acanuck's picture

    Another death in Dallas

    Something just happened in Dallas that hit me in the gut. Forty-six years ago, it was (as Noam Chomsky is quoted as dismissively saying) "a man in a building shooting a man in a car." For most people, however, the JFK assassination significantly changed how they viewed the world. This week, hardly anybody noticed when management of the Dallas Morning News sent out an internal memo announcing a structural reorganization. Huffington Post ran an article about it, as did Editor & Publisher, but for most of the public it was all "inside baseball."

    Not for me. And it shouldn't be for you. It should make you angry and fearful. The disappearance of an American free press, a looming threat for years, just kicked into a new gear. Here's the memo from news editor Bob Mong and senior VP of sales Cyndy Carr:

    From: Mong, Bob
    Sent: Wednesday, December 02, 2009 4:41 PM
    To: Everyone - Al Día; Everyone - Denton RC; Everyone - TDMN; Everyone - Quick; Everyone-Denton Publishing; AH Belo Interactive; AH Belo Technology Dallas
    Subject: Memo from Bob Mong and Cyndy Carr

    The Dallas Morning News

    December 2, 2009


    Today we are launching a new business segment structure as the next step toward becoming the most comprehensive and trusted partner for local businesses in attracting and retaining customers and continuing to generate important, relevant content for our consumers.

    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.

    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.

    In the Sports and Entertainment segments, the senior news editors will report directly to the GM while retaining a strong reporting relationship to the editor and managing editor. These collaborations will bring new products that consumers want to the market more rapidly. We are proceeding knowing and trusting each other's distinct roles and responsibilities in the same way our News leadership and our Publisher have worked collaboratively for years.

    This business/news integration is a progressive step and is strongly supported by the news leaders of both the Sports and Entertainment segments:

    "As a segment, we have a lot of advantages usually associated with a start-up," said Bob Yates, deputy managing editor and Executive Sports Editor. "We should be able to move much more quickly to take advantage of opportunities. That comes from having greater autonomy that gives us the freedom to develop both advertising and content solutions."

    "As a journalist who has participated in many new product launches, I'm excited about the idea of working with a business partner on an arts and entertainment segment," added Lisa Kresl, deputy managing editor for Lifestyles. "Our high quality, credible content will reach new audiences in a variety of formats."

    The new segment leadership team is comprised of a very talented and accomplished group of business professionals:

    Entertainment and Travel/Luxury Segments: Tracy Martin Taylor is the GM for the Entertainment and Travel/Luxury segments. As part of the new GM role, Tracy will be responsible for overseeing content. Tracy will continue her role as Quick Publisher and assume the role of FD Luxe Publisher. Prior to joining The News in July, she was in sales management at Clear Channel Radio and marketing at Wherehouse Music.
    Sports and Health/Education Segments: Rich Alfano is the newest member of our management team. Rich worked for Times Mirror Magazines and served as President of Yachting, Saltwater Sportsman and Golf Magazine. He has most recently served as Senior Vice President/General Manager and SVP/Strategic Marketing for Practitioner's Publishing Co./Thomson Reuters. His professional success and experience in several industries makes him ideally suited to lead two of our high-growth segments.

    Automotive Segment: Bill Bradley is the Automotive GM. Bill has over ten years of experience in sales management and has been a leader in solution-based selling. His in-depth knowledge of the auto industry combined with his strong local dealer relationships make him ideal for the role. Bill has held sales management positions on the The News classified and local teams as well as sales and training roles in the newspaper industry prior to joining the company. 

    Real Estate Segment: Bill Bradley will assume the role of acting GM for Real Estate until the permanent position is hired.

    Communications Segment: Alejandro "Alex" Sanchez is the Communications GM and Publisher of Al Día.  He's been the Publisher of Al Dia the past two years and is responsible for achieving profitability earlier this year. Prior to The News, Alex spent 10 years as vice president and general manager for various television and radio stations in Texas, New York and California.

    Pre-prints/Grocery Segment: Dan Phelan is the GM for the Pre-Print/Grocery Segment. Since becoming pre-print sales director in 2003, Dan has excelled in delivering creative solutions for our clients and has ranked at the top of our peer group in revenue performance. Prior to The News, Dan spent 18 years with Advo/Valassis in customer service and sales management roles.

    Recruitment Segment: Michael Mayer is GM for Recruitment Advertising segment. He is a seasoned sales leader and has held various sales management positions in the newspaper industry including Recruitment Director at The Denver Newspaper Agency.

    Retail/Financial Segment: Grant Moise is GM for the Retail/Financial segment. Grant has also been named Publisher of Briefing after leading it to profitability since joining The News in December. Grant was previously the Regional Sales Director for Tribune Media Net and the National Advertising Director at The News. 

    SMB/Retail Interactive Segment: As the GM of SMB/Retail Interactive, Robert Jehling will focus our existing local teams on sales opportunities in the small and medium business (SMB) segments. SMB is composed of the General Classifieds organizations, SMB sales teams, and the Self Serve Portal. Robert will also continue to lead the Local and National Retail Interactive teams which have achieved revenue growth under his leadership. In addition, Robert will serve as Publisher for NeighborsGo and Prior to joining The News last November, Robert was a Senior Sales Director at AT&T. Robert has over 15 years in leading consultative sales and marketing teams, with a proven track record of success in merging sales organizations and driving increased productivity.

    The segment restructure is one of several key strategies we have implemented this year to better serve our advertising clients, including the following: 

    Every member of the sales staff has completed a solutions-based training and evaluation program to increase their ability to better understand our clients' marketing objectives and recommend solutions that deliver results. Training is an ongoing priority. Future training topics will include digital, product and segment training in addition to a learning management system to facilitate continuous education and assist in certification.
    Implemented a new Integrated Advertising System (IAS) in July, which consolidated over five disparate operating systems enabling us to more efficiently manage our clients' accounts.
    Restructured the marketing organization to better support the sales staff in the development of media solutions for our clients. Market, audience and segment analysts provide valuable insights while marketing strategists, media planners and the agency help create campaigns that deliver results.
    Created an agency liaison team to better serve our advertising agency clients through a more singular focus on account management. After the first 90 days, our satisfaction ratings have increased significantly.

    As The Dallas Morning News approaches its 125th anniversary in 2010, our business stands at a critical crossroads. Our success depends on employing bold strategies to evolve our organization: our home delivery pricing strategy (on which Jim and John updated us on Monday), our continued dedication and investment in important and relevant journalism that makes a difference in our community and the ongoing development of our product portfolio have all played a role in changing our approach to how we do business.

    This restructure and strategic integration with news, along with the many other strategies we've put into place this year to better serve our clients and consumers, position us for significant growth and stability as we head into the new year.

    Cyndy Carr                                                                 Bob Mong
    SVP/Sales                                                                   Editor

    Sorry for all the long-winded, self-serving gobbledygook, but let me translate it for you: news-section editors will now report to ad-sales managers, who have been retitled "general managers" in a flimsy attempt to paper over the fact that reporters, columnists and copy editors can now formally add the word "whore" to their job titles. I do appreciate that all newspapers face a challenge to their traditional business model. But the Dallas Morning News is the first major North American daily to openly announce that it will scrap its journalistic integrity if that's what it takes to survive.

    Shortly after I entered mainstream journalism more than a quarter-century ago, I witnessed a conversation between a managing editor and a sales manager. The ad guy couldn't understand why we couldn't reward the buyer of numerous full-page and half-page ads with the occasional favorable news or feature article now and then. The ME calmly explained, as he obviously had repeatedly through his career, that the number of eyeballs drawn to that ad depended on the reader's certainty of the paper's integrity: that there was a "firewall" between advertising and editorial content. He asserted, correctly, that the editor-in-chief and publisher would back him up. And they did. I knew then I'd picked the right career.

    Rules varied from paper to paper, but there was an overriding deference to the maintenance of public trust. That meant reporters didn't accept paid junkets. If the paper was reviewing a performance, it paid for the ticket. If it was reviewing a restaurant, it paid for the meal. The principle wasn't intended to impress the reader; it was to to impress the staff that they should strive for objectivity and integrity. By and large, it worked. I for one valued working for a company that lived up to the principles it set.

    As newspapers faced a growing financial squeeze, those standards began to slip. Increasingly, there were "special advertising sections." which combined ads and puff articles about the advertising companies. Journalist unions fought a rearguard action against them, insisting that they at least be clearly labeled advertising and that they use different typefaces from the rest of the newspaper. But their profitability seduced many owners (often not from newspaper backgrounds) that this was the path to survival.

    The Dallas Morning News has taken the idea to its extreme, actually subjugating news coverage to the whims of the paper's corporate advertisers. But perhaps it deserves credit for openly posting its "For Sale" sign, unlike (say) the Washington Post, which tried this year to quietly auction off -- for tens of thousands of dollars -- the opportunity for lobbyists to dine and mingle with reporters and editors at the home of the publisher. Remember: this is the newspaper that dared to bring down a president for his lack of integrity.

    Something important is slipping away, folks. The French called it "the fourth estate" in recognition of its importance to the functioning of democracy. But it's up for sale and the only bidders are the corporatocracy that already owns all the legislative levers. I took umbrage a while back at some Republican who hailed America's "free-market democracy." But maybe it's a fair description: Congress was bought out at bargain-basement prices decades ago. The "free press" that was supposed to call legislators to account is now surrendering to the same capitalist elite that owns government. I don't see how you'll ever get power back, people. Good luck, though.


    Thanks ac. This is an excellent, if sad, post. We've all been aware of newspapers' sagging fortunes and the impact it has been having on the quality of the journalism simply because there isn't enough money to support the staff. But I hadn't considered the possibility of deliberate rejections of editorial standards for financial reasons. Now that you've described the situation, it makes perfect sense for an ailing newspaper from a short-term balance sheet point of view. Yet in addition to the immediate impact of corrupted journalistic integrity, the changes will of course further diminish the reputation of the paper, and I suspect lead to even great decline in subscriptions. It's tragic every which way.

    Yeah, that's the way I see this project working out, too: maybe some short-term financial relief, but an accelerating decline in circulation -- further driving down ad revenues and ending in drawn-out failure.

    Thanks for not calling me for excess hyperbole: not even most journalists would compare this event to the Kennedy assassination. But my point was that Nov. 22, 1963, was a temporary if profound shock to American democracy. The self-destruction of the country's news industry will have an irreversible impact.

    And the Dallas Morning News is not some jerk-water community-calendar sheet. It's the city's biggest and oldest paper, daily circulation over a quarter-million. The parent company, A.H. Belo, also owns the venerable Providence Journal. Between them, the two papers have won a dozen Pulitzers. So is the Journal next in line for an ad-department takeover? I'd rather see it shut down or go totally online (like the Seattle Post-Intelligencer) than surrender its integrity.

    In Canada, the massive Canwest chain is being ground down by its $3-4 billion in unrepayable debt, mostly left over from its leveraged purchase of the Southam newspapers from Conrad Black. Individual papers still make money in absolute terms, but can't defray the interest on their own initial purchases. So the product gets cut to the bone and fewer readers are willing to buy it, fewer ads get sold, revenues fall further. Vicious cycle.  

    This financial problem has no obvious solution. I just know it can't involve scrapping the principles that have driven good journalism for centuries. And government bailouts for papers would be every bit as toxic.

    Thanks for not calling me for excess hyperbole.

    I blew off the hyperbole as the usual hyperventilation from our Canadian guests. And to think that I always thought of Canadian culture as understated.

    But seriously, print news is a dead industry walking, or rather stumbling. The only solution is a digital model that pays. Kindle and similar technologies offer some hope, but ultimately, I think it will be a volume business, which bodes poorly for local reporting.


    If locals demand (and will pay for) local reporting, it will persist. Charlottesville is a fairly small city (~100k population), but we have a daily local newspaper, 2 weekly "alternative" local newspapers, the daily University of Virginia newspaper, and even an "alternative" weekly UVA newspaper, as well as 3 local TV news stations. AFAIK, none of these are on the brink of collapse. Of course, Charlottesville is the best city in the world, but still…

    So far, local papers have been doing better than the bigger papers that report national news, but print has a limited shelf life. Circulation will continue to drop as people move online, and each surviving paper will eventually cross a threshold where print is no longer cost effective.

    And then we get the million dollar question--will people pay for local news on the Internet? I'm guessing that the wealth of content and competition online will continue to mean that they don't have to. And that means that local newspapers will have to survive on ad revenue. If online ads become more effective, that may be sufficient, since most of what you pay for in your daily newspaper is the paper and the ink. But it's not yet clear how much ad revenue will be available in local markets. And the increased dependence on advertisers may create a higher incentive to fall for the trap that Acanuck has laid out in his post.

    But don't worry. I expect that the UVA paper is university-supported and largely student-run, so you'll be fine.

    Actually, of all our local papers, only the local daily one charges. The others are all ad supported, and all of them are already on-line as well. Of course, because Charlottesville is so awesome, we've been ahead of the internet curve for quite some time…

    It really does depend on the audience, of course. Charlottesville has quite an eclectic mix of people, including some fairly well off liberals.

    I forgot two other weekly local "newspapers": The Virginia Law Weekly, and Iris (a publication of the UVA Women's Center).

    I'm definitely not trying to negate acanuck's primary point, however. What I'm trying to suggest is that there are ways of fighting this if the motivation is there.

    be curious where you got that awesome Chomsky quote. i'd like to use it and cite it in my future work. thanks.

    Chomsky at his most chomskyesque, isn't it? I heard it years ago, but secondhand. After I wrote it here, I did a quick google of the phrase and found no references, which is why I changed the wording to "was quoted ... as saying." 

    Check back in a day or so; I may be able to pin down a source. You're right, it is a great quote.

    This guy attributed the quote to JFK conspiracist, David Lifton:

    Aw crap! It sounded so much better coming from Chomsky.

    I'd read Lifton's best-selling conspiracy theory, Best Evidence, but don't recall his using the line there. Even the source you cite seems a bit hazy about attributing it to Lifton ("reportedly," "supposedly"). But for now, Chomsky's off the hook; I'm sure he's said a few other things that were controversial.

    (I won't change the initial post, 'cause otherwise this part of the thread makes no sense.)

    BTW, thanks for doing the research I was too lazy to do.

    It was a good procrastination excuse. But I'm not sure that attribution is correct either. As you mentioned, it was hazy, I didn't find corraborating evidence.

    I'll corroborate: I was there when Chomsky didn't say it.

    To cross the Is and dot the Ts, I ran the quotation past a court-recognized expert on the Kennedy assassinations. He e-mailed back:

    I recall it being Lifton as well, not Chomsky. Don't remember which documentary or the exact phrasing, but it was something to the effect of, "The authorities treated this as an ordinary crime -- a man in a building shooting a man in a car."

    As for the initial question of saving newspapers from themselves, the otherwise execrable Rupert Murdoch is onto something: papers somehow need to retake control of the aggregation of their product on the net. For-pay firewalls have failed as a model, even for such powerhouses as the New York Times. But that's because today's sophisticated news junkie wants (and expects) to sample the entire range of reporting on a subject -- not one paper's take. Especially if there's a premium to pay.

    What might work, least for big-city publications, would be to form (say) a nationwide consortium to both share reporting resources and aggregate all their content, which would be available free to subscribers to any one newspaper -- or for a fee that would be less than the print edition. Since web content isn't limited to a given size of news hole, stories could come in short, medium and long versions, with detailed sidebars and graphics there's no room for in the dead-tree versions.

    This would require pulling the same content off Google News, or truncating it to little more than a headline. An alternative would be for aggregators like Google to share their profits with the consortium. That would work to the advantage of both.

    In the pre-web heydays of journalism, individual papers often performed the "aggregator" role. Copy editors would collate reports from every available wire service -- in those days, we got them all -- into one seamless article that combined the best of each. If there was a local aspect to the story, you'd send out a reporter and wrap their contribution in as well.

    Ah, the good ole days. Then came the hard part: chiseling the text into stone tablets. Very tedious and time-consuming.

    Yet another sign of the print news industry's painful and increasingly speedy self-immolation:

    That it's happening at the Post comes as no surprise. It simply needs the cash, given that its previous blatant attempt to pimp out its reporters and editors flopped so badly. The Post's return to journalistic integrity was obviously just a short-term tactic.

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