It’s called a legacy because it’s in the past

I got a call the other day from a former work colleague. She was picking my brain about an old payroll issue (I mean really old, like years old) that she somehow had to circle back on. And my stomach immediately and reflexively knotted up.

But then I thought about how much things had changed for me in just a few months. Above all, I was reminded I no longer had to face a chorus of people saying ‘no’ for territorial or even personal entitlement reasons when I tried to change even small work processes, in a workplace that desperately needed to change a lot of big ones.

Those are among the stresses digital managers face in large legacy media organizations. A five-minute phone conversation brought it all back and it took the rest of the night for me to shake off the blues. And I am increasingly convinced that most of these organizations are on an accelerating path to failure.

The other day, I saw this article in Quartz, a digital news pub that — like mine — focuses on the mobile platform. It presented this matrix to explain why legacy companies still struggle so much to cope in a digital world:

This has been exactly — exactly — my experience. Some of these orgs were more flexible than others — USA Today, in particular, has a baked-in culture of experimentation and change that helps in many ways, even as its parent company can’t stop its old cash-strangling ways — but all of these orgs faced agility issues. Combine those with a lack of capital and (usually) a resistance from key staffers, and the results are predictable.

I don’t know how many decades have to go by before it becomes clear that most big legacy news orgs aren’t ever going to make the digital transition, simply because they can’t. They have died/are dying/will die from blood loss as smaller, more nimble, more digital and overall far less bullshitty competitors bite them away, chunk by chunk.

Really, at this point, if you have to be convinced that the digital platform is your key platform no matter what your history, I don’t know how to convince you and I’m not going to try. If you can’t be nimble,  if you can’t experiment and be allowed to fail, if you have staffers who can successfully block your progress because they can’t let go of their past, you are counting your days. So be it.


Leave a Reply