Journerdism

Will Sullivan's guide to global mobile, tablet & emerging tech ideas

Thanks to my team for creating excellence, despite facing of absurd impossibilities.

NeilUnsolvableProblem

Throughout my career working as a catalyst and digital change agent at legacy organizations, I’ve faced a lot of adversity, sometimes pure absurdity…  At one gig, I had to battle with the IT department for more than three months to get them to unblock search engines from crawling our sites. (I eventually won them over and we saw a 37 percent increase in traffic soon after the change.)

At another job, when data journalism was exploding and becoming a fantastic new opportunity for more interactive, digital journalism and I ended up having many challenging discussions with the top leadership, including the Editor in Chief of the paper, over whether it should be embraced as part of our newsroom reporting efforts. (History was on my side and they slowly they came around to see my vision and now that EIC is actually working for a journalism organization that relies heavily on data reporting.)

Sometimes I really wonder why I keep doing this… beating my head against walls that don’t want to be broken down but I take a lot of pride in changing institutions that are lost and sometimes dysfunctional to help them build a new legacy and tradition of digital excellence and innovation.

This is one of the things I admired about Steve Jobs; as much of a raging jerk he may have been (from many accounts, including the famous biography by former BBG Board Director, Walter Isaacson), I was inspired how — multiple times — he took massive, monolithic legacy organizations (Apple and Pixar) with raw talent and potential — and rebuilt them, establishing standards of excellence and bringing them to become digital pioneers of their industry for years after his legacy.

When I accepted this gig at the BBG, I knew there was going to be huge challenges building digital products for our audiences and there was not going to be any simple solutions since our users are so diverse with polar opposite technological capabilities… From Cuba with little to no bandwidth to Asian countries with the latest Phablets and high-speed networks that would make a U.S. tween weep with envy to African countries with unstable infrastructure and limited personal digital hardware but amazing mobile innovation going on that’s lead them to be the world pioneers in mobile money and health products.

I was so fixated on external challenges, I underestimated the internal, organizational challenges that would make things exponentially more difficult, including; frozen budgets with federal sequestration; an absentee board (who have heavy control the direction of the organization) that couldn’t get a quorum, including an empty board chair vacancy for almost a year; some of the lowest organizational morale in the entire Federal Government; an entrenched, often technology-fearing staff of journalists (a special flavor of curmudgeon); territorial technology teams at multiple levels in the organization; general government bureaucracy ; the antiquated Federal procurement process — especially for technology resources — that needs immediate and swift reform (Healthcare.gov was no surprise after spending 6 months in the government.); three different bosses in less than a year and a half (including the first who proved to be especially challenging) and also freaking Federal shutdown for a couple weeks (and the immense time and resources to takes to shut down and then re-start work and contracts).

GSMA & Appy Award finalistsIn spite all of this, our mobile team which started from nothing less than two years ago, has expanded to dozens of innovative champions over multiple product multiple teams, doing some amazing work that’s been internationally recognized as finalists for its innovative and high-quality experiences from organizations like the GSMA for “Best Mobile Publishing Product or Service”  and the Appy Award for “Best Multicultural App.” I’m incredibly proud of what we’ve accomplished and so excited about the future now that we’ve kind of laid the foundation for our mobile strategy (Including mobile-optimized sites for all entities with more than 90 language services; mobile apps for the entities it made sense for supporting more than 87 language services and 61 languages; experiments in digital messaging, SMS and IVR systems for low-bandwidth, low-tech information dispersal; and an in-progress redesign and responsive relaunch of all sites).

Thank you to Shakespeare and her analytics rockstars who help us make data-driven decisions; Steve, Lynne, Erica and Ahran for their support pitching in on graphics and helping us frequently launch and administer rapid usability testing for our products; thanks to our departed Scrummasters Rebecca and Son and our brief QA support from Marlene; thanks to our supportive leaders Rob and Adam; thanks to the Pangea tech team that has collaborated with us including Alena, Kim, Arkady P., Arkady B., Aladin, Ljubo, Mischa, Victor, Jarda; thanks to our design and development teams including Michael, David, Kassim, Marian, Marek, Pavol, Pauli, Stan, Marian, Ivan, Cindy, Sandra, and perhaps most important, thanks to our core product launch team: Mo, Danish, Ashok and especially Bo, who’s been with me on this project from the start when we were just a team of 3. We obviously couldn’t have done with without the hundreds of language service entity stakeholders and digital leaders that share our passion and drive to create excellent products and the more than four thousand BBG journalists and stringers that risk their lives daily to make a difference in the world providing independent journalism for audiences that need it the most. Thank you all.

…But we’re not done yet. The garden is never finished and we have a lot of seeds that we’ve planted, just starting to crack through the cement and seeing daylight. The developing world is just starting to get lit up and the revolution of free and open information being provided where there was none before is going to continuously and rapidly change the world. Stay tuned for more amazing, innovative, award-winning work from this team with an indomitable spirit, passion, creativity and grit to create excellent products and user experiences in the face of absurd impossibilities.

Our work is not easy for both many, many internal and external challenges, but it’s very important and literally changing lives around the world. So thank you for your service and here’s to you:

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