#132-Leading for The Long Term with Jay Allred
John (Intro): I have been on a quest to learn everything I can about leadership obsessed with what makes the best leaders so good. After running companies small and large for the last 20 years, today I speak on stages all across the world to audiences who are interested in that same question. My name is John Laurito and I’m your host. I invite you to join me on this journey as we explore this topic: What makes the best leaders so good? Welcome to Tomorrow’s Leader.
John: Hey, there Tomorrow’s Leaders, so I got introduced to today’s guests, my brother-in-law, Jeff, had connected me to Jay Alred, who is the president of Source Media Properties, and much of his time, he spends with one of their companies, Richlands Source, which is a news outlet in Mansfield based in Mansfield, Ohio. And what really drew me to Jay and thinking, and rightfully so, that he’d be a great guest is he runs a news organization, in my opinion, totally different than really just about anyone out there, any other news organizations, and kind of has gone a different direction and very successfully a very values-based organization. And now, you know, we’ve seen how news has changed over the last 20 years. It’s been dramatic even over the last few years. He’s taken a real different approach with his organization and it’s paid off and some really, really cool things that they’re doing. So we talked about everything from what’s happening in the industry to how he’s led such a successful organization. And I think you’re really going to like this. Some good stuff here. So here’s Jay.
John: All right. Welcome to today’s episode of Tomorrow’s Leader, where we dive deep on all things leader-related, related to leading yourself and leading others. I’m John Laurito, your host, and it is a pleasure to be here today with a fantastic guest, someone who I know will have a tough time fitting just all the stuff that we want to talk about in a 30 to 45-minute time frame here. But we’ll do our best. Jay Alred is the president of Source Media Properties and mostly Richlands Source, based in Mansfield, Ohio, and a very unique news organization. And Jay, I’m very thrilled to have you here with us today.
Jeff: Thanks, John. It’s really good to be here.
John: Did I say that all right? That whole mouthful there?
Jeff: Yeah, absolutely.
John: All right. You do a lot. We know that. So now we’ve got a lot of irons. So I know the story of Richlands source from talking with you and doing my own research. But I’d love to just start with just the origin of it. It is a really unique news media organization. I’d love to hear and have you share with the audience. How did this start and what was kind of the basis for it when you got started?
Jeff: So it’s first and probably important to just let your audience know what we are, what we do, and principally what we are. As we’re a local news organization, we cover three counties in north-central Ohio. We’re headquartered in a small Midwestern city called Mansfield, with
a population of about 60,000 people. So it’s southern, it’s like on the south end of the Rust Belt. So all of your stereotypes that your listeners have about Cleveland and Youngstown
and Akron, all apply here in Mansfield as well. And we were founded in 2013 because largely when we looked at the local news ecosystem in our community, what we as founders saw there were the stories that we’re being told were accurate and they were factual, but they were not, in our opinion, holistic and really representing the entire community of Mansfield, Ohio. The local news industry and the local news business is built on kind of the basis of where our job is to shine a light on problems and point people toward what’s wrong in their communities so that hopefully community leaders will respond to that and fix that.
Jeff: The problem with that, in our opinion, was this is why we were founded. What that does is it leaves out a lot of people in the community that are working really hard to make the community or the city or the village or the town that they’re in a better place. And so when we were founded, the idea was, what if we told a more holistic story of Mansfield, Ohio, in Richland County, Ohio? And when we mean that, is that what have we looked at, the way that we covered our community and tried to make that more proportional to the way that community members are behaving on any given day? And I think the easiest way to explain that is that if you look at the crime rate in Richland County, Ohio, in any given year, we hover between 6%-7%. And if you just get really pessimistic and double that, let’s say that’s 12%-15%. Well, that still leaves 88%-85% percent of the population that is not involved in the criminal justice system. There’s still a huge, huge proportion of your population that is not involved in the criminal justice system.
Jeff: Traditionally, local news has really what sells papers and what drives clicks is crime, and if you give a disproportionate amount of your coverage to. To crime and justice and those kinds of coverage, you’re leaving out a lot of people that are involved in the community. So we looked at it and just said, what if we changed the news diet? What if we added some fruits and vegetables to go along with the sugar that is car crashes and crime stories and that sort of stuff? What if we took down the sugar content and added some fresh fruits and vegetables? What would happen? That’s a great analogy. When people want to let people engage with that, when they find that to be valuable to them, it’s a big risk.
John: Right? I mean, that was probably for a news organization that relies on, you know, selling sugar, so to speak. I mean, that’s a major risk. I mean, what so how did you feel about that going into that? And was that what was the ultimate result?
Jeff: Well, yes, it was a risk because we knew we knew completely that a focus on traditional public driving, particularly back in 2013, would have grown the audience on the website much, much faster than it actually could. We knew that going in and we elected not to do that. So, yes, the risk was real and we knew we had to take a much longer view and we knew that our work was going to be different. We were still going to do great journalism and we were still going to cover our community. And when there were important stories that involved negative topics, we were going to cover those. But we knew that our work was going to be much more about outreach and relationship building with our readers and community leaders than it was going to be about just raw sit in a dark basement and report news off the police scanner. We were going to have to think differently than other news organizations have traditionally been thinking in 2013.
Jeff: And then the result you asked has been fast forward to 2020. You know, we have combined our website. See, we have over half a million users a month where we’ve grown
every single quarter since we launched. How we’ve been able to we’ve received a good deal of national recognition related to our practice of solutions. Journalism and our membership program have quadrupled over the last two years. So it’s been like I mean, we think that there are signals there, both financial and audience related, that are telling us that a focus on real deep engagement with a community, real outreach into the community, doing journalism with people instead of to them. There’s a path forward there, but it’s a harder path.
John: Yeah, well, here’s what I love about that. I mean, that’s so there’s so many organizations and so many leaders that are just there making decisions based on the buck and what’s going to drive the fastest and most revenue and everything else falls secondarily to that. And you made a decision based on core values and really what you wanted and felt was right. And ultimately, that’s a phenomenal success rate. But were there times that you kind of second guess yourself? Did you get into it for, you know, especially in those that early year, the first year or two where you’re saying, you know what, I wonder if maybe we should go and do a little bit more of the crime and the sugar?
Jeff: I wouldn’t say that we second-guess ourselves, I would say that number one, we were extraordinarily fortunate that our one of our principal founders took the long view financially and was willing to pay for, you know, to make this happen for the community because he believed in. He believed in the mission and he knew it was important. And so we had a runway and that was really important and critical for us to be able to do that because I think if we didn’t have we didn’t have a sufficient runway, we were not we would have been tempted to veer from the core values to be able to move toward sustainability more quickly.
Jeff: So to answer your question, in those first two, two, or three years, no, I don’t think we really were tempted to sway. I think where the challenges came, John, were explaining what we were doing and really being able to build a team culture here where those values were not things that the president of the company just kind of said it, we had to make this thing more than just marketing speak, it had to become ingrained like we talk about it, how it had to sort of invade the DNA of the company and become a thing that we hired for that we disciplined for that we you know, that we really drilled into the core being of what this company is and what its purpose is. And that allowed us to build a culture that protected that value system so that when we were making decisions, we were making decisions based on that value system rather than responding to input. Yeah, we knew what our course in our direction was and by doing, by really concentrating there first, that really helped us, especially during those early years when we really didn’t know whether this was going to work at all. Mm-hmm. We truly didn’t know.
John: Yeah. Well, you know, a couple of things that I take from that. You know, you’ve got a lot of leaders that are listening and saying, you know, how do I build that culture that’s so deeply ingrained around values and how do I avoid those, you know, the desire to hire, you know, a certain type of person or skill set. And now maybe they don’t necessarily buy into the values or share the values or buy into the vision. And people of leaders make that bad decision all the time. How do you say to a leader that’s kind of challenged with that? OK, how do I get that type of culture built? And, you know, where do I even start?
Jeff: Well, for us, I think that it begins with the leader, it does begin with the person at the top of the people at the top because you have to be able to define a vision or a value proposition
to your audience or to your customers that they want to be involved in. Right. So there has to be some degree of down-board thinking on the part of the leader that says, I know that we’re at a but I know what Z looks like and I know I don’t know how to get there necessarily, but I know what my desire is. I know what my desired result is. And then in our case. That had to come initially, that came from me, but we very quickly involved our team when we were just several months old and we were crafting the core values of the organization and we brought the entire team into that discussion.
Jeff: They helped shape what those values were going to be from the very beginning. You know, I had some things that were just. Sort of no-fly zones or definite 100% license and those were the limits that as the leader I was responsible to place on that process. But mostly we really tried to involve the team from the beginning and end. If I was talking to a leader that was trying to those struggling to define culture or struggling to grow culture. Culture has to be something that everyone participates in. It can’t be a top-down thing. It has to be something that comes in from all over the organization. And it has to be a thing that everyone participates in or a large group of your team participates in informing and making real. And that takes work. That’s why culture is such a hard thing to build. Yeah, you have to want to do it. It’s not a thing that you’re going to do over like one company retreat or, you know, a two-hour session with John Laurito, who’s going to come in and talk to you about culture because you’re going to get on the plane and leave. Eventually, you’re going to go back to where you came from and the way the organization is going to be left with whatever you taught them. But they have to dive in on that.
John: It’s not only getting it there, but it’s keeping it there because there are tons of organizations. I’ve seen them. I’m sure you have, too, that they were the once-great cultures. You know, you have a lot of companies out there. I mean, you know. There are these companies that have and it didn’t change overnight, it was like this slow degradation, it was a 1% change. And I think what it comes to and a 1% change over time, even once, a one percent change every month, and over time, it’s like, wow, we don’t even recognize the company anymore. And it can be hiring the wrong people. So, you know, it’s when you get a great company and you get a great culture, rather, in a company, it’s the right people in there. They protect that. Right. And they’re also doing you find the people, not just you, but the team itself is kind of protection and they’re the ones that are also, of course, correcting if they see behaviors or actions or things that are not in alignment with the core values. Do you see them getting involved in course-correcting a little bit?
Jeff: Yeah, definitely. And know again the sense of scale here. We’re a company that is on it up and down. If you count our freelancers and the people that are all through involved in the company, about 20, 22 employees. So we’re not a big organization. Right. But I’ll give you a specific example of how our employees participate in keeping that and keeping that culture
real and making sure that we’re bringing in people that understand it and want to be part of it. So we just recently hired two people for two different parts of the company, and in both of those cases, the department leaders, not me, but the department leaders, decided on an interview process that was going to be multi-staged and it was going to involve every single person in their department who is going to be taking in this new employee and working with them and also involving people from outside of that department.
Jeff: So this was that. And I was so excited to see this develop out of our department heads because I really had nothing to do with it. But what their goal here was, was to make sure that all our perspectives were valued in the hiring process, that the person that was. Hopefully going to become part of our team was going to be able to have a really transparent view of our entire team and so that the likelihood their goal, of course, is the likelihood that they would make a great hire and that the hire would be really excited to come on board because he or she knew exactly what they were getting into. That was the kind of culture that we wanted to build. And what it’s led to is we generally make good hires here. We’ve always made mistakes, we’ve made bad hires. And those people are typically not with us anymore. But where we made those bad hires as those hires, he came in a silo.
Jeff: I made the hire by myself rather than involving a large group of people in that process. And so I was so excited to see our department heads know that their chemistry, the team chemistry was so important and they were taking it on themselves after some cues for me that they both wanted to have a diverse pool of candidates. It was because they wanted to be able to interview people that were coming from different backgrounds and different cultures. And so that they built their interview process around that. And that’s the kind of stuff in a company our size. To see that start to blossom and to come to where it’s coming directly from the department in there involving everyone there in that critical process, I mean, you know better than probably anyone, or at least as well as anyone how difficult it is to make a good hire and how brutal that is if you make the bad one. Making the change.
John: Oh, wow. Yeah. I mean, and you think about like with a smaller organization, one person coming in, that’s a bad apple or the wrong hire is that much more impactful and a good hire is much more impactful. But I love what you said, you know, and that’s so true. And Apple works that way and many companies now work that way. Apple always when they were hiring people, was an excruciatingly long, painful process where a potential hire and it might go on for six months to a year of literally vetting them out and having them talk with everybody and then come back and talk with everybody.
John: And it was such an extensive process. But Steve Jobs was a master recruiter and believed so hard and I believe so strongly in the culture. And that’s why it’s funny when you say hiring in a silo, and I’ve done that, too. You know, I think about my worst hires. The ones that were disastrous were the ones that came in. I found them or high or interviewed them from start to finish, and didn’t involve anybody else. And then I shouldn’t have been surprised when the rest of the team was naturally apprehensive to let them in. And it just didn’t work. I learned the painful lessons from that. I think a lot of leaders still do that, though.
Jeff: You have a great episode of the podcast that I listened to when I was kind of researching because I knew I was going to be on. I think the title has changed the people or changed the people. And it’s a great lesson. And I really kind of internalized that in terms of, you know, when when you pull the ripcord on those kinds of things and ultimately, you know, when you and how you empower your team to be able to say it’s time to pull the report, this person isn’t going to work. And that has become even more crucial as you grow to make sure that you’re making all of the right decisions or as many of the right decisions as you can as you move along, especially in an entrepreneurial culture as we have here. Yeah, the reality is that we’re very results-based and we’re extremely entrepreneurial here. So we try again. This is just kind of from the leadership perspective. I don’t want to be a king with a
thousand servants, and I think I’m stealing that from the good. The author of Good to Great whose name is escaping me right now, you know it.
John: Have this book right up here at the tip of my tongue to what’s on my bookshelf over there.
Jeff: Maybe Drucker. I think it is. But, you know, I just don’t want to be that’s not what I’m interested in being. I’m trying to build a team here. And so we really try to make sure that people feel like they have the ability and the permission to. To make changes to the product to try something different and many of those things that have come from our staff have been the things that have really driven the brand forward and have led to. You know, the national exposure that the brand has gotten, which is really kind of unusual, if you really think about it’s a stupid little local news website in Mansfield, Ohio, is part of the Facebook Journalism project or is a nationally recognized nationally for the type of journalism they do. That really shouldn’t happen. Yeah, but it did. And largely that comes from the work of our team.
John: That’s amazing. And I want to hit on some of that because I can almost, you know, knowing now more about your organization and the work that you’ve done. If I didn’t know, I could almost say what their core values were based on what I see happening, especially in the community and some of the unique things that you’re doing. Do you want to talk to that a little bit and just maybe give the listeners some examples of some of the really unique things you’re doing that are bringing the community together?
Jeff: Sure. So some of these things are pre-Covid and they will reoccur post-Covid when we can be together in rooms. But one of the ways that we try to explain the type of journalism that we try to do is, is this way. And we say we would much prefer to do journalism with you rather than to you unless you deserve it after. And you go back to that core value and understanding of your community is that most people don’t deserve to have journalism done to them. They, you know, journalism done with them is much more constructive. And so the way that we’ve kind of tried to make that deal with our community is to do things where our reporters and our editors are working alongside our community members to tell the story or to examine a problem or to look for a solution to a problem. So here’s a couple of quick examples of how we’ve done that.
Jeff: I think back in 2017, Mansfield had a local election. I’m sorry, 2019, we had a local election, our mayor was up and we had four or five, three or four council seats were up. And so it was a pretty consequential local election. And so what our reporters did was they. They conceived of this idea called they called to talk the vote and they held community meetings in every single voting ward and in the city, one of those meetings was at my house for the ward that I’m in. But they held him in churches. They held him in community centers. They held him in school gymnasiums. And the idea here was that it wasn’t to let the candidates talk to the voters. It was to actually talk to the voters and ask the voters what was important to them.
Jeff: And when they did that, what they did was they took all of the findings from those six different meetings, plus an online component to that, where people could engage digitally. And they put that all into a product project called a Citizen’s Agenda, and that citizen’s agenda was then presented to the city council as a roadmap to the city council to say, look, you know when you’re governing, this is what your constituents have told us is important to
you. And so the idea here was to start with the people that that city council should be serving and let them be part of that journalistic process. So that’s an example. Another example would have been just recently during the summer of 2020 when America was really convulsed after the death of George Lloyd and we all know how that happened. Mansfield was not immune from that. We had probably the largest protest in the town on the city square that anyone can remember.
Jeff: Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people came out to protest what happened to George Lloyd, which he was killed by a police officer, as we all know. And the protest was completely peaceful. There was no damage, but it was emotional and it was very. Visceral, the feeling there I was on the square that day, I saw what was happening and. And a friend of mine is a friend of mine, Blackman owns a barbershop, and he came up to me, we work together, we’ve done projects before, we’ve been involved in community work and that kind of thing. And so we knew each other and his name is Damien. And he came up to me and said, “I want to do a thing in my barbershop. And I said, well, what do you want to do? And he said I want to do a series of conversations in my barbershop where we bring people together that have different viewpoints. They look different from one another. They come from different backgrounds who want to sit down and talk about this moment that we’re in” because this is what I’m going to paraphrase. He says “I think we’re closer together than we think. But I think right now we’re just the only one farther apart.” And he said and “oh, by the way, I want to videotape all of it and I want it to all be on the record.” And he said, would you come and moderate the first one? And this was on a Saturday. And I said I said, sure, I’ll come out. Absolutely. I’m in, I’m down. I’ll come and I’ll come and I’ll come and moderate. The first one I’ll work with on.
Jeff: And so on Sunday, the next day, he called me, said, hey, I’m doing the first one tonight. Well, no, I can tell you, John, that I did not think that he was going to spin this thing in 24 hours and make it happen, but he did. And so we went down there and I sat down. These questions that we use when we work inside this are this construct called solutions journalism, and I’ll put a link to it in the show notes for folks, but it’s called complicating the narrative. And it’s based on the work of hostage negotiators. And the idea here is to take people that are polarized and give them reasons to come together and to sort of complicating the story that they’re telling themselves and make it a little bit more three dimensional so that they can understand that the person on the other side from them is different than the way they might imagine them to be.
Jeff: And this goes both ways, right? So we go down there and we have this incredible conversation for 90 minutes with all these folks and what that turned itself into in collaboration with Damian at 419 Barbershop and with some corporate partners of ours at a company called DRM Productions, they are a video production company. And our journalists, our newsroom, we spun that into a 12 episode series called SHOPTALK. And the conversations were about race and reconciliation. And they were rooted in the work of solutions journalism through our newsroom. And that’s available on YouTube. You can find it shoptalk four one nine. And what you’re looking at, there are people. During an incredibly divided I mean, you have to understand the country is on fire. When we did that first episode, Minneapolis was burning. Columbus was completely convulsed, it’s 60 miles from my house. Columbus is completely convulsed in this and.
Jeff: So we’re at that place where it’s an absolute low point and what these conversations did and what we were witness to as community members from all different walks of life, police officers, pastors, teachers, professor regular people, construction workers, barbers, all sitting in this one space talking to each other. We recorded, John, I think we recorded. Almost eight hours of video while turned into these episodes, and I can tell you that during those eight hours. No one talked over each other. No one yelled at each other. It didn’t look anything like what was happening on MSNBC and Fox, it didn’t look anything like that. It looked like community members were deeply concerned about what was happening in the world and they were talking to each other.
Jeff: And that’s the kind of stuff that we’ve found has become our niche as a local journalism organization, is to help people convene these types of conversations where they feel valued and seen and then. Because we’re a business, then create a platform on which to ask them to support that work. Through financial. And that’s where for us that’s where we’ve found our
path forward, look at this and say this is what we’re, this is what we believe our business is, what our purpose is. And our community invites people into that purpose, allows them to participate in it, be a part of it, and then. Ask them to financially support it and then create a sort of a flywheel there where you’re continually inviting people into that process and then you’re keeping the ones that are already in it and hopefully turning a percentage of those people into sort of evangelists for that process. Yeah, that’s the way that we’re trying to move that forward and then largely trying to be generous with the local journalism industry, in general, to teach them how to teach them what we’ve learned and also to help them avoid the mistakes we’ve made, which have been many.
John: Yeah, well, there are so many takeaways from that. I mean, you know, you have that’s a model for any business. I mean, to build a business with a mission and a clear vision. But you know what? What’s interesting is that comment that you said the gentleman the barbershop made was at the beginning was, you know, we’re so far apart, but we’re probably closer than we realize. Was that the comment or something like that? Yeah, it was something that it was in that zone.
Jeff: It was that, you know, in the midst of feeling as though we were completely ripped apart based on the color of our skin or the job that we had, whether we were a police officer or a community organizer, or a barber construction worker. He just had an instinct that if we can put people together in his barbershop, which Damien referred to, and he’s correct, it’s kind of sacred space in the black community, the barbershop, particularly for men. And he wagers that if he can put people together in that sacred space, that those conversations were going to be meaningful and impactful and people were going to leave knowing each other better than they walked in each other. And many times they were strangers when they walked into the shop and they left deeply moved by the. The revealing of those conversations where they were, they began to know the law enforcement officer has something behind the uniform, he became three dimensional in their eyes, whereas the same thing happened with the. You know, with the person of color that was there or the LGBTQ person that was there, they began to know those people as people rather than stereotypes, and therefore their narratives got really complicated. And all of a sudden they were like, oh, wow, OK, I walked in one way. I’m walking out a different way and mission accomplished. People knew that was what we were.
John: You’re breaking down the walls and then people the trust builds. I mean, you’ve got that’s a that’s an incredibly effective way to build that community, I’m sure. Has it been a precedent? Have you seen that now start to take shape in other organizations or other parts of the country?
Jeff: It has, in fact, in April, late April, early May we’re going to do for the journalism industry where we’re working with our friends at the Solutions Journalism Network to put something together where other local newsrooms can jump on a webinar with Damian and Britney Shock is our solutions and engagement editor and likely myself to learn a little bit about how all this came together because our hope is and Damien’s hope from the beginning and our job is to try to amplify his mission. There he was just hoping that some other community would try this because they all have almost all newsrooms. They all have barbershops. They likely have somebody that is a good video production person. And that’s what we needed to make this happen and to make these conveniences come together. And so his goal was always to say, wouldn’t it be cool if this happened in Sacramento or it happened in Des Moines or it happened in Madison, Wisconsin, or it happened in New Orleans, Louisiana? Wouldn’t it be cool for other newsrooms? Felt like they could participate in this. So that’s kind of the next step is to try to help it, help the process scale a little bit so other communities can realize those benefits as well.
John: That’s great. Well, that’s I hope that that happens. I would imagine I’m envisioning those types of programs and groups to get together in all different parts of the country, some of the highest, you know. You know, the word I’m looking for, you know, volatile areas, you know, that that what a difference that could make. I want to talk a little bit about just the media industry as a whole. I mean, it has changed dramatically, as you know, in your approach. So I want to get your perspective on this. You know, I think about when you know how it was when I was a kid growing up and versus what it looks like today. What have you observed and what’s your opinion on how things have changed? And then I want to talk about a few, you know, perspectives around other areas. But what’s your thought?
I think that I’m 51, so from the time that I was a kid or old enough to really kind of consume media in a. You know, meaningful way, right? So I’m 11, 12, 10 years old, right? We’ve just become we’ve gone from the local newspaper, which was a dominant media source. And in any community, it was where you went to know everything. And it was vibrant. It made money. It was largely healthy. And then nationally, we had you know, there were three networks, ABC, CBS, and NBC. Choosing your favorite is largely the same flavor. Right. But you kind of got to pick between the one that you liked the best. There was largely abroad, although I think people romanticize this, that there was a broad agreement on what was factual.
Jeff: But the reality is in the 70s, you know, there was a lot of disagreement on whether on Watergate if you study that largely many of the things that we saw happen in 2017, 2018, 2019., here they were. They were echoes of many of the same dialogs that were happening about Watergate time. Well, what I think I’ve seen happening to try to answer your question directly is that. The media has become fragmented and there are now hundreds, if not thousands of places that you can go to get the news of the day, so to speak. And in order to. If you’re focused on growth and volume of just pure scale. The strategy that many media
companies have gone down is that they picked a point of view and. It’s the only way that the way that I’ve taken to try to describe this has kind of created a hate economy.
Jeff: And there are two things that happen when you turn on Fox News or MSNBC or you pick your network. The job there is to make you feel something, and largely they’re asking you one or two things, in my opinion. This is one person’s opinion, but largely they’re asking you to feel one or two things. They either want you to to be angry at the people that aren’t watching MSNBC or Fox News and to be angry about how stupid they are and how uninformed they are, how traitorous they are, how treasonous they are, how weak they are, how much of a mouth breather they are, whatever we’re supposed to hate each other. That’s the other thing. or to let you slip into a warm bath of your own biases where everyone agrees with you and the world is exactly the way that you wish it was deep in your kind of lizard brain at the base of your spine or at the base of your skull. It just lets you just kind of slip into that warm bath and facts don’t matter or things that might complicate your narrative or be different than what you think don’t matter anymore. And that’s where we find ourselves as a country, in my opinion, particularly at the national level. And people have a much harder time. There have been studies done. People have a very hard time distinguishing an opinion from news reporting.
Jeff: People watch Rachel Maddow and they think that that’s news or they watch Sean Hannity and they think that that’s news reporting when it isn’t. The people at Fox and MSNBC know that those are opinion and analysis shows, but the reader consuming it doesn’t know that or many. I mean, the research shows that readers on both sides of the aisle don’t always know that they view what Rachel Maddow is saying or what Sean Hannity is saying or viewing those things as factual pieces of information when largely they’re there might be a piece of information in there, but they’re wrapped around but wrapped around. That is the opinion of the host. And this does not create a healthy place for four media. And at the national level, what ends up happening is. That, along with other factors like the growth of the Internet, like the way that even things like Craigslist have, Craigslist has blown up the classified advertising industry.
Jeff: So all of those things have combined at the local level to lead to a situation where we are right now, wherein the last since two thousand eight eighteen hundred American newspapers have closed. We’re in the region that we operate in our county and every single county that touches it. We are the only newsroom of our type that is locally owned. Everything else is owned by a chain that has no owner, which has no local leadership inside of the community at all, and that’s not to disrespect the newsrooms of all those reporters in those newsrooms are busting their butts to try to do great work. And in many cases they are, but they don’t have any local leaders. Yeah, and what you get is this extractive business model. That is it’s a reality, I mean, I’m a capitalist and it is.
Jeff: What you’re seeing is in the local news industry. The change that on those local newspapers that cover, Charlotte, North Carolina, will cover Raleigh, Durham, Rickover, Mansfield, Ohio, those chains are extracting value out of those communities and they’re not putting anything back in it. And it’s led to where we are today, which is. All over American. There’s been a reimagining of what local business models need to be, and we don’t we’re not at the end of that path. Yeah, well, no, that’s going to work best.
John: And that’s the thought is OK. So now where does this go? Where does this lead to? Because obviously, you know, the media organizations have realized, OK, this is a way to drive revenue and we make more money. And the more we become opinionated or our spin things or whatever, you know, you want to call it has and driven those emotions in people, OK, it’s actually hit our bottom line in a really good way. So what does this look like down the road in a few years?
Jeff: Well, I think what you’re going to see is largely a continuation of what you’re seeing now. I think at the national level that the television and cable news industry is going to continue to be fine. Our largest and most our largest national newspapers, The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, The New York Times will continue to be OK. But everything below that. Is in question at this point, and so it’s kind of a dark time, to be honest with you if you’re concerned about local media like I am. But there are bright spots, John, and there are leaders in that space that are doing some pretty interesting things.
Jeff: There’s been a lot of movement toward thinking of newsrooms as non-profits where they essentially look at the work of the fourth estate as a public good and necessary for a healthy community. There’s been a lot of positive momentum there, and I think that there’s real growth in that sector where nonprofit NEWSROOM is funded by their community, financed or funded by community foundations to start inside of communities to replace really crippled for-profit newsrooms. There’s been a lot of growth there. I’m on the board of an organization called Line Publishers, which represents local, independent online news organizations. We’ve seen our membership grow dramatically over the last couple of years as folks are starting independent online news organizations in their communities to fill that gap. Those are both for-profit and nonprofit. We’ve also seen, interestingly, and I think you have to give credit where credit is due. The platforms like Google and Facebook were extraordinarily damaging to the news ecosystem that the United States had before they were before they became platforms and that can’t be undone, but it wasn’t.
Jeff: But what we’ve seen from the platforms in the last few years has been reassuring or refreshing that both Facebook and Google have invested almost close to a billion dollars in the local news ecosystem across the world, but principally be focused in the United States of America to help journalism organizations start, help them grow, help to apply the iterative methodologies that are very common in Silicon Valley, that are very foreign to American journalism to help think about the news products in a different way that allows it to be able to be more fully monetized and more fully sustainable. So there’s a lot of bright spots that are happening right now, but we’re just really pushing that wheel to get it to get to where there’s some momentum associated with it. I think we’ll be OK, but it’s going to take a lot of entrepreneurialism. It’s going to take a lot of trying, failing, learning, and then trying again. Or there’s something that’s replicable.
John: Yeah. And, you know, like you coming in with a clear vision and also knowing that you didn’t it wasn’t a short-term thing. You had the support to be able to do it for the long term, which has helped to do the right things. That ultimately has made money. But it wasn’t the initial number one driver. And if it wasn’t going to drive a big buck, then it wasn’t going to be something you were going to do, which it seems like a lot of organizations, not just media, but all businesses are, you know, a victim of a little bit.
Jeff: So we just have to get to a place where there is a reasonably well-worn path where an entrepreneur can look at a local news business as a good small business. And that’s where we have to find the right. We got to help. We’ve got to help cut a path to that. Yeah. As an industry. And then we need to invite entrepreneurs that are excited about that to who might open a Subway sandwich shop but might also look at a local news business as a good small business. Yeah, that’s the challenge. That’s the challenge that the industry is faced with right now.
John: Well, I know we’re almost out of time here, so there’s a lot more that I would love to ask. So maybe we can grab another time, some point down the road, have you on again. But again, you’ve got a lot of listeners out there that are in all different industries, leaders out there that have been leaders for, you know, 10, 20 years, some that are just starting in leadership. And the theme of this is tomorrow’s leaders. So interested just to get your perspective on, you know, what do you see as being, you know, the traits or the one or two things that in your mind stick out most for leaders that have made the most impact?
Jeff: Glad you asked that. I think it’s a good way to end, too. I think that the most important decision that I make today as a leader is, ah, when I decide to step back. It’s natural for leaders to want to step forward. Into the breach, right into the spotlight, onto the stage, to represent the brand for me, what I find over and over again, especially the last couple of years, is the most consequential decisions that I make for the business are the times when I decide to step backward and allow someone else into the spotlight, onto the stage, into the breach, on the point to lead, because that’s my job. And I think that if that is what I found. As a natural, it’s natural for me to be on stage, in the spotlight. I feel very comfortable there.
Jeff: So it’s been a learned behavior for me to back up. And what I found when I’ve done that is that. I’m not surprised by it, but I’ve been heartened by it to watch my team members step up and do things more innovatively than I could have, more thoughtful than I could have, more intentionally than I could have, more consequential than I could. That’s built their confidence. It’s built there. It’s built their gravitas in the industry and their profile in the company. And I’ve really learned that it’s really my job right now is to develop that talent and to allow that to do for them what someone did for me 25 years ago, which was to tap on the shoulder and say, I think you can do this when I was sure I could. And like so I think leaders one of the things that we have to do is we have to recognize that when the talents are there, we have to get out of the way to let the talent grow.
Jeff: And what I’m seeing in terms of characteristics in today’s society or in today’s world for young leaders, I think what’s most important is can they be collaborative? Do they play well with others? Can they lead from wherever they are? Do you see that in them? Are they leaders even if they don’t have the title? Are they able to lead from where they are? Because that will give you an indication that they’re going to be a leader, that when they have the title and they are able to make the decision, they’re going to involve other people in that decision making. They’re going to make it about the team rather than about them. And that’s what we’re really looking for here. And it’s where we found that when we find those folks, those are the people that have the biggest consequence.
John: That’s fantastic. That’s in and of itself. If that’s the only message that people hear in this podcast that’s such a great takeaway. I love that. And I’m 100% with you. I think that
there are so many great potential leaders that can impact and influence our world in a positive way that there maybe even sitting idle that just need that right opportunity and the leader ahead of them or above them to open up that opportunity for them to lead. So great, great stuff. It’s been a pleasure. It’s been really nice, John. I really appreciate it. Yeah. This is great. We will have definitely all your info in the show notes and the links as well so people can go there to get some information. But if somebody wants to get a little bit more information that they want to learn more about you or even write in source, where would they go? What’s the best place?
Jeff: Well, I think if you want to get a look at the local journalism that we’re doing and get a sort of sense for them for that, they can go to Richland, source dot com if they want to learn a little bit more about how we help other companies market their brands through our digital agency, they can go to sourcebrandsolutions.com. And if they want to learn a little bit more about how we interact with our community or the way that we work our membership program, if they’re interested in growing their membership program or they want to see a model for how that can work for them, they can go to sourcemembers.com.
John: Excellent. Good stuff. All right. We’ll also have that in the show notes, too. So it has been terrific. Jay Allred, president of Source Media Properties. It has been a great chance to chat with you and learn from you. And we’ll look forward to next time as well.
John: And thank you, everybody, for listening and tuning in today to today’s episode of Tomorrow’s Leader. Make sure you like, subscribe, share, add comments, all kinds of good stuff, and give me your feedback. I always love your feedback. Go down below, give a five-star rating. And if you have any future guests that you think would be terrific on the show, just like Jay, make sure you let me know. I’d be happy to connect with them. In the meantime, have a great day. Thanks, everybody. Take care.
John (Closing): Thanks for joining us on today’s episode of Tomorrow’s Leader. For suggestions, or inquiries, about having me at your next event, or personal coaching, reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org Once again, that’s email@example.com. Thanks! Lead on!