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Posts Tagged ‘Jim Brady’

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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Digital First Media logoAnything I have to say about Digital First Media today is speculation or observation but I will speculate and observe.

(I’ll explain in some detail at the end of this post what I used to know about DFM operations and strategy, and what I don’t know now.)

A tough sell

My first observation: Selling this scattered company and its diverse properties has probably been much more difficult than anyone thought last year when executives decided to pursue a sale. My first knowledge of plans to sell the company was that they would likely sell it in pieces. I think the difficulty of that job led to an effort to sell it in one piece, as Ken Doctor reported last year. That led to a pending $400 million purchase by Apollo Global Management. Ken’s speculation – more informed than mine, but probably not coming from DFM sources – is that the deal fell through over price.

I think DFM CEO John Paton, Chief Operating Officer Steve Rossi (who will become CEO take over the company’s reins in July) and whoever is making decisions for Alden Global Capital, the hedge fund that owns DFM, have decided that some individual parts of the company will attract higher value separately. I think they’ve decided the higher values of some individual pieces will be worth the trouble of operating and eventually selling or shutting down the properties that would be more difficult to sell, or possibly operating a reduced company after selling the most attractive parts.
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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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You can’t wait until you need a job to position yourself for the job hunt.

Yesterday I posted some advice on looking for a job in journalism when you lose your job. Today I’m making the point that your next job hunt starts in what you do while you’re employed and feeling secure and happy with your job (as I was for nearly all my time at Digital First Media). While working, you need to build the brand, accomplishments and connections that will become essential in your job hunt.

Your job hunt might start with losing your job in a corporate staff reduction, as happened to my Thunderdome colleagues and me in April. Or you may be frustrated with your current job and decide to move along. Or you may want to pursue your dream job. Someone may come courting you when you’re pleased with your current job (that happened to me in 1998 and I left the Omaha World-Herald to join the Des Moines Register and it happened in 2012 and I came very close to leaving Digital First Media). In any of those situations, it’s important to position yourself for future opportunities in the job you’re doing now.

Do good work

Quality work often isn’t enough, but job-hunting success always starts there. You can do good work and still not succeed in a job hunt because you didn’t do the things I discussed yesterday (or just because job-hunting is hard). But no amount of digital sophistication, networking or other techniques discussed here is likely to help if you don’t do quality work. I apologize for what will amount to boasting here, but the point is important to make.

My new job as Lamar Family Visiting Scholar at the Manship School of Mass Communication at Louisiana State University stems from a string of good work I’ve done over the years. In 2009, when I was finishing some work on a grant for some ethics seminars for the American Press Institute, Jerry Ceppos was dean of the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno. We might have met before at a conference, but we didn’t know each other well. Jerry brought me in for the seminar, which examined the ethical issues of digital journalism. If I hadn’t delivered a good seminar, that would have been the last time I had worked for Jerry. But I did a good job and he remembered me. (more…)

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My own job-hunting experience, along with occasional hiring experience, continues to give me firsthand perspective on hunting for jobs in today’s journalism marketplace. Updating posts from 2010 and 2011, I offer tips for job-hunting.

I apologize (just a little) for any boasting in this post. Seeking a job in the competitive market requires honest assessment of your strengths and weaknesses, and I’ve tried to carry through in that here. I’m grateful for the opportunities I’ve had throughout my career. I know that luck has played a role, but I also know that my own efforts have played a role, too, and I’ll try to share lessons from both.

I’ll also share advice from former Thunderdome colleagues Mandy Jenkins, Tom Meagher and Ross Maghielse and from Kevin Sablan, who recently left the Orange County Register.

I’ll do a separate post tomorrow on things to do while you’re employed that will help when you start looking for work, whether you lose your job or are seeking your next opportunity. But for today, here is advice for your job hunt:

Spread the word

Losing your job is a blow to the ego, even if you have a lot of company. We all like to believe we’re indispensable. So your first instinct might not be to tell the world you’re available. But tell the world.

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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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One of the highlights of my tenure at Digital First Media has been hosting the annual awards programs.

I don’t have much time to blog about this (during a connection on my flights home), but we had a wonderful time yesterday and honored some truly stellar journalism by my Digital First Media colleagues. If you missed it yesterday, you can catch the Touts and tweets after the fact from the liveblog.

I was surprised and honored, along with my colleagues Jim Brady, Robyn Tomlin and Dan Shorter, with a video, kind words and beautiful keepsakes of our time at Digital First:

With the four of us all short-timers, along with two winners, because of the closing of Thunderdome, it could have been awkward. But everyone handled the situation with grace, class and fun. The only comments critical of the closing of Thunderdome came from journalists who didn’t lose their jobs (and we appreciated their kind words).

Karen Workman, winner of the DFMie for SEO headline writing, thanked the company for firing her. She started with DFM’s predecessor at age 19 and 10 years later, she said, was like finally getting kicked out of your parents’ basement to make it on your own. (And she’ll make it. She’s got a great new gig, which I couldn’t announce yesterday, but she’ll announce it soon and her career will continue to soar.

Jessica Glenza was named DFM’s Journalist of the Year (the judging was before the Thunderdome closing) for reporting she did at the Register Citizen before moving to Thunderdome. She was named last month as Journalist of the Year for small-daily newsrooms, and yesterday collected a second plaque as journalist of the year for the whole company. She was entirely gracious in remarks, not mentioning that the company had fired her, but just expressing her joy at being a journalist. She’ll be fine, too. She starts May 12 as a breaking news reporter for Guardian US.

If you’re looking for a top-flight journalist for your news operation, you need to move quickly because the Thunderdome team is finding new opportunities swiftly. But send me information on your opening and I’ll pass it along to my colleagues.

We had a great team of journalists at Digital First, in Thunderdome and in our newsrooms across the country. We still have a great team, even with Thunderdome closing. I wish all the best to my colleagues, whatever lies ahead. It was great to celebrate our excellence yesterday.

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