For innovation distinguish form from function

The internet is killing newspapers right? Yes and no. What it is killing is it’s form (ink on paper), what it’s not is it’s function (sifting through everything that happens in a day and selecting what’s really important).

The form of the newspaper as we know it is slowly disappearing but it’s function is not.

If the newspaper companies, like the Washington Post, see themselves as being in the business of running printing presses and distributing newsprint, they are slowly disappearing. But if they see themselves as an event editors, they are surviving and thriving.

And that’s exactly what the Washington Post realized. In an effort to reinvent itself, it created the WaPo Labs two years ago. From Fast Company:

Founded in 2009, the Labs experiment with new possible news products. They do everything from exploring new infrastructure, to developing new products (like Trove), and experimenting with widgets that can be deployed within the company’s existing publications, like the Washington Post and Slate.

The Labs’ latest effort, the Washington Post Social Reader, was unveiled Thursday at f8, Facebook’s annual developer conference. The new Reader is an app that lives within the social network and, on the surface, looks like a typical news site.

Because the Washington Post understands their function (event editing), it also understands that how they deliver on this is changing. It knows that the print form is slowly being replaced by electronic devices that are able to present information in a rich way in way print never would. It also understands that the nature of the internet is becoming social, with people consuming and sharing information through social networks.

From Fast Company:

We need to move from being a product for print consumption to being a digital national publication,” albeit one that “obsessively covers Washington,” Ravindran says.

And finishes with:

Going forward, “the mission of a great reporter doesn’t change,” Graham says. “But the way [their work] gets presented to the public is going to change a lot.”

That last point is key.

A few days ago we talked about the need to master the art of reinvention. The time will come and it’s going to happen whether you want it or not. The only difference is whether you will lead it or become irrelevant because of it. Any company that can’t distinguish between form and function will get caught inside an obsolete form factor.

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