New Journalism = Design For Manufacturability #DFM

As my friend Dave Winer often exclaims. Oy!

The recent Chapter 11 filing of Journal Register Company, where I am a web developer, has brought out the “I told you so.” crowd. “Look, now do you believe your digital first, free access, crowd sourced, open sourced etc. etc. etc. strategy is just a fantasy?”


As did Matt DeRienzo (no relation), I’ll start by saying I can comfortably write this post because my company is great. I can remember being cornered at my desk by a red faced, vein bulging vice president about a blog post I wrote in the past, when I hadn’t even mentioned the company I worked for. I merely mentioned that newspaper industry was in a severe revenue decline and clueless about business. Oh and this . . .

Now imagine I’m comfortable saying this:

My company currently sucks too, and is clueless . . .

. . . no black helicopters . . .

. . . because we respect that. And we want to change. We want to survive, even if we have to change.

Even. If. We. Have. To. Change.

Enough drama, let’s address the facts, or lack of.

1. If “Digital First” is a good strategy, why the bankruptcy?

I have no idea why the move was deemed right. Michael Wolff thinks he knows, and the piece is an interesting analyses of debt, but ultimately has less substance than John Paton’s beard, which he mentions a few times. I can only say that when the last bankruptcy happened, no one claimed the management was tossing away valuable traditions. In fact, I think they were. The most valuable. Their community. They did so by cutting journalism to make more profit. Anyone following DFM knows we aren’t doing that. We adore the community. We let them into our editorial meetings, for crying out loud.  But there are efficiencies that need to  be achieved, and more will come in the future. We need to be lean and agile. Not something necessary when you write for some of the publications that have criticized us. This is a for profit business. And by the way, if anyone can let us know what valuable tradition we did jettison, I can guarantee I can convince the company to try to get it back. Or maybe we have a different definition of valuable. Critics might have meant costly, because those operations certainly need to go.

2. Other companies are already moving on from the “free content” model.

Yup. Unfortunately, the rest of the web has not. And, for the record, I’m not against paying for content. It needs to be highly personal, highly unique. Some local newspapers dip their toes in those waters, but for the most part, it isn’t there (at least yet). When it is, I’ll pay. Right now, you got a wish. Again, I’ll pay for a little bit of something for me, not a lot of some stuff made for everybody, most of which I don’t care about.

3. “crack the code that pays for news-gathering that communities need.”

Hell yeah. Tryin’. If you have the answer, say it out loud. But the fact is, the old way can’t support it, or else we wouldn’t be having this conversation. So you criticize a new try?. If the old ways can’t do it we need both new methods and new business models. And I promise you that DFM is working on both. Are we there yet? Obviously not, and no one said we were. In fact Paton has said  this is just the beginning himself. Lots and lots of work ahead. It is hard work you know?

4. Lack of transparency.

Yeah, I hear ya. It is a private company, so the earnings are private, and that’s America. Transparency in all things isn’t an obligation. We digital folks push it when it  can bring greater good, or is morally right, not for its sake alone. There is no morality in this case, IMHO. Privacy is a good thing too, right? This isn’t  Facebook. ; )

But really, it’s the difference between a private company and a public one. Are the critics saying all company’s should be public?

A good point has been made that “revenue is way up, but up from what?” I agree, it probably was low to begin with, though pretty good if you think about the percentages that Paton has released and how much print revenue a company the size of Journal Register produces. But frustrating to a onlooker, so I sympathize here.

What I do see internally tells me that it is an all out push to stack those digital dimes. More importantly, is finding innovative ways to create new revenues. We are in the early stages, but I’ve seen some of the most innovative ways of producing revenue through software from this company than anywhere in my career, and I think we will be impressed when we look back at what was accomplished here.

Again, there are tons of learning and improvements needed, but I’ve never been as optimistic about my company’s digital strategy as I am now. Expect great things very soon on both the journalism and  business model fronts.

5. Journalism is of zero value.

Again that word value. and, I think, a misunderstanding of the quote. For my take, all old value and markets are now worthless. We have new values, new marketplaces, not based  upon distribution but on networks. Not based on reach, but based on targeting. Not controlled by companies, but controlled by the users, the people formerly known as the audience.

I could go on and on, but I don’t care to. I’m only just finishing this post many days later because I got distracted with some serious family matters, the good result of which is that this post is much kinder and gentler than it was last week and there is no need to get sore over business.

It is just business, right?

If a CEO of a public company doesn’t act in the interest of the shareholders, she might go to jail. John Paton doesn’t have that legal obligation. He does his best anyway. Nothing to criticize about.

We all need to work together to find more efficient ways to inform each other. That’s all. We aren’t done yet.

New journalism needs to redesign itself, saving the good parts, but making sure the new design can be manufactured at scale. Design For Manufacturability. Maybe that is what DFM stands for.

Or as Dave Winer once told me when I was worrying about an app I was building, it Doesn’t Frigin’ Matter. That’s a paraphrase. Dave didn’t say frigin. ; )

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