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Breaking News: Mastering the art of disruptive innovation in journalism (Nieman)

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Harvard Business School professor Clayton M. Christensen’s theory of disruptive innovation provides a framework to understand how businesses grow, become successful, and falter as nimble start-ups muscle in on their customers. It’s a familiar story, one that has played out in the steel and auto industries, among others. Now Christensen, in collaboration with 2012 Martin Wise Goodman Canadian Nieman Fellow David Skok, has applied his analysis to the news industry. Their goal in “Breaking News” is to encourage news executives to apply the lessons of disruption to the media industry as a means of charting new paths to survival and success.

In February 2013, Clay Christensen and David Skok spoke at the Nieman Foundation about disruption in journalism. Video of their discussion is available.

Four years after the 2008 financial crisis, traditional news organizations continue to see their newsrooms shrink or close. Those that survive remain mired in the innovator’s dilemma: A false choice between today’s revenues and tomorrow’s digital promise. The problem is a profound one: A study in March by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism showed that newspapers have been, on average, losing print advertising dollars at seven times the rate they have been growing digital ad revenue.

Journalism institutions play a vital role in the democratic process and we are rooting for their survival. But only the organizations themselves can make the changes required to adapt to these new realities. This search for new business models remains elusive for most. Executives interviewed in that Pew report confirmed that closing the revenue gap remains a struggle. “There might be a 90 percent chance you’ll accelerate the decline if you gamble and a 10 percent chance you might find the new model,” one executive explained in the report. “No one is willing to take that chance.”

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Borja Echevarría@borjaechevarria

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