View from the ‘Loo: Kevin Newman starts up, again Anthony Reinhart September 19, 2013 Communitech, Startups, View from the ‘Loo What could an old-media broadcast journalist possibly know about the startup experience? Plenty, in the case of CTV’s Kevin Newman. As one of Canada’s most familiar and accomplished network news anchors, Newman has been around – and been moving around – long enough to see trends come and go, programs launch and die, experiments succeed and fail. As a member of Communitech’s board for the past two years, he’s also deeply aware of the challenges inherent in entrepreneurial life. If cash is your only criterion, Newman might not have “skin in the game” in the traditional sense. But in a profession where credibility is currency, creativity is king and integrity is everything, Newman has arguably risked as much as any serial entrepreneur. When I bumped into him this week at the Communitech Hub, I took it as a good opportunity to ask him about his latest risky venture – the soon-to-launch Kevin Newman Live on CTV News Channel – and ask him to share his view from outside the ‘Loo. Here’s how our chat went: AR – How has your new show been similar to doing a startup? KN – Basically, they’ve given me two years to see whether or not we can design a newscast around an aggregation model, where instead of everything being about how CTV News sees the world, it’s more about how various news sources are reporting on the same event. So, we’re trying to Google News a TV newscast, in a way. Consumption patterns are changing, where people, when they want to know what’s happening, will enter subject matter like Syria into a search bar, and then choose their media. What we’ll do every day is say, ‘OK, there are probably three stories that are trending the highest; now what’s the reporting from various news sources around that?’ And what it does for the brand of CTV News is, it’s not about the content; it’s about the expertise that CTV News has to curate (content from various sources). AR – So you’ll be pulling in tweets from people on the ground at major events, for example? KN – Yes, and we’re using tools like Geofeedia, for instance, where you can draw a triangle over a specific event like the shooting in Washington yesterday, and all of the social media from that event that’s being generated pops up. And so, we would use much more social media in our reporting than probably any other newscast. AR – Why is it important for media organizations to try models like this? KN – We have to learn about the models that are disrupting our own model, and the only way we’re going to learn about it is by doing it ourselves and seeing what happens to our core audience. What’s worked for 20 years still works in television; it isn’t working as well in print, but it’s still working in television. The newscasts are still attracting big, million-plus numbers. But I think we’re basically 10 years behind the other forms of media disruption, and it may not always work. Maybe we’ll learn some things about aggregation, in a video age, that newspapers failed to learn about aggregation in the print age. AR – How has your Communitech board experience informed what you’re doing at CTV? KN – First of all, it’s made me a lot calmer. I’ve done a startup before with Global National, and I didn’t know what a startup culture was like. I’ve been exposed at Communitech to a lot of people who are engaged in the exhaustive bootstrapping of an idea, from conception to something that is something other people want – and that’s exactly what this newscast is. It’s a conception; right now we’re not sure whether people want it or not. So, we’re probably at the beginning intake of the development of it. We’ll form it a bit; we’ll bring some television people in to make sure it’s whole, but we’ll see whether or not there’s an audience for this. There may not be. There may be an audience of people under 40 for it, but that may not be the demographic or the platform for us, so there may be a disjointed experience there. Part of it is that I’ve seen enough startup cultures to know that you can’t a) do it all by yourself; you need to seek expertise, and b) that it’s good to have some old hands around who can tell you that you’re doing OK, and to just keep moving forward. AR – When you say it’s made you calmer, do you mean it’s made you more willing to take risks? KN – I’ve always been a big risk-taker. I think it’s made me calmer in that I’m less frustrated and more flexible. So, if I have an idea, I’m not as married to it is I might have been, knowing that in any startup, you have to pivot a few times. I think that’s probably why I’m more relaxed, because I’m not clinging to the original idea as strongly as I might have. AR – How would you describe the changes you’ve seen at Communitech in the two years since you joined our board? KN – The building is a lot busier; it’s much more vibrant. To me, the board experience was about sitting in conversations that I hadn’t been in before, and there’s a lot of smart people around that table. It’s very clear, very quickly, why the people who are successful, are successful. And, in some ways, they’re the most journalistic around the table. They ask the toughest questions; they ask the basic questions of ‘why’, and they want things proven to their satisfaction. I think that makes for effective anything. It’s also a tricky time for this community and for this place, given all that’s changing around it. It’s been a really interesting window into an organization that’s unlike any one that existed before it, I think. AR – Has it made you a better journalist? KN – It’s given me more information and more insight, so in that sense, it’s probably made me a better journalist. I hope I’ve brought to it my journalistic instinct for trouble ahead. There’s a danger in K-W, I think, of a groupthink buy-in. The feedback loop is pretty strong. I don’t know if it’s because I’m a journalist or because I’m not from here, but I hope the role I’ve played is to say, ‘You know, that’s not really the perception outside of this place,’ and that perceptions are sometimes a little bit different. You may not want to hear that, but journalists are supposed to be truth-tellers. AR – So, what are those perceptions? KN – I mean, the perception is that this place equals BlackBerry, and that’s a challenge for a place that has to seek its own identity. I’ve seen it in some of the press coverage of the place lately; it’s seeking to say, no matter what happens with BlackBerry, innovation is part of the town. It’s not tied to that particular company. I think when anybody hears K-W anywhere else in the world, it’s immediately associated with BlackBerry, and that the challenge for Communitech is one that they’re addressing, which is to remind people that innovation isn’t tied to one company only. There are many others here. Anthony Reinhart is Communitech’s Director of Editorial Strategy and senior staff writer. View from the ‘Loo is a weekly look at the issues, people and events that shape Waterloo Region’s technology sector.