staff through the change.

He started off by quoting a Chines proverb:

When the winds of change blow, some build shields against the wind but others build wind mills.

In 2002, Nordjyske was a newspaper in North Jutland in Denmark as it had been since something like 1767. It took about 10,000 Euros a day to put out the newspaper in 2002, and he said that the staff would strike at the slightest provocation. But they were facing a crisis, possibly the worst thing that can happen to a newspaper in Denmark: They were under threat of being sold to Norwegians.

Something had to change. He asked his staff what Darwin had said. Invariably, they said that strongest survive. Ulrik corrected them. What Darwin had actually said was that those with the ability to adapt to change in their environment would win, would survive. And he said that if more change is happening outside your window than inside, you’re in trouble. They had to adapt to survive, which is a fair comment on lots of business models these days.

We as journalists have lost our monopoly on information

They looked and saw that their audience was watching TV. They could run adverts telling their audience not to watch TV, or they could manage the change. Everyone watched CNN Headline News, but what they needed was a local version, so they launched 24 Nordjyske. Now, it’s watched by almost everyone in North Jutland, and they suddenly have an audience far greater than the newspaper. And that wasn’t the end. They launched a radio station, a premium SMS service. They have a website, and a weekly newspaper as well as the daily newspaper.

They now have a multimedia newsroom. They don’t have newspaper reporters or radio reporters. They have reporters. They create story for all media, but not all stories are created for all media. He broke it down this way as media and their strengths:

  • TV- feelings
  • Radio- here and now
  • Web- searchable and depth
  • Mobile- everywhere
  • Traffic paper- find time
  • Weekly- to everyone
  • Daily- stops time

His thinking about convergence is some of the best in the industry. He was the first person who I had ever heard that said that convergence is not a cost-cutting measure. It won’t save you money. He said that his staffing has changed little since transforming his organisation from a newspaper into a multimedia house. (They are so successful that people the world over come for tours and sessions. They pay 2000 euros per visit. They put that money in a box and just bought a new helicopter.)

His journalists are multi-skilled, but obviously, the learning curve is steep and not all of the results are award-winning. But he said: Don’t criticise the product. Applaud the process. He also talked about the difference between industrial management and innovative management, and one of the things that he said was that industrial thinking looks for short-term returns, while innovative thinking looked for long-term results. He said that the word for manager actually came from a French word for controlling horses, but that modern managers didn’t need to order their people around.

One thing that he said last summer that he didn’t in this talk is one off the lessons that I learned and really informs how I work and now I lead as an editor:

Most managers point and say to their staff: Go that way. That’s where the future is. But leaders say: I’m heading in towards our future. Follow me.