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Posts Tagged ‘Digital First Media’

Carr's 2008 memoir, The Night of the Gun

Carr’s 2008 memoir, The Night of the Gun

Last night’s death of David Carr leaves a bigger hole in the media than the suspension of Brian Williams from NBC News or the planned departure of Jon Stewart from The Daily Show. 

By coincidence, Carr’s last Media Decoder column/post for the New York Times was about the simultaneous career changes of Williams and Stewart (as was my most recent blog post). I really don’t care much who fills the NBC anchor chair while Williams is gone for six months or longer, and I’m only mildly interested in the jockeying for Stewart’s chair. But I worry about who will decode media for the Times, and I doubt anyone can approach Carr’s mastery of this field that I cover and teach and where for decades I worked (unless this blog and occasional consulting entitle me to still use the present tense).

I didn’t make this about me so quickly (and it won’t be for long) to compare myself to Carr. I would lose such a comparison quickly, as you can tell if you read the Williams/Stewart links above.

And I certainly don’t claim any special connection (we never met). My only Decoder mention that Google can find or that I can recall was a derisive dismissal of my paywall criticism (which I defended in a comment on Carr’s post). We never exchanged emails (not because I never sent him one), but I think we had a Twitter exchange or two. But the first tweet I found from Carr directed at me was also derisive:

That criticism I defended as well, but here’s the point: Carr’s opinion and analysis mattered. When he disagreed with you, you stopped a moment to ponder his point, and, even if he didn’t win you over, he made you think. His reporting was thorough, his analysis incisive, his criticism fair. (more…)

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I love competition, so I enjoy a newspaper war (even if it was just an overhyped skirmish). And I mourn the death of any newspaper, even if it was really just a zoned edition.

So I’ll salute the Long Beach Register at its demise. I admit I thought it had already died, but it cut back in June from six days a week to one. And now it’s finished.

My heart in this “war,” though, was with the other Long Beach daily, the Press-Telegram, colleagues for nearly three years in my days with Digital First Media.

Journalists love to write about each other, and Aaron Kushner’s bold (if foolhardy) adventures in Southern California drew attention from when he first bought the Orange County Register and proclaimed his strategy to double down on print, digital revolution be damned.

I was skeptical from the first and might have said so on social media, and did say so privately, but I refrained from blogging about Kushner. I didn’t want to blog phony optimism, but I was hoping Kushner would succeed, for the sake of all the journalists he was hiring (including friends of mine). Others hailed Kushner’s strategy as bold, showing embarrassingly little skepticism, as Clay Shirky noted this year in a withering commentary.

But it was a foolish strategy. Newspapers haven’t figured out the right digital strategy yet, but pretending that print isn’t dying isn’t going to work. And Kushner compounded his blunder by buying the Riverside Press-Enterprise and then launching daily “Registers” for Long Beach and Los Angeles (the LA Register launched after Long Beach but crashed earlier). (more…)

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Jay Rosen

Jay Rosen

Jay Rosen may have overstated when he told journalists to quit their jobs if they can’t understand their organization’s business model. But Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan way overstated in telling journalists not to listen to Rosen.

I highly recommend reading both pieces. Rosen’s post is full of good advice for understanding the path your business is taking and contributing to making progress along the path. Nolan’s post is fascinating, the kind of scornful dismissal of Rosen’s visionary digital thinking that I normally expect from those clinging to legacy media, not one of the digital upstarts that the troglodytes are so scornful of.

Jay made 15 points that I recommend reading. I’m going to address seven points, somewhat repeating and overlapping with his:

  1. Journalists should absolutely try to understand your organization’s business: how you deliver value and how the company plans to make money from that value.
  2. Business models change, sometimes with little warning, sometimes for the better and sometimes not. You won’t always be informed immediately of the changes.
  3. Colleagues need to understand and believe in the value you provide.
  4. We can protect our integrity and still discuss and understand the business.
  5. Learn the language; you always have.
  6. Leaders are critical to the success of a changing organization.
  7. Business model issues are worth changing jobs over, but I recommend trying to change the organization before quitting it (and finding another job first, too).

I’ll elaborate shortly, but first I’ll defend Rosen against Nolan’s anti-intellectualist insult. Noting the New York University professor’s brief career at the Buffalo Courier-Express before joining academia, Nolan said Rosen “makes money by producing proclamations about journalism rather than by producing actual journalism.” (more…)

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Homicide WatchBusinesses don’t last forever.

I come from the newspaper business, where I worked for papers that boasted of roots in the 19th Century and visited a Digital First newsroom that traced its lineage to Benjamin Franklin.

In that context, you might think of Homicide Watch DC as a failure when founders Laura and Chris Amico announced its closing last week:

I think of Homicide Watch as a success story and will continue to cite it in classes and workshops where I discuss media entrepreneurship.

Here are some ways Homicide Watch succeeded: (more…)

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Matt DeRienzo

Matt DeRienzo

If you’re interested in transforming your news operation, you should contact Matt DeRienzo right away.

In my time at Digital First Media, I never saw an editor who was more imaginative or determined in facing the challenges of digital transformation. If you’re looking for a leader for a digital news operation or a newspaper that’s moving too slowly in becoming digital-first, Matt should be at the top of your list.

I wanted to capitalize “Digital-First” in the headline and paragraph above, because no editor working for a newspaper fits that description more than Matt does. But since he’s leaving the company that still uses that name, I guess I’ll use lower case.

For all his digital skill and passion, Matt is a journalist first. He led DFM’s Connecticut newsrooms through excellent coverage of the Sandy Hook tragedy, innovated in coverage of politics, led reporting on a small town’s bullying of rape survivors and many more journalism achievements.

Matt also understands the business challenges facing journalism in this time of transition. He was publisher of the Register Citizen and saw the business value of the Newsroom Cafe that helped his operation return to profitability while increasing community engagement.

Where other people make excuses, Matt gets things done. When I first visited DFM’s Connecticut newsrooms in June 2011, a few months before Matt became editor, the whiteness of the staffs was really noticeable, an unfortunate situation especially in a community with as diverse a population as New Haven. As with other newsrooms around DFM and throughout the newspaper business, the Connecticut news staffs have shrunk since 2011. But, by making diversity and quality dual priorities, Matt used the vacancies he did have to increase both the diversity and the excellence of the staff.

When a couple staff members plagiarized on his watch, Matt responded not just forcefully, by firing the offenders, but creatively, by asking me to develop a quiz and training to help prevent future problems.

Matt didn’t just demand more of his staff, he developed a plan to provide training and incentives to meet the demands. (That the training incentives weren’t entirely successful doesn’t diminish the creativity of the approach; to succeed at innovation, you need to be willing to risk and fail, and Matt fears neither risk nor failure. And the plan did succeed in providing more training for the staff.)

I worked closest with Matt in Project Unbolt, the effort to “unbolt” DFM newsrooms’ culture and workflow from the print factory that dominates most newsrooms, however much they’ve tried to develop digital skills. Matt enthusiastically volunteered to be a pilot newsroom as soon as I proposed the project. He embraced the concept and led his newsrooms in pursuing the transformation. I’m not sure you ever reach the finish line in such a race, but I didn’t see any newsroom pushing farther or faster than Matt’s.

I don’t know what lies next for Matt. But I know his departure is a huge loss for DFM. And his arrival will be a huge gain wherever his next stop will be.

 

 

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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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Continuing my series of posts on live coverage, Breaking News Editor Tom Cleary explains how Digital First Media’s Connecticut breaking news team works. Newsrooms and clusters of newsrooms pursuing Project Unbolt need to cover breaking news live and should consider forming a breaking news team.  

Tom Cleary, photo linked from Connecticut Newsroom blog

In early February, just as Project Unbolt was getting underway at the New Haven Register, the DFM Connecticut breaking news and digital staff was reorganized. The breaking news team was expanded and a team of web producers was created, splitting the duties that were once carried out by one team. The reorganization was done to improve breaking news reporting and web production and also to allow town reporters to focus more on enterprise reporting.

The breaking news reporting team includes an editor, assistant editor and five reporters (three in New Haven, one in Torrington and one in Middletown). The team is tasked with covering statewide and local breaking news, freeing up town reporters that had mainly been handling those stories to work on day-to-day stories and enterprise pieces.

Here are a few examples of stories the breaking news team has covered, or helped with the coverage of, since it was revamped: (more…)

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