Who’s in charge here?

A followup to the post about the Dow Jones task force, below….

I had an email exchange with an editor I respect about the merging of print and online newsrooms and operations that tends to follow such task forces. There’s a vital issue many are dancing around:

Who’s in charge of the future? The print guys or the online guys?

At many media companies, online was started as a separate division and for good reason. If it had begun as part of the print newsroom, the editors there would have tried to mold the internet into the image of print, and the business people would have sold the internet as a valueless add-on to print. Some are still trying. At my last employer, we started separately for good reason. But today, if the entire company doesn’t become digital, it’s dead. That’s why news companies are merging newsrooms.

So who should be in charge? In many of the efforts to merge or reorganize news companies, the print people ended up in charge. They have more ballast and political clout. They are the 2,000-pound canaries. Now I don’t mean to diminish their experience, of course. But the experience of the online people is being diminished and shouldn’t be. They have worked to invent new products with new opportunities and understand this new world, but again and again, I’ve seen them shoved aside or exiled as threats. That is a big mistake.

The ballsy news company will not only give precedence to the internet but also to the people who know the internet. I’m afraid I’m not seeing that happen.

: LATER: Michael Urlocker has some advice on disruption and task forces for Dow Jones.

: Roy Greenslade chimes in.

: Matt Terenzio says:

Newspapers are more religion than business to many of their producers. We need a left turn and it’s nearly impossible to get them to budge a few degrees.

One more thing.

It is my opinion that it would be much easier and faster to get the online folks up to speed on traditional journalism and print business practices than it would be to get the print folks to understand the web.

  • Neither. The business savvy from the progressive ranks of the group ought to chart the waters ahead. They’re more likely to take the necessary risks to keep things thriving. (that will likely be a blending of old and new school players)

    Look at Messrs. Suprock and Hannay at Nature Publishing and you’ll see who I mean. Old media need never worry again with folks like these in their corner.

  • The real issue, Jeff, is sales. Who will be “in charge” there? Since each sells against the other, it’s pretty important that there be a distinction. Clayton Christensen says the children of the legacy platform need to be autonomous to the point of having the authority to kill the parent, if it comes to that. Very hard sell to the mainstream.

  • S. Ibanez

    I wouldn’t let the business model of the print edition hold back Web-based products; the days of $100,000 full-page ad buys for newspapers will be ending sooner than later. Part of the transformation for newspapers must be on the business/accounting side; instead of supporting a massive daily print edition with staffing based on 1 FTE per 1,000 subscriptions, they must tailor their products to be more cost effective. Most likely, this means cutting newshole and pushing smaller, more direct ad buys to the Web sites and using more 1099 workers, but this will lead to a leaner, more effective product. Of course, this also means that the archaic commission-based salary for ad-reps will need to be trashed, but I think only a fool will believe that newspapers will continue to command the same revenues two years from now that they do now. The current newspaper business model is based on a monopoly of local information and readership, which is now dead. The change will have to be drastic and massive for newspapers to move forward and the glory of the past is blinding too many executives, publishers and editors.

  • Good business people are good business people, whether their current responsibilities are online or print. The key for companies is to create a culture of collaboration and respect. The only way to do that is to ensure equal opportunities for ambitious print and online people. If you tell the organization that one side is in charge, you loose the talent in the other group.

    Coming from a large B2B magazine publishing company (PRISM Business Media), I think it’s crucial for us to have both channel expertise and market expertise. Sometimes the “online folks” take the lead on a project and other times the “print folks” take the lead. We equally benefit from our mutual success. So, we ENJOY working with one another.

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  • jr

    The online guys should be in charge. More and more stuff will go digital out of convenience.

  • The online control of public attention argues for a kind of savvy that the print guys don’t show yet. No need to shut them out, but the value of the printed, stable ad, next to that of the evanescent but intriguing net ad begins to diminish as people’s receptivity changes.

  • There are wild cards in all this, aren’t there. Consider my cooperation with ace blogger Trent Lapinski in recently exposing (on the Internet, anyhow) the MySpace “ownership issue” which can simply be stated the people behind MySpace wanted to peddle the place to Murdoch without anyone knowing who in thehell lthey were. So while blogger Lapinski is advancing on MySpace on one front, his mag piece is being polished and repolished and will come out soon, and the folks at ValleyWag, who seem to have the inside track on Trent’s progress through the Valley, say it will put a big hurt on MySpace and the original Australian and his Fox news whelps.
    So, finally getting to my point, you had a atramp blogger too stupid to even organize a blog, but he hitchhikes on anyblog that will pick him up, and rants and raves all over the place, and how do you pigeonhole these fuckers who will be coming out ofthe woodwowrk Iassure, once they are unleasshed from binds of the corporate news biz, which is, for themsot part, most interest in comforting the comfortable and afflicting those mothers. almacleese from hallowell, maine, land of temperate living, where we prefer that you stop callingmuskrats muskrats and refer to them as water beasts, I don’t know why that is.

  • First integrate on and off line newsrooms.

    Second, find out the best editor for both operations.

    Third, have two strong managing-editors for both branches.

    Fourth, seat them together in a planning multi-media desk.

    Fifth, do it before your competitors!

    We use to say to our clients that what they have a need is “one heart and two lungs”.


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  • About giving precedence not only to the Internet but also to the people who KNOW the Internet: Yes. This is the flaw in saying, “Good managers are always good managers.” Maybe a good manager from the fruit juice company can become a good manager in the espresso coffee company, but there are a lot of differences in how and where and why those two types of beverages are purchased and consumed — even by a person who buys and drinks both.

    I have met a lot of editors and publishers who don’t know how non-journalists use the Internet to find news and information. They may know some things about how journalists use the Net, but most of the people are not journalists. They have different practices, different tastes, different interests.

    Internet people understand Internet people. Non-Internet people do not.

  • Bob Denmore

    My experience is that the print side is frightened of the web and tends to try to marginalise the online people as a result.

    While it’s a generalisation, the skills base is often wider on the online side and understanding of the new economics of the media is sharper. I think that’s also a reflection of demographic trends, with younger age groups more likely to access news in a digital environment.

    As a senior editor on the online side (but also with deep experience in ‘older’ media platforms), I’m continually shocked by the almost wilful ignorance among many of my print colleagues, often exploited and fuelled by paranoid print editors, about digital mediums.

    Of course, there is token support for new digital platforms (this having being written into management’s key performance indicators), but the cultural challenge is too often too much for these people to handle and they end up white-anting any attempt at convergence to entrench their own positions.

    Maybe my experience has been unusual and maybe this is just a reflection of certain print-entrenched individuals who are threatened by new ways of doing things (and threatened by those of us who could challenge their supremacy), but I have a feeling this could become a more common dynamic in newsrooms as the business model changes.

    For now, I’ve had enough of the nasty politics of media convergence. I’m getting out of it and will watch with interest to see the inevitable changing of the guard.

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