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Posts Tagged ‘Digital First Media’

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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UnboltDigital First Media newsrooms are still largely print newsrooms with digital operations “bolted on.”

That truth hurt at a meeting in Denver last year, when DFM CEO John Paton used the description in a meeting of our company’s senior editors. Our newsrooms have made lots of changes to increase and improve our use of digital tools and our engagement on digital platforms. But I had to nod my head when John said it. I’ve visited all of our daily newsrooms and some of our non-dailies and the statement rang true.  

Project Unbolt logoSo we’re going to take a massive wrench to the culture and workflow of our newsrooms and unbolt them. Welcome to Project Unbolt.

As John explained last week in his address to the Online Publishers Association, “Starting with some test sites we will work through every process, every workflow step of what makes a digital newsroom digital and make that the very core of what we do.”

I started working on the plan for Project Unbolt almost as soon as John used the metaphor. He was right and we needed to change our newsrooms’ culture and workflow so he couldn’t repeat that observation this year.

John told the OPA, “The newsroom of the future is not the current one dragged into it. It is going to be re-built from the ground up.”

So here is our plan for doing that: unbolting or rebuilding or whatever metaphor you want to use to change our newsrooms into that “newsroom of the future.” The plan will be updated as we benefit from more staff members’ ideas and as we learn from our successes and mistakes, but here’s the plan we’re starting with: (more…)

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I’m helping my Digital First colleagues recruit for several newsroom leadership positions.

I also know that hundreds of journalists — including, I suspect, some strong leaders — have recently lost their jobs with Patch, Gannett and the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Other good journalists are still looking for work after earlier cutbacks elsewhere. Still others fear for their companies’ future and are looking for a better company to work for.

So here’s my offer to journalists who think they have what it takes to lead a Digital First newsroom (including Digital First colleagues who think they are ready to lead a newsroom or a larger newsroom): Make your pitch. (more…)

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It was déjà vu all over again, as Yogi Berra would say, when I saw that Clayton Christensen was offering the news business advice on dealing with disruptive innovation.

I look back with a mix of pride, gratitude and anger on my experience with Christensen’s partnership with the American Press Institute in the Newspaper Next project. We offered the newspaper business a strategy and process for changing our business model to adapt to the digital earthquake that was destroying our foundations.

If someone had embraced and fully pursued that approach, instead of merely dabbling with it, I think that company would be dramatically better off today than the rest of the news business (it would be so different that we certainly wouldn’t call it a newspaper company, even if it still produced newspapers). I could be wrong, but I’d like that company’s chances. And it could hardly be worse off than its peers are.

And, of course, we’re such a copycat industry that other companies would have followed that company and they would be better off as well. Instead, the newspaper industry copied each other in acting timidly and protectively.

We published the first N2 report in September 2006. That year newspaper ad revenues would decline by 1.7 percent from 2005′s peak level of $47 billionmillion. In my lifetime, newspapers’ print ad revenues had fallen in only seven years, according to Newspaper Association of America data. Only two of those declines were more than 3 percent, none larger than 9 percent. On the other hand, 10 times during my life, we saw double-digit growth in ad revenues.

The newspaper business was used to the gravy train and it wasn’t ready to change. (more…)

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If nostalgia were a business model, Dean Starkman might be a CEO and his company might make tons of money.

But nostalgia doesn’t work in the news business the way it does for the History Channel. And besides, the good, old days Starkman wants to take newspapers back to never actually existed.

My initial reaction to Starkman’s latest rant for Columbia Journalism Review was that I couldn’t and shouldn’t address it here:

But Steve Myers helped me out:

I respect Steve a lot and I respected CJR for decades. I learned this biz in the old school when CJR was an important voice in journalism and merited a response. So I took another read. As close as I can tell from a piece that desperately needed the attention of an old-school editor, these are Starkman’s points: (more…)

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Creativity is contagious. One of the best ways to make a good idea better is to share it with other creative people.

Digital First’s new Social Media Wire is the child of two groups of creative people: the original Journal Register Co. ideaLab and the community engagement staff at TBD. The Social Media Wire is testing now on the site of the New Haven Register and eventually will roll out across Digital First Media’s news sites across the country.

Mandy Jenkins, our Digital Projects Editor, writes about the Social Media Wire on her Zombie Journalism blog. Mandy is leading the way on the project and played a key role in development of the idea at TBD.

As we were planning the TBD launch, scheduled for Aug. 9, 2010, I suggested that we tell the story of the day in Washington through the content people were creating about the day: Gather all the local tweets, Facebook updates, news stories, YouTube videos, photos and so forth that we could find and show them in chronological order, as quickly after they happened as we could. I thought if we promoted it well, it would be something people would come back to again and again throughout the day and would establish us as something different from traditional news sources.

I saw it as a one-day project of intensive work by the community engagement team. Fortunately, my team had better ideas. The team was Mandy, Jeff Sonderman, Daniel Victor, Lisa Rowan and Nathasha Lim. I don’t remember who had what ideas, but it’s fair to credit the whole group with the idea. Because once I outlined the idea, the discussion took off, with everyone contributing, and they just left my original idea in the dust. (more…)

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Northeast Ohio political candidates visit the new community meeting space at the News-Herald in Willoughby.

The News-Herald welcomed local political candidates to a lounge area Tuesday, part of a three-phase approach of opening its newsroom to the community.

The News-Herald, with Editor Tricia Ambrose, Managing Editor Laura Kessel and Community Engagement Editor Cheryl Sadler leading the way, has a strong record of engagement with its community, east of Cleveland in northeast Ohio. (Check out the community-submitted Olympic-rings photos, where entrants are competing for prizes from a salon, a restaurant and a hotel.) (more…)

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We’re getting ready to take some of our Digital First Media newsrooms on the road.

Four newsroom vans will roll into neighborhoods in the coming months, loaded with the equipment and people of community engagement projects.

We will launch the Mobile Community Media Lab projects in Connecticut, the San Francisco Bay area, the Twin Cities and York, Pa.

Digital First Media announced plans today for 12 community newsroom projects that will engage our communities in a variety of ways. In addition to the four mobile labs, we will be launching university partnerships, remodeling newsrooms to provide space for the community and planning special projects in our existing space. (more…)

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At the risk of repeating myself, don’t let valid obstacles in your newsroom become excuses for your failure to develop as a digital journalist. No one benefits (or hurts) more from your career than you do. So don’t leave your career success or fulfillment in the hands of bosses who are stuck in the past.

I also should note that this prolongs my already-long curmudgeon conversation. This post is prompted by a comment from “FormerStaffer” on my recent lessons-learned post, following up on my “Dear Newsroom Curmudgeon” post. FormerStaffer makes some valid points:

Some curmudgeons are made by their own newsrooms. Lack of decent training is a big issue. If a newsroom worker doesn’t have personal time off the job to learn these new skills (new baby, sick family member, working two jobs, aging parents, or similar problems), is it fair to penalize that worker for the problems in his or her private life?

Newsrooms also give mixed signals. If the paper claims to be web first, but only posts some stories first on the web, what is the message to staffers? If there are no consequences for failing to post on the web, but missing press deadline by 10 minutes produces an angry memo, what message is being sent?

If a staff member trying to learn Twitter asks for guidelines about using Twitter (what to post, what kind of language shouldn’t go in a quote in a tweet, whether tweets should refer to rival news operations, whether out-of-focus photos that are banned from the printed product can be sent with tweets, etc.) then the question shouldn’t be ignored or brushed off — someone should think about writing some guidelines, even if they’re only four or five items on a list.

I will address the issues shortly, but first I want to say this: I will be emailing FormerStaffer to ask whether he or she worked recently in a Digital First Media newsroom. If one of our newsrooms is operating this way, then Jim Brady and I will want to address these issues directly with the editors leading that newsroom. I’ll also offer to email FormerStaffer’s former editors if he or she doesn’t work in our company. Editors who operate like this need to be called out on their backward behavior. But now, I want to address FormerStaffer directly: (more…)

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I wrote last week about the work of an engagement editor (or social media editor or some related titles), a fairly new job in lots of Digital First Media newsrooms. Today, I turn the blog over to some of those editors to explain their roles (lightly edited by me):

Karen Workman

Karen Workman

Karen Workman of the Oakland Press:

When I became community engagement editor, one of my longtime sources asked me what that meant. This was my response to him:

I care about our audience. I care about engaging them, getting news delivered to them across a variety of platforms, expanding the diversity of voices on our website, making use of their comments and contributions, audience building and in general, making sure we’re fostering that all-important community conversation that is the essence of what we do.

Lisa Yanick-Jonaitis

Lisa Yanick-Jonaitis

Lisa Yanick-Jonaitis of the Morning Sun in Mt. Pleasant, Mich.

I find this job to be incredibly exciting so far. I don’t know a journalist who doesn’t say that one of the reasons they love their job is because they get to meet new people and be involved in the community; this job is the ultimate opportunity to be intricately engaged with and inspired by my community. I love the creativity it allows, and I find the “uncharted territories” of a brand-new position motivating and invigorating. (more…)

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Note displayed at APILike a drawing on the Etch-a-Sketch that is so popular in politics now, my journalism past has pretty much been shaken clean. Almost everywhere I worked has been shut down or sold:

  • Columbus (Ohio) Citizen-Journal. Newspaper carrier, 1968-70. Citizen-Journal died in 1985.
  • Shenandoah (Iowa) Evening Sentinel. Sports reporter, 1971-72; intern 1975; reporter, editorial page editor, managing editor, 1976-77. The Tinley family sold the Sentinel to Park Newspapers in the 1980s and the Sentinel died in 1993. (more…)

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