DIGITAL FIRST MEDIA CEO John Paton addressed the Canadian Journalism Foundation in Toronto on Feb. 16.
From Digital First, Feb. 18, 2012:
And now, like many of you, I am struggling hard to teach this old dog new tricks.
Struggling to accept that much of what we know is no longer valid.
And trying to come to grips with the fact that crappy newspaper executives are a bigger threat to journalism’s future than any changes wrought by the Internet.
The Journal Register Company – the Company I took over two years ago – and, more recently, MediaNews Group –which we now both run under Digital First Media – could be the poster kids for what ails the US newspaper industry.
We count our products in the hundreds.
Our employees in the thousands – ten thousand actually.
Our audience in the millions – 57 million actually.
And our revenues are counted in the “Bs” as in billions.
And, it is profitable. With better margins than an average Dow Jones listed company.
We have titles pre-dating the American Revolution and can stretch our lineage back to at least one predecessor title co-founded by Benjamin Franklin. Well, just about stretch if we stand on a high stool.
Another title was around to publish George Washington’s obit.
And our core mission is enshrined in the nation’s Constitution.
And none of the above will save it or other companies like it – unless we and our industry profoundly change how we do business.
Because change we must.
And if we are going to change we are also going to have to admit that the Print model is broken. Don’t believe me – then read any of the newspaper company Chapter 11 filings in the United States or Clay Shirky.
If you haven’t read Shirky’s essay Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable and you are in the newspaper business then brother let me tell you – you are not paying enough attention.
His message is simple:
“If the old model is broken, what will work in its place? The answer is nothing. Nothing will work. There is no general model for newspapers to replace the one the Internet just broke.”
And his message is clear:
You don’t tinker or tweak a broken model. You start again anew. And I would add build upon our foundations.
To do this you have to let go of those things we once held true. Like:
- We are the gatekeepers of information.
- That we are the agenda setters and that we decide what news is and what is not.
- And that we keep the Outside world outside and only let in the chosen few – people like us.
So, if we can admit the Print model is broken what else must we recognize isn’t working anymore.
I think it is this:
As career journalists we have entered a new era where what we know and what we traditionally do has finally found its value in the marketplace and that value is about zero.
Our traditional journalism models and our journalistic efforts are inefficient and up against the Crowd – armed with mobile devices and internet connections – incomplete.
Our response to date as an industry has been as equally inefficient and in many cases emotional.
“You’re gonna miss us when we’re gone” is not much of a business model.