“All Roads No Longer Lead To Print”

The New Haven Register‘s parent company’s new CEO told his 3,100 employees that he’s bringing their newsrooms into the digital age. To start: Every reporter gets a video camera.

They now work for a “media company,” not a “newspaper company.”

The new boss, John Paton, broke the news to Journal-Register Co. (JRC) employees last Thursday in a seven-minute, 10-second slide show emailed companywide. The presentation laid out a path for JRC to move from the ice age to the digital age.

In a conversation about his plans with the Independent Monday, Paton said the New Haven Register‘s reporters and editors should “feel secure”—the newsroom-shrinking has ended. Instead, he aims to find ways for them to focus on reporting more local news in new ways.

“We’re not looking to make any cuts,” Paton said, clearly pumped about the prospect of inventing a new business model at a chain that had lagged behind the rest of the industry in adjusting to the digital age. “We need to improve [local coverage]. We don’t need to make it worse.”

New-Media Gurus

Paton, who’s 52, assumed the new JRC post last month. He replaced Robert Conway. The company has been reorganizing after filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last February.

The Yardley, Pa.-based company runs 19 daily and 150 other newspapers. New Haven’s daily is the flagship.

Paton started out in the business at 19 as a Toronto Sun copy boy. He worked his way up to cop reporter, city editor, then editor of two papers, before moving to the business side.

For all his ink-stained news cred, Paton speaks the new-media digital language. In his slide show to staff last week, and in Monday’s conversation, he refers regularly to the gurus of the new media: Pressthink’s Jay Rosen (the apostle of crowdsourcing), Google’s Eric Schmidt, Buzz Machine’s Jeff Jarvis.

Unlike the glum chorus of old-media execs convinced the industry is dying, those gurus see a bright future. They see newspapers evolving into newsrooms that work more closely with their communities and combine text, video, linking, and social networking into their daily routines. They don’t see this as the worst time in a generation to work in a newsroom. They see it as a historic moment, a thrilling, creative opportunity to design a new industry.

Immediately before taking over JRC, Paton ran ImpreMedia, the Spanish-language news chain. Editor & Publisher magazine named him “Publisher of the Year” in 2009 for his work building that company. He oversaw a transformation there similar to what he hopes to accomplish at JRC—guiding newsrooms to tell stories not just once a day in print, but throughout the day online, with video as well text; and to work with organizations outside the newsroom.

One of the slides in the show sent to employees features a Jarvis prescription for how media companies should evolve: “Do what you do best, and link to the rest.”

Click here to watch the slide show.

The show’s message: “Change is coming.”

“All roads,” it declares, “no longer lead to print.”

Specifically, Paton proclaimed that the company will embrace the digital age. It will move aggressively online and aim to become “a more efficient cost-effective company.”

To that end, he announced, “all reporters will have Flip HD video cameras within 30 days.” JRC will also launch “community journalism media labs.”  (Readers of the Register may have noticed recently that the front page promotes a new local video feature pretty much every day.) JRC will pursue “content and sales arrangements with Community bloggers and Community institutions.” It will “assess efficacy of relationships” with outside partners—such as New Haven’s SeeClickFix.

Target 1: Infrastructure

Paton has appointed a JRC steering committee to develop those “community journalism labs” and join up with new-media entities. He’s brought a tech-savvy New Haven employee to company headquarters to run that committee: Jonathan Cooper, who ran the Register‘s former entertainment weekly (Play) before becoming the city newsroom’s IT guy.

Paton said he sees two benefits to partnerships with outfits like SeeClickFix that already do interesting work in the community. First, they could produce new revenue. Second, it would free up “people like [Register Editor] Jack Kramer to take the resources he has and focus more intensely on local journalism.”

For all JRC’s problems elsewhere, the Register continues to turn a profit, Paton reported.

And, echoing Google’s Schmidt, he argued that paid advertising will continue to pay most of the bills for news organizations. Traditionally advertising accounted for 85 percent of newspapers’ revenues (with about 15 percent from circulation). That number dropped to more like 75 percent the past three years, Paton said. In his view, the future lies not in lowering that number more, but in maintaining it.

That comes partly from finding new avenues for advertising as more people get their news from organizations’ websites, over phones, or through Twitter or Facebook. Partly it comes from slashing non-editorial, non-advertising costs, Paton said.

At ImpreMedia, for instance, he got rid of printing presses and delivery trucks. He outsourced that work and shifted the focus to online content.

“Most print companies have about two-thirds of all their costs in anything but editorial and sales,” Paton observed. “Only one-third of the costs are generally in editorial and sales. Our competitors don’t generally have those” other overhead costs.

“That’s the journey we’re now on,” he said: Figuring out how to spend money in smarter ways. He called it an “iterative process”: No “one blow will get us to the new model.”

Print will always have a role in that model, he said. How central a role? That’s one of the big questions Paton plans to tackle as he embarks on inventing the newsroom of the future.

Welcome to the quest in Connecticut.

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Comments

posted by: Lance on February 8, 2010  3:33pm

You know what change would make me happy?  If the NHR would stop being a puppet for the democrats. 

They didn’t report on the 18 million Dick Blumenthal cost us in a civil suit a few days back.

http://www.courant.com/news/breaking/hc-computer-lawsuit-0130.artjan30,0,1070680.story

They feature Randall Beach, a guy who is about as biased agains republicans as one can get.

And lastly, they purposely omit race and ethnicity when reporting on the description of criminals police are seeking information on.  I refuse to purchase a hard copy of that paper for these reasons.

posted by: ROBN on February 8, 2010  5:22pm

Maybe after we’ve all entered the digital age, we’ll cease writing “an” in front of “historic”.

posted by: Brian V on February 8, 2010  7:49pm

Lance:
They also regularly publish bile by Bill O’Reilly, George Will and Charles Krauthammer in the Opinion page. Isn’t that enough for you? Now go away.

posted by: steve on February 8, 2010  9:54pm

Lance:

I know this is hard to believe but there is actually a reason for not detailing ethnicity or race in a story. If the Register wrote, “NH Police are looking for a black man in his 50’s” how many people do you think that would be in New Haven. Add, “wearing a hooded sweat shirt” and you are assuming the individual doesn’t know how to change clothes. The reality is that unless you have 5 unique individual characteristics it make NO sense to reference someone’s ethnicity. But I’ve only been in “this business” for 40 years so I obviously know nothing.

posted by: Ben Berkowitz on February 8, 2010  10:26pm

Great to see John take over JRC. This is exactly what the Register and New Haven needs.

Look forward to working with him and the rest of the team!

posted by: Liz on February 8, 2010  11:16pm

Thank you, RobN. To people who write “an historic”, my question is, “Do you live in an house?”

Anyway, this reminds me a New Yorker cartoon from many years ago. A guy carrying a video camera says to another guy, “Actually, I work for a newspaper, but nobody will talk to me without it.”

posted by: Wayne Myers on February 9, 2010  10:44pm

To Liz and RobN re “a historic” or “an historic”:

“An” is used before historic because the “h” is silent in this case. It seems perfectly clear to me and it’s less jarring in pronunciation. Would you say, “I got a “A” on the test?” That’s how “a historic” sounds.

posted by: robn on February 10, 2010  7:51am

WAYNEMYERS,

In speech, its proper to use “an” in front of “historic” if the speaker slurs the words together, omitting pronunciation of the “h”

So (roughly) phonetically it would be
“an istoric moment”
or
“a historic moment”

In writing, since there is no pronunciation its proper to write “a historic” and improper to write “an historic”.

I find the latter (when written) comes off as florid.

posted by: Bruce Barber on February 10, 2010  8:23am

This is a milestone - traditional media operators are finally starting to “get it”.

My area of interest is radio, and I have watched in disgust for years as the industry has devalued it’s core product - personality-driven programming and local news - in favor of voice tracking, music research and syndication.

Kudos, JRC…

posted by: Wicked Lester on February 10, 2010  10:06am

Wayne Myers: since when is the h in historic silent? Are you mispronouncing it as “istoric”?

posted by: eddie on February 10, 2010  10:26am

Lance:

“A puppet for the democrats?” Seriously? I guess you haven’t paid much attention to the Register’s endorsements over the years.

There may be a liberal or two in the Register newsroom (there are more than a few conservatives, too), but my guess is you’ve never met a newspaper publisher. Trust me, as a rule, they’re not exactly bleeding hearts—and they’re the ones who call the shots.

The thing is, if you’re far enough on the right fringe, everybody looks like a liberal. Your posts are collectively revealing about the racial insecurity and angst that lies behind the American right (and particularly the Tea Party movement). In fact, I’d argue that about 80 percent of right-wing politics is really code for racial angst.

I’ll give you credit: You actually say more or less what you mean and put it all out there for all to see, warts and all. Folks like Rush and Sarah Palin hide behind surrogate issues and code words (urban blight, immigration, the “real” America). Bunch of cowards.

posted by: Wayne Myers on February 10, 2010  5:39pm

Re “a historic” or “an historic”: Use what you will. Many newspaper and university style guides differ on which of the two is proper. I prefer the latter, some the former, but neither, it appears, is flat-out wrong.

On the article itself, note: “In a conversation about his plans with the Independent Monday, Paton said the New Haven Register�s reporters and editors should �feel secure��the newsroom-shrinking has ended. Instead, he aims to find ways for them to focus on reporting more local news in new ways.”

There is no mention of newsroom-shrinking ending at other JRC-owned publications.

Best,

Wayne

[Editor’s note: True! I didn’t ask about other editions. I should have. “A” honest mistake.]

posted by: robn on February 10, 2010  10:46pm

WAYNEMYERS,

Horsehockey.

In the English language, an indefinite noun starting with a consonant sound is preceded by the indefinite article “a”, and an indefinite noun starting with a vowel sound is preceded by the indefinite article “an”. The “h” in “history” is only silent in mannered speech, not in writing. But don’t believe me…check OED or our old New’Aven friend Mr. Webster.

posted by: CT Web Design on February 10, 2010  11:57pm

Good article, this has to be the business model newspapers have to adopt in order to survive right? Treat change as an opportunity instead of a setback. now if only the publishing industry would follow…

posted by: JMS on February 11, 2010  5:29am

As much as I have come to depend on digital media for news… local and otherwise… I also do not celebrate the death of print media, newspapers, magazines, etc. I grew up with them and still enjoy reading “the paper” and other print media. Having said that I stopped paying attention to the New Haven Register many years ago. It’s just an awful newspaper. I find myself scanning through it in a matter of seconds wondering where the content went.