Wednesday, March 31, 2010

More feet on the street at The Record

I wrote late last year we would add more feet on the street in The Record newsroom in 2010. To date, we have hired three people into new reporter positions:

- Jessica Pasko, a former editorial assistant for the Associated Press bureau in Albany and SUNY-New Paltz grad, joined the city desk staff as a general assignment reporter.

- Cecelia Martinez, a former assistant editor at NTP Media and College of St. Rose alumnus, is covering news and politics in Troy.

- Katie Nowak, a Syracuse University (master's degree) and SUNY-Albany (bachelor's in journalism) grad and former editorial intern and freelancer for Bentley-Hall, is a general assignment reporter.

Also, Rebecca Eppelmann, a former editor of our Latham Life publication and College of St. Rose grad, has joined our news desk, filling a vacant copy editor position.

This development counters an industry trend; some 15,000 full-time reporting and editing jobs in the newspaper industry have been lost in the last three years, according to a Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism State of the News Media 2010 report released this month.

More developments coming.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Record has record participation in lottery promotion; Mechanicville man wins $5,000

The Record had record participation in its annual $1,000,000 Instant Jackpot promotion this winter with the New York Lottery. There were 4,209 entries this year, up over 41 percent from last year and roughly 80 percent from two years ago.

This second chance promotion was tied to the New York Lottery's new $1,000,000 Instant Jackpot Instant Game ticket. It offered readers the opportunity to mail in a non-winning $1,000,000 Instant Jackpot ticket along with an official entry blank from The Record. Winners were chosen each week to win $1,000,000 Instant Jackpot Instant Game tickets. Four weekly drawings were held, and all non-winning weekly entries qualified for the grand prize drawing on March 12.

The grand prize winner was Clarence Skipp of Mechanicville, a The Record subscriber for many years. In addiiton to a check for $5,000, he received 100 scratch-off tickets because he is a subscriber.

Jim Collier, circulation director of The Record, and Jina Matthews and Yolanda Vega, New York Lottery personalities, awarded the winner his check today at The Record office in downtown Troy. A photo from the check ceremony will be published in The Record this weekend.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Newspaper industry is at "peak of creative destruction"

The newspaper industry is at the “peak of creative destruction,” according to Penny Abernathy, Knight Chair in Journalism and Digital Media Economics at the University North Carolina and former executive at the New York Times and Wall Street Journal.

Speaking at the New York State Press Association convention seminar on Saturday, Abernathy borrowed the phrase from Joseph Alois Schumpter, an early 20th century, Czech-born economist and political scientist. His theory – which described the process of transformation whereby established companies succumb to the pressure of new technology – applies today to print media, she said. Industry leaders may take one of two approaches: The first is to retreat with “Chicken Little” pessimism that “the sky is falling”. Another is to “embrace change” and experiment freely. She said the best tact is “to walk down the middle” of the two courses of action so not squander resources or act too slowly.

Innovation and progress isn’t enough to save newspapers from changing consumer media consumption habits. Companies must shed legacy costs; the industry’s distribution and printing systems are outmoded, she said.

Professor Abernathy outlined a five-step strategy process as the “path of renewal” which involved defining our companies; defining our customers; determining whether we are in a cycle or cyclone; performing a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) analysis; and setting a long-term strategic plan. The only part of her discussion that didn’t ring true was telling participants – mostly publishers and editors – to set three- and five-year plans. That seemed to contradict a statement earlier in the talk about how disruptive innovation has quickly evolved from being a once-a-century phenomena for the print industry, to something that now happens every 18 months. Pretty hard to aim so far in the distance when the target is moving that quickly.

For a copy of the presentation, click here. (Please note that at the time of this posting, the title slide on presentation had two numbers transposed; date should be 2015 and not 2105.)

For more on the NYPA convention, click here.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The future of newspapers gets debated locally in two forums ... with decidely different outcomes

What a difference a day makes.

I attended a joint meeting of the Albany chapter of the American Marketing Association and the Albany Ad Club on Thursday, and the first day of a New York State Press Association conference today in Saratoga. At both functions newspapers were under a microscope. The first gathering was disconcerting and chaogenous; the second included a keynote address that was much more insightful and competently presented.

The topic of the AMA/Ad Club meeting – held ironically within walking distance of the Times Union Building - was “Are Newspapers Dead?” I didn’t catch the title of the press convention keynote today but the premise was how community newspapers are poised to thrive in the new media order.

Let’s take the “Are Newspapers Dead?” discussion first. It was billed to be a “roundtable” discussion but was neither figuratively (there was no “round table”) or literally (only two people presenting and there was little back-and-forth dialogue between them). It was also reported to be a “sell out” (a dubious distinction because several attending commented there were easily room for 35-40 more people in the room) and a breakfast (again questionable because the only food served was convenience store-quality danish). But I digress. The most suspicious part of the gathering was the agenda itself, which included participation by exactly zero people representing the daily newspaper industry (again, remember the T.U. is a brisk couple minutes walk away) and a seminar title I am absolutely certain the same organizers would never use to broach the future of local TV or radio (or any other business their members represented).

Mike Danieli, representing the New York State Press Association – a group of mostly free and paid weekly newspapers and a former T.U. executive – spoke first. He adequately represented the outlook of his current employer, which is that weekly newspapers have grown both in number and in audience in the last decade throughout New York. He sufficiently delineated why that segment of the print media has grown, because of the insatiable interest of consumers in hyper-local content.

If it is accurate to say Danelli was representing the ”newspapers remain viable” side of the conversation, albeit with only a little insight into why, a second presenter, Ron Ladoceur, executive vice president/executive creative director at Media Logic, represented the opposite thesis. Except that he wasn’t a terrible willing participant – saying on one hand that he still encouraged buyers at his firm to use local print, while on the other meekly suggesting through anecdotes and observations that maybe newspapers’ time had passed.

Missing in both men’s discourse were the fundamental reasons for both the negative headlines about newspapers today (corporate debt, the loss of multiple titles in almost all metro markets, and the erosion of seven-day subscriptions to weekend or Sunday home delivery offers are just three), newspapers’ audience growth in recent years (through Web and mobile offerings, among others), or the myriad of steps many newspapers have taken to improve their fate (shedding legacy costs and partnering with competitors and companies outside the industry, to name just two).

The 90-minute AMA/Ad Club presentation wasn’t informative but it was good drama. Several of the dozen or so Times Union staffers attending loudly expressed their angst at Ladoceur’s remarks, a woman from a weekly newspaper contributed comments that were off topic several times, and many from outside print media seemed to be confounded, embarrassed and, or amused by the whole affair. Neither Ladoceur or Danieli should have been the target of any angst; that belonged to the organizers. As someone who sat on the board of an Ad Club in another market for six years - and as attendee/presenter/organizer at dozens of other trade functions - I feel qualified to say this was something of a public train wreck.

By contrast, it was a Web guy – Interactive Advertising Bureau CEO Randall Rothenberg – who almost gushed about the future of local newspapers at the NYPA conference in Saratoga Springs. During a half hour talk, he drew upon a range of data from ComScore, MORI Research, Borrell Associates and others to outline why newspapers are poised for a resurgence in the coming years if they embrace new technologies and adapt to new social realities.

Rothenberg cited strong brands, consumer trust, terrific knowledge of and access to local advertisers, and an abundance of sought-after local content as assets that positioned newspapers for success. And he demonstrated how as direct mail, radio and telephone directories lose local market share of ad dollars in coming years, newspapers were poised to gain share through interactive advertising because of their strength in selling to businesses in the categories that are most embracing Web and mobile advertising such as retail stores, financial services, telecoms and others.

The IAB chief set aside projections and statistics and talked about the vital role newspapers serve as he neared the conclusion to his speech. He described how merchants rely on newspapers to drive foot traffic, how readers count on newspapers to inform, and how consumers use newspapers more than any other source to make local buying decisions. “Speaking as someone who runs an online trade association,” he said, “nothing exists in my town without the things newspapers do”.

It wasn’t that the IAB chief sided with my point of view on my industry’s outlook that made his presentation better than the one the day before. It was because Rothenberg – like a good opinion editor – had done his homework and composed and articulated an intelligent viewpoint.

For more on the NYPA convention, click here.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Welcome fellow Oneidans ....

This past weekend my blog became available at the Web site of the Oneida Daily Dispatch. It is began as a column for The Record (Troy, N.Y.) last July when I became publisher there, and the blog component was added a little over a month ago. I also became publisher of the Dispatch last week. Twice the newspapers but still one blog.

The blog is (now) about both newspapers, our parent company (Journal Register Co.), the state of the journalism business, and the communities we serve.

To catch you up, you may want to try reading an old post ... One that discusses some of the signficant changes coming in our company.

More coming soon ...

Thursday, March 18, 2010

My 16-year-old son approves of JRC's choice of Jeff Jarvis as an advisor

Our parent company, Journal Register, announced a new advisory board yesterday.

Jeff Jarvis is a member; he is associate professor and director of the Interactive Journalism program and the new business models for news project at the City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism. He is a career media executive and the author of the best-selling book, "What Would Google Do?" Hours after the announcement, he joined about 80 JRC employees - mostly editors and online journalists - for a two-hour discussion during a two-day content conference.

Recently my boss John Paton gave out copies of the "Google" book to all JRC editors, ad directors and publishers as a precursor. Ironically, I was the second in my house to read it; my 16-year-old son Trevor - who enjoys finance and tech books, along with sci-fi and fantasy - read it last April. So when I told him I met Jeff yesterday and that he was a member of the advisory board John named, Trevor - who is critical of the future of dead-tree media - paused and then said, "that makes sense." And then he went back to Facebook.

That is as close to props as we are going to get from Trevor. More on Jarvis and his book in the next few days.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Why video matters to a local news site

On Feb. 1 our company's new CEO, John Paton, promised on his first day on the job every reporter in the company would have a Flip camcorder within 30 days. He delivered ... and in a little over three weeks, our staff has shot, edited and posted 52 videos. (By comparison, prior to John's investment, we were shooting maybe 10-12 a month.)

Three video highlights: Nicholas Kaiser, who spoke about his accomplishments during his seven years as Troy police chief on his last day before retirement; several videos highlighting the win and post-game celebration by the Siena men's basketball team after defeating Fairfield in overtime to win the MAAC Championship and an NCAA tournament berth; and an announcement by a representative of the Franklin Inn and Suites in downtown Troy that the business is now affiliated with Best Western. A huge moment for local sports fans, a big milestone celebrated by a renown public servant, and a report on a business investment in Troy's economic center. This represents the ebb and flow of some of the many important moments in our community being broadcasted (most posted within minutes or hours of being captured).

Why the sudden emphasis on video? Well, to be frank, it is more to make up for lost time than any other reason. The public was ahead of our company in their desire to view news videos online (versus our ability to deliver). A recent study spotlights the audience we were missing.

The Pew Research Center and the Project for Excellence in Journalism released a report on March 1 outlining research on how Americans are consuming news, particularly in social context. I will blog more on the results down the line but one element of their research addresses which Web site features appeal to news consumers. Among all features, multi-media content including video clips is important to 48 percent of all online news users; preference is heaviest by younger viewers (57 percent of those age 18-29 and 51 percent of those ages 30-49 percent).

So overwhelmingly, our consumers - particularly those under age 50 - expect video at our Web site. If they don't find it here, they will go elsewhere for it and may not come back.

Currently, we don't have the opportunity for our viewers to upload video to our site, but that option is coming this spring. More functionality for where and how we can post them to our site, and more access to our archive (currently we only have links to our most recent videos) is also coming.

If you take our current productivity producing videos, assume we're going to get more efficient at this process, you can extrapolate that we could be on track to produce close to 1,000 videos in the next 12 months. That builds a foundation for our future as a multi-media company.

Happy viewing!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

We’re looking for a few (well, at least 28) citizen journalists

The news business is getting turned inside out. The folks who used to be our audience are now our competition.

Historically, our platform was the iron that comprises our press. Our distribution channels included our carriers, stores and news racks. Access to the public was limited mainly to “professional” journalists; an enlightened few who wrote for the masses.

Today, anyone with access to a computer and Web access can set up shop and write to a wide audience. Want to broadcast instead? A camera-enabled phone or a $150 Flip camcorder will give you about as much authority and technical capability as a multi-million dollar news studio. The new platforms and distribution channels - which include YouTube and - are readily available and free. The only qualification is possession of minimal computer skills.

This movement - years in the making but getting larger by the day - is often referred to as “citizen journalism”. The first news reports of the U.S. Airways crash in the Hudson River and the Fort Hood shooting last November are just two of innumerable major stories that first broke by eyewitness citizen journalists. Add to that, tens of thousands of daily posts and Tweets by witnesses to celebrity sightings, car wrecks, natural disasters, workforce cutbacks, weather anomalies and more ... and we are quite literally becoming a nation of journalists.

The smartest newspaper companies - including the one I work for - are embracing the change and looking for ways to partner with citizen journalists. It is on some level the old “if you can’t beat them, join them” adaptation. We offer promotion across various distribution channels, access to significant audiences, and credibility working with one of the community’s most trusted brands. Citizen journalists give us more eyes and ears on the ground, much-needed alternative perspectives, expertise in many areas that we don’t possess in a newsroom, and ultimately they bring audiences to our products. It is a symbiotic relationship that works very well.

For instance, a trained journalist can write professionally about a local economic development issue and communicate the basic facts of a story. But a trained economic developer with some basic writing skills can communicate with more passion, authority and understanding on the subject, and he or she can write more frequently and more comprehensively than a general assignment reporter. And that person likely is someone who a significant number of people would value - and take the time to follow - his or her opinions.

Going forward we are going introduce citizen journalism more into our news projects in a variety of ways, but to get a head start we are going to be aggressive about expanding our roster of local bloggers. At 4 p.m. today we’re having a discussion in our newsroom on the subject and I am setting a goal of doubling the number of bloggers we have (from 14 to 28) by April 30, and then looking to triple it from our current number (to 42) by June 30. We’ll brainstorm how to do this and invite community members.

But ... please don’t wait for an invitation. If you have the expertise, time and interest to blog for us on a particular subject, send a brief bio, contact information and a sample blog (or link to one) to and we’ll review and get back to you quickly.

Whether you want to blog to express yourself and have fun, to build credibility as a thought leader in your field of interest, or to bring visibility to your personal and/or business brand, please give it consideration. And thanks for reading my blog.

Friday, March 5, 2010

A newspaper that chips away at its product's value

I won't name names but a daily newpaper which publishes in the community in which I live decided with today's issue to no longer list where local bands are playing in its Friday entertainment section. Now I know these folks making the decisions - a couple middle-age guys (like me) - aren't musicians (like me), nor do they probably ever venture inside a local tavern or club (unlike me) to see a favorite act. So, in an attempt to make a few coins, they started charging bars, restaurants, et al. to list bands. To their credit they got six businesses to pay (I suspect their regular advertisers get the listing for free) but many of the places that normally appeared in this space are gone.

Now my wife and I are big local music fans and we were trying to figure out where we are going tonight - we usually see one local act a week, though some weeks it might be two. (We got nearly all of our information on where to go from this newspaper.) Presented with this dilemma, it took me all of a few minutes to find a work-around to get the info we needed. Most of the best venues for local music all have Facebook pages so I just signed up as a "fan" and their band listings, dinners specials, etc. are now streaming into my Facebook account. Those businesses that don't have Facebook pages will no doubt reach out in the coming months as their customers urge them to communicate the information in new ways.

This move diminished the value of this newspaper for me. It didn't cause me to cancel my subscription but it did give me pause to consider what I get for my money.

A few predictions:
- Other readers - music fans - had the same reaction I did. This calendar is no longer a source they can rely on for complete info in the market. They will use Facebook, Metroland, the Times Union, a local weekly newspaper (The Chronicle) or another outlet to get this info going foward, and they will be a tad bitter their daily newspaper doesn't deliver this information to their doorstep.
- Some bar, nightclub and restaurant owners/managers will be ticked off as well. They may have had to cut back on advertising for seasonal reasons, or because cash flow is slow, and they will be reluctant to come back when they might normally do so. All it takes is the loss of one or two display advertisers to eliminate all the gains from paid listings.
- I suspect local musicians - who have no budgets to advertise - will be angry at the slight. These readers are seeing themselves reflected less and less in the pages of this publication, which has cut back on its local music coverage as well.
- I would bet that those few businesses who do buy these listings - now or in the near future - will stop doing so within six months. Someone - a customer or employee - will comment on the changes and confirm their own suspicion that this "marketplace" has limited value because it is incomplete.

Media consumers want information packaged how they want it and delivered when they want. For me, there is no turning back as either a publisher or as a consumer.

Are newspapers dead?

"Are Newspapers Dead?" That is the subject of an upcoming Albany Ad Club "round-table discussion of the viability of newspapers in the Internet age". Ironically, there is no one currently working at a newspaper on the panel, though Mike Danieli is a former Times Union executive (and former The Record employee) and he currently works with the New York State Press Association. I am going to attend for no other reason I am curious to see who is interested in the topic.

And for those of you who can't attend, the answer is a definitive "no" ... no matter what the panel says.

See Ad Club site for details: Albany Ad Club event

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

RPI President: "History maker"

This is a little dated but R.P.I. President Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson was named's "History Makers in the Making" in conjunction with Black History Month. is published in conjunction with NBC News and its sister Web sites.

Read the profile.