Stanford Welcomes Neil Chase, CEO of

How to Create a Culture of Innovation – especially in a legacy media company? That was the question Neil Chase, CEO of the nonprofit news site, addressed at Stanford on October 1.  Formerly Editor-in-Chief of The San Jose Mercury News, Chase spoke about the local newspaper as an essential utility whose various core functions have largely been redistributed across new channels that have emerged in the past 20 years. The upshot is that most — but not all — needs that were previously fulfilled by legacy print news outlets are being serviced by digital resources (classifieds → Craigslist; the Crossword → mobile games; the sports section → The Athletic). But one that is critical to our functioning democracy at the local level — unbiased and unglamorous local news — is very much not. No longer taken for granted as that essential utility (at least, certainly not with Millennials and Gen Z, who are rapidly becoming the dominant consumer groups), legacy news orgs are forced to seek new revenue streams, contend with greedy value investors (do not get Neil started!), and be as skilled at crafting news as they are at driving engagement as they are at tweaking a business model. When it comes to innovation at legacy news organizations, he said, “Most are in the building looking down at the beach – they’re not looking for waves.” That means local news publishers are often unaware of recent trends, leading them to become blindsided by threats to their existing business. At the Mercury News Chase said he pushed journalists to think about the newsroom as THE business and focus on the customer acquisition funnel:  brand awareness, engagement, registration, subscription, retention. That method resulted in lower costs and increased page views, as reporters wrote not clickbait, but  stories their audience wanted to read.  Sometimes, it turns out,  less is more. Check out Neil’s talk: