AP Innovation: including everyone in the organisation in the innovation process
The Associated Press is developing a worldwide hub through internal and external innovation efforts to encourage a culture of experimentation and collaboration within the organisation.
The Associated Press (AP) is a large cooperation of broadcast and newspaper organisations. With teams in over 100 countries, they cover current events from breaking news to investigative reporting in all kinds of formats, including photo, video and text.
The innovation efforts of AP were initiated three years ago, after a strategic planning process that resulted in the definition of three strategic pillars: expanding content, harnessing machine intelligence, and exploring business models beyond the core activities of AP. A culture of innovation was necessary to tie these strategic pillars together.
It was a conscious decision not to have a physical lab in which only a few people could collaborate, as a culture of innovation is rather organic:
“Being such a large organisation; having bureaus around the world and people working from different countries, we felt for our specific case that it was better to focus on spreading this culture of innovation,” says Francesco Marconi, Manager of Corporate Strategy. “So everyone could be part of that process.”
Communication is key
AP is developing this culture of innovation through three major efforts. One is AP Insights on the AP website, where best practices from the industry in terms of news innovation, thought leadership and reports are gathered. It also highlights the things the Associated Press and staffers are doing around innovation, whether this is technological innovation, innovation in how to do business, or ways to collaborate with universities. “As a result a lot of people became interested in the effort,” says Francesco Marconi.
Last year, they created anartificial intelligence committee focused on deploying artificial intelligence across the organisation. Francesco Marconi believes innovative implementation of AI can free newsroom resources to focus on the vital journalistic tasks – like reporting, developing new sources and doing deep investigations – that humans do best. When used the right way, artificial intelligence can help maximize output in newsrooms – especially as editorial teams are challenged with less resources and smaller budgets. AI is helping them cover stories they didn’t manage to cover before.
The third and perhaps most transformative effort in terms of changing the mind-set within the organisation: Inside AP. As a sort of Facebook for AP staff, Inside AP allows AP’ers to follow what’s happening within AP in terms of innovation. Ranging from events to updates on deals struck with another innovative company.
Hub rather than a lab
All these efforts together form AP’s innovation hub, built around the idea that communicating what you are doing helps create support from employees, or as Marconi says “our approach to innovation is based on what we do best, which is creating content and storytelling”. According to him, other things naturally emerged from that:
“we started doing webinars and bootcamps for our staffers, where we train them in design thinking, leveraging new technologies such as virtual reality and artificial intelligence. And in the long run we also make the effort of sharing these insights with the industry.”
This combination of learning and sharing forms the basis of a sort of AP innovation hub, which fits well the networked structure of AP with offices and journalists working all around the world. For the culture of innovation to develop, it’s important to include all staffers in the process:
“We made little posters with the strategic goals of the company, beautifully designed, and we distributed them within the company, on desks or on the wall. Again, it’s just making sure that people are aware, that everyone can contribute, everyone’s opinion, everyone’s ideas are valuable and it’s a network of knowledge that enables the company to move forward and share their expertise along the way.”
Investing in start-ups
Almost acting like a formalised outsourced innovation lab AP also has a partnership with MatterVentures. This San Francisco and New York based media incubator is funded by media organisations, including AP, the New York Times and McClatchy The start-ups go through a program that’s also open for teams from the partner media companies to participate in.
Right now, an AP team is working on an idea for sports innovation within that start-up program. Last year, Francesco was part of a project on Artificial Intelligence, which led to the creation of the Artificial Intelligence committee within AP.
Innovation with a strategic goal
Innovation is a process that’s driven by a willingness to learn and share insights, but it starts with the business’ needs: “All the money AP makes is reinvested back in news, in journalism, so although we’re a not-for-profit company, it’s important to build a healthy business.”
That is what a media organisation can add. It’s not just about adopting a start-up mentality; it’s about combining the assets of a flexible start-up mentality with the structure of a 170-year-old company.
“So it’s not doing things or testing technology just for the sake of experimentation. We try to avoid that at all cost. We instead like to focus on very specific projects that have specific outcomes that we can measure and that doesn’t have to be anything risky,” explains Franscesco Marconi.
Header Image: “Photo courtesy of TPG Architecture”