Case Study 7.1: Going Digital

After 125 years, the South Town Press is going digital. A large Connecticut-based newspaper chain recently purchased South Town, which is the only paper in a medium-sized Alabama city. Soon, South Town Press will be converting from traditional daily paper delivery to an online format. Executives at headquarters decided to make this change at all of the chain’s papers in response to shifting reading habits. The subscriber base for traditional newspapers is shrinking as more people access their news through phones, tablets, and computers.

Converting to a digital format is a major challenge, particularly for a newspaper with a long history like South Town Press. Every aspect of the operation will be impacted, including the news department, advertising, and circulation. The electronic version of the paper will be much shorter, requiring layoffs in the newsroom. At the same time, new technical support staff will be hired. Joseph “Joe” Pia has been assigned as the new publisher at South Town Press to oversee the transition. Joe has a long history in the newspaper business and recently led the move to digital publishing at another of the company’s papers in the Midwest. That transition succeeded, but at a high cost. Employees didn’t think they could make the change, which slowed the process, and some quit. Salespeople struggled to sell digital ads, and the number of online subscriptions was low at first, though circulation eventually rebounded. Some of the initial digital editions of the paper crashed due to technical problems.

Joe wants to learn from his prior experience to ensure a smoother switch over at South Town Press. He believes that South Town Press employees have the ability to make the change but, like the staff at his last post, lack confidence in their ability to do so. He also knows that layoffs will initially lower employee morale. Joe takes a couple of days before arriving at South Town Press to develop a strategy for the transition. In addition to all the technical details, he gives careful thought to whom he needs to influence and what he wants to communicate to each group and individual. He knows he wants to boost the confidence of the entire staff of 40 while setting a high standard for his leadership team made up of the news editor, information systems manager, circulation manager, and advertising manager. However, he is not sure how he should go about conveying these messages to his staff and team.

Discussion Probes

  1. What obstacles does Joe face in communicating high expectations to the entire staff? What advantages does he have?
  2. What initial steps should Joe take when arrives at South Town?
  3. How can the new publisher foster self-efficacy in his entire staff? How can he promote a learning orientation?
  4. How can Joe use indirect channels to communicate high expectations to each individual member of his leadership team?

Reference: Johnson, Craig E.. Meeting the Ethical Challenges of Leadership (p. 234). SAGE Publications. Kindle Edition. Ch 6

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