To Change A Leopard's Spots: AFDI

A few months ago, I told you how one of Tanner Friedman’s inspirations, Lee Abrams, is taking on perhaps the biggest challenge of his career as “Chief Innovation Officer” of Tribune – the owner of newspapers, TV stations and radio stations.

Now, Abrams is the subject of online controversy, in the wake of staff cuts at Tribune’s newspapers (along with newspapers nationwide, such as the Detroit Free Press and News where 116 employees are accepting new buyouts). A New York Times blogger, apparently a died-in-the-wool newspaperman, blasts Abrams for his style and ignores his substance. Among the blogger’s criticisms, a mantra that appears in my office – AFDI – which stands for “Actually F@#$ Doing It.” It means do more than just merely talk about ideas – it means working consistently with action and accountability. That’s something we try to do with our clients and within our culture every day.

Change is difficult in any business environment, particularly in large, public corporations (like the ones that own many newspapers). And , as the classic question goes, can a leopard change its spots? Psychologists will tell you that the leopard has to want to change. In the case, the “leopards” inside newspapers should have started wanting to change ten years ago. Unfortunately for them, as the recent blog demonstrates, too many of them are resisting the forces that are eliminating their jobs.

I wouldn’t hold up Abrams’ memo (reprinted in the blog posting) as a model of internal communications. However, pay attention to what he’s saying loud and clear. Newspapers – and other traditional media – are overdue to listen to their customers or the drastic changes will result in extinction rather than evolution.

We’ll continue to keep an eye on Abrams’ actions for you. They could just impact the future of media everywhere.