Waiting for Transformation

It’s the most uninspiring time of the year – newspaper conference season where much is debated and nothing committed. So much waiting. So little doing.

With deepest apologies to Samuel Beckett:

Waiting for Transformation

Dramatis Personae:

Estragon

Vladimir

[Unfortunately, due to cutbacks]:

Lucky

Pozzo

a boy

Act One

A newspaper conference. A cocktail party. Evening.

 

ESTRAGON: Nothing to be done.

VLADIMIR: I’m beginning to come round to that opinion.

ESTRAGON: Ah stop blathering.

VLADIMIR: What’s the good of losing heart now, that’s what I say. We should have thought of it a million years ago, in the nineties.

ESTRAGON: We’ve nothing to show.

VLADIMIR: Suppose we repented.

ESTRAGON: Repented what?

VLADIMIR: We wouldn’t have to go into the details.

 ESTRAGON: Charming spot for a conference. Let’s go.

VLADIMIR: We can’t.

ESTRAGON: Why not?

VLADIMIR: We’re waiting for Transformation.

Act Two

Next year. Same time. Same conference (different title extolling change).

ESTRAGON: You’re sure it was here?

VLADIMIR: What?

ESTRAGON: That we were to wait?

VLADIMIR: For what?

ESTRAGON: Mobile.

VLADIMIR: I thought it was Transformation.

ESTRAGON: Transformation is now Mobile.

VLADIMIR: He didn’t say for sure he’d come.

ESTRAGON: And if he doesn’t come?

VLADIMIR: Let’s wait and see what he says.

ESTRAGON: Who?

VLADIMIR: Mobile. Used to be called Transformation.

ESTRAGON: Good idea.

VLADIMIR: Let’s wait till we know exactly how we stand.

ESTRAGON: It might be better to strike the iron before it freezes.

VLADIMIR: I’m curious to hear what he has to offer. Then we’ll take it or leave it.

ESTRAGON: What exactly did we ask him for?

VLADIMIR: Oh … Nothing very definite.

ESTRAGON: A kind of prayer.

VLADIMIR: Precisely.

ESTRAGON: See you next year.

VLADIMIR: Next year, yes.

CURTAIN

Hartley Steward

There’s not a lot of money in journalism.

Fame, if at all, is fleeting.

The work is supposed to be its own reward. And usually it is but the work is mostly only revered by fellow journalists.

The moveable feast that is the news moves on quickly and the people with it.

It’s why readers are subjected to sporadic obits on journalists they may never have heard about but are important to journalists.

And that’s because journalists know how much goes into being a journalist. How much private life is left squandered in pursuit of a story or putting out the next edition or, these days, the next update. The good ones go home having helped to right a wrong and walk into a house and kids they don’t know a helluva lot about. And usually a lot of dead plants.

My friend, mentor and old boss  Hartley Steward was one such journalist. He died two nights ago at his home in Canada at age 72 although I am pretty sure parts of him were much older and his spirit a half-century younger.

His career stretched over 50 years, five marriages, six daily newspapers, at least two magazines and mercifully never extended to having  to teach journalism in his retirement adding “adjunct professor” to his list of titles.

He was considered one of the finest magazine writers of his day and was the editor of something more times than I can remember. He was also the publisher of four daily newspapers in Canada.

You wouldn’t have got much of that from the obit that ran in his old paper,The Toronto Sun, today where he had been both an editor who breathed life into the product and at one point, for his sins or maybe it was the alimony requirements, he became its publisher.

That’s okay. That was a long time ago and many newsrooms today are stressed places with fewer resources and less institutional memory than they used to have. More of a Children’s Crusade than an army of talented, expensive veterans.

Hartley was born in Schumacher Ontario – in the cold Canadian north mining country. Every kid with a strong back had two choices – the mines or leave. Hartley chose the latter, headed to Toronto and never looked back. Journalism took him around the world and he drank a toast to it everywhere.

Along the way he launched at least three daily newspapers from scratch. All of them still in business.

He understood journalism’s power to change and when he became a bean counter – again alimony times four must have been a backbreaker – he knew how to protect the journalists from those who only see newsrooms through the filter of a spreadsheet.

He and I worked together for a very long time. As editor to his publisher we launched the Ottawa

Sun. That first night I missed deadline by three hours. At the press head as the first editions of the new daily rolled by he hugged me and whispered: “Thanks kid.”

He was a mentor to two generations of journalists and possessed of a joie de vivre that could and did inspire all to greater heights. He made the difficult thing fun.

His heart failed him long before his talents ever did. And now he is gone. Thanks kid. For everything.

Hartley Steward – 30 -

If You Care About Journalism, Read This

Transcript of Alan Rusbridger‘s speech at Columbia Journalism School
on May 22 while accepting the Columbia University Journalism Award:

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

I am immensely honoured to be asked to speak today and I want to begin by thanking the Dean and the Faculty for the recognition and for the graceful words.

These are august surroundings. Columbia Journalism School has a formidable reputation. It is a place where people argue with each other intellectually and earnestly all day long… and then continue to row all night on Twitter.

Or maybe that’s just Emily Bell.

I understand this is a sort-of-Commencement Speech. I had not appreciated what a big deal Commencement speeches were (we don’t have them in Britain). A New York taxi driver last week told me to look up the gold standard speech – JK Rowling at Harvard in 2008. I can recommend it. She makes lots of jokes about Harry Potter.

When people see me they also make lots of jokes about Harry Potter. Google them. Many media writers seem to liken me to Harry Potter – all except the esteemed New York media reporter Dylan Byers. He likened me to Harry Potter’s lonely uncle.

My friend Vivian Schiller – now at Twitter – gave me succinct advice when I had dinner with her in London just two nights ago. A commencement speech, she said, has to be in three sections : a few jokes; one or two deep perceptions; and then something to convince the parents that they haven’t completely wasted their money on the course their offspring have just finished.

I began to compile a Buzzfeed style list of tips for journalistic success:
- be courageous
- be truthful
- never travel via Heathrow airport

I contemplated being disingenuous and outlining a future life in which journalism would be a path to a life of high prestige and social recognition. Whereas we all know that success means you get to live in a remote part of Brazil guarded by 13 rescue dogs.

But the truth dawned that I have several disqualifications for speaking today

Firstly I am British. I am only too aware that Americans do not take kindly to Brits coming over to lecture them. Piers Morgan has the ratings to show it.

Then there is the gulf of misunderstanding about the two journalistic cultures.

Americans fail to understand many of the most cherished habits of British journalists.

We show our respect for our colleagues not by showering them with honours or prizes but with a decent dinner ..followed by a few upper cuts.

If we believe a rival has a really good exclusive story – we believe in sharing it … preferably by hacking their phones well in advance of publication.

In America journalists worry that the Government is intercepting their
communications. In Britain, it’s the other way round

Similarly, Brits don’t understand the passion and commitment that goes into American journalism. There’s something I gather all American editors do which I haven’t. And now I hardly dare tell our owners, the Scott Trust, that I have not yet tattooed the Guardian’s masthead on my back …

We think we are passionate about stories in London. But we don’t have your tradition of celebrating notable scoops by punching our fists through walls ..

In British journalism, the more aggressive you are the better. In American journalism it evidently doesn’t pay to be pushy.

I’m learning.

Another reason I feel a bit of a fraud here today: I did not graduate in journalism. I failed my shorthand. And, back then, without 100 words per minute, you couldn’t even get a certificate in journalism never mind a degree.

I may even have dissembled about my shorthand when applying for one or two jobs.

Not only that… but I have told countless groups of journalism students that good shorthand is an essential prerequisite to a career in newspapers. So I am a total hypocrite.

Why am I telling you all this? Because this is a room full of the brightest and best reporters of the future. I know you’ll find this stuff out .

When I started in journalism I don’t even remember there being post graduate degree courses in journalism in Britain

Everyone knew what journalism was. A few years before I started as a reporter the three essential qualifications for the job had famously been summarised by a distinguished foreign correspondent as “ratlike cunning, a plausible manner and a little literary ability.”

Of these three I think I had only one.

But that didn’t matter too much in journalism back then. A little literary ability went a long way – at least on laid-back British newspapers, which have always refused to take themselves very seriously – while comprising the most ruthlessly competitive editorial snakepit in the world.

Fast forward 30 odd years and there are literally hundreds of graduate degree courses in journalism – the irony being that no-one can really agree what journalism is any more. Or who gets to be a journalist. Or whether journalism itself can survive.

That – if you are a journalist of a certain age already working in the industry – can be truly terrifying.

Maybe it is a little bit terrifying to parents in the hall today. How is my beloved son/daughter going to pay the bills?

But to those of you in the hall embarking on a career in the media I think it is totally liberating.

(song?)

You are young, You are fearless. You have been brilliantly taught here at Columbia by some of the smartest thinkers in digital communication today. And – I hope – you are not too hung up on arcane discussions about who qualifies for the term “journalist”.

Journalism is there to be reinvented – by you. You can take whatever you like from the past and mix it with whatever inspires you from the present or the future. You can work in any medium, tell stories however you choose to. No-one is going to tell you off. We will watch you with awe and envy. And some anxiety.

The trends in American journalism are now clear: you will all spend the first year of your career begging us to give you a job. We will then spend the next few years of your career begging you not to set up your own start-up.

The innovation that’s going on in journalism today is quite inspiring. Though there is a deadening way in which it is sometimes discussed by people who – to paraphrase Oscar Wilde – know the valuation of everything and the value of nothing.

Let me talk about money in a little bit. But first I’d like to talk about values.

The Manchester Guardian was founded in 1821 by a man called John Edward Taylor, who had been present in St Peters Field Manchester two years earlier when mounted cavalry rode into a peaceful protest killing 15 and injuring up to 700.

Taylor got an account of the massacre onto the overnight train to London. The true version of events thus got ahead of the official narrative, which was bound to be untrue. It was, by some accounts, the birth of the reporter in English public life.

Taylor decided to try a start-up – a newspaper. He crowdsourced the money – around £1,000 from 10 individuals. Exciting new technologies were transforming the business of news. Steam-driven presses meant that, within seven years of the Guardian’s launch, we could print 1,500 copies an hour – up from 200 when printed manually.

Some years later Taylor appointed his 25 year old nephew, CP Scott, as editor. Scott was in charge for the next 57 years and, by the time he died in 1932 he both owned and edited the paper.

The Scott family then did something remarkable – they gave it away. Lord Beaverbrook was amongst the willing buyers. The Scott family could have been extremely rich. But they regarded the Guardian’s journalism as a moral force in society rather than something that could be IPO’d to make a quick killing.

The Scott family instead created a Trust to keep the Guardian going in perpetuity. There is still a Scott on the Trust. Each editor – and there have only been 10 since 1821 – is told only one thing: to edit the Guardian “as heretofore.” Values, not valuation.

What does “as heretofore” mean? It obviously doesn’t mean keep publishing a daily printed newspaper out of Manchester. The shape and medium can change, so long as the values remain. Today we are visited by 100m browsers a month from around the world – people all over the planet in search of words, data, pictures, videos… and wanting to contribute and respond; to debate the issues with fellow readers.

So, as editor for the past 19 and a bit years, I have done my best to reinterpret what the Guardian is; what it stands for.

And while, sometimes, it feels as if everything about the job is changing – at other times it feels exactly the same.

In April 2009 there was a protest in London not dissimilar to the protest in St Peters Field 190 years earlier. An innocent man, Ian Tomlinson, died after being struck from behind by a policeman.

But that was not the official story. Just as the magistrates‘ account of the massacre in 1819 was a lie – so the official version of how Ian Tomlinson died was also untrue. It took a solitary reporter, Paul Lewis, to uncover the truth. Partly by old fashioned reporting. Partly by crowdsourcing the story.

The crucial evidence of how Tomlinson in fact died was revealed by an American investment banker who read the Guardian online and found that he had captured the assault on video. The banker was, that day, a kind of reporter.

What Paul Lewis – and our banker/reporter – were doing with that story was standing aside from power and scrutinising it. All forms of power will always need scrutiny. We all know that. The world will always need reporters – in whatever shape or form.

The job of scrutinising power is rarely comfortable – for either side (and, usually, each believes the other to be Goliath). In all the big stories for which the Guardian has recently attracted attention – Tomlinson, Wikileaks, phone hacking, undercover policing, rendition and torture, tax avoidance, Edward Snowden – we have been attacked, our motives questioned, our legal teams besieged, our editorial staff summoned to parliament to explain ourselves, or the police called in.

Our computer equipment smashed up on the orders of the state – because they felt there had been “enough” debate about mass data collection and surveillance. The threat that our reporting would simply be closed down. S demand we prove our patriotism.

Standing up to intense political and legal pressure – defending and enabling reporting – requires resources and resilience. So, in addition to reporters, the world will always need robust institutions as well as brilliant individuals.

[There, I am the second editor in a week to make a commencement speech mentioning resilience.]

Now there have been times in the Guardian’s history when it happened that the business model of the time comfortably supported that idea of serious journalism as something that was necessary. A form of public service – and a profitable one.

But the news business has always been cyclical and the Scott family and their successors were wise enough to build up and run other businesses that would sustain the Guardian in the down cycles. For a long time the Manchester Evening News’s classified advertising income came to the periodic rescue. That, too, changed – technology, again. But another business – second hand car advertising – successfully managed the transition from one technology and economic model to another. The Guardian Media Group currently has around $1bn in the bank and no debt thanks to that, and other, wise investments.

We will rely on that money to help us think and invest our way through the present cycle; in which, once again, the business model of the Guardian and all other newspapers is changing. The Guardian is not a charity: it has to be a business. But it can be a patient business with a long view. The Manchester paper that became a national paper is now the second largest serious newspaper website in the world. Nobody is sitting on our shoulder wanting quarterly results or demanding double digit returns.

The Guardian has no valuation – because it has no value. It could never be bought or sold. But it does, I think, have values. And those values are strangely clarifying when it comes to thinking about what journalism is becoming, or what kind of journalism is necessary.

The wonderful thing about working with someone like Emily Bell at a place like the Guardian was that we could have conversations that started, right from the outset, from the premise of what was right journalistically.

The crucial decision four or five years ago was not paywall or free. Rather, should we be closed to the world or open? The most interesting question was not – which will make most money? – but how would information work in future? Who would be the interesting voices, the witnesses, the challengers, the scrutineers, the outsiders, the competitors? How would they publish, share and distribute what they created? How could we best be heard? How could we harness all that, be part of it, amplify it, swim with it – use it all to create a better account of the world?

These debate grew out of a shared culture – there was no algorithm that could have helped us. And those conversations helped place journalism in a proper context. My colleagues would, they soon appreciated, never again have a monopoly on information or the way it was distributed. Equally, there were things we did – and were – that were irreplaceable.

At the same time there were numerous others in society who got the “values” bit of the way information could flow and could bring influence to bear. Some of them were engineers. Cue endless debates about whether the editorial people or the engineers hold they key to the future. The winners will surely be the places where both groups work seamlessly together, finding a common language and in mutual respect.

Now, I know most news organisation are not like the Guardian – though, in fairness, our $1bn endowment is less than some of our competitors speculate on a single deal. Nevertheless, some of you will be thinking “It’s all very well for him.”

I understand what you mean. I feel quite extraordinarily lucky that I have spent most of my professional life at the Guardian, owned and backed by a Trust. I hope I have done my bit for the ‘heretofore’, but I am always, always aware that I owe my great slice of fortune to people who could have cashed out, but decided instead to think of what mattered. They thought of other people’s future, not their own present.

And that seems to me the most important thing I could say today – because today is – for you – about the future. It is about a roomful of people who have studied and worked amazingly hard in order to be at this point of departure in their lives. Your futures begin tomorrow.

Of course, some of you will want to go out and make lots of money – this is the point where some parents can relax about the cost of their education to date.

Some of you will find ways of combining money with values.

But how marvellous it would be if a lot of you were primarily seized by the possibility of this moment in journalism to do something of real importance. To be guided by values not valuation.

And, since we’re talking about the future today, I’ll end by mentioning perhaps the ultimate challenge to your generation of about-to-be journalists.

Whether this species has much of a future is – according to the overwhelming majority of scientific opinion – in some doubt. Is there a bigger news story than that? Has any news organisation really lived up to the challenge of making that real for people. Real, in a way that would create the political possibility of working to save the species?

I hope some of you in the room today might be motivated to consider that question. How is it that news – conventionally defined by the people who up to now have had a semi-monopoly on it – has so far failed miserably to articulate, dramatically and repeatedly, the peril we’re in.

In 1921 – to mark the Guardian’s first hundred years – CP Scott, by then in his mid seventies and having edited for more than 40 years – became entranced by the possibilities of the electronic telegraph. In a letter to the American people he was breathlessly excited: “What a change for the world, what a chance for a newspaper.”

I feel the same, confronted by a room of super smart, well trained, about-to-be journalists. What an opportunity you have. What a great thing you’ve decided to do – despite all the gloom mongers moaning about the death of journalism. Journalism isn’t going to die – not a chance, as Jill Abrahamson said of the prospect of removing her Times tattoo this week.

So, ignore the gloomsters and just concentrate on the possibilities that lie in front of you.

Parents in the room. I hope you’re proud of your offspring today for their chosen path. Journalism, however defined, is necessary in any society at any time. The people who go into driven by values and a sense of its importance, what it can achieve, how it can change society, deserve our thanks and our respect.

It is a high form of public service. I wish you all the greatest possible fortune.

I have come in 20 words under JK Rowling.

I do not have her talent, her looks, her money, her brilliance or her magic. But I hope some of what I have said today resonates with some of you. Thank you for listening.

Moving On From Thunderdome

Folks,

Media changes very fast these days and nothing changes faster than digital.

Make a change, then get set in your ways and become reluctant to make other changes and you get left behind.

Today, we are going to be making some changes to our Project Thunderdome activities and go in a new direction.

In the past two years we have learned a tremendous amount from Project Thunderdome much like others that have come before it like our Ben Franklin Project.

We have explored, experimented but more importantly we have learned and have a much higher level of digital skills than we did before. And, best of all, a higher level of confidence in our digital abilities across our entire Company.

Our skills in data journalism, video production, website and mobile developments are all the better for Project Thunderdome.

But what once were fairly isolated skills located in one place are now skills shared by many in our Company. Where once initiatives, like Project Unbolt were led centrally, we now have divisions taking their own Digital First initiatives.

And that means it is time to change again.

Going forward, some of what happens at Thunderdome today will continue; some of what Thunderdome does will be redistributed to our staff in the field to continue and some will be stopped.

Over the coming days and weeks DFM Editor-in-Chief Jim Brady and Project Thunderdome Editor Robyn Tomlin will be putting those changes into effect.

While our Company will continue to invest heavily in digital development, increasingly our focus will be in local where we are the news and information leader in our markets.

Those efforts will total millions in the coming years and will include everything from innovative partnerships like Tout for video and Rumble for mobile to the continued improvement of our digital products.

There a lot of people to thank for Project Thunderdome but I want to single out two in particular.

First is Robyn.

Robyn has invented new hours in the work day to bring our Company to the fore in our digital skills and products. We are all the better for her efforts and her example of endless grace under pressure.

And I want to single out my friend Jim.

As Digital First Media’s Editor-in-Chief, Jim, a recognized digital news leader around the world, agreed to take on the thankless task of leading 75 daily papers and more than 2,000 journalists into the future.

Both have been a big part of Digital First Media’s success.

Jim and Robyn have chosen to move on as a result of these changes.

I can’t thank them enough.

Until next time, John.

Now What?

Presentation to the Online Publishers Association

Miami, January, 23, 2014

NEW_Paton_OPA_2014-1Good morning.

It’s a very strange thing for me to be preaching to the converted as I am doing here today.

I am used to rooms full of print journalists and newspaper executives searching for any flaw in my pro-Digital speech.

Many of them usually hoping that the Internet isn’t going to get to their town and they won’t have to change what they do.

But perhaps – as the digital leaders of your own companies – you will recognize some of the same issues we face.

You will certainly recognize them if you are from an old line legacy business – newspapers, radio or television – and your corporate leadership believes they have a digital strategy because they stuck the suffix – dotcom behind the brand name.

Or created a digital division, put you in charge and then gave you the equivalent of peanuts to run it.

And you will more than recognize the phenomenon of sitting in meetings with the same corporate leaders who starve you for resources and then ask: “Why aren’t we more like Buzzfeed?”

Unfortunately, in the newspaper industry – or any other legacy news media business for that matter – digital, for the most part, still only represents the thin edge of the wedge.

Thin on talent, thin on resources and thin on leadership.

And while much of the corporate brass is too afraid to take the risks you need, it can be even tougher convincing line managers to change.

Once, during a presentation to senior managers a few years ago, I was asked to go back a slide so that a manager could make this point:

“Aha! Right there! I see we don’t have much revenue in social media.” And then a big pause so the room could hear his big finish: “So why do you make us do it?”

I have witnessed several similar “Aha!” moments around video and mobile initiatives as well. I am sure you have too.

How do you deal with that level of stupidity?

In my industry, we have been stupid about this for a very long time.

Have a look at this. It’s a report from a San Francisco TV station in 1981:

NEW_Paton_OPA_2014-2

“We’re not in it to make money,” says the editor.

Well, we got that part right. Nailed it perfectly.

We didn’t expect to make any money and we have lived down to that expectation pretty much ever since.

And despite every part of the business model outlined in that 1981 report – from advertising, to customers, to print sales – is now on fire and burning to the ground, I still get this:

“Print. There’s still a lot of life there.”

Really? Look at this.

NEW_Paton_OPA_2014-3All businesses spend some time looking at the past to try to determine the future.

For newspapers this is a fatal attraction.

Our future isn’t going to look anything like our past.

In the newspaper game, or broadcast television for that matter, if you rely upon the past for your future projections the only thing you are truly determining is the date and time of your demise.

Have a look at this calculation.

There all kinds of apocalyptic calculations out there for the newspaper industry. This is mine. You can all do your own for your own legacy news media industry.

Mine is based on the 2012 performance of three US newspaper companies – the one I run – Digital First Media and two others – about $3B in revenue. A pretty good substitute for the US newspaper industry.

It solves for the percent of dollars in print advertising, digital advertising, subscription revenue and all other revenue plus expenses and, of course, profit.

It then applies the industry average as calculated by the Newspaper Association of America for what happened to print and digital advertising from 2006 (the peak year for US newspaper advertising) to 2012.

NEW_Paton_OPA_2014-4

And this is what it says:

For every $1 of operating profit today:

– If what happened in the past

– Happens in the future

– And we don’t do anything to change that future

It says that $1 of operating profit will turn into $0.56 of loss in 5 years.

That’s what no risk taking will get us.

That’s what relying upon what we knew – our past – will get us when applied to building companies of the future.

Our past won’t buy our future.

But this just doesn’t have to happen.

NEW_Paton_OPA_2014-5

The numbers for 2013 are not in yet so these comps will have to do.

And let me just say, while each of these companies does certain things well, all I am trying to point out here is that doing well in digital and following a digital first strategy means you will do better overall.

My industry doesn’t like this.

Critics, both internal and external, voice concerns that by focusing on digital we are accelerating the death of print advertising.

Look, more than half of all newspaper print advertising has disappeared since 2006 in the US. Print doesn’t need any help from me to continue its relentless decline.

And here’s why our success to date is only a fraction of what we need to do.

NEW_Paton_OPA_2014-6

While it’s great to have profit up 40%-plus over the last three years.

What that actually means is 2012 profit is down almost 60% since 2006 – the peak year for newspaper advertising in America.

That’s how ugly transition looks even when it’s working.

And here’s what happens if we continue this “success” we have been experiencing.

NEW_Paton_OPA_2014-7

Over the next three years if we repeat the successes of the last three years:

-       Our digital revenue goes up again around 87%

-       And digital costs go up again about 73% because mobile, video, digital sales and content don’t come free

-       Then profit will be down 37%.

-       Not up but down.

Why?

Because print is dying much faster than anyone anticipated.

And because the profound changes in digital revenue streams will require huge investments in digital products and people.

We can no longer treat digital as a bolt-on to our strategy and protect the legacy business.

Whatever life there is in print – and, of course, there is some and it must be preserved just as it must also be used to fuel our investments in our digital future.

Too often the focus on print is used as an excuse to maximize profits by not investing in digital. And too often companies are doing just that with the excuse that there isn’t enough profit in digital right now to justify the expenditure.

Just like the last few seconds of that 1981 report.

Are we determined not learn?

NEW_Paton_OPA_2014-8

The past doesn’t buy the future.

The future has to be built.

NEW_Paton_OPA_2014-9

So, now what?

Many, as you know, have just quit.

Lots of newspapers have closed up shop.

That’s not acceptable. Journalism matters. Community journalism is a vital component of any community’s future.

I would much rather we pick ourselves up off the mat and start swinging again

Because the prize – journalism – is worth the fight.

And there is a lot we can do to win this thing if we are willing to take the necessary risks.

We have to at least put as much energy into that fight to change as we do emailing Romensko about every layoff, no matter how small, at every news outlet across the country.

NEW_Paton_OPA_2014-10

If legacy news media wants to win this fight and successfully transition to a more vital future then in my part of it -  newspapers – we need to start with this:

Acknowledge Print is dying.

Accept it and plan for it.

News isn’t dying. Newsrooms are not dying. Just Print.

And if we acknowledge that fact rather than putting an effort into ridiculous press releases about how there’s still life in the old girl yet we can start to plan and invest for our future.

A future for news coverage.

A future for newsrooms that are vital.

But also for newsrooms of the future not just our present newsrooms dragged kicking and screaming into the future.

Because there is a big difference between the two.

There is certainly a financial imperative to do so.

Most of our organizations are not equipped well enough or are planning nearly enough and few, if any, are investing enough to build what our customers want.

And that is not only bad business it is just plain dumb.

NEW_Paton_OPA_2014-11

My company is closing in on $200 million in digital ad revenues – less than 20% of that revenue is from mobile, video, SEO and programmatic.

Our plans call for us to double that by 2015.

But by 2015, those same categories will represent more than half of our digital ad revenue. Banner advertising will only be about 15%.

Our past experiences and our legacy cost structure just won’t buy that future.

We will have to build it.

And that means building the digital products in content and sales to get there.

And, yes, continuing to cut those costs we used to have because we can now only invest in what will get us to where we need to go.

NEW_Paton_OPA_2014-12

At our company that means spending up to a further additional $100M annually in digital within three years.

That’s a $100M more than the already $100M-plus we are already spending.

Transformation isn’t free.

It costs.

And if you want to survive you have to take the risk and invest.

For us, that means building products like Ad Taxi – our audience extension and programmatic network play.

Or investing in the new data team and editorial team at our Project Thunderdome – a multi-million dollar digital initiative which barely existed 18 months ago.

Or investing in our partnership with OwnLocal that allows our company to offer local advertisers digital solutions way beyond banner ads.

Or in our partnership with Tout – a fantastic tool where video meets social and mobile. And buying the more than 1,250 iPhones we issued to front-line journalists to allow them to use Tout.

It all costs money

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And you have to take action.

While we have created many projects at Digital First Media to help us change.

I most excited by the latest. Led by Jim Brady our Editor-in-Chief and Steve Buttry who has a title I can’t remember but is probably best thought of as our newsrooms’ Educator-in-Chief, we are going to start the process to unbolt our newsrooms from print.

Starting with some test sites we will work through every process, every workflow step of what makes a digital newsroom digital and make that the very core of what we do.

And I hope this process moves us away from our focus on multi-platform content and gets us focused on story telling.

I hate that word content. It’s like saying cargo. Well, there are all kinds of cargo all with different value.

We don’t do content we do journalism and our cargo is precious.

And yes we won’t forget print but when we are finished this process it will be the bolt on to digital and not the other way around.

The newsroom of the future is not the current one dragged into it. It is going to be re-built from the ground up.

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And like any other transformation initiative the money has to come from somewhere.

And the somewhere has to be from the legacy side of the business because our industry can no longer afford to do both.

News executives now have to choose.

They have to ask themselves if they are preserving the past or building the future?

And they must demand the same of their corporate leadership.

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The road to the future can be built.

We have shown that. So have others.

For all of you digital leaders in the audience today you now have to hold your corporate leadership to account just as they do you.

You must demand that their efforts are focused on building the future.

Demand change of your bosses.

Demand the resources you need to change.

And if you don’t see the commitment to change you need and the resources it takes to get there.

And if you don’t see the kinds of tough decisions to cut expenses in what is not growing – such as print – and increased spending in what is growing – digital – then quit.

Get out and find another job because your company is surely dying.

Let me just end by saying, despite our stumbles in our past, I have great faith in our ability to build our future.

I have faith that every year brings a new crop of journalists who bring fresh ideas and new determination to succeed.

And I rely upon the determination, dedication and skill of the older hands like Brady, Buttry and our new Chief Operating Officer Steve Rossi to bring their experience to bear on our challenges and to best them.

And I know I can rely upon them to hold me to account.

Because the only way we win this thing is to do it together.

Thank you.

I would be pleased to answer any questions you may have.

The First Step On The Rest of the Journey

Sometimes a press release just isn’t enough to say what has happened.

Or can do justice on how important this new development truly is to our company.

That’s the case with today’s announcement that MediaNews Group and 21st Century Media (formerly the Journal Register Company) are merging.

What started as a transformation journey at 21st Century in January of 2010 for what became the Digital First Media leadership team is just about complete.

Now under Digital First Management, we will have a single local media powerhouse with 67 million customers coupled with a stand-alone, innovative digital division, Digital First Ventures, and its rapidly growing portfolio of partnerships.

In the past four years, we spun out a lot of our real estate into a separate company and shed many printing plants as we concentrated on the future and what we do best and link to the rest.

The soon-to-be-merged media company (we expect the deal to close in the next 30 days) will this year make more EBITDA than the combined companies did four years ago but it has been one very bumpy road. Very bumpy.

More importantly, we proved you can teach an old dog new tricks and what was a trickle of digital ad revenue four years ago is expected be more than $180 million by the end of this year. Some of that huge gain has been driven by innovative start-ups like our AdTaxi product now operating in four countries

None of this could have been achieved without you the employees who worked through so many difficult initiatives so we could have this moment – the first step on the rest of the journey.

Until next time,

John.

The Subscription Project – An Update

Back in February, I wrote about the various paid digital subscription projects underway at Digital First Media.

Some of our newspapers had what has become known as a traditional paywall.

Others, experimented with finding other forms of “payment” such as asking users to fill out online Google Consumer Surveys as a way of continuing to use the site.

Most of our newspapers – 75 dailies in total – had unfettered access to their online sites.

The transformational journey from print to digital is a long one. And it is all uphill.

It’s a journey made all the more difficult when you carry the extra tonnage of newspaper companies whose cost structures were more than a century in the making and now need to be radically rebuilt – by yesterday.

Print dollars are becoming digital dimes. But costs are still in dollars and, like most newspaper companies, we are radically reducing those costs.

The future for most news media companies lies in selling a variety of multi-platform products and services to advertisers and marketers.

Marketing dollars in all forms are moving into digital. With a foot in both the past and future, companies like Digital First Media have to manage the decline of one medium while building for – and in some cases, waiting for – the new revenue streams to grow.

At DFM, the team has excelled at stacking digital dimes. From 2012 (our last full year) vs. 2009, digital advertising has grown more than 89 percent. Our comparators don’t come close.

Our digital advertising products – such as AdTaxi – are now used not just by us but by media companies around the world. And, through Digital First Ventures, we are partnering with some of the most innovative digital people in the world.

But we need more gas in the tank if we are going to complete this journey of print-to-digital transformation.

Back in February, I said I’d report back on subscription revenue.

Our experiment with Google Consumer Surveys, while initially a success, gradually fell off in its effectiveness and reduced our online traffic growth wherever the surveys were in place.

Our newspapers, which had basic, traditional paywalls, while initially reducing online traffic which slowly grew back, failed to generate any kind of significant revenue.

After a lot research by our team, we believe an All-Access print-digital subscription initiative is necessary to buy us that proverbial gas in the tank.
With the rise of digital and the fall of print, we’re at the point where we can launch a working All-Access subscription model.

Let’s be clear, paid digital subscriptions are not a long-term strategy. They don’t transform anything; they tweak. At best, they are a short-term tactic. I have said that often enough in the past.

But it’s a tactic that will help us now.

We will expand the meters from the approximately 23 MediaNews Group dailies that already had them when Digital First Media took over operating control of MNG two years ago to an All-Access program for all 75 dailies run by DFM.

We are also going to be offering more to the consumer.

While each market will be different, all of our dailies have just completed an upgrade to their websites. Earlier, we rolled out new and improved apps for tablets and smartphones.

There will also be changes in our products. Again, those offering will be different by market.

For example, in our Bay Area News Group new consumer-focused content offerings will include Sunday’s Eat. Drink. Play. section along with Real Estate Plus and Drive.

Just as before, we will report back on how all of this turns out.

In the past few years, if there is anything I have learned there is no single solution to the print-digital transformation.

You clearly have to be focused on digital, put digital first and heavily invest in your digital future – products, people, tools and training.

An All-Access subscription strategy is another of the many tactics needed on this necessary journey of transformation.

And, to be sure, we are going to do whatever it takes to make that transformation happen.