Archive for the ‘Digital First Media’ Category

For much of my first five or six years on Twitter, I tried to convince other journalists of its value. I’d assure them that you didn’t have to tweet about what you had for breakfast and that it really helps you find sources, report stories, etc. I’ve pretty much stopped doing that.

If you’re a journalist not using Twitter in 2014, you’ve chosen to be less skilled, less relevant, less visible and less connected. That’s your choice and I no longer care much about changing your mind. I can think of a few times in the last month that I’ve encountered journalists who were defiantly resisting use of Twitter and I just smiled, if I acknowledged their defiance at all.

But here’s one last try: You might get fired at any time. Every journalist knows that, especially these days. When you get fired, Twitter is an incredible source of encouragement and even job leads.

I’ve been fired twice in my career: in 1992 when I was editor of the Minot Daily News and Wednesday when Digital First Media announced that it was shutting Thunderdome and told me my job would end on July 1.

I had support from friends, family and colleagues in 1992, but it was one of the worst days of my career.  Wednesday was another difficult day. But it was still one of the best days of my career. I will always remember it fondly for the warm embrace of friends, especially on Twitter. (more…)

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John Paton tells the journalists at Thunderdome that we no longer have jobs. An amazing group. I've been honored to work with them.

John Paton tells the journalists at Thunderdome that we no longer have jobs. An amazing group. I’ve been honored to work with them.

I learned a long time ago that news was a tough business. I learned it before I watched the death of the Des Moines Tribune and before I experienced the death of the Kansas City Times. I learned it before I was fired as editor of the Minot Daily News and before TBD imploded. So I wasn’t surprised when the ax fell again today.

I’m exploring (and interested in learning about) opportunities in the news business and beyond. But I don’t know yet what my next stop will be. Here’s what I do know:

  • I’ve enjoyed my time with Digital First Media.
  • I’m deeply grateful to Jim Brady, Jon Cooper and John Paton for the opportunity to work at Digital First (and Journal Register Co. before it became DFM).
  • I leave with no regrets.
  • I knew the risks in 2011 when I went to work for a company owned by hedge funds. And I knew the risks in 2012 when I turned down an attractive offer from a family-owned newspaper company to stay with the company owned by hedge funds.
  • Anyone who says Thunderdome failed is wrong. As I said about TBD, you can’t fail unless you were given a chance to succeed.
  • I will do everything I can to help in the job searches of my DFM colleagues who lost their jobs today. These are extraordinary journalists who will provide great value for their next news organizations.
  • I wish all the best for my DFM colleagues who will remain with the company. We’ve worked hard together and come a long way. I hope that the company prospers and that this is the last cut. I’ve enjoyed working with them and know they will continue doing great journalism.

No denial or sugarcoating here. I don’t agree at all with today’s decision to cut Thunderdome or with the company’s new direction. But neither of those calls was mine to make and I’m not going to criticize them or waste time discussing them. I’ll post some links here to coverage of what’s happening at Digital First, but won’t comment on the accuracy of the reporting or the insightfulness of the analysis.

As I’ve said before, bitterness is like wreaking revenge on yourself. I’m too busy looking for my next opportunity to dwell on how this one ended.

The Newsonomics of Digital First Media’s Thunderdome implosion (and coming sale)

Digital First plans layoffs

Digital First Media’s Project Thunderdome on chopping block

We need to keep experimenting in journalism

In another blow to local journalism, Digital First Media to shutter Thunderdome

Update: I should clarify that I was given my notice Wednesday, not fired immediately. My last day is July 1, if I choose to work that long.

About my blog name: Yes, I have a ridiculous blog name. It’s temporary, and it’s for a good cause.



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Project Unbolt logoA leading challenge in unbolting newsrooms will be to help enterprise reporting break free of the “Sunday story.”

For decades, most newsrooms with Sunday papers target their best enterprise for that day, when space is generous and daily news is usually light and readers are likely to spend more time with the newspaper. But Sunday is an awful day for web traffic. Our digital audience is more engaged during the work week.

The Digital First approach to enterprise reporting has largely been to publish our Sunday stories online Saturday or Friday (if the reporter turns them in on time and we finish the editing early enough). But our best enterprise still gets muted impact with the digital audience, publishing on the weekend or late in the work week. And the content still generally revolves around a long text story that was planned for print.

Planning for enterprise stories needs to focus on how and when we tell the story digitally. Presentation of some of that content as a Sunday print story should be an afterthought (like digital planning often tends to be now). We might not develop a single approach that we use for all enterprise stories, but through experimentation develop a handful of approaches that work for different types of enterprise stories.

As I help Digital First Media newsrooms “unbolt” from our print workflow and culture in Project Unbolt, I have suggested that we develop some questions to consider in planning enterprise stories. I’m not suggesting that all these questions be considered for every story (it’s quite a long list), but some of them (and most or all of the umbrella topics below) should be considered for every story. (more…)

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Photo linked from Wikimedia

I’ve written about Project Unbolt for the new Culture Change blog of the International Newsmedia Marketing Association.

Some of the content will be familiar to readers of this blog, because it’s essentially an overview of Project Unbolt, which I announced here in January.

I took a new approach in this post, though, noting how deeply our corporate culture is rooted in being a newspaper factory:

I always loved working in a newspaper factory.

I worked in the newsroom, far away from the fast-moving machinery — unless you counted my typewriter keys as deadline approached. But I was well aware my building was a factory and my company a manufacturer.

You smelled ink when you walked into the building. You heard and felt the rumble when the press started. In the hallways and lunchrooms, the inky smears on clothing and skin identified the factory workers who turned my words and my colleagues’ work into the daily miracle.

Once, as editor of the Minot Daily News in 1992, I got to yell, “Stop the presses!” (You had to yell, by the way, or you wouldn’t be heard.)

Much as I loved the factories I’ve worked in, I also embrace my current professional challenge: “Unbolting” my company’s newsroom from the factory’s deadlines, culture, and processes. …

I hope you’ll read the whole post and become a regular reader of the Culture Change blog, where I’ll contribute every couple of months.

In the context of that blog, I needed to move on to the topic rather than elaborating on an old memory from the factory, but I’ll tell here briefly about the time I got to yell “Stop the presses!” (I’m operating from memory here, but I think I remember the details well.) (more…)

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Christopher James

Christopher James

An email from Christopher James brought an interesting perspective to Project Unbolt.

Chris is a former sports writer at the Berkshire Eagle, one of our Project Unbolt pilot newsrooms. He won a DFMie last year for sports writing, then took a job as sports editor at the Mountain Press in Sevier County, Tenn.

Here’s what Chris said in his email (which I’m using here with his permission):

I haven’t had the time to read all your unbolt posts, but they touch on a lot of themes I’m trying to emphasize here as well. So forgive me if you’ve spelled this out, but it seems to be the obvious, perhaps unsaid idea here is that the newspaper (or Tout or video or photograph or social networks) aren’t the products. They’re delivery services for the product which is good storytelling, journalism, etc. (more…)

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Mike Crist, a Digital First Media colleague at the Delaware County Daily Times, asked recently about the importance of editing as newsrooms change:

Good question, actually. I answered in a few tweets, but said it would probably be worth a blog post. So here goes:

Project Unbolt logoEverything has changed in newsrooms and Project Unbolt is designed to accelerate that change in Digital First newsrooms, “unbolting” from our newspaper-factory processes and developing new processes (and standards) for a newsroom primarily focused on producing digital content.

We still want rigorous editing, but how we edit will certainly change. If “rigor” means multiple layers of editing, like newspapers enjoyed back in the day, I believe that won’t be returning. Newsroom staff cuts have already reduced editing ranks, and Project Unbolt isn’t going to change that. If we’re successful in growing digital revenue, we can stop the staff reductions and perhaps grow someday. But unbolting needs to happen, whatever size staff we can maintain.

I do expect every journalist who handles any copy, starting with the reporter, to edit rigorously. Absolutely we need to write and edit grammatically and follow AP style (or a local newsroom’s style) in our stories. And verify our facts.

As I have noted before, reporters (and photojournalists who write cutlines and occasionally stories) need to take responsibility for the quality of their own writing. (more…)

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The point of Project Unbolt is not to wrench the four pilot newsrooms free from print culture and workflow. We want to unbolt all our newsrooms from print.

We decided to concentrate our attention initially on the four pilot newsrooms: New Haven Register, Berkshire Eagle, El Paso Times and the News-Herald in Willoughby, Ohio.

I was planning some specific steps to encourage other newsrooms to start their work in the next few weeks, but was delighted by an email yesterday from Nancy March, editor of The Mercury in Pottstown, Pa. She is already hard at work leading the Merc staff in unbolting. (more…)

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The first week of February was my best traffic week in a long time.

The first week of February was my best traffic week in a long time.

I had a lot of traffic on my blog the first week of February, nearly 12,000 views, one of my best weeks ever. So I must have been busy posting popular content, right? Not really. I posted three times last week:

That’s it. Fresh content accounted for fewer than 400 views that week. My fresh content did better the week before and the week after. In fact, my content from the previous week did better that week than the fresh content did.

Yet I had the busiest week I can remember (weekly traffic stats only go back to July in my WordPress dashboard and I’ve paid closer attention to monthly and daily traffic).

The point here is not to boast about that week’s traffic (or to expose the weak traffic for the fresh posts), but to emphasize the importance of understanding metrics, not just following them blindly. (more…)

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Peyton Manning set a Super Bowl record for pass completions in a game. But he still had an awful game, showing how metrics can be misleading. Photo by John Leyba/The Denver Post. Used with permission.

Peyton Manning set a Super Bowl record for pass completions in a game. But he still had an awful game, showing how metrics can be misleading. Photo by John Leyba/The Denver Post. Used with permission.

Sports uses metrics much better and more creatively to measure success than news organizations do. Sports metrics (sports fans are more likely to call them stats) also illustrate how misleading numbers can be.

You know who owns the Super Bowl record for most passes completed in a Super Bowl? Peyton Manning, who set that record this month in perhaps the worst loss of his career.

Manning, the Denver Broncos’ quarterback, completed nearly twice as many passes as Seattle Seahawks’ quarterback Russell Wilson in the Super Bowl for 74 more yards than Wilson. But no one watching that game thought that Manning played a better game. (more…)

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Project Unbolt logoOne of our most important challenges in changing Digital First newsrooms will be measuring success. As I explained last month, Project Unbolt involves changing the culture and workflow of our company’s newsrooms.

But how do we measure our progress? How do we know when we’re succeeding? I’ve asked the editors of our pilot newsrooms to consider these questions as they assess their newsrooms against the characteristics I’ve described of an unbolted newsroom.

In some cases, we will be able to chart our progress using detailed metrics that are already available to us. In other cases, we might need to measure ourselves in some way (and decide whether the time and effort of measuring are worth the insight we gain). In some respects, numerical measurement will be difficult, but we can describe how we operate now and how we’ve changed at some point down the road. Project Unbolt will probably require all of these ways of measuring and more.


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Project Unbolt logoSince last week’s announcement of Project Unbolt, various news-industry blogs have taken note:

Sam Kirkland of Poynter interviewed me and noted how we’re hoping to change our approaches to various types of stories (I’ll be blogging more about this soon):

Newspapers have become comfortable publishing content online before it runs in print, but the nature of that content has been influenced by newspaper thinking throughout the planning, reporting, writing and editing process. So Project Unbolt is about going beyond publishing content first on digital; it’s about publishing content first on digital in a digital-native way.

Alastair Reid of Journalism.co.uk interviewed me and we discussed the same topic:

In terms of coverage, Buttry said DFM newsrooms “want to move to live coverage as a default setting” for diary or time-sensitive events, while newsworthy elements of longer, more time-intensive stories will be reported digitally before a comprehensive print publication.

“Does the first story plant the flag in the ground, start a conversation and do some crowdsourcing?” he asked. “And then it unfolds in digital formats with interactive databases and live chats and we might publish documents online, similar to what the Guardian did with the MPs expenses, and ask the readers to help find stories.”

“If we publish something online on a Wednesday, because it’s timely, then after a few days of discussion we’ll publish it in print on a Saturday. It doesn’t need to be online the day before if it is in print,” he said of how the digital and print processes may change. “These are the things we’ll be working on, and becoming more efficient at, in the print production from the digital content.”

Michael Depp of NetNewsCheck also addressed the changes in storytelling (I really need to address this soon):

But what do these kinds of workflow changes really come down to? Who at DFM is holding the machetes, hacking the first traces of a path into this purely digital future? And what should other media companies be looking for to steal for their own playbooks in terms of concrete practices with measurable results?

The early answers are surfacing among editors leading the project and the work of DFM’s more independent experimenters, some of whom are working at papers outside of the pilot. All of them are pointing to questions that, sooner or later, every journalist working in the digital age will have to squarely face. The biggest one: Is a story the final product of the reporting process?

Karen Fratti of 10,000 Words summarized the project well:

More than just refocusing attention to mobile reporting, engaging with audiences over social media or creating new ways to play with and use data, Project Unbolt is about actually changing how newsrooms think and act.

Muck Rack curated tweets from journalists about the project.

Maybe I’ve missed some other commentary or reporting on Project Unbolt. If you’ve seen something else, please share the links in the comments.

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Project Unbolt logoAs Digital First Media works to “unbolt” our newsrooms from print processes and culture, we need a vision of the “unbolted” newsroom.

This post will elaborate on the characteristics of an unbolted newsroom, the goal of Project Unbolt, which DFM announced yesterday, following John Paton’s first public mention of the project last week.

In yesterday’s post, I described this newsroom generally, saying it will change in six characteristics (not listed in any particular order):

  1. Coverage and storytelling
  2. Processes
  3. Engagement
  4. Planning and management
  5. Mobile
  6. Standards

Here I’ll describe in some depth how the unbolted newsroom works and thinks in each of these respects. How newsrooms will achieve each of these priorities will vary according to a variety of circumstances such as size, clusterwide operations and the creativity and talents of local staff. The issues and techniques listed here are not exhaustive and do not preclude local newsrooms from pursuing digital priorities not spelled out here.

I welcome suggestions about points I’ve omitted here or better ways to make my points. I’ll update as I get suggestions.

Coverage and Storytelling


Virtually all event coverage and breaking news coverage are handled as live coverage, with ScribbleLive, livetweeting, livestreaming, etc. This includes sports events, government meetings, trials, community festivals, etc. (more…)

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