Tuesday, October 16, 2012

One memo, which in a nutshell, summarizes why I'm a 'digital first' skeptic

often get asked why I am so down on the 'digital first' crowd. I answer that there are two reasons: one, I don't believe in 'digital first' I believe in publishing, there is a difference*; and two, I see 'digital first' mostly as an excuse for either cost cutting or rearranging the chairs, it rarely actually leads to anything new launching.

This memo, which we have MediaBistro to thank for first publishing, is a great example. Fishbowl DC's Betsy Rothstein sees the news as the exit of Ed Kelley Рand from a news perspective she is right. But I see it as another example of someone using 'digital first' without in any way mentioning any meaningful new digital initiatives. It's become such a meaningless slogan, a clich̩, that the sooner the term disappears the better.

Read the memo and tell me what their 'digital first' initiatives are:
Dear TWT Colleagues:

I wanted to share with you some early decisions we have made as we embark on an ambitious new strategy to reach profitability by transforming The Washington Times daily print edition in the nation’s capital, expanding our digital-first publishing capabilities, and growing our audience nationwide in all mediums.

I have formed a new senior leadership team to work directly with me in seizing the opportunities that await us. Some of the people will, of course, be familiar to you but their roles and responsibilities are adapting to address the challenges we face as we build the right suite of 21st century products for our audience. I’ve been fortunate to be involved in media companies that have transformed themselves, and I am confident we have the right team for the mission here at The Washington Times.

First, I have asked John Martin to serve in the role of Chief Operating Officer overseeing all technology, logistics, and operations of the company. Keith Cooperrider will reprise his role as Chief Financial Officer, responsible for managing the day-to-day finances for our company. Tom Culligan, who like me has worked previously as a publisher in a rapidly changing news industry, will remain as the Chief Revenue and Marketing Officer responsible for rapidly generating the new revenues we need to close our operating gap.

John, Keith and Tom have been an integral part of the team that helped our new chairman, Tom McDevitt, set The Times on this course after its 2010 sale to the current owners.

As part of these changes, Ed Kelley is stepping down to pursue other opportunities, and we have already begun a search for a new executive editor. I expect to name a replacement shortly. When that happens, I will be asking the new executive editor and Brett Decker to join an expanded leadership team, recognizing that news and opinion are the double-barreled engines that drive our audience each day. In the interim, the newsroom will report to Managing Editor Chris Dolan.

I know you will join me in wishing Ed well in his future endeavors and in embracing the new opportunities that await all of us at every level of the company. Becoming a digital-first, profitable media company with a flagship print edition in the nation’s capital will be an exciting and rewarding opportunity for all who seize the day.

Kind Regards,

Larry Beasley
As of today, The Washington Times has exactly zero mobile and tablet apps inside the App Store.

In fact, this company is so 'digital first' that it has allowed a third party to launch a paid iPhone app that takes both the newspaper's brand name and its content.

Well done, guys.

* Publishing first, as opposed to 'digital first' means that the goal is creating content for publishing products, no matter whether they are print or digital. But it also means having those products. Most 'digital first' advocates miss that last part and see the web as the end all and be all of digital publishing. It's not, its simply one platform.