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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Digital 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.
So 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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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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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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Posted in Advice for new Digital First editors, leadership, tagged Andy Stettler, Ann Cornell, Chris Roberts, Facebook, Jill Geisler, John Berry, John Paton, leadership, listening, Matt Osbourne, Michelle Karas, Robert Sterling, Twitter on April 30, 2013 |
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This post starts a series for new top editors in Digital First Media newsrooms. Some of the advice might be good for veteran editors, too, and for editors in other companies.
Listening should be one of an editor’s most important skills and priorities.
Editors needed to be good listeners when I started in the news business more than 40 years ago, when we were still melting lead to set type. Listening was essential when I first became editor of the Minot Daily News in 1992, when the digital revolution for newsrooms was just around the next bend. And it was even more important when I became editor of the Cedar Rapids Gazette in 2008, as social media was causing a second (or third; I think I’m losing track) digital revolution for newsrooms. It still remains one of an editor’s most important jobs, but we have some great listening tools that weren’t available before.
A good editor listens to the staff and to the community. You don’t necessarily follow all the advice you hear or act on all the complaints you hear (or bask in the praise), but you need to hear what the community and the staff are saying. You need to know what your staff thinks about your leadership and your decisions. You need to know what the community thinks of your content. You need to know what your staff is proud of and embarrassed of and concerned about. You need to know what your community is laughing at and angry about.
You don’t just need to know what the community is saying about you and your news products, though. You need to know what people are saying about the news and community affairs. Has a story that’s hot in the coffee shops and Facebook discussions escaped your staff’s notice because it doesn’t fit in your beat structure (or because someone is not covering a beat well)? Is your community confused about an issue you are reporting or should be reporting? Has the community grown tired of an issue? You should know. (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 billion
million. 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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Posted in Digital First Media, tagged John Paton on September 5, 2012 |
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I don’t pretend to understand corporate finance. So I won’t have a lot to say about today’s announcement that Journal Register Company filed for Chapter 11 and is for sale.
Here’s what I know: JRC is making great strides in developing a healthy new business model for the digital marketplace. (So are Digital First Media and MediaNews Group, which are all intertwined but not identical; it’s just JRC that is involved in today’s filing). I don’t expect the financial measures announced today to change that beyond giving us the ability to renegotiate some debts, pensions and leases.
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Posted in community engagement, Digital First Media, tagged Bob Morris, community engagement, Diane Hoffman, Ed Condra, Eileen Faust, John Paton, Nancy March, Pottstown Mercury on July 20, 2012 |
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Visitors use computers available for public use at the Mercury’s new Community Media Lab.
I was a guest speaker today at a ceremony in Pottstown, Pa., to celebrate the opening of the Community Media Lab of the Mercury, a Digital First news operation.
The celebration was a joint opening with the new Pottstown Visitors Center across the street in the Merc’s original building.
I have published a couple photos here, but others are in my DFM Engagement Tumblr started today. I also Storified tweets and photos about the opening celebration.
Here are my prepared remarks:
Perhaps you’ve heard that newspapers are in trouble, or even that they are dying.
I’m here to tell you today that the Mercury and Digital First Media have a bright future. The changes reflected in the Mercury’s new Community Media Lab are part of a transformation of our business that is delivering results and that will ensure a continuing role in Pottstown and the surrounding communities for the Merc and our journalists.
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