Media, digital transformation and unwinding: An interview with Splice CEO Alan Soon

"We exist because the evolution of media is fraught with fundamental challenges, like getting the right people, culture, tools and workflows in place."

This interview was part of the Callum Connect’s column found on The Asian Entrepreneur, published on August 27, 2015.

 

What’s your story?
The Splice Newsroom is a consultancy that helps to build and transform newsrooms in the ongoing shift to digital. We exist because the evolution of media is fraught with fundamental challenges, like getting the right people, culture, tools and workflows in place. As a whole, society is better served by a diverse and healthy media ecosystem. We want to be a catalyst in that transformation.

I’ve spent 20 years in the industry as a reporter, producer, editor and eventually running the media business at Yahoo. There’s never been a more exciting time for the industry. But we do have a lot of work to do to keep up with the changes.

 

What excites you most about your industry?
It’s changing faster than ever. The definition of journalism has expanded significantly in the last 5 years alone. It’s not a question of who’s a journalist, but rather, what needs to be done in service of journalism.

We’re now pulling in skills as diverse as product management, social marketing, data analytics and visualization. The expansion of roles and skills means we’re now able to cover and distribute stories in ways we never thought possible only a few years ago.

 

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born in Singapore; I left when I was 16 to attend school in Vancouver. I came back for military service and left for Hong Kong, Tokyo and Taipei. Asia is home for sure. I just haven’t figured out which city yet!

 

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Like Singapore, Hong Kong is great for predictability, which is essential for business travel. You want to get in and out as planned with no surprises. If it’s surprise you’re after, I’d say it’s a toss up between Jakarta and Bangkok. There’s always something interesting!

Seek curiosity and knowledge - not titles and promotions. Read more than your rivals; read more than your bosses. And after you learn it, give it away generously.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
This didn’t come from one single person, but from several people in bits and pieces over the years. This is what it sounds like in my head if I had to summarize it: Seek curiosity and knowledge - not titles and promotions. Read more than your rivals; read more than your bosses. And after you learn it, give it away generously.

 

Who inspires you?
If I had to pick one person I admire, with whom I’d love to have coffee with, it would be the late New York Times reporter David Carr. I saw him speaking in London some years back. Something incredible happens when you combine life experience, intellect and humanity in one person. Someone described him as “the most human of humans”. When I grow up (and leave this life), I want to be remembered as someone like that.

 

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
Pluto. The recent photographs from the New Horizons mission blew my mind… the fact that we were seeing a planet in all its glory for the first time ever! The geology suggests that the landscape is still shifting - which is remarkable given its distance from the sun. Something incredible is happening below the surface.

And there’s also the fact that we’ve now discovered a cousin planet, similar to the conditions of Earth. That blows my mind.

This is the moon landing of my generation - a shift in knowledge that opens up a wider imagination. That’s incredible.

 

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
That’s a really tough one. I wish I took bigger risks earlier in my career. I would push myself to imagine life differently, but this time with the courage to actually do things differently. I wish I believed in myself more.

 

How do you unwind?
My dream day looks like this: Newspaper (in print, which I would read cover to cover), a flat white, yoga, and the time to let it all sink in.

 

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
I don’t seek relaxation in the traditional sense. I like to stumble on things that change the way I frame the world. I like discovering something new. While I don’t like surprises necessarily, I do welcome fascination.

So two places come to mind: Yangon and Bhutan. I love discovering things that are different from my day-to-day life. It’s humbling.

 

Everyone in business should read this book:
The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton M. Christensen.

 

Shameless plug for your business:
Someone said to me recently, “You’re the newsroom guy”. Exactly that. If you need to build or transform a newsroom, let me put 20 years of media experience to work for you. I love helping teams win.

 

How can people connect with you?
Just email me: alansoon@thesplicenewsroom.com.

 

Twitter handle?
@alansoon or @splicenewsroom.

Co-Founder, CEO of The Splice Newsroom. Covering the business of media transformation in Asia. Follow Alan Soon on Twitter.

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