Tag Archives: John Paton

Newspaper Ends “Horrible Experiment” With Offshore Customer Service

20 Nov

WHAT MAKES THIS extra interesting is that this is a Journal Register Co. paper. Be sure to read the comments on the Facebook page where the news was originally announced.

From jimromenesko.com: “Michigan Newspaper Ends ‘Horrible Experiment’ With Offshore Customer Service,” Nov. 20, 2012.

For about two years now, Mount Pleasant (Mich.) Morning Sun readers with delivery complaints have been sent to a call center in the Dominican Republic — and often not getting satisfactory results.

“Language barrier was a huge problem,” editor Rick Mills tells me in an email.

>snip<

Mills credits Journal Register CEO John Paton for trying the outsourcing, seeing that it didn’t work, and then going back to the old way.

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And bear in mind that outsourcing and layoffs were written into the contract recently ratified by the Non-Newsroom Unit. From a July 27 post:

In order to reach agreement on the full contract, The Post continues to insist that any agreement must include the amount of savings from the circulation call centers that they can achieve by sending that work to Honduras. After months of trying to negotiate an agreement that would keep the call center work at the Post, but reduce costs enough to be competitive with a Central American call center, it has become clear that the math just will not work. So the union presented a proposal accepting the outsourcing of the call center work in exchange for additional compensation and benefits for those who will be displaced but will continue working until their job is eliminated, increased compensation for call center employees who are retained and a timeline for the transition of work to Honduras. Most of the details have been tentatively agreed to. The timeline and a few benefits issues are not yet resolved.

The outsourcing likely will result in the elimination of more than 30 local call center employees’ jobs, leaving two full-time employees and five part-time employees.

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Journal Register Likely to Reduce Print at Some Papers

20 Sep

Rick Edmonds on Poynter: “Journal Register likely to reduce print to three days a week at some papers,” Sept. 20, 2012.

 The new slimmed-down Journal Register company, being pieced together in a bankruptcy proceeding, is likely to reduce print frequency at several of its 20 dailies.

“I would consider and am considering a reduction in print frequency in some markets — (which ones) to be determined,” CEO John Paton wrote me in an e-mail interview earlier this week. “I think it makes sense to think about the frequency of print as print revenues decline and digital revenues increase.”

>snip<

Paton declined to discuss what miscalculations in a bankruptcy plan three years ago, under different management, left the company with too much debt to carry again so soon. He also said it would be wrong to assume the same issues are creating an equal financial problem at MediaNews Group, the much larger chain controlled by Alden and managed by Paton’s Digital First company for just over a year.

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Los Links: More on Journal Register’s Bankruptcy

7 Sep

For your reading pleasure, more stories in the wake of Journal Register Company’s bankruptcy announcement.

In Denver Post & MediaNews Group: Fallout from partner Journal Register Company bankruptcy? Westword’s Michael Roberts reports that, according to “an insider,” there was some dissension in the ranks once the bloom was off the Digital First rose:

By summertime, however, our source reported grumbling over what was perceived as top-heaviness at Digital First Media, with new senior executive hires during a time of layoffs at MediaNews Group papers around the country. The fear: MediaNews Group was being used as a cash cow to build up DFM. Our source also noted tension between MediaNews Group types and folks imported by Paton, many of them with Journal Register Company roots.

GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram writes in Newspaper restructuring — think steel, cars and airlines, the newspaper industry’s transformation will need to be measured in decades:

If there is a poster child for the “digital first” newspaper movement, it is probably Journal Register Co., which manages a chain of dailies and weeklies in the eastern U.S. John Paton took the helm as CEO after it emerged from bankruptcy in 2009, and implemented a wide range of digital-first moves — and yet parent company Digital First Media just announced that Journal Register Co. is filing for bankruptcy for a second time. The not-so-hidden message in all this is that despite all the pain of the last few years, the restructuring of newspapers isn’t even close to being over: as we’ve seen with the large structural changes in the steel industry, car makers and the airline market, transforming an industry with massive legacy costs is a long and bloody process. What emerges at the end remains to be seen.

In Journal Register, future-of-news star, is bankrupt again, Ryan Chittum writes for the Columbia Journalism Review that the numbers John Paton mentioned in his announcement are meaningless without some context:

The reason we don’t know more about the numbers is that JRC, as a closely held company, releases financial information only selectively—in sharp contrast to its “open journalism” philosophy.

>snip<

Paton, for instance, has repeatedly said digital revenues at JRC were up some large percentage since he took over. He does so again in his bankruptcy note. Yes, but from what to what? Those are big numbers all right, but 235 percent of not much is still not that much, and its worth noting that JRC’s digital revenues were far below industry average when Paton took over. It’s much easier to grow fast off a low base, and Paton has used the company’s privately held status to cherry pick positive numbers without having to paint a full picture—one that definitely didn’t include an imminent bankruptcy.

A former Journal Register employee wrote a letter about the bankruptcy announcement that is posted on Romenesko:

From RACHEL JACKSON, former Journal Register employee: The [Journal Register] Chapter 11/sale announcement does not surprise me in the least – and the employee you quoted as calling this “horseshit” is exactly right.

Lastly, in the wake of the bankruptcy announcement there has been some grumbling (perhaps it’s contagious) about the fact that Project Thunderdome is located in Manhattan rather than, say, Willoughby, Ohio, where real estate costs are presumably less. Jim Brady explains the reasoning in a piece by Adrienne LaFrance for Nieman Journalism Lab, Why does Project Thunderdome have to be in New York City?

“You want to be in a position to get the best possible people you can,” Brady said. “I’d love to get in an argument with anybody who says there isn’t a lot of journalistic talent in New York City.”

Carry on.

Is Alden Global Capital Souring on Newspapers?

6 Sep

From a piece by Martin Langeveld at Nieman Journalism Lab: Journal Register’s bankruptcy is strategic, all right — but for whom?

In an in-depth analysis of the possible implications of Journal Register Company’s bankruptcy filing, Langeveld writes that while Alden Global Capital’s initial strategy seemed to be one of consolidation, the hedge fund might have changed its mind — it has shed around half of its newspaper holdings in the past year.

Last year in July, I estimated Alden’s total media investments to be about $750 million. Today, after the various sales and counting JRC’s value as zero, those holdings are probably down to about $300 million, and it seems clear that Alden would just as soon get out completely — at least from newspapers.

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Project Thunderdome: Coming To A Theater Near You

23 Mar

A LONE NEWS-GATHERING ORGANIZATION SEARCHING FOR A NEW BUSINESS MODEL ... A TRIBE OF LOST PUBLISHERS WAITING FOR A HERO ... IN AN INDUSTRY BATTLING TO SURVIVE, THEY FACE ADVERTISERS DETERMINED TO STRAY.
HOLD OUT FOR JOHN PATON. THIS IS HIS GREATEST ADVENTURE.

 
AS PROJECT THUNDERDOME moves closer to becoming a reality, let’s take a look at it. Always a good place to start:

WHAT IS IT?

In a nutshell, it’s centralizing production of non-local content. In a post titled News Media’s New Role As Both Medium And Messenger In A World Of Partnerships on his blog in December, Digital First CEO John Paton wrote:

By centralizing all non-local content creation and production we are able to reduce costs while putting more resources back into local coverage increasing what is already an important competitive advantage.

Digital First Editor in Chief Jim Brady, who is heading up the project, put it this way to Street Fight in October:

We can’t have people at 18 different papers finding, editing and paginating a story about the war in Afghanistan, or a movie review or a Wimbledon roundup. We have to find a way to provide that information centrally to our papers so that they can focus on local issues and coverage.

That centrally produced content is for both print and online. As Brady told the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers:

… We’re creating a centralized team to produce that content for all of the local papers and their websites; that will free up a lot of the resources in the building to go back out on the streets and report, as opposed to doing production work.

WHEN WILL IT START OPERATING?

Now, for parts of it. As Brady said in a Q&A with Street Fight on March 13:

What is the status of Thunderdome?

We’re starting to roll out some verticals like transportation. We’re going to launch a health section in the next couple of days. We’re going to roll out one a month for the next six months or so. We’re starting to hire staff who are helping get it up and running, but it’s not in its full form yet.

How far along are you in the transformation? Can you give a percentage?

Thunderdome is going to be a huge part of what we do in the next few months even if it’s not fully rolled out. A lot of the products that we’re going to build out of Thunderdome are already in play and in the process of being built. We’re bringing in a new content management system that’s already in half the JRC papers and it will be in the MediaNews papers before long. What we have is a significant amount of large, game-changing projects in the pipeline right now. In terms of percentage, I don’t know, I think we still have 75% of the way to go before all of those things are out the door, but we’ve made a lot of progress in the last six months and in the last three especially.

And Project Thunderdome apparently is located in New York City.

HOW WILL IT AFFECT JOBS?

According to Paton, not much, as those people formerly in production roles would be reassigned to local work. That’s just counting bodies — it sounds like job duties could change for some people. As he told the American Journalism Review:

We have hundreds and hundreds of people in production. If you were producing 18 dailies centrally, you’d be doing it with less people and could then repurpose them back into the community and create more local content.

HASN’T THIS BEEN DONE BEFORE?

Yes. As Jon Cooper, a vice president with Digital First, told Nieman Journalism Lab:

Folks have done production hubs; folks have done content bureaus or content sharing, but what we’re really looking to do is to empower local journalism. And part of that is to remove the roadblocks to small operations.

How The Denver Post fits into the puzzle isn’t wholly clear. I’m sure details will be forthcoming.

And of course, some are less optimistic, such as this comment on Street Fight:

Thunderdome sounds like an attempt to make generic content to reward their masters at Alden Global Capital. Lay off as many people as you can, create canned content and then, well, we never got around to local coverage because its, well, been a tough economy. That’s been the Media News playbook for years. John Paton just wants to do it without all that expensive newspaper (and people).

In the meantime, sit back, relax and cue up a little Tina Turner.

Old Dogs, New Tricks And Crappy Newspaper Executives

20 Feb

DIGITAL FIRST MEDIA CEO John Paton addressed the Canadian Journalism Foundation in Toronto on Feb. 16.

From Digital First, Feb. 18, 2012:

>snip<

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.

>snip<

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.

>snip<

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.

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Page: Digital First? Not So Fast

14 Jan

From News & Tech, Jan. 9, 2012:

Shakespeare suggested we kill the lawyers and let’s hope the same fate awaits the newspaper cognoscenti who see a terminal disease in every printed newspaper.

While their collective “wisdom” on print lacks any foresight, what’s more disturbing is that newspaper execs, given their reluctance to explore new distribution models, are escorting their printed editions to the graveyard – and helping to bury their businesses, too.

>snip<

People like Jeff Jarvis and John Paton – and many others pushing the digital-only future – grew up in the newsroom and if there’s one thing that’s true about a newsroom it’s this: Relying on the myopic viewpoint spawned by folks from the newsroom – from people who never sold an ad, delivered the paper in the morning’s wee hours or webbed up a press – will sooner kill a newspaper than save it.

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News Exec John Paton Is Out To Stop The Presses

14 Jan

From The Los Angeles Times, Jan. 15, 2012:

After he became chief executive of the Journal Register Co. in early 2010, John Paton made the rounds to its many newspapers in the Midwest and Northeast. The new boss told employees they would go “digital first” with a vengeance — tweeting, Facebooking, blogging and video-posting news before contributing a single keystroke toward the next day’s paper.

Hearing this pronouncement, one veteran columnist at a Michigan daily confronted Paton, telling him at a get-to-know-you dinner that his emphasis on the fast and furious online world was “ruining journalism.” Paton fired back: “I read your column. You are ruining journalism.

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Plagiarism At Journal Register May Be A Sign Of Newsroom Progress

12 Jan

From Poynter.org, Jan. 12, 2012:

Can plagiarism be a byproduct of progress?

That’s the contradictory question I’m pondering after a conversation with Matt DeRienzo, group editor of Journal Register Company’s publications in Connecticut. On Tuesday, that group of papers suffered its second incident of plagiarism in less than three months.

>snip<

“Moments like this shatter our communities’ trust in us,” tweeted [John] Paton. “We will work our guts out to re-earn it.”

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John Paton — FON Home: It’s Only The Future Of Journalism

4 Jan

In the red corner, Dean Starkman …

From “Confidence Game: The limited vision of the news gurus” in the November/December issue of the Columbia Journalism Review 2011 (John Paton comments after the piece):

>snip<

Newspaper company stocks are trading for less than $1 a share. Great newsrooms have been cut down like so many sheaves of wheat. Where quasi-monopolies once reigned over whole metropolitan areas, we have conversation and communities, but also chaos and confusion.

A vanguard of journalism thinkers steps forward to explain things, and we should be grateful that they are here. If they weren’t, we’d have to invent them. Someone has to help us figure this out. Most prominent are Jeff Jarvis, Clay Shirky, and Jay Rosen, whose ideas we’ll focus on here, along with Dan Gillmor, John Paton, and others. Together their ideas form what I will call the future-of-news (FON) consensus.

>snip<

At its heart, the FON consensus is anti-institutional. It believes that old institutions must wither to make way for the networked future.

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And in the blue corner, Clay Shirky …

From “Institutions, Confidence, and the News Crisis,” Clay Shirky, Dec. 2, 2011:

>snip<

[Dean Starkman is] not even wild about the familiar institutions altering themselves too radically to accomodate those changes. Paton, who is trying to save local news reporting, is derided for being a “FON practitioner” (shades of the 5th column), and The Guardian, a storied paper since back in the day, gets ten with the cane for going ‘digital first‘. When echt newspaper guys like Paton of the Journal-Register and Alan Rusbridger of The Guardian are seen as heretics, you know we’re talking about that old-time religion.

Rosen and Jarvis and Bell and I disagree plenty, but one belief we have in common is that the way newspapers used to be organized and funded is a bad fit for the current environment, and getting worse. More than any individual sentiment we may have expressed, our public loss of faith in the institutional logic of Plan A seems to be what has most aroused Starkman’s ire.

>snip<

This view is, as Starkman says, anti-institutional, starting as it does from the premise that the outside world is changing faster than most newspapers’ adaptive capabilities. They have responded to 20 consecutive quarters ad revenue decline with the evisceration of international desks and newsroom staff. More is on the way. No medium has ever survived the indifference of 25 year olds.

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