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Posts Tagged ‘Digital First Media’

If reports are correct, my former company, Digital First Media, is going to sell to Apollo Global Management for about $400 million.

I’m not going to pretend I can analyze what that means for DFM, my many former colleagues there or for the news business. I hope for the sake of my many friends remaining in the company’s newsrooms across the country that the Apollo’s management will find a path to prosperity that doesn’t involve endlessly cutting staff. I hope the company will genuinely pursue the kind of digital creativity that the future demands and will have the staying power to let good ideas flourish.

Since seeing initial reports about the pending deal, I’ve wondered about the meaning of the $400 million sale price, reached in a long “auction” process that sought the best deal(s) to sell the company as a whole or in pieces.

The reported price tag is a breathtaking fall from what newspapers used to be worth, even in the past few years. I hope this means Apollo’s strategy isn’t to keep cutting staff to maintain profits. DFM doesn’t have much left to cut, and values have dropped as newspapers have been cutting. The best way to maximize this $400 million investment will be to build value by developing new revenue streams.

Comparisons of sales prices of media companies can be misleading. One sale might include more real estate, while another might include more debt or pension obligations. Successful subsidiaries can add value to a company. In a sale such as the DFM deal, which is essentially between two private equity companies, full terms may never be disclosed. You might not be comparing apples and oranges, but apples and lawn mowers.

I was not involved in the sale at all, other than losing my job last year as the company was preparing for the sale. But I understood DFM enough to know this was an extraordinarily complicated deal, with an array of factors that make it unique: (more…)

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You kinda love Harold Hill when you watch “The Music Man,” even though you know he’s a hustler. But the “think system” only works on stage or screen with an audience of adoring and forgiving parents. However charming he was, Hill was still a hustler. And the think system doesn’t work in the news business. You have to be able to play or you’re in trouble with a capital T.

Orange County Register logoAaron Kushner was a hustler* who blew into Orange County, California in 2012, as though it were River City, Iowa, and he had some band instruments — er, newspapers — to sell. I kinda rooted for him, but I also kinda knew the Orange County Register and Freedom Communications had trouble in their future.

When Kushner bought the Orange County Register and announced a bold, expensive print-first initiative, I thought it would probably crash and burn quickly, but I wanted it to succeed. (more…)

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I am saddened by the news that GigaOm has shut down its operations, burdened by debt.

I regard Mathew Ingram as one of the most important, insightful commentators on digital media (and not just because we often agree). I hope he continues blogging under his own banner or gets snapped up quickly by another media outlet that recognizes the importance and value of his voice.

More on Mathew shortly, but first a salute to Om Malik, the founder of GigaOm. I admired what he built and salute his entrepreneurial spirit. Like Dan Gillmor, I am sad that this venture appears to be ending. (I didn’t use the word “failed,” because Om succeeded journalistically, and because he had a nice nine-year run. When afternoon newspapers closed in the 1980s and ’90s, I didn’t say they failed. Like GigaOm, they succeeded for years. Life cycles of successful ventures may be shorter in the dynamic digital age.)

I was pleased to meet Om over breakfast last year at the International Journalism Festival in Perugia, Italy. I hope I told him how much I admired the business he built. What I remember best about the conversation is Om’s great story about how he came up with the name GigaOm for his business. I won’t retell it here, because it’s his story and I won’t do it justice (if you have a link to somewhere he’s told it publicly, let me know and I’ll link to it).

March 11 update: I didn’t originally address the business aspects of this in depth because I don’t have much expertise in the area of venture capital. But I highly recommend Danny Sullivan’s post comparing the VC approach with what he calls the “Sim City” approach of bootstrapping a company and growing slowly, which is working for thriving Third Door Media. (And, he notes, other digital media companies are thriving on VC investment.) There are multiple paths to lasting success. Back to my original post’s salute to Mathew Ingram:

I also met Mathew in person at the International Journalism Festival. He was a keynote speaker at the 2013 festival and I was a panelist. We had been digital friends for a few years and both were pleased to finally meet in person. It was in joining Mathew and his wife, Rebecca, for breakfast last year that I met Om.

Rather than gushing my admiration of Mathew at length here, I want to show by links to some of his posts that have caught my attention through the years (and some of mine that have cited his work). Mathew would approve of a tribute in links, I’m sure, because one of my dozens of links to him was in my 2012 post about linking that linked to his post about whether linking is just polite or a core value of journalism. (It’s a core value; we haven’t won that fight yet, but we will.) (more…)

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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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