Without Change There Is No News

On February 1, 2010 I took up the post of Chief Executive Officer of The Journal Register Company.

I had been recruited to the  board of directors in August 2009  after the Company had successfully exited Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings. The Journal Register Company, a bloated amalgamation of multiple acquisitions and badly run assets with almost no investment in new media platforms,  had become a poster child for what ails the newspaper industry.

Journal Register Company counts its newspaper and online products in the hundreds, its employees in the thousands and its revenue in the hundreds of millions.  And it is profitable.

Its core mission – journalism – is enshrined in the Constitution.  At least one of its products can trace its lineage to one founding father – Benjamin Franklin. Another product was around early enough to have published George Washington’s obituary. But none of  that storied history or its hundreds of millions in revenues will guarantee JRC a future unless it transforms itself from a newspaper company to a true multi-platform news and information company.

I am a career newspaper man. This blog will be my account of how we, the employees of Journal Register Company, make the neccessary changes to ensure our Company’s future. By sharing publicly our actions I hope we can spark true debate in our Company on what we are doing right and wrong and extend that debate to include the public and the newspaper industry at large.

This will be a true Company-wide effort. One of my first acts was to announce the establishment of a profit-sharing plan for all employees. If the Company wins, the Employees win. We will all win.

We have already issued Flip video cameras to all of our reporters as a symbol of our new commitment to multiple platforms and the necessary investments in technology and training to bring our Company into the future. We might be the first newspaper company anywhere to have issued Flip cameras to all reporters. All publishers, editors and sales directors have been given copies of Jeff Jarvis’ book What Would Google Do? Our Company and the newspaper industry have to start thinking differentlyabout  how we conduct business. In the next few weeks we will announce the members of an Advisory Board. Their job will be to push us hard on our thinking and help us craft new ideas.

The newspaper industry can be a closed shop. This blog will be one of our examples, along with the Advisory Board and other efforts, to bring the outside in to the Journal Register Company. I urge all who are interested to follow what we do and comment. Below you will find my first address to the Company employees. Please read and tell me what you think.

John Paton Address To Journal Register Company Employees:

Saturday, 06 February 2010
 Folks,For the last four days, which are my first four days on the job as CEO, I have spoke and met with, in small groups and in one-on-one meetings, to about 100 of our 3,100 fellow employees.  At a group session of our publishers along with some advertising directors and editors I addressed the change I believe must happen to transform our newspaper company into a true multi-media company committed to providing the communities we serve with the very best local journalism.I think accountability journalism is threatened in this country as newspapers struggle to find their way to a profitable future. And I think that threatens this country because we provide some of the key checks and balances in our communities. What we do is important and what we do is worth saving. And that means we have to change.

For all of the challenges we face I also believe these are some of the most exciting times to be in the business of local journalism.

New technologies and seismic developments such as social media are, if we are an open and questing company, allowing us to experiment in ways to truly participate with the audience. By opening ourselves up to ideas and partnerships within our communities and those companies that are harnessing technology to both create and distribute information, we can participate with the audience in ways we have never done before. And we can become better providers of local journalism.

And that is our goal – to become better providers of accountability local journalism that informs and provides for our communities the fuel to debate matters of importance. That doesn’t mean we are going to forget to have fun or bask in the glory of a local team winning the State championship but it does mean we will make accountability journalism and serving the community the focus of everything we do.

The following slides, presented at my meeting with our publishers and editors, outline some of my thoughts on how we become that company.

Already, we have taken steps to make the necessary changes. On Monday, we announced:

- We will have Flip HD video cameras in the hands of every one of our reporters within 30 days. The first 50 went out on Monday.

- Upgrade and enhance our I.T. infrastructure so that our employees can fully participate in the new news ecology

- The establishment of Community Journalism Media Labs initially in 6 of our communities. We are going to bring the outside world in to our company and work with entrepreneurial journalists. We will establish both content and sales arrangements with these local entrepreneurs to increase our coverage, audience and sales to our mutual benefit.

We also announced we are establishing an Advisory Board to help us think better about the challenges facing journalists. We will work with the Advisory Board  to identify the necessary experiments we will need to try to better participate with the audience in the creation and consumption of local news.

If we do this right we will become a company of ideas where all employees and our communities debate what’s best for our future. And preserve our cherished role of providing checks and balances.

And because I believe if we do this right we will become a much more vibrant and profitable company with a dynamic future, I want to make sure all employees share in that future. To that end, we announced on Tuesday the establishment of a profit sharing plan for all employees.

If the company wins our employees win. We will all win.

It is my hope this presentation is just the first step in a dialogue not only with you but also with our communities and those in the wider media world who also care that we find a way to preserve and enhance the future of accountability journalism.

So please have a read and tell me what you think. I can be reached at jpaton@journalregister.com

View the Powerpoint presentation here

I look forward to hearing from you.

John 

35 thoughts on “Without Change There Is No News

  1. This is the first time in a long time that I feel hope. I almost forgot what that felt like. I know many of us are jaded and fed up with the way things have been and are energized by the concept of what the future can hold for us. Being in newspapers and magazines is a calling, a desire to bring something important to the world. Maybe with new ideas – generated by people who are actually hip-deep in this profession – we can stop compaining and start leaving our mark on the world.

  2. I love the energy coming out of the Journal Register Company – there seems to be a renewed sense of belief and enthusiasm. It’s important to couple that innovation, both in terms of technology as well as business model experimentation.

    I look forward to see what you guys have in store – and telling the story through this blog is a fantastic first step. Wishing everyone there the best of luck!

  3. “This is the first time in a long time that I feel hope.” Wow, that says everything. Daniel Keys quoted from above.

    I am so excited what the future holds. We all know how hard Journal Register employees work. I have never worked with such hard working, creative, talented people. John, your visit to our office meant the world to us. No other CEO has ever taken the time to meet us. We will not disappoint you!

  4. Pingback: ‘What Would Google Do’ with my old steeltown newspaper in Lorain, Ohio? Here’s what I’d do, anyway | The Solomon Scandals

  5. Mr. Paton – Changing the name would be great. JRC’s name is mud in the newspaper industry and beyond. A new name would signal a new start, which is obviously what’s happening under your leadership. Let’s put the bad, old days behind us.

  6. John:
    A name change would definitely benefit us – why?

    1. Removes the old stigma / negative association which can be a stumbling block in
    recruiting the best talent.

    2. There is a psychological and emotional aspect on the part of employees that perhaps would change. When they hear “JRC”, they think of what they lost in benefits when the acquisition occurred, wage freezes, etc. The connotation is normally negative.

    3. A new name would further emphasize the “new beginning” of the corporation.
    New media, new culture, new attitudes, etc.

    Suggestions on name changes:
    Something with the word “interactive, collective, communal, or connected”.
    JR Interactive
    Connected Media Group

    Bob Butkins
    NVO

  7. The two names I would suggest to replace the Journal Register name would either be ….The Journal Republic Newspaper Group Inc. or The Journal Vanguard Newspaper Group Inc. I dont believe we should abandon the past totally however it is time to move on. Both are strong names that would capture the past and present.

  8. Hi John my name is Roberta Surette I have been with the New Haven Register 48 years come this September 4th, what do you think of this name “The New Journal Millennium/Media Resources”? I will love to hear from you on your input of this name thank you Roberta

  9. John,

    I also have a new, refreshed feeling about JRC. I started here just over a year ago, and this is the first that I have seen employees start to have a different outlook on “work life”.
    How about the name “The New Horizon”

  10. We absolutely should take advantage of this opportunity to rebrand ourselves both for public perception in our markets and for the continued upswing in employee morale. We have been promised change before. You Mr. Paton are turning people into believers! Most of the folks I have spoken with here in the upper part of the “mitten” agree.

  11. John:

    My apologies for not responding sooner, the debate here in New Haven seems spirited so I would hope you hear from a lot of individuals.

    Myself, I feel strongly that a name change would be healthy and refreshing. Maybe not a complete name change but revamping the current name to better express our new direction.

    Several companies emerging from a successful Chapter 11 have done the same.

    More importantly maybe a rebranding of the clusters into media groups.

    I think it would be helpful if our customers recognized us as a more powerful advertising resource like the “Connecticut Media Group” rather than our individual newspapers, web sites and magazines.

    Regards,
    Richard Stoll

  12. To: John Paton
    From: John Slater

    Re: Name Change: Change it.

    Prior to working at JRC, I would hear draconian stories passed around by others in local media. Most of the comments were spun around on recitations of stories about the brutal treatment of staff my upper management. I was not there at the time, so I never experienced it first hand. However, in my 2.5 years at JCR I have experiences remnants of that modus operandi. That’s one good reason to change the name.

    At the time of an anticipated name change, it might be helpful to launch a company-wide, customer service re-orientation program. This, in addition, to the improvements you have already begun to the area of employee hope, faith and moral, etc.

    If I were building this company from scratch today, I would find a name that would communicate the digital growth grow, fused with a branding that projected a national reach and the fourth estate.

    Examples: American Multimedia News; National News Multimedia Corp., or American Community Multimedia Corp.

    John, let’s change the name, but make the name solid.

    Sincerely;

    John Slater

    • To: John Paton
      From: John Slater

      Re: Name Change: Change it.

      Prior to working at JRC, I would hear draconian stories passed around by others in local media. Most of the comments were spun around on recitations of stories about the brutal treatment of staff by upper management. I was not there at the time, so I never experienced it first hand. However, in my 2.5 years at JCR I have experiences remnants of that modus operandi. That’s one good reason to change.

      At the time of an anticipated name change, it might be helpful to launch a company-wide, customer service re-orientation program. This, in addition, to the improvements you have already begun to the area of employee hope, faith and moral, etc.

      If I were building this company from scratch today, I would find a name that would communicate the digital growth, fused with a branding that projected a national reach and the fourth estate.

      Examples: American Multimedia News; National News Multimedia Corp., or American Community Multimedia Corp.

      John, let’s change the name, but make the names solid.

      Sincerely;

      John Slater

  13. Hi John,

    I’m a graphic artist in the Mt. Pleasant, Michigan office. While I have tons of ideas, I’ve been a little hesitant to write. I’m one of those people who has been around a long time and has been lead to believe one thing when another is true way too many times.

    After talking with Rick Mills when he came back from your editorial meeting, he told me that I had nothing to fear. You are the real deal and I’m very very excited for that. I hope to have a very long and productive career with this company.

    I had to snicker just a little when I received your email – it was a bit of deja vu.

    The Friday before we received your email, I had a very similar conversation with Tony Sapienza, Online Sales. Instead of MichiganNewspapers,com it would be nice if our emails were to MichiganMedia.com or MidMichMedia.com. I believe it represents our company better to day and, most importantly, where we’re going in the future. Along that same line I don’t think we should be Morning Star Publishing Company but Morning Star Media.

    To me Journal Register sounds like a solid newspaper organization that’s been around for awhile. And, today we’re moving towards being more solid, but we’re so much more than a newspaper. Journal Register has gone through a lot of bad times and has gotten a bit of a bad reputation. With your new outlook and new direction I feel we are on our way to becoming everyone’s go-to source for all the news that’s fit to print, see, experience and more. I am very excited to be a part of that and I think we deserve a new name too. One that people will look up to with respect and integrity.

    I look forward to meeting you soon,
    Janet Sowle

  14. John:
    I agree with a name change. Journal Register Company has had a poor reputation based on the styles of management long gone. I’ve had first hand difficulty attracting talent willing to accept a “promise of change” rather than word of mouth or very dated message boards even in the pre-bankruptcy days.

    Our customers, for the most part, are familiar with the publication names but rarely recognize Journal Register the parent company. A name change would be consitent with our internal changes and new direction and hopefully create a new positive environment for all.

    As you field suggested names, please keep in mind that we’ll need to check the name availability as well as related web addresses. One name we already own is JRC Media, Inc. which might serve for a smoother transition.

    Regards,
    Gary Struening

  15. What’s in a name?

    1) First Multi Media
    2) Multi Social Media
    3) Journal Media East
    4) Empowered Multi Media
    5) Multi Media First

  16. John –
    First, I am very excited about the fact that our CEO is asking for employee input. It’s great to be in an environment where this type of interaction and inclusion from top level management exists.

    If we change the name, it should be to better depict how we are moving forward, how we are going to be a better resource for our readers, our communities and our advertisers. We should not change it if it’s because of the negativity associated with the old JRC and poor reputation. Instead we should be proud of the hardwork that has gone into coming out of bankruptcy, implementing new programs and ideas so quickly and changing our company into an organization that we can all be proud and enjoy coming to work at every day. I like the suggestion of John Slater’s of making it ‘solid’. Journal Register Multimedia, JRC Interactive Media are two good suggestions…

  17. John-
    I think that renaming the company would be a great idea. In addition, our current print products should “advertise” the multimedia services that we offer. Currently, there is very little promotion of these products in print and this makes it more difficult to sell to customers who are “set in their old ways.”

  18. What’s in a name? I am a part of a very large church that just launched a new name change. It brought the church into the 21st century with relevance. I think it would do the same for us. In a world of ever changing ways of communication, we always need be leaders instead of followers.

  19. I am excited about all the new advertising tools that we now have. Thank you. At first I was hesitant, old school you could say, but I believe that if I can do it, our customers should be able to trust my judgement with their business investments and try these new tools.
    Also, the name. I would like to see it changed. I cringe when I hear the words “Journal Register Co.”, from taking away 401K, raises, along with loss of employees, and past due bills with some of my accounts.

  20. Hi again,
    I accidently hit the submit by mistake.

    I did think of a new name for the company.
    “Multi Media – The Next Generation”
    Thanks again and keep up the great ideas.
    I really appreciate all you have done to bring our company back.

  21. I beliveve that we should change the name, but that should also mean we should let the world know who we are and what papers belong to our group, whatever the name is. We send out bills with the 21st Century Newspapers name on it, answer phones Shared Financial Services, have customers send payment to many different lockbox addresses.We should advertise and put our new name out there over and over, so people will know who we are and what we mean to Michigan and each state we do business in.I am so glad for your positive attitude. Thanks!

  22. John,

    The Ben Franklin Project is a program that The News-Herald could tackle successfully. We work well as a team and are strongly committed to conveying news and information through our Web site and other social media. Please consider us to help lead the way on this project.

  23. Hi John:

    I would like to know how this article can end up on the front page. This ran in the Macomb Daily on Saturday, April 10.

    http://de.macombdaily.com/daily/Skins/MDDigital/navigator.asp?SKIN=MDDigital&CSAuthResp=1271166240008%3A0%3Aperiod%7Caccess%7Cuserid%3Asuccess%3A98E46C7658DB718DC6D859069012DE15&period=daily&access=standard&userid=10507&BP=OK

    I scratched my head when I saw it. How could this land on A-1, or as the say in Macomb, 1-A?

    Nick Zbiciak
    The Oakland Press

  24. John: I am not sure where this suggestion should be entered so I am adding it here. From my personal experience with the Local Town Lawyers program I would like to make a suggestion. First of all I do think the mechanics of the online/print integration with themed video page and in print directory is a good way to organize niche content/advertisers. But if JRC could build program mechanics and offer it to the local market to use I think that locally we could use a program mechanism like this more successfully. The program mechanism then can be used for a specialized local content/advertiser theme. The local property can then determine which market segment that program mechanism has the most potential to deliver. Locally we then could determine how to price the components based on a bottom line cost per component that corporate would provide. The local property could determine the program flight and other local market sensitive elements. For example I would explore using the program mechanics of the Lawyers program to create a content/advertiser program for antique dealers. Offering them a four season video package (1-4 videos) on the “Connecticut and the Berkshires Antique Dealers” page with an in print “NW CT and the Berkshires” directory in our newspapers. I would have the participating dealers ride-along on the promotional advertising online on a rotation basis and offer “New Items Have Arrived” additional videos to them as an add-on. Other local markets could target a similar niche that is hot in their local market. I hope going forward that the local market will have more flexibility in using a program mechanism like the Lawyers. The program mechanism is a good idea but it needs to find the right niche in the local market to be successful. To have the program mechanism provided by corporate is what the local market needs but how to implement it is something that the local market should be totally involved in. Thanks for listening. – Bernie

  25. Pingback: Something old on something new « News: From the Field

  26. Pingback: To change an organization, focus on action, not the org chart « Pursuing the Complete Community Connection

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