Journal Register CEO Paton to also run Pioneer Press owner Media News

John Paton, perhaps the leading advocate of digital-first strategy for the nation’s newspapers, has been named CEO of Denver-based MediaNews Group, which owns the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

Paton will continue to run the Pennsylvania-based Journal Register Co. A new Journal Register subsidiary, Digital First Media, will operate MediaNews.

MediaNews and Journal Register share a common owner: Alden Global Capital, a hedge fund. 

What does digital first mean? Fundamentally, it means not letting print’s traditional practices or even current revenues slow down the transformation to a primarily digital company. As Paton explained it in a speech this summer:

Our traditional journalism models and our journalistic efforts are inefficient and up against the Crowd – armed with mobile devices and internet connections- incomplete. …

Traditional journalism is dead.

The Crowd collectively knows more about any subject, city or event we choose to cover than we do.

Armed with the same tools – and in many cases – equal access to information and the search capabilities to provide history and context, the Crowd can do what we do. …

Raised on a staple diet of “he said last night” journalism, coverage by the Crowd – via social media – is instant, increasingly contextual and in many cases more complete than a traditional media company could ever achieve.

With our core mission gone how do we add value? What’s the role of the journalist in this mix?

The Crowd which has become our competitor is filling the web – the disintermediator of our industry – with news.

As a result, the web is a very crowded place for news. A filter is desired. It is even necessary.

Original and compelling journalism are key to standing out and it is the power of our brands, our reputation, that can spotlight – filter – for our audience where they should look for journalism they can trust. …

So, what must we do?

First, if you have competitor so much bigger than you are such as the Crowd then you better make peace with it and partner.

Understand the Crowd’s value and add your value to theirs and turn the Crowd from a competitor into a colleague.

And if you listen to nothing else I have to say this morning then please listen to this:

Stop listening to Newspaper people. …

In our case, we have invited the Crowd into our newsrooms … and have established an Advisory Board of leading Digital thinkers:

Jeff Jarvis, Jay Rosen, Emily Bell and Betsy Morgan, former CEO of Huffington Post.

Stop focusing on the Print. It is in any newspaper’s DNA. It is not like you are going to forget to put out the newspaper. …

At Journal Register Company we are getting out of anything that does not fall into our core competencies of content creation and the selling of our audience to advertisers.

Get rid of the bricks and iron. Focus on core competencies. And if it is not core then:

Reduce it or stop it.

Outsource it or sell it. …

News now breaks Digitally both in its origin and creation by the audience using social media and spreads virally. To be in the news business now means you must run your business as Digital First.  And that means Print Last.

Print Last because that is how this new world works.

Print is a SLOW medium and digital is FAST. Atoms will never beat bits.

Each platform has its own advantages.

Each platform has an audience.

And each platform has a certain speed – Fast or Slow.

The quality of the journalism will be key.

Lousy journalism on multiple platforms is just lousy journalism in multiple ways. …

We have doubled our Digital audience and are growing our Digital revenue at 7x the industry standard in the US. In fact, in about one-third of our divisions – with Print down mid single-digit percentage points – we are up year over year these past few months because of digital ad growth.

Compare that to an industry in the U.S. where advertising was down about 10% in Q1.

And all of this was done with fewer costs than in 2008 but not fewer editorial and sales resources I might add.

Today, Paton updated the argument with second-quarter results:

Newspaper companies aren’t supposed to be able to change. Haven’t you heard?

Here’s another one: Digital dimes can’t replace Print dollars.

Then this: No one wants what we have to offer.

And then this one: Digital revenue will never be able to pay for a newspaper’s newsroom. …

In Q2 of this year, 10 of JRC’s 18 dailies are up year over year in advertising or within 2% of last year’s ad revenues because of digital advertising growth. JRC newspaper digital revenue grew more than 81% year over year in Q2. That’s against an industry average of less than 10%.

Digital dimes can replace Print dollars.

And if our dailies continue on the trend they are on right now, by the end of the year they will have brought in more digital revenue than the costs of running their newsrooms.

Digital revenues can pay for newspaper newsrooms.

Today’s post specifically mentions the Pioneer Press, noting, “an enormous amount of digital initiatives have been underway to transform Media News Group.” However, there’s nothing (yet) saying what’s going to happen.

Paton has stirred up some critics, including “Reflections of a Newsosaur” Alan Mutter, who ripped him for saying “traditional journalism” is dead. That’s not how I read Paton — it sounds to me like he’s trying to figure out how to filter what the crowd does best and still do original reporting (perhaps raising the standard of what constitutes original), but not being familiar with Journal Register products, I’m not sure how much quality has improved.

Anyway, PiPress journalists may enjoy Journal Register’s Three Rules for Using Social Media:

1.

2.

3.

Until next time, John.

A guy PiPressers will get to know is Steve Buttry, Journal Register’s director of community and engagement & social media. After the announcement, he wrote:

I’ve spent much of the past 15 years fighting legacy-media issues, mostly in the newspaper business but also for a couple companies in the TV business. I had great experiences, but hit brick walls when resistance to change blinded the companies to new approaches, new ideas or new revenue streams.

So I jumped earlier this year at the chance to work for a company that unabashedly proclaimed itself “Digital First,” led by a CEO, John Paton, who sought my advice, shared my vision of the future and asked me to help him achieve that vision.

I’ve enjoyed my first three-plus months on the job, visiting 18 different newsrooms and helping my Journal Register Co. colleagues use social media, blog networks, curation, crowdsourcing and other aspects of community engagement to elevate our journalism. …

I don’t yet know what our plan for MediaNews will be. I don’t yet know what my specific role will be. We’ll work all that out in the weeks to come.

More to come after a few digital queries are returned.

Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by Matt DeRienzo on 09/07/2011 - 11:47 am.

    David, speaking only as one employee of JRC, I can tell you that many of us never thought we’d see the day when a journalist would be named CEO of our company.
    We literally were the poster child of the traditional newspaper company, racking up debt through acquisitions, cutting newsroom staff even when times were good, and hitching our wagon 100% to print.
    The JRC story is still unfolding, and it’s not easy to “change the tires on the car as it’s traveling at 60 miles an hour,” which is what it feels like we are doing sometimes.
    But there’s a vision under John Paton and a clear strategy, and a sense that we’re working toward a sustainable business model that will preserve (and grow again) the journalism that benefits the communities we are serving.
    The fact that the business model is focused around quality journalism, and that John Paton is personally passionate about that, has created a lot of excitement, energy and loyalty toward “Digital First” in a very short amount of time.

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