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.”
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.