From the memo:
To better align with our clients' needs, we will be organized around eleven business and content segments with similar marketing and consumer profiles including: sports, health/education, entertainment, travel/luxury, automotive, real estate, communications, preprints/grocery, recruitment, retail/finance, and SMB/Interactive.The amount of jargon needed to explain the proposal is a first sign of trouble. Robert Wilonsky at the Dallas Observer did his best to pin down Mong about what all this means and Wong made an unconvincing effort to brush off concerns. Mong does draw a line between stories and ads, but he sidesteps issues of whether moneymaking pressures will have a direct role in how and what the newsroom covers.
Each segment will be led by a General Manager (GM), a newly-defined role, each reporting to Cyndy Carr, charged with analyzing and growing the business by developing solutions that meet consumer needs and maximize results for our clients. Their responsibilities will include sales and business development. They will also be working closely with news leadership in product and content development.
One remaining barrier to prevent unethical behavior, Mong told Wilonsky, is the team of journalists employed at the paper:
Believe me, our journalists aren't shy. If they think this thing isn't working right, they'll be the first to tell you. I talked to a lot of people yesterday, and, yes, there's uneasiness in some areas, and I would have been disappointed if people didn't raise questions.That's all well and good, but journalists aren't angels. They feel pressure when their jobs are on the line (and will notice that the sales people are in charge). They accommodate higher ups. They aim to please. Moreover, you are what you practice. If you eliminate the wall, eventually people start acting like it's gone. Just take a look at the local television news.
All that said, the integration plan does not appear to include core beats in business or Metro. But it's not clear why they would be kept separate if management, which thinks this new regime is safe and ethical, starts to make money.
A lot of newspapers, including ones in the Los Angeles area, have danced around the separation barrier by creating hybrid general manager/executive editor/publisher slots that give the business side a say in content creation. Most of the time, the influence is limited to special sections and advertorial pieces. The Dallas Morning News has gone much further, and it wouldn't surprise me if it emboldened other newspaper chains to follow suit.
*Update: Although the Dallas Observer reports that the memo went out to all Belo papers, I'm told no one at the Riverside Press-Enterprise received it. It appears this only involves the Dallas Morning News - for now.
**Update II: Dallas Morning News publisher Jim Moroney tells the Dallas Observer that the "business/news integration" plan is about developing niches to attract customers (i.e., making more money). He says the concerns about breaching journalistic standards is "much ado about nothing":
We are trying to understand the local consumer -- what kind of relevant, important news and information does the consumer want in a particular category -- and try to build audience loyalty and more engagement by trying to find the content people most want and that's most relevant and most important. And if we do that, it attracts an audience.
No one will tell Lisa they have to put this picture of this restaurant in the Guide because they're an advertiser. No one will tell Leslie Brenner which restaurant to review.
This is much ado about nothing, and I guess at the end of the day the only way I'll convince people is to tell them to check back in 90 days, 180 days, 365 days and see if anything has changed.