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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Posted in Advice for new Digital First editors, tagged Bob Moore, Brad McElhinny, Dave Witke, Frank Scandale, Greg Moore, Jim Brady, Jim McClure, John Paton, leadership, Libby Averyt, Matt DeRienzo, Michelle Karas, Nancy March, Nanya Friend, Robyn Tomlin, Sylvia Ulloa on December 10, 2013 |
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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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Posted in TBD, tagged Daniel Victor, Erik Wemple, Jeff Sonderman, Jim Brady, Lisa Rowan, Mandy Jenkins, Robert Allbritton, TBD, TBD.com on August 18, 2012 |
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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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Posted in Digital First Media, tagged Angi Carter, Chris March, Jim Brady, Jim McClure, Julie Westfall, Karen Workman, Mandy Jenkins, Mark Lewis, Project Thunderdome, Robyn Tomlin, Ryan Teague Beckwith, Thunderdome on August 10, 2012 |
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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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Posted in Digital First journalists at work, Digital First Media, tagged Afghanistan, American Homecomings, Denver Post, Greg Moore, Iraq, Jim Brady, Lee Ann Colacioppo, veterans on May 1, 2012 |
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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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Posted in Career advice, curmudgeons, Digital First journalism, tagged curmudgeons, Digital First Media, Jim Brady, John Paton, liveblogging, Storify, Twitter on April 12, 2012 |
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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 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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Posted in TBD, tagged Alan Mairson, David Cohn, Digital First Media, Erik Wemple, Jim Brady, John Paton, Noah Davis, TBD, transparency on September 30, 2011 |
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A series of tweets last night reminded me of a lesson I should have included when I blogged last month about lessons from my TBD experience.
David Cohn tweeted a link to a Noah Davis story about AOL’s Seed being pretty much defunct. I retweeted with my own comment, without a great deal of thought or analysis.
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A year ago, my TBD colleagues and I launched one of the great adventures of my career.
Few remain there. TBD barely remains, its staff and mission diminished and redefined. Founding leader Jim Brady parted ways with owner Robert Allbritton last November. By February, Allbritton changed the mission and cut the staff. By May, I was gone.
A year ago, I thought we would be celebrating an exciting first year and planning more growth and expansion. My point here is not to dwell on the past. Instead, I will quietly lift a glass to my TBD colleagues and share some lessons for other digital pioneers (and for my Journal Register Co. colleagues) from our TBD experience. (more…)
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