How news organisations can use ‘open innovation’ – interview with InnoCentive CEO Dwayne Spradlin

Dwayne Spradlin is CEO of InnoCentive, a company which has been building and managing crowdsourcing platforms since 2001. I asked him what news organisations could learn from InnoCentive’s experiences:

News organizations are at a turning point right now. The problem is that publishers have yet to find an online advertising model that can compensate for the shift from paid to free subscriptions. And when you think about what it means to compensate for this shift, online advertising needs to both fund online content and subsidize traditional print content if both vehicles are to survive.

Publishers have not found this magic formula, which is why you see so many abandoning their print publications. Today, they must innovate and reinvent their businesses for the online world.

We have had the opportunity to observe how established industries (R&D, for example) have been forced to change and adjust to a new reality. News organizations are no different from other industries in that to grow and compete in an increasingly Internet-driven world they need to operate within a fundamentally different model – an interactive model.

It’s no longer about broadcasting the news to consumers they want to inform, it’s about engaging and enabling an informed community; and news organizations must embrace user-generated content and, in fact, master it, lowering costs and addressing the real time social media expectations of a new marketplace.

This can be a difficult transition to make – especially in an industry like news publishing where “openness” has been forced onto many companies. I think all news organizations would prefer if paid subscriptions were the norm on the Internet, because then their “closed” offline model would translate nicely to the online world.

But that has not happened – so it is critical for publishers to fully embrace openness in everything they do – including innovation.

I’ve seen companies find answers to their hardest innovation challenges by seeking insight and expertise outside of organizational walls.

By using “open innovation” to tap into the massive brainpower of the general population, companies can find answers to a broad range of business, technical or research-related problems that they could not solve on their own. Sometimes the answers come from unexpected places.

For example, after years of trying unsuccessfully to remove frozen oil from the ocean, resulting from the Exxon Valdez Spill in 1989, the Oil Spill Recovery Institute (OSRI) decided to put the challenge to the public through InnoCentive’s website. Surprisingly, a man from the land-locked mid-section of the U.S. with a background in nanotechnology proposed the winning solution – a simple vibration tool used in the concrete industry to keep cement in liquid form during cement pours.

If OSRI hadn’t shared its challenge with the public, the solution would not have been found.

This principle applies to all types of challenges – whether the problem is to solve a supply chain delivery issue or a major environmental disaster.

I have to believe that somewhere out there, perhaps in a completely different industry, somebody knows the answer or perhaps a critical missing component to an answer the news media is already on its way to finding. The news media just needs to use an interactive approach to find that person and the solution.

When news organizations find an interactive approach that involves community, protects the public trust, adjusts to the new economic realities, and embraces the concept of “open,” we’ll all be better for it. Thus, news organizations need to reinvent themselves.

They need to adapt to a more open strategy that will be able to uncover new opportunities to engage with their audiences and find new sources of revenue. If you look at typical online advertising today, you can’t help but think that there is a vast untapped opportunity for something fundamentally different.

For example, news organizations could consider ads that are not interrupt-driven or obtrusive, but consistently valuable to the reader and, consequently, worth a major investment from advertisers.

Creating a new online advertising paradigm for news organizations will be an interesting challenge – one that will undoubtedly marry strategy and technology. But one thing we have learned is that there is always a way. While change is often difficult, the new economy is ripe with opportunity and news organizations will undoubtedly adapt because a free and open press is a critical component of our society and our way of life.

1 thought on “How news organisations can use ‘open innovation’ – interview with InnoCentive CEO Dwayne Spradlin

  1. Paula Sharratt

    This is something very close to my heart. I would like to do a pilot project as an action research MA on how to move communities business, professionals, individuals in a small geographical area into a new way of thinking about how they can have high quality local community journalism and get the most out of technology.

    This can only happen if they’re made aware (at the same time as their local community is made aware) that advertising should be on the internet and information and news should be in local newspapers. A bit like the transition people had to make to the Yellow Pages and the Thomson Local. This way you’d keep the historical continuity of newsprint backed up with real quality gains that the technology can offer.

    Any campaign to win new advertising (small businesses, sole traders) should be on the basis of their desire for better quality community and local information and news which can be reported on and promoted in the paper as evidence that news, information and the development of the stories and issues at the local level are the priority.

    If you can advise me as to which institution might be interested in supporting this thinking I’d be very grateful.


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