Thursday, 2 December 2010

Don’t transform from broken. Start again.

John Paton: Lousy journalism on multiple platforms i
just lousy journalism in multiple ways.

Here are some inspiring bullet points from a presentation by John Paton, the chief executive of the Journal Register Company, delivered to the INMA Transformation of News Summit today. When you have an hour take a look at the full presentation.
The Journal Register was bankrupt in 2009. Here is some background that shows how it got into that position. It may well sound a little familiar to some of you. JRC's profit margins are now projected to be 15% this year. Its digital ad growth is two times better than the US industry average, its classified six times better, its overall ad performance three times better. So much of what Paton says will resonate with newspapers over here. It isn't rocket science that content and revenue are by far and away our priorities (article on the outlook for 2010) but Paton is taking that to a new level ... basically don't do anything else. A lot of this makes enormous sense. These are my favourite  bits:
  • You don’t transform from broken. You don’t tinker or tweak. You start again. You can build a new and better house from the foundations of the old.
  • Pushing print onto digital only makes for a lousy experience.
  • Lousy journalism on multiple platforms is just lousy journalism in multiple ways.
  • Compelling journalism is key to standing out and it is the power of our brands – our reputation – that can spotlight for our audience where they should look for journalism they can trust.
  • Two-thirds of a newspaper’s costs are infrastructure – stuff you don’t want to do – and NOT in what you do want to do such as create compelling content and effective sales.
    • Decide what you will no longer do – our core competencies are content and sales – we are getting others to do everything else. There are now companies who do most of this much better than any newspaper company does no matter what their head of pre-press or production says. Because those ARE the core competencies of the outsource companies.
    • The reasons (we are not seeing a complete overhaul of newspaper business models) are: Fear, lack of knowledge and an aging managerial cadre that is cynically calculating how much they DON’T have to change before they get across the early retirement goal line. Look at the grey heads in any newspaper and you will see what I am talking about.
    • If Print dollars are becoming Digital Dimes, then we better start chasing the Dimes. And we better do it cost effectively.
    • Stop focusing on the Print. It is in any newspaper’s DNA. It is not like you are going to forget to put out the newspaper.
    • The industry has only focused on cost reductions. But it is a focus that says do more of the same with less which results in the same done worse. And it is prolonging the death of a broken business model rather than adapting to the realities of the present.
    • We have had nearly 15 years to figure out the Web and as an industry we newspaper people are no good at it. No good at it at all. Put the Digital people in charge – of everything.
    • At JRC we have instituted a Profit Sharing Plan. If the Company Wins, the Employees Win. We all Win.
    • As CEO, I blog to my employees and the public. I ask for their help and they oblige. I also regularly email my 3,106 employees and they me.
    • The Register Citizen’s new offices will be without walls and invite the community in. It will feature a newsroom café with free public wifi, a community media lab, a community journalism school and the Register Citizen will open up its archives of 120 years of local history to the community.
    • We will no longer be dependent upon out-of-date thinking. And we will no longer be dependent on costly systems that are outdated before they are even successfully installed.
    Here is the full presentation ... it is a must-read.

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