Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Digital First Media created to manage both Journal Register and MediaNews Group with John Paton as CEO

Two struggling newspaper companies will now be managed by a new entity, Digital First Media, according to an announcement this morning from the Journal Register Company. I'll post some thoughts on this at the bottom of this post, but first here is the press release (also see update below with blog post from John Paton):

Journal Register Company Announces The Creation of Digital First Media Inc.

Digital First Media to Manage Journal Register Company and MediaNews Group; John Paton Named Chief Executive Officer of Digital First Media

Digital First Media to Leverage Scale Opportunities between MediaNews and Journal Register Company Creating Local News Powerhouse with more than 880 Multi-Platform Products in 18 States Serving more than 57 million Americans per month

September 7, 2011

NEW YORK, NY. – Journal Register Company, one the of nation’s leading local news and information companies, announced today the creation of Digital First Media Inc. Digital First Media will manage both Journal Register Company and MediaNews Group Inc.

John Paton, as the Chief Executive of Digital First Media, will act as CEO of both Journal Register Company and MediaNews Group.
In a separate release, MediaNews Group, the nation’s second largest newspaper company as measured by circulation, announced its appointment of Mr. Paton as CEO and the new agreement with Digital First Media. Mr. Paton, a director of Journal Register Company, has also been appointed to MediaNews Group’s board of directors. Mr. Paton and Digital First Media will report to the boards of both MediaNews Group and Journal Register Company.

This arrangement provides MediaNews and Journal Register Company with immediate cost benefits, and the ability to leverage the combined scale and expertise of both companies for their mutual benefit.

“This allows these two great companies to accelerate our Digital First strategy of transitioning from what have largely been print-centric businesses to modern, multi-platform media companies focused on local news and advertising,” said Mr. Paton, who is also a director of the Newspaper Association of America. “I am very excited to be working with MediaNews Group and the Journal Register Company teams. This initiative creates a local news powerhouse with more than 880 multi-platform products in 18 States serving more than 57 million Americans per month for the benefit of our communities, customers and employees.”

“Media News is intent on continuing its transformation from a print-oriented newspaper company to a locally focused provider of news and information across multiple platforms. At the forefront of our efforts is developing a successful digital strategy. With ‘Digital First,’ John has implemented just such a digital strategy for Journal Register Company. We are delighted to tap into John’s experience as we accelerate further our successful transition to a digital world,” said Dean Singleton, who will step down as CEO of MediaNews Group. Mr. Singleton, who is the Chairman of The Associated Press, remains Chairman of MediaNews Group and the publisher of the Denver Post and Salt Lake City Tribune.

Digital First Media represents the codification into a management company of a digital strategy that Journal Register Company has been pursuing with great success since February 2010, when John Paton was named Chief Executive Officer of Journal Register Company. MediaNews will benefit from that experience, and from cooperation with Journal Register Company, as it continues its own evolution to compete in the new media landscape.

So, this is great news, right? "Digital first" and all that.

But is this really a move to drive digital publishing at both companies, or a way to further consolidate costs? Both companies are now owned by Alden Global Capital, so really this move was to be expected. Is the "digital first" label simply a misdirect, or is it genuine?

I've been a bit of a skeptic about the tag of "digital first" as it is being used at the Journal Register for one big reason: at least one of the big name consultants brought in by John Paton has been a huge critic of the iPad and the tablet platform, at least as it applies to Apple. TNM, on the other hand, sees this as a huge new area to be explored and developed by publishers. So far, at least, I think I have been right – and I know most TNM readers agree with me.

For me, digital means all the new digital platforms: web, mobile, tablets. At least so far I have been less than impressed with the digital publishing efforts of both these companies. But if this move means that Digital First Media will now create a digital development team that will assist their properties with launching new mobile and tablet products than this will be a great first move.

We'll see, won't we?

Here is a blog post by John Paton, CEO of Journal Register Company, and now the head of Digital First Media, as well.

Seems like the chief executive is still batting down the objections from digital skeptics – thought that battle was over a decade ago.

So where does this leave Dean Singleton? Singleton lost the CEO title at MediaNews Group during the bankruptcy, but retains the chairman's title. One had to assume that the money folks would be calling the shots from now on, so this seems to confirm that.

But what has happened so far, in the post bankruptcy era? Mostly consolidation as the Bay Area newspapers have been consolidated into just a few titles, with many communities losing their local papers (leaving the space to AOL's Patch and local news websites). If this truly were a "digital first" initiative I would have thought that those titles might have lived on as web entities in order to compete with the new digital news products. When you combine the loss of local nameplates with the closing of local sales offices, well, that sounds more like a cost reduction strategy than a shift in publishing strategy, doesn't it?