A culture of innovation
Mega-Innovation Award Finalist:
The Oklahoman Media Company
The Oklahoman Media Company is always willing to try something new.
"We have tried to create a culture here of ongoing innovation," said Christopher P. Reen, president and publisher of The Oklahoman. No single strategy is more important than another, and all employees are expected to contribute and improve.
The result is a dozen or more innovations over the last several years, not just one or two. The core goals are to increase audience and engage readers through news, advertising, digital, a TV studio, social media or the giant video screen on the side of the newspaper building in downtown Oklahoma City.
With brainstorming encouraged, failure is not considered a disaster but a sign that someone is trying hard, Reen said.
"As long as we're failing fast and inexpensively, then that's OK. The bottom line is if we're not pushing the technology boundaries, if we're not experimenting in launching new products and services for the community and for our advertisers, then we're not evolving our business plan as quickly as it needs to be."
Some of the strategies include:
- Not one website, but two. NewsOK.com is free. Oklahoman.com is for newspaper subscribers only. Each has its own set of apps.
- The 24-by-42 foot video screen overlooking one of the busiest intersections downtown. "We describe it as sort of a modern-day town crier," Reen said.
- Big Wing Interactive, a full-service online marketing agency servicing more than 170 clients in the United States and Mexico.
- BrandInsight, a native advertising solution that lets organizations and companies present branded articles sharing their knowledge and expertise, usually on NewsOK.com.
For most newspapers, two websites would be one website too many. "At the end of the day, it works for us," Reen said.
NewsOK originally was jointly operated by the newspaper and the separately owned CBS TV affiliate. Over several years, it became clear that the two entities had different goals, Reen said, and The Oklahoman eventually bought out the TV station's share of the ownership. By that time, it was the dominant site in the state, and it still is, he said.
So Oklahoman.com was launched as a premium content site available to newspaper subscribers only. Subscription rates went up, but some stories are embargoed behind the paywall so that subscribers see them first. Subscribers also get various apps and other benefits besides the newspaper.
"We're trying to reinforce to the community that it's valuable to be a subscriber because you have access to this depth of information before anyone else does," Reen said.
The newsroom uses a decision tree to help determine which stories get posted where and when. Generally, breaking news or stories that other news media also have go straight to NewOK, while exclusives or investigative pieces will go to Oklahoman.com first before eventual release on NewsOK.
The development of the video screen was handled carefully to ensure that the newspaper's downtown neighbors were happy. "There's no other digital signage downtown," Reen said. The company worked with various committees, the City Council and the hotel next door on issues such as design, brightness and volume.
For example, the loudspeakers and brightness are turned down between midnight and 5:30 a.m. in deference to hotel guests. Reen said 50 percent of the content benefits the community, in the form of calendar listings, events information and live broadcasts of events such as the downtown New Year's Eve celebration. Other content includes weather forecasts, stock market information, advertising, a news ticker, sports scores, photo galleries and social media posts.
Beginning late last year the company began launching streaming media devices and has plans to expand those operations this year. Digital revenue made up 21 percent of total revenue in 2015.
"We're not afraid to experiment," Reen said. "In today's day and age, you really need to take that approach in order to determine where companies are going to head in the future. That's the approach we try to take."
Jane Nicholes, a regular contributor to the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association's eBulletin, is a freelance writer and editor based in coastal Alabama. She is an award-winning veteran of more than 30 years in the newspaper business. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Suggestions for future stories and comments on this piece are welcomed.