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Posts Tagged ‘Jim Brady’

Digital First Media logoI joined the Journal Register Company in May 2011, expressing gratitude for what I called an “extraordinary opportunity.” Today I leave Digital First Media (a merger of JRC and MediaNew Group) still grateful.

As I move on to my next job at Louisiana State University, any regrets I might have pale next to all the experiences I’m thankful for.

Thanks first to Jim Brady, with whom I’ve shared the DFM and TBD adventures. Jim hired me twice and I wouldn’t hesitate to sign up for a third project with him, though we’re pursuing separate opportunities now. He’s as good a leader, editor, visionary and person as I’ve ever worked with.

I wish we’d had more time to carry out all of Jim’s vision for the Thunderdome and for DFM’s newsrooms. I can’t wait to see what he does with Brother.ly, his new local-news venture in Philadelphia.

Thanks to John Paton, DFM’s CEO, who reached out to me right after Jim left TBD and eventually brought me on board. I thank John for giving us a chance to do some excellent journalism and to make our contribution to the search for a prosperous future for journalism. That I wish we’d had more time to finish that search doesn’t diminish my appreciation for the experience we had or the contribution we made.

Thanks to Jon Cooper, who moved on to a corporate communications role but first played a key role in bringing me on board at the old JRC.

Thanks to my Thunderdome colleagues, who treated me as one of the team, even though I showed up in New York only occasionally. I won’t call the roll, except to salute the four I helped bring aboard: Mandy Jenkins, Julie Westfall, Angi Carter and Karen Workman.

I wish Mandy had gotten the chance to show what a great managing editor she would be. Mandy is two of the best hires I’ve ever made (I hired her at TBD, too). If you need a star digital leader in your newsroom, hire her right away.

Mandy and I hired Julie, Angi and Karen for the curation team. They quickly moved on to roles in breaking news and features when curation became a key job for nearly all of Thunderdome, eliminating the need for a special curation team.

I’ll single out three more people in Thunderdome to thank: Robyn Tomlin, Thunderdome’s editor, and the two guys who edited my occasional blog posts to Inside Thunderdome, Davis Shaver and Chris March. Standouts all and an absolute pleasure to work with.

Out in the DFM newsrooms, my first thanks go to the regional engagement editors: Martin Reynolds, Dan Petty and Ivan Lajara. All three are stellar journalists, creative innovators and genuinely nice guys. I didn’t get enough visits with any of them, but learned from all three and enjoyed our digital chats as well as our personal visits. I’ll be sure to stay in touch (and may actually have more time now to join #dfmchat, Ivan).

I was privileged to help hire and coach seven new DFM editors last year, spending a week in each of their newsrooms to help them get off to strong starts. Thanks to Chris Roberts of the Daily Times in Farmington, N.M.; Michelle Karas of the Bennington Banner in Vermont; Brad McElhinny of the Charleston Daily Mail in West Virginia; Robert Sterling of the Marin Independent Journal in San Rafael, Calif.; Rachel Alexander of the Fort Morgan Times in Colorado; Kevin Moran of New England Newspapers and Sylvia Ulloa of the Las Cruces Sun-News in New Mexico. Those extended newsroom visits were a highlight of my DFM tenure and I am grateful to each of those editors and their staffs for their hospitality and for their embrace of the digital-first approach I was teaching. I wish we’d had more time to work together.

Thanks to Matt DeRienzo and all the staff of the New Haven Register who put up with more of my visits than any other newsroom, including two prolonged visits earlier this year as part of Project Unbolt.

Thanks to the other Project Unbolt pilot editors: Bob Moore, Tricia Ambrose and Kevin Moran (again) and their staffs at the El Paso Times, News-Herald and Berkshire Eagle. Though my work on Project Unbolt was curtailed and I didn’t get to visit those newsrooms, I appreciated their enthusiasm for and work on the project.

I wish we’d had more time to push further with Project Unbolt together. I hope the pilot newsrooms and others achieve great success on this project after I leave the company.

Thanks to DFM’s senior editors, a collegial group who worked hard and effectively to lead our transformation in the newsrooms, clusters, regions and operations they led: Matt, Tricia and Bob as well as Jim McClure, Greg Moore, Dave Butler, Nancy March, Mike Burbach, Kevin Kaufman, Terry Orme, Michael Anastasi, David Little, Dan Shorter and Frank Scandale (as well as Glenn Gilbert and Nancy Conway, who have retired).

I’m thankful that I got to visit all of our daily newsrooms (and a few weeklies). Dozens of colleagues took me on tours of their communities, hundreds discussed their individual journalism challenges with me and a couple thousand joined me for workshops.

I am grateful for my interactions with more engagement editors, reporters, editors and photojournalists than I can remember or name here. I’m especially grateful for my interactions with the colleagues who collaborated with me in a series of regional engagement workshops. And for those who collaborated on efforts to develop plans for digital opinion journalism. I’m especially grateful for my monthly exchanges with winners of the DFMie awards recognizing journalistic excellence and for the chance to recognize our annual winners personally in two events in Denver and St. Paul.

I’ve said farewell too many times in my career. That reflects more opportunities than disappointments and some opportunities that ended in disappointment. I wish this job had lasted longer and ended differently, but it lasted longer than my previous two jobs and it was an enjoyable ride.

I don’t know what the future holds for Digital First Media, our individual newsrooms and the many colleagues I worked with there. But I leave with heartfelt thanks. I never had a better job.

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One of the highlights of my tenure at Digital First Media has been hosting the annual awards programs.

I don’t have much time to blog about this (during a connection on my flights home), but we had a wonderful time yesterday and honored some truly stellar journalism by my Digital First Media colleagues. If you missed it yesterday, you can catch the Touts and tweets after the fact from the liveblog.

I was surprised and honored, along with my colleagues Jim Brady, Robyn Tomlin and Dan Shorter, with a video, kind words and beautiful keepsakes of our time at Digital First:

With the four of us all short-timers, along with two winners, because of the closing of Thunderdome, it could have been awkward. But everyone handled the situation with grace, class and fun. The only comments critical of the closing of Thunderdome came from journalists who didn’t lose their jobs (and we appreciated their kind words).

Karen Workman, winner of the DFMie for SEO headline writing, thanked the company for firing her. She started with DFM’s predecessor at age 19 and 10 years later, she said, was like finally getting kicked out of your parents’ basement to make it on your own. (And she’ll make it. She’s got a great new gig, which I couldn’t announce yesterday, but she’ll announce it soon and her career will continue to soar.

Jessica Glenza was named DFM’s Journalist of the Year (the judging was before the Thunderdome closing) for reporting she did at the Register Citizen before moving to Thunderdome. She was named last month as Journalist of the Year for small-daily newsrooms, and yesterday collected a second plaque as journalist of the year for the whole company. She was entirely gracious in remarks, not mentioning that the company had fired her, but just expressing her joy at being a journalist. She’ll be fine, too. She starts May 12 as a breaking news reporter for Guardian US.

If you’re looking for a top-flight journalist for your news operation, you need to move quickly because the Thunderdome team is finding new opportunities swiftly. But send me information on your opening and I’ll pass it along to my colleagues.

We had a great team of journalists at Digital First, in Thunderdome and in our newsrooms across the country. We still have a great team, even with Thunderdome closing. I wish all the best to my colleagues, whatever lies ahead. It was great to celebrate our excellence yesterday.

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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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This continues my series on advice for new Digital First editors.

One of an editor’s most important jobs is developing other leaders in your newsroom. A top editor should:

Understand your staff’s aspirations. Except at the largest newsrooms, an editor should take the time to learn what everyone on your staff wants from their careers. Not everyone wants to be an editor, but if someone wants to be an editor (and shows potential), you should know that and watch for opportunities to develop and show their leadership skills. On a bigger staff, you should know the aspirations of your mid-level editors, and perhaps a few other stars, and expect the mid-level managers to know the aspirations of their staffs. You can’t always control whether you hang onto your best people, but your odds are better if you know what they want from their careers and are helping them pursue those goals.

Provide opportunities. Weekend or holiday editing slots or late-night and early-morning shifts give some budding staff members their shots at running the show (as I did on Sundays as a young assistant city editor at the Des Moines Register). Give some authority (and some clear guidance) to potential leaders and see how they perform in these positions.

Know when to let others lead. Some big news stories require all hands on deck and require leadership from the top. But sometimes a top leader can show leadership by stepping back and letting the budding leaders lead. You put people in key leadership positions to do a particular job. Remember to let them do that job.

I remember hearing Libby Averyt, then the editor of the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, describe her staff’s coverage of the big national story that broke in their back yard when Vice President Dick Cheney shot a hunting buddy in the face by accident. That broke on a weekend and Libby checked in by phone but resisted the urge to bigfoot the weekend editor by rushing in to run the show. If someone’s not getting the job done, you can often direct from home. Or you might need to come in if someone’s in over his head (then follow up with some coaching). (more…)

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This post continues a series on advice for new top editors in Digital First Media newsrooms.

Earlier this month I finished a chore that was a lot of work and worth every minute: Planning and emceeing a program to recognize the best work of 2012 by Digital First Media journalists.

Kudos to CEO John Paton and Editor in Chief Jim Brady for spending the money to give cash prizes and plaques to the DFMie winners and for bringing them from across the country to Denver for the awards program.

If you’re a local DFM editor (or an editor in another company), you may not have the money to do an awards program at the newsroom level, but at least you won’t have travel costs. And you should try to put a local recognition program into your budget. All the DFM senior publishers were at the DFMies and commented on what a great program it was. Maybe they’ll fight to get some local recognition in your budget. But they won’t do that unless you ask. One of my rules of journalism and life is “never say no for someone else.” So don’t say no for your publisher. Ask for a recognition program for your newsroom.

And if the publisher says no, recognize excellence in a way that’s cheap or free.

We do the DFMies monthly and annually to recognize the best work companywide with cash awards. While the cash is important, and adds meaning to the recognition, I believe the recognition is more important than the cash. If you can’t get cash for the awards, get the newsroom involved in brainstorming another meaningful way to recognize excellence: Maybe a traveling trophy (it could be serious or silly) that sits on the winner’s desk for a month or a quarter until the next winner is chosen. Maybe lunch with the editor. Maybe a paid day off. (more…)

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I was traveling and leading workshops this week for the anti-climactic final end of TBD. I didn’t have time to weigh in then, except on Twitter, after my former TBD colleague Jenny Rogers broke the news:

I don’t have a lot to add, but I’ve blogged a lot about TBD here, so I should note the denouement. TBD made our mark in part through effective aggregation of Washington local news, so I’ll note its passing with some aggregation on its brief history. It won’t be complete, but I invite you to add some more links in the comments. Where I aggregate content from TBD, I should note that I don’t know how long it will remain available. Archived content appears to be online, though the home page and some searches redirect to wjla.com.

Before we get to the actual demise, I have to share a link and screenshot from the coverage of our launch: I don’t believe any elaboration is needed here.

As for coverage of the actual death, it was pretty muted, perhaps appropriately for an operation whose life and death throes were perhaps overcovered. Here are the best accounts I saw of the final demise (normally that phrase would be redundant, but TBD’s demise was drawn-out enough that I consider it appropriate):

Erik Wemple’s No more TBD.com (Erik was TBD’s editor and now blogs about media for the Washington Post: (more…)

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Filling one of Thunderdome’s conference rooms for a Thursday meeting (clockwise): Robyn Tomlin, back to camera, Mark Lewis, Julie Westfall, Karen Workman, Chris March, Jim Brady, Mandy Jenkins, Angi Carter, Ryan Teague Beckwith and my empty cupcake wrapper.

Thunderdome is happening, Baby!

I was in our Thunderdome newsroom this week, and we filled a conference room with journalists and creative energy. Our new curation team was working on a long-term project and some daily work. New politics channel manager Ryan Teague Beckwith was brainstorming convention and campaign coverage with the curation team. Thunderdome Editor Robyn Tomlin was interviewing job candidates. We ate too much cheesecake, cupcakes and gourmet chocolates. Digital First Editor-in-Chief Jim Brady and I told funny stories about embarrassing things we’d done. This is feeling like a newsroom. (more…)

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Two years ago, I was working with Jim Brady, right, Mandy Jenkins, left, and Julie Westfall to launch TBD. Now we’re still trying to change the news business at Digital First Media. We’re together this week at the Thunderdome newsroom.

Two years ago today, an incredibly talented crew of journalists launched TBD. We had a lot of hype and a lot of fun, even if it didn’t last long. TBD now exists in URL only, its concept abandoned, its talent scattered, its name linked to history’s most famed sinking ship. But I have yet to talk to a colleague who doesn’t remember the experience fondly.

I blogged on the first anniversary of our launch last year about some lessons from the TBD. I’m not going to observe the anniversary every year, but I think two years after the launch it’s worth noting where the #TBDiaspora ended up and how we’re doing. The day Jim Brady left TBD in early November 2010, less than three months after launch, he said he hoped we’d “get the band back together” someday. Well, we have a quartet of the old band playing for Digital First Media: Jim, Mandy Jenkins, Julie Westfall and me. I’ve updated us plenty, but I wanted to check in with the rest of my colleagues. (more…)

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I congratulate my Digital First Media colleagues on today’s launch of American Homecomings, a yearlong storytelling project that will chronicle the lives of troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

“The soldiers will share their experiences as they reintegrate into American society, shedding light on the challenges they face upon returning from the battlefield,” said Jim Brady, editor-in-chief of Digital First.

The project has been directed by Greg Moore, editor of the Denver Post, and Lee Ann Colacioppo, the Post’s senior editor/investigations.

Journalists from the Post, the Oakland Press in Pontiac, Mich., Salt Lake Tribune, New Haven Register, Chico (Calif.) Enterprise Record, Contra Costa Times and the York (Pa.) Daily Record tell the stories of eight veterans who have agreed to tell their stories. (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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Mandy Jenkins

I had mixed feelings when Mandy Jenkins blogged about why she was pleased with the new job I had just offered her. Because I had also offered her one of the “Twitter monkey” jobs she was glad to be moving beyond.

While Mandy and I worked together at TBD, I valued her contributions every day. I thought she had a great job and did a great job. So I was a little chagrined to read in her blog how she had spent the previous four years:

Watching and curating streams, responding to mentions, keeping an eye out for breaking news, promoting reporters’ work – it takes up so much time and mental energy that it’s difficult to do much else very effectively (and that includes being a spouse, friend, parent, pet owner, etc.).

Yeah, I guess that’s kind of what I expected from Mandy when she worked at TBD, though I think the part about being a spouse, etc. was unspoken (isn’t it always?), and I should add that Editor Erik Wemple sometimes added to my own expectations of Mandy at TBD.

And I should add that throughout my career, I could have written a similar description of many jobs I’ve held and supervised: sports writer, cop reporter, assistant city editor, political reporter, national editor. Journalism jobs can sap your time and mental energy and crowd out family, friends and pets at times. We get passionate about our work, and we and our bosses sometimes get excessive.

So I’m not writing this to excuse how demanding I was or to argue that Mandy gave the job more than I demanded (though she did). Instead, I want to continue my occasional blog posts with career advice by noting some lessons other journalists can find in how Mandy moved beyond Twitter-monkey status. (Mandy’s and my former TBD colleague Jeff Sonderman already provided some advice for how journalists can rise above digital typecasting such as Twitter monkey. (more…)

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Thanks to Jeff Edelstein of the Trentonian for showing a good way for journalists to use Klout.

I have wavered in my views on the value of Klout.

I think you can overdo metrics, especially when you are measuring the wrong things. But I do think we should try to measure the results of our efforts. And Klout tries to measure influence in social media. (more…)

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