"Igniting courage and hope" - A study of leadership in the declining newspaper industry

University essay from Handelshögskolan i Stockholm/Institutionen för företagande och ledning

Abstract: This thesis investigates how editors-in-chief of Swedish local and regional daily newspapers construct and communicate their reality in terms of threats and solutions. The purpose is to shed light on how editors understand and cope with the turbulent environment and continuous decline of the newspaper industry. Within a constructivist perspective, this thesis aims to contribute to the current body of research on the role of editors-in-chief, and, by extension, on the role of leaders in declining industries in general. It draws on a qualitative interview study with 15 editors-in-chief, from which a narrative account of their perceived reality is constructed. The study reveals how the editors largely share a common view of the future, the present situation, and what has brought them there. They see the newspaper industry as struggling for survival by trying to transform from a printed to a digital format, in an environment heavily impacted by the digital transformation. The speed of transformation, the lack of adequate competence, and the difficulty to attract digital customers, are seen as the largest threats to their newspapers. To survive, editors-in-chief believe newspapers must attract new digital subscribers by publishing relevant and local journalism backed-up by data analysis. Editors express relief in seeing a way forward, and view the digital reader-business as a return to journalistic traditions. Combining the theories of sensemaking during organizational crisis, and sensemaking during organizational change, we create a model for the process of sensemaking in dissolving declining industries. Using the model, the editors' construction and communication of reality is revealed: In the turbulent contexts they are facing, editors' understanding is constructed in ways to cope with the uncertainty and ambiguity that surrounds them, and with the implicit, but sometimes explicit, purpose of creating frames of meaning that can enable action when communicated to employees. The study provides a broad picture of the views of editors-in-chief on the development of the industry and which strategies are useful to cope with these changes. It questions previous understandings of editors' perception of the managerial/journalistic divide, as well as of the effect of the digital transformation on the journalistic work.

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