Media executives like to talk about innovation but lack the will to change their management style.

This week, I received another issue of Anita Zielina’s ‘Notes on Change,’ titled “Why I Moved to NYC to Train Innovative Media Leaders.” You should definitely subscribe to this newsletter.

Anyway, Zielina worked for about ten years in the media business. She tells what she loved about the jobs. And what she didn’t like:

The lack of creative space and lack of appreciation for innovation. The millions of meetings. Petty political fights on the management level. But, more than anything, the share of bad leaders I encountered, followed by disbelief when they still got rewarded with additional responsibilities by boards or CEOs.

Ultimately, she asks the crucial question:

What if it is not the new product, […] that will ‘save’ the media industry/the news organization in question, but if it’s rather our culture that is holding us back, and that will, ultimately, kill us if we don’t radically transform?

I would argue, she’s right.

Now, Zielina mentions the lack of appreciation for innovation. Here’s where I don’t entirely agree with her. At least in Switzerland, many media executives talk about change, are looking for new products and services. And, so I think, are also showing appreciation, if there’s any innovation happening within the company.

The problem, and now I’m probably back on her argumentation, is that innovation is damn hard inside those companies. Why? Because the leaders are indeed not embracing new models that encourage collaboration.

Media leaders know the way but don't fully commit to the journey.

Media leaders know the way but don't fully commit to the journey.

I worked for several news outlets, small and big. My observation: Leadership positions should create an environment that enables people to try new things. Instead, they often care more about their status and privilege. They are wannabe-innovative leaders. They talk about innovation, urging employees to do more “creative stuff.” But they don’t realize that it’s their old-fashioned management style that keeps blocking everything.

What’s the result? Employees who have this digital and collaborative mindset will ultimately get frustrated, burn out, or quit.

And in the case of journalism: The reporting will get worse. The challenges humanity faces are more complex than ever. So newsrooms need to be more flexible and break down the silos of traditional editorials teams like politics, economics, or culture.

Maybe some small changes can be achieved by a grassroots movement amongst employees. But as Zielina argues, we need a radical change. That’s only possible if everybody in the company pulls in the same direction.

Wannabe-Innovative Leaders