MediaNews Group has given up trying to figure out the Internet for itself. And that's probably a good thing if you've ever visited a MNG website. The company has turned over the management keys to Digital First Media, which is run by John Paton, the CEO of the Journal Register Company.
The deal will make Paton CEO of MediaNews as well. The deal looks like a merger, and probably is a merger, but it won't immediately result in a merging of Journal Register and MediaNews properties. As Ken Doctor explains, in a comprehensive rundown of what the deal is likely to mean, "While digital first is the strategy, the mating of MediaNews and Journal Register is about combination, about efficiency."
Efficiency, in the short run, is likely to mean fewer executives at the regional level (look to BANG as a model), more partnerships with national news providers, regional or national consolidation of content (politics, sports, entertainment?), and a video camera for all reporters.
The recently rolled out MediaNews paywalls could stay up. Or they could come down.
Although this kind of change has probably brought The Fear to MNG newsrooms around the country, economics writer Felix Salmon surmises the merger has the potential to be successful in a way that AOL's Patch might not:
The first and most important reason is that local newspapers are, and always have been, the first best source of local ad-sales talent. They know their towns, they know their advertisers, they know their readers. Local advertising relationships are valuable and expensive things to build, and AOL doesn’t have any. On the other side of the editorial divide, local newspapers are also the first best source of local news, and are generally much more respected and trusted in local communities than any cookie-cutter Patch site is likely to become.
On an individual, case-by-case basis, it’s possible to find hyperlocal websites which are better than the local print rag. And of course it’s trivially true that wherever there isn’t a local print newspaper, any Patch site would be an improvement on nothing. But if you’re looking for a national-scale business with trust and local content in the community, Digital First is an obvious place to start. More than Patch, and indeed more than Groupon, too.Better than Groupon!?
Well, reporters who have no desire to haul video cameras into city hall should remain reasonably alarmed. And people who worry that this portends further consolidation, and probably more job cuts, should probably remain worried. But at least the unknowns are becoming known.
As for Paton, he blogs, which, hopefully, means he understands words on a screen. That's also an advantage over a bunch of older executives worrying about how to cobble together their retirement packages before the Internet grinds the company finances to dust.