“Digital First” Helmsman Leaving The Register

The editor, Matt DeRienzo (pictured), has worked for almost 11 years for the parent company (under various corporate news) that owns New Haven’s monopoly print daily.

DeRienzo, 38, has most recently served as group editor of all the publications, including three dailies and Connecticut Magazine, owned by the parent company, currently called Digital First Media (DFM). He has also been serving as regional supervisor of the company’s New York, Massachusetts, and Vermont properties.

He took a buyout, effective Monday. Register Editor Mark Brackenbury assumes DeRienzo’s statewide duties. including overseeing the newsrooms of the daily Torrington Register and Middletown Press. “In his new role, Mark will be the strategic leader for all news content of the daily newspapers, digital sites, weekly community newspapers and editorial-themed non-daily products,” Register Publisher Kevin Corrado wrote in a 10:44 a.m. email message to staff. “He will oversee the structure of how each individual newsroom is aligned with the larger organization.” 

In recent months (DFM), which is owned by a hedge fund, has abandoned a chain-wide reporting intiaitive, ditched a plan to move the Register newsroom to downtown New Haven, and eliminated jobs in an already dramatically downsized newsroom as it seeks a buyer. (The company reduced its nonproduction jobs statewide from 88 to 56 just since January; the New Haven newsroom is down to 40 employees.)

DeRienzo reportedly approached the company about removing his position rather than further eliminating reporter positions. (One of his predecessors in top management, Tom Geyer, left the company two decades and two bankruptcies ago after refusing to carry out another round of newsroom cuts.)

Under DeRienzo’s leadership, the Register made historic strides in racially diversifying its newsroom despite having fewer positions to work with. This month those efforts earned the paper a Robert G. McGruder Award for Diversity Leadership.

DeRienzo said he doesn’t have a new job lined up yet. For the coming month, he plans to cover the Fifth U.S. Congressional District race for CT News Junkie.

“It’s the right time in my career to do something else,” DeRienzo said. “A lot has changed” at the Register recently.

DeRienzo wrote the following in his email to his staff, which a staff member forwarded to the Independent:

“This is bittersweet for me, and I apologize for doing it by email, but this will be my last day as group editor in Connecticut and with DFM.

“My position, Northeast Regional Editor, is being eliminated, a move that I support. And it’s the right time for me to move on in my career.

“I feel positive about where this leaves you all because of the strong leadership we have in place - including Mark Brackenbury, who was in Philadelphia last week to pick up his much-deserved Local Media Association Editor of the Year award. You’ve got the best of the best guiding your continued efforts, and you’ve shown through all kinds of adversity how much pride goes into what you do and how successful it can be.

“I would like to focus today on helping with any loose ends and outstanding projects or questions that I can help resolve for you.”

DFM CEO John Paton called DeRienzo “a terrific guy” who “was very, very bold in pursuing our strategy. He was very, very bold in taking on experiments,” like creating an “open newsroom” at the Torrington Register.

“You’ve got to give him all the credit in the world for doing it. He’ll be missed,” Paton said.

Paton: All Systems Go

Meanwhile, Paton (pictured) said the company’s “digital first” plan is proceeding ahead at full steam.

Paton, who has overseen the company’s transition to the digital age, noted in an interview Monday that the Register still employs more reporters than all other local news outlets combined.

He also said that Digital First Media (DFM), which owns 76 dailies among other media properties, anticipates taking in $200 million in digital ad revenue this fiscal year, growing that category at 2.6 times the industry average. A company division called AdTaxi has grown into an international venture with clients including News Corp, Belo, Gannett, and Media General.

“People in newspaper companies are nervous for a good reason. The entire industry is in a massive time of transition. That transition hasn’t been pretty. People are smart to be concerned,” Paton said. “But they shouldn’t be so concerned to the point that they can’t do their jobs. The company goes on to win tons of awards in journalism because it does remarkable work.”

He said it’s understandable that the fact that DFM is for sale would lead people to speculate that it is not doing well. He said that because “newspaper stocks are hot” right now, it makes sense to consider a sale as part of a range of options for the company’s future.

He acknowledged that “there’s a lot of heartbreak” in all industries when they undergo transition. “People want the cost-cutting to go away from an industry in transition,” he said, but that won’t happen. (Just last week The New York Times announced it is cutting 100 newsroom jobs. Meanwhile, its media columnist, David Carr, wrote a piece published Monday that praises the Washington Post for growing its newsroom.)

As for Paton’s future with the company, he said that would depend on where a new buyer takes it.

“Matt was a terrific guy.  He was very, very bold in pursuing our strategy. He was very, very bold in taking on experiments,” like creating an “open newsroom” at the Torrington Register. “You’ve got to give him all the credit in the world for doing it. He’ll be missed.”

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posted by: kenneth_krayeske on October 6, 2014  12:03pm

Mr. DeRienzo - Thanks for trying. Looking forward to reading your reporting in the 5th. Good luck.

posted by: oogabooga on October 6, 2014  3:40pm

The New Haven Register site has been so ad heavy and maliciously intrusive with pop-ups and nonsense of that sort that I rarely visit there anymore for fear of having something downloaded onto my computer that I don’t. They program pop-ups to pop-up right where your cursor is ready to click on something else. It’s very discouraging that this is how “media” companies are deciding to make money digitally. I’m also amazed that New Haven can’t do better with a print newspaper than The New Haven Register. This is a bustling town with so much going on. If an editor and publisher who cared about the town were in charge and hired reporters who knew the town and also cared about writing about what was going in within it, then ad execs would be able to hire people who could sell ads to the businesses that also matter in this town and, then, this city would have a good newspaper.

posted by: geofffox on October 6, 2014  6:45pm

The New Haven Register and all ‘papers’ have a real problem.  Few of the people advertisers desire read papers anymore.  To make matters worse regional advertisers like Rickles, Caldors, Zayres, Lechmere, no longer exist.  National advertisers like Home Depot, Target and Walmart can more efficiently reach their customers elsewhere. 

And there’s more! 

Advertisers pay less for eyeballs on a webpage than a printed page.

I’m not sure there’s a winning strategy possible for the Register’s parent company, but it’s obvious to anyone who’s subscribed (as I did for nearly 30 years) there’s a whole lot less meat in the paper.  Less news.  Less opinion.  Fewer local voices.

The Independent has done an amazing job in creating a ‘news of record’ site for New Haven, but it exists because of Paul Bass’s dedication, not because of profit.  So many other Connecticut cities and towns have lost their only check on what’s going on.

TV, which does a great job in showing emotion and action, has never covered conceptual news as thoroughly as print can.  And TV now suffers from many of print’s problems, including a greatly diminished and aging audience.

E.W. Scripps, which operates TV stations and newspapers, has as its motto “Give light and the people will find their own way.” 

That light is dimming and it’s sad.