February 19, 2012
CEO John Paton heads Digital First Media, one of the biggest news organizations in the U.S. He doesn’t think much of his fellow news executives:
. . . our industry heads look like aging ingénues at Stratford declaring they can still play Juliette. And nobody has the heart to break it to them.
He has published his speaking notes for a speech to the Canadian Journalism Foundation in Toronto. It’s a must-read for anyone the least bit interested in the future of journalism. He doesn’t pull any punches:
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.
I still maintain that anything a reporter does will be better than something created by the Crowd. But I get the point. The stuff we do needs more value if it is to compete with what is freely available.
So I was glad to see Paton make a pitch for investigative journalism:
However, it is the re-establishment of an investigative reporting unit — a victim of cutbacks in local newsrooms a long time ago — which can add the greatest value. Finally, again, and using the new digital toolset, we are asking questions that others are not asking.
He sounds a lot like Steve Jobs did when he returned to Apple. He pretty much turned the company into a start-up — and news organizations may have to do the same thing.
As Paton puts it:
If it is not core to your business — and in newspapers core means content and sales — then reduce it, stop it, sell it or outsource it.
What’s happening at Digital First Media is make-or-break. Whatever happens, there will be no doubt as to what was the cause.