Posted on Feb 16, 2012 in Future of News | 0 comments

I have to take a short break from my SEO series to comment on an article that appeared this past Saturday in the Irish Times: “Narrowing the gap between old and new media is the future.”

This article compares and contrasts “old media traditionalist” Alan Crosbie, chairman of Thomas Crosbie Holdings (Irish Examiner and the Sunday Business Post) against “new media messiah” John Paton, CEO of Digital First Media (the second-largest U.S. media chain).

The Irish Times article is unrelentingly harsh in its portrayal of Alan Crosbie, who does have a few legitimate reasons for his fear and loathing of new media and the Internet. After all, TCH hasn’t been that effective in tapping into digital revenue, and free online news without a revenue model can undermine the value of print newspapers. But Crosbie’s concerns seem to be more directed at preserving quality reporting and what he calls “provenance,” which I call the responsibility and accountability expected of journalists, especially in terms of unbiased reporting and fact-checking.

It reminds me of the book by Andrew Keen, The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet is Killing Our Culture. In an interview on the PBS News Hour, Keen said: “The key argument is that the so-called ‘democratization’ of the Internet is actually undermining reliable information… with user-generated content, we’re actually doing away with information, high-quality information, … and replacing it with user-generated content, which is unreliable, inane, and often rather corrupt.” (18 September 2007)

The Irish Times reporter Shane Hegarty goes on to extol the approach taken by John Paton, who has gained a reputation not only for embracing digital media, but for inviting the barbarians–citizen journalists–into the keep.

Paton is a remarkable figure, and is a likely hero in the drama that pits traditional print against new media. His blog Digital First documents his progress in the turnaround of Journal Register Company (and now Digital First Media) over the past year, and provides candid, transparent insights into his thoughts and approach. It is a remarkable journey well worth reading by anyone in the newspaper industry.

I very much admire Paton: his fearless dash into the digital world, his unflinching belief in online news revenue, his willingness to experiment, and his recognition that citizen journalism can increase story inventory without lowering journalistic standards, while improving reader engagement and community-building.

I have faith in citizen journalism, while recognizing that editorial will always have a role in managing, moderating, and validating outside content. In March of 2009 I offered this insight to the team: “Today, news consumers don’t want to simply read the news; they want the news to interact with them. They want to customize, rate, comment on, share, and become a part of the news process…. In order for subscribers to embrace our news content, they need to be able to personalize content to their needs and tastes, share their interests and opinions with others, and contribute to the news themselves.”

Sometimes journalists need a nudge in the right (digital) direction, and in the face of uncertainty, sometimes they just need to be motivated to experiment. Like Paton, in 2010 the managing editor at also issued Flip video cameras to the reporters, making everyone a new media journalist. These sorts of moves aren’t precisely innovation, but they are a move in the right direction.

I love this quote from Paton in his blog posting from 11 December 2011:

“I usually get invited to conferences like this because I’m the newspaper guy digital people get a kick out of when I say the newspaper model is broken. In the newspaper business you can be referred to as a digital ‘innovator’ for just saying that, which, of course, is a bit like winning a tallest midget contest. Clearly, we are not digital innovators in the newspaper business. But we are adapters. And as most of the media world is finding out – we are also survivors.”

Paton is doing precisely what a newspaper executive should be doing: building a business on the power of online news. His story, and the stories of others like him, is what this blog is all about.