Posts Tagged ‘Digital First Media’

shafer-columnI hesitate to give more attention to a study and Politico Magazine column that comforted newspaper nostalgists, but I must: Both are BS.

“What If the Newspaper Industry Made a Colossal Mistake?” asks the Politico headline, echoed in Jack Shafer‘s breathless lead: “What if almost the entire newspaper industry got it wrong?”

Well, the industry did get it wrong and did make a colossal mistake, but not the one that Shafer and University of Texas scholars Hsiang Iris Chyi and Ori Tenenboim think it made.

Summarizing Chyi’s and Tenenboim’s Reality Check research article in Journalism Practice, Shafer asks:

What if, in the mad dash two decades ago to repurpose and extend editorial content onto the Web, editors and publishers made a colossal business blunder that wasted hundreds of millions of dollars? What if the industry should have stuck with its strengths—the print editions where the vast majority of their readers still reside and where the overwhelming majority of advertising and subscription revenue come from—instead of chasing the online chimera?

In their research, which prompted Shafer’s column, Chyi and Tenenboim wrote that in the past 20 years “US newspapers, especially national and metro dailies, became more determined than ever to complete their transition from print to online. … ‘Digital first’ has become a mantra, a trend, and a strategy leading to the future.”

Shafer, Chyi and Tenenboim correctly chronicle the weak performance of American metro newspapers in the digital marketplace. But they wrongly conclude, as Shafer wrote, that “The key to the newspaper future might reside in its past and not in smartphones, iPads and VR. ‘Digital first,’ the authors claim, has been a losing proposition for most newspapers.”

Well, I used to work for a company called Digital First Media and at a newspaper-industry think tank, and I’ve visited more than 100 newsrooms and spoken at more than 100 newspaper-industry conferences and seminars, and I can flatly say that the industry never, ever adopted anything close to a digital-first strategy. (Update: Kurt Greenbaum responded on Facebook: “You’re being too kind. Not only did they never adopt such a strategy, they actively resisted tolerance of digital technology, much less acceptance of it.”)

The colossal mistake that the newspaper industry made was responding to digital challenges and opportunities with defensive measures intended to protect newspapers, and timid experiments with posting print-first content online, rather than truly exploring and pursuing digital possibilities.


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This continues my series on professional networking.

I credit my skills and hard work for most of the success I’ve achieved professionally. But my professional network has helped tremendously, too.

In this post, I’m going to run through the jobs I’ve landed and explain how my network helped me get most (but not all) of the jobs in my career:

Because my mother read the newspaper …

Chuck Offenburger, right, gave me my first job in journalism back in 1971.

Chuck Offenburger, right, gave me my first job in journalism back in 1971.

I was on a canoe trip in the summer of 1971, between my junior and senior years of high school, when my mother read a notice in the Evening Sentinel that Sports Editor Chuck Offenburger was looking for a sports writer. I didn’t know Chuck, and had no network connection to him. But Mom called the notice to my attention. I applied and I got the job (and Chuck and I remain friends).

But the network connection that mattered here was my mother. I’m not a fan of nepotism or family interference, which didn’t happen here. Mom didn’t even know Chuck. But she tipped me off to the first job of my journalism career. And Mimi has alerted two of our sons to opportunities that led to jobs for them. Listen to your mom. (more…)

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My old company has essentially proven a point I have made at least twice in this blog: that many newspapers’ value now is mostly the value of the real estate they own.

A Ken Doctor report today does the math: Less than a month after buying the Orange County Register and Riverside Press Press-Enterprise for $51.2 million, Digital First Media, where I worked from 2011 to 2014, sold 14.3 acres of land surrounding the Register’s Santa Ana office for $34 million, two-thirds of the sale price. The developer who bought the land had purchased the Register’s building two years ago.

In posts about the Boston Globe purchase in 2013 and the Omaha World-Herald sale in 2011, I previously speculated that real estate value probably accounted for most, if not all, of the purchase prices.

I am too busy, and don’t know enough about finance and real estate, to undertake an analysis of recent newspaper sales and what the core value is after you subtract the value of real estate. But I agree with Doctor that this value is “astoundingly low.” And it’s nowhere near the first time that’s happened.

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As LSU’s Director of Student Media, I occasionally fire off messages to student editors and station managers with suggestions that I usually expect them to ignore. They are independent and they are rightly in charge of their newsrooms, and I didn’t follow a lot of faculty advice when I was their age either.

I sent this message to the editorial board of our newspaper, the Daily Reveille, on Oct. 1:

Message to students

I just checked. I didn’t carbon anyone from the New York Times on the message. But the Times ran a front-page editorial this morning, calling for an end to “the Gun Epidemic in America.”

My students sort of followed my advice (or moved that direction on their own), running some opinions on the front page but more frequently than I suggested. That’s OK, too: The Reveille’s front page and editorials should reflect their judgment, not mine. I’m proud of their work, which has included excellent opinion pieces by columnists and the editorial board on page-one this semester, about such topics as mental health and racial discrimination at bars near campus.

As Kristen Hare’s Poynter piece that I shared with the student editors indicated, newspapers are increasingly responding to important issues by stating opinions on newsprint once reserved for “straight news”: the front page. The New York Times is following this trend, not leading it (nor am I, obviously). Hare’s piece was prompted by this Chicago Sun-Times cover: (more…)

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Few sights are more beautiful than a Tofino sunset.

Few sights are more beautiful than a Tofino sunset.

Perhaps the most alluring job I ever turned down was an offer to lead newsroom transformation for Canada’s largest newspaper company.

My fondness for Canada is long and deep, and a job that would mean lengthy stays and frequent visits in such beloved cities as Vancouver, Montreal, Ottawa, Calgary, Toronto, Edmonton and Victoria was enticing. I relished the opportunity and challenge of helping metro newspapers retool for digital success. I nearly accepted the job.

I’ll quickly address the national-loyalty issue. Except when my father was assigned to overseas Air Force bases, I’ve happily lived my whole life in the United States. I love this country and wasn’t looking to leave it. But when a Canadian company recruited me, I listened. I love Canada, too.

Cox Beach, south of Tofino

Cox Beach, south of Tofino

Mimi’s and my favorite place in the world may be Tofino, a tourist/fishing village on the Pacific coast of Vancouver Island. We’ve visited there several times at different seasons of the year, always enchanted by the crashing waves, the lovely beaches, the bears and whales, the fish tacos and other fine dining.

If she writes a best-selling novel and sells its movie rights for a whopping sum, or if I could make a living writing, consulting and training based there, we would happily live the rest of our lives in a small Tofino home, walking distance from one of our favourite beaches. Those are huge ifs, but we share the fantasy every time we visit.

And Tofino is just one of the many places we’ve loved visiting in Canada. From Cape Breton and the lighthouses along Nova Scotia’s Atlantic coast to the crystal waters of Lake Louise in Banff National Park to golden eagles near Williams Lake, B.C., to a Jeep ride into the Yukon territory, we have enjoyed Canada’s spectacular scenery coast to coast. We’ve enjoyed the museums, restaurants and other cultural offerings of Canada’s great cities. (more…)

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Contact information on a news site is certainly a matter of customer service. I’d argue that it’s also an essential form of community engagement. But what about journalism ethics? Is easy access to journalists a matter of ethics? I think so.

Whatever factors you think should motivate contact information, I hope you’ll agree with me that many news sites make it difficult to contact them. And nearly all should do a better job.

Before I make some recommendations and examine some news sites and report on how easy it is to find out how to contact someone in the newsroom, I’ll make the case that accessibility is a matter of ethics:

Correcting errors is one of the basics of journalism ethics, mentioned in the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics, Poynter’s Guiding Principles for the Journalist and Radio Television Digital News Association Code of Ethics. We’ll correct more errors if we learn about more of our errors. And if we’re easy to reach, we’re going to be more likely to learn about our errors.

The New York Times study of the Jayson Blair case revealed that people who read his fabricated stories didn’t bother to contact the Times because they didn’t think anyone at the Times would care. As much as I believe in corrections and accuracy, I don’t bother to request corrections about every error published about news I’m involved in (and my most recent request was ignored anyway). I think news organizations need to invite access and requests for corrections, or they won’t become aware of many of their mistakes.

I think if you tried to reach many news organizations through their websites today, you might come to the same conclusion: that no one there cares. Readers and viewers shouldn’t have to work to call our errors to our attention. (more…)

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I have some advice for Larry Kramer and Gannett on running a nationwide network of newsrooms as a single operation.

Ken Doctor speculated yesterday that Kramer, publisher of USA Today, might lead Gannett’s editorial operation as a single unit.

As Gannett separates its newspaper properties from its broadcast and digital properties, Doctor tried to parse what Bob Dickey, CEO of the print operation, which will keep the Gannett name, meant when he said he would be “uniting our different news businesses into a single, nationwide news powerhouse.”

Doctor observed:

If Gannett’s journalists were to be centrally directed, they would comprise 2,700 journalists, the largest single journalistic workforce globally.

Gannett logoGannett gives a lot of corporate direction to newsrooms. Currently the Newsroom of the Future is the Gannett wave, but earlier thrusts have emphasized Information Centers (2006, after the Newspaper Next report), First Five Paragraphs (2000 or so, when I was a Gannett reporter) and News 2000 (that was the priority when I interviewed for a Gannett job in 1992). And I probably forgot a few. Remind me, if you recall one I missed. Update: I forgot ContentOne (2009).

The company also is consolidating print production in regional Design Studios, a trend throughout the industry.

But, as Doctor noted, Gannett editors don’t work for a national corporate editor:

Those editors now report solely, within a traditional newspaper structure, to their paper’s publishers. Gannett senior vice president for news Kate Marymont (“My job is to elevate the journalism across Gannett’s local media sites,” says her LinkedIn job description.) leads editorial planning and strategy. Like her peers in similar positions at newspaper companies, she may act as an editorial advocate, but doesn’t have line authority.

I worked for nearly three years at a company where the newsroom editors did report directly to a corporate editor. Early in the formation of Digital First Media, I was on a conference call with all the publishers when CEO John Paton told them their editors would report to Editor-in-Chief Jim Brady. Publishers would still be in charge of the local budgets and the local operation, but for all journalism matters, Jim was in charge.

I was one of a handful of editors who reported directly to Jim, and I visited 84 newsrooms, including all DFM dailies, so I suppose I’m as qualified as anyone but Jim to share some lessons from our brief experience trying to run a single journalistic workforce.

I will neither boast of our successes here nor criticize our mistakes (mine or others’), though I will make passing references below to my DFM experiences. The lessons below are my own observations and advice to Kramer and Gannett (if Doctor’s speculation is correct), based on successes and mistakes at DFM and many experiences that were a mix of both. And I suspect some other companies might seek to better unify their news efforts.

Here’s my advice for Kramer and others who may lead national news operations: (more…)

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