Journal Register CEO: 'Most important time for legacy media'
"The most important and the most opportunistic time for legacy media companies, old media companies -- newspapers, broadcast -- is now," John Paton, CEO of The Journal Register Co., told Beet.TV. "To make that transition from what we were to what we're going to be."
Paton is one of the most interesting publishers in America. He is relentlessly optimistic about the future of newspapers in the digital age. But for all his boldness -- his experiment in hyperlocal news can only be properly construed as innovative -- Paton is thoroughly old school. He firmly believes in the trust between a paper and its community, as well as that people will pay for good journalism.
Some back story: The Journal Register has more than 324 online and print publications -- Paton throughout the interview calls them "products" -- serving over 900 communities in 10 states. And then there is the history. The JRC has been serving Connecticut's Litchfield County for 118 years.
"So along comes this new phenomenon, the Internet," sums up Paton. "And we're faced with how do we adopt these new technologies because it's clear now that more Americans get their news from the Internet than in any other form. Whether it starts from newspapers or television, they get it on the Net."
He's more than up to the challenge: "... In 2012 ... more advertisers will advertise in the US online than they will in print. The customers and the money have gone to the new format. We're going to leverage our resources in our marketplaces. In every market that we're in we have more news and information creators full time than all of our competitors combined. And so we are able to create an enormous amount of original content cost effectively, profitably, on a local scale."
Paton's "Channeling Change" presentation last December at the INMA Transformation of News summit is now the stuff of legend. Because of the digital expansion, The Journal Register Company now has a U.S. audience of 16 million visitors a month, up from 13 million throughout 2009. Digital-only revenue has doubled in the last 10 months and is now a double digit percentage of JRC's total advertising revenue.
Paton is looking to rebuild the entire news cycle, with digital as the lead.
"We follow [news] now starting from SMS alerts all the way down to print," Paton told Beet.TV. "We say digital first and print last not because we're dismissing print, but because it actually comes last in the cycle. Long before that we are using social media, we're using video, we're using mobile and we're using web and widgets to get that news out there before we do the actual print product. And so we're able to essentially create this very vertically integrated and robust news and content silo that wasn't available to us before."
In the second part of his talk with Beet.TV, Paton discussed his plan to monetize video. "Video is the number one desired medium for people online," said Paton. "The Internet, from a news and information perspective, has become a video medium." Also newspapers are generally the most trusted news brand in local markets, so why not further empower trusted journalists with video cameras? Video also just happens to make it much easier for an organization like JRC to compete against a newly minted AOL-Huffington Post behemoth hyperlocally.
There are many more reasons why video is a no brainer for a hyperlocal organization. The costs of producing videos are no longer prohibitive. Paton recounted how there used to be a "bottleneck" for journalists who wanted to get into video at JRC. With 324 "products" across 10 states, management quickly found that operating a central video center was just not going to work. Hence the recent decision to make Syndicaster JRC's video platform, vastly streamlined the whole process. Paton also introduced innovation by providing every journalist in the company newsrooms with flip cameras, thus expanding the presentation of journalism "to a whole new medium":
"So at JRC we did a couple of things we bought about a thousand high definition flip cameras and put them in the hands of all of our journalists and indeed (to) some of our ad sales people as well who wanted to take that new product to their customers. That in turn meant we started to create what was almost no videos per month 18 months ago, a year ago it was 400 videos a month, right now as we sit today we produce almost a thousand videos a week, we're producing an enormous amount of video content because we've cross trained all of our journalists who not only create stories they also create video now when they go out on assignment."
Videos also present advertising opportunities and invite conversation in the form of comments from the community (which is important to a hyperlocal play).
Some of the Journal Register titles predate the American Revolution, at least one predecessor title was co-founded by Benjamin Franklin while another title's first obituary was that of George Washington. The Journal Register brand is as old as American journalism and appears, under the stewardship of John Paton, to be particularly well suited to navigate the changes in the industry.