Thursday, June 29, 2006

Getting to know you

In California, the three Bees have long referred to one another as "cousins," as in "I wonder if one of the cousins is going to cover this?" It's always seemed like a useful, friendly construct to me.

Well, we've all got a lot more cousins now. I thought it might be fun to share a few images here to help us identify with and understand one another better.

Pictured here is a woman working in the finance office at the Anchorage Daily News, a place where I worked more or less from high school until middle-age. This was taken a month or so ago, I am told. Moose are common visitors there, although more likely in winter, when deep snow in the mountains forces them to look for something to eat in your rose garden.

You have anything to share?
– Howard Weaver

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

New media isn't new any more

There is a short post here that makes a point that has seemed more and more important to me lately: we need to stop thinking about "print media" and "new media" and all such other constructs and start acting like it's all just media.

The commentator at techdirt (I have no idea what that is) put it this way:
These companies don't need Chief Digital Officers. It's not a separate job function. They need to get the entire company thinking digitally and understanding how it impacts their business.
I had the same thought recently in making a presentation to a strategic planning session at Sac Bee. I had a job here 11 years agoi called "assistant to the president for new media strategies." Dumb title, I realize, but at least it was accurate then. The digital stuff really was new media then. It's not new any more.

I had the same thought again yesterday when Kit Seelye from NYT was here interviewing some of us for her ticktock on the deal. It's so clear to me now that our whole strategy is easily ecapsulated in the simple objective: "be the leading local media company."

In our case, news media, since we aren't [yet] aiming at Disney or Sony. But when it comes to news, we want to master all media, to be fully engaged and present in instant-cycle 24/7 breaking news (online, email alerts, RSS, etc); in comprehensive printed daily briefing/orientation in the mainsheet newspaper; in video and podcasting selectively; in foreign language and other niche publications.

It's all just media. And you are in the media business.
– Howard Weaver

Friday, June 23, 2006

We have a great example of the power of blogs.

Staff. Sgt. Mike Wenrick of Centre County contributed to a Postcards from Iraq blog that was active on for about a year. During that time he posted how angry he and other U.S. troops were with the protests at military funerals by a Kansas group, and questioned why Pennsylvania didn't ban this activity like some other states.

He pounded away at this in his blog and asked readers to share their thoughts. Dozens of them did, and state legislators noticed.

The state House this spring passed a bill limiting protests at funerals, and the state Senate has just unanimously passed it. Gov. Ed Rendell is expected to sign it into law, and legislators as well as readers are crediting Wenrick.

As a blogger myself, I'm pleased to share this blog accomplishment with everyone.

Bob Heisse

Monday, June 19, 2006

What happens to KRT?

The day McClatchy's acquisition of Knight Ridder closes (likely to be June 27, if all goes according to plan), KR's half-interest in Knight Ridder Tribune Information Services also changes hands. We will become 50-50 partners with Tribune in the enterprise.

The name will change. For the time being, at least, all we are doing is substituting our name for Knight Ridder's, as in the logo above. In the same way that KRT was known by its three initials, we plan to brand this MCT. (We thought about simply MT, but that has problems. Say it aloud a couple of time: Em-Tee, Em-Tee. We also thought that McT -- Mac-Tee -- sounded too much like a fast food product.) The logos and website designs will be tuned to look like the KRT trademarks to help ensure continuity of branding and recognition.

Most importantly, the high-quality content and professional service will remain the same. Some of you know that McClatchy's contractual relations as a contributor to the New York Times News Service and Scripps-Howard News Service create some complications with regard to distribution through MCT. While we are sorting that out, we have agreed with NYTNS that the 20 former KR papers will continue to contribute through MCT, while the 12 legacy McClatchy papers will keep contributing to NYTNS and Scripps.

We have also invited most of the divested KR papers to continue contributing and receiving the wire, and I expect they will. Thus KRT clients who were accustomed to seeing Philadelphia or San José stories should continue to have them. Jane Scholz and her fine staff in DC continue as before.

Of course there will be changes. The existing McClatchy papers (who were already KRT's largest customer) will get access to more of the service; somebody from the service will be contacting them about that. Distribution will change in the Twin Cities. We will have to work through which channels handle contributions from bureau staffers.

If you spot or foresee problems or anomalies, please flag them for me, Jane or David Westphal. Thanks.

– Howard Weaver

Thursday, June 15, 2006


Does blogging make reporters better?

That's one question asked in an interview with Tacoma's award-winning sportsblogger Mike Sando over at the Online Journalism Review. (One question we can answer authoritatively is that great reporters can make great bloggers. Mike proves it.)

You can find the article on Sando's Seahawks blog here.

– Howard Weaver

Washington Post columnist Matt Cohen has written a column about the value of news vs. the value of newspaper companies to Wall Street.

I think he's right on target when he states, "... while (Morgan Stanley's Hassan Elmasry) mentions benefit to 'shareholders,' he says nothing about readers or, if you will, the public in general. 'Intrinsic value,' after all, should not always be measured in monetary terms."

I am starting to feel like Howard Beale in Network: "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!"

All industries undergo change. The strong survive; the rest are relegated to history books. Our industry is changing in many ways, but our core values are no different - or they shouldn't be, regardless of what Wall Street says. It is insane to me that an industry that regularly manages profit margins of 10%, 20%, 30% - even 40%! - gets trashed by "analysts." How many other industries in the world's richest nations wouldn't kill for profit margins of 10%? The world is upside down. Granted, I'm in a midsized market and have watched the nightmares of San Francisco's circ declines from a distance. But I think there are a whole lot of newspaper folks across the country who are reading the industry's obituary and scratching their heads, wondering how it could possibly apply to their situations.

I was watching a favorite movie the other night, Apollo 13, and one sequence in particular made me think of our industry: A couple of pencil-pushing geeks are worried the astronauts will die and say, "This could be the worst disaster NASA has ever faced." The character played by Ed Harris turns to them with full confidence and says, "With all due respect, sir, I believe this is going to be our finest hour."

-- Andy Perdue

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Better than investigative reporting?

Hunting down bad guys and exposing corruption will always be a central mission for journalists. But will it always be the most important one? Is it now?

Matt Thompson argues in "The Press' New Paradigm" that helping people grasp the meaning of the complex information that defines contemporary life may be the highest calling for journalists these days. In an age when Enron's misdeeds went unchallenged because they were buried in complexity few could penetrate, he may have a point. I read a book not long ago called "Data Smog" that makes the telling point that bad information -- like polluted air -- can be toxic.

I encourage you to click through to Matt's essay and then come back for some discussion in the comments here. These are important questions.

But data modeling instead of gumshoes? Man, talk about revenge of the nerds.

– Howard Weaver

Friday, June 09, 2006

Quote of the day ...

Stolen from a New Yorker cartoon and overheard at a CSNE workshop called "Newsroom Reformation":

"Okay, I'm ready to innovate. What are the guidelines?"

– Howard Weaver

Clear choices in an uncertain time

I gave a short talk and answered questions this morning at the California Society of Newspaper Editors gathering in Santa Barbara, where I was asked to address both the McClatchy/Knight Ridder deal and the future of newspapers.

Attendance was lighter than usual (isn't that true at all newspaper meetings nowadays?) but there was a good representation from papers large and small throughout the state. I was happy to see Sandra Duerr and Tad Weber from San Luis Obispo amongst some familiar faces from Modesto, Sacramento and elsewhere. I was able to take in an excellent presentation on how California newspapers are using video online, including some impressive samples from small, rural papers.

I doubt there's much in my remarks you don't know or haven't heard, but what the heck; I already wrote this, so I'm going to post it here:

Remarks for CSNE Convention * 9 June 2006
Howard Weaver * Santa Barbara, CA

Some of you have already heard the story of how McClatchy’s involvement with the Knight Ridder acquisition began. We can date it almost to the moment, starting at lunchtime on November first, 2005 – a warm day in Sacramento with a small group of McClatchy executives sitting at a sidewalk table having lunch. At some point in the proceedings, CFO Pat Talamantes glanced down at his Blackberry and then stood up to leave. He read us the email from Gary Pruitt: “Knight Ridder in play. Let the games begin.”

The prospective end of Knight Ridder’s long and storied history and the beginning of McClatchy’s new adventure are not, of course, all “games.” But there is no denying that a thrill of excitement infused our discussions that afternoon, and animated the long days of hard work between that afternoon and this morning.

I heard Gary Pruitt tell Tony Ridder and his executive team in San Jose one afternoon that McClatchy’s first choice would be that Knight Ridder not be forced to sell. We believe in independent newspaper companies, and like everybody in our industry, we knew and admired what those newspapers have accomplished over many decades. It’s never a good thing for a great newspaper company to go away.

But I also heard Gary say and know that we all strongly believed that if the company was to be sold, we wanted very much to be in the hunt.

You probably know that McClatchy’s acquisition strategy has always been tightly focused and very disciplined. We look at practically every opportunity that comes into play, but we act on almost none. We had purchased the Raleigh News & Observer in 1995, the Minneapolis Star Tribune in 1998, and the Merced Sun-Star in 2004. In between were long, patient periods of saying no, of passing on one opportunity after another. We were a successful company as we were, and knew we didn’t have to grow to prosper.

But now, with the Knight Ridder sale, we were looking at the prospect of not one or two or even a half-dozen possibilities: there might be 15 or 20 opportunities here that matched our market-centered acquisition criteria. We started studying them with real excitement.

Much has been written about our decision to keep some of the Knight Ridder papers, and to sell others. I know it surprised and even shocked many in our industry, but it really shouldn’t have. McClatchy has always said that it had a strict acquisition criteria, and would apply it with discipline. So when the time came and we applied our strict criteria in a disciplined way, it really should have come as no surprise.

People typically write that McClatchy is interested only in growth markets, and while it is true in a broad sense that growth is key, that certainly doesn’t fully describe our process. If it did, anybody could duplicate it: just call up the Census Bureau, get the numbers and start writing checks.

We’ve said a number of times that the analysis actually involves a wide range of factors: household growth, retail sales, education, propensity to read and many others. We don’t describe it in detail because it’s proprietary information. I’d argue that we have been pretty successful in our acquisitions to date, and this formula is, in a way, our Secret Sauce.

What took some of the observers by surprise, I suspect, is that we analyzed Knight Ridder not as a single monolithic entity, but market by market. We ran hundreds, perhaps thousands of econometric models predicting what would happen under the broadest range of conditions: what if there was another recession? Would this roster of markets still generate the cash flow to pay the debt? What if there was a terrorist attack, or an influenza pandemic. I heard Gary say once that we had modeled everything this side of a direct hit by an asteroid.

In the end, we were thrilled to find 20 of Knight Ridder’s markets matched our criteria nearly perfectly. But the other 12 did not, and most of the stock analysts and investment bankers who got quoted assumed we wouldn’t be willing to buy and immediately sell them on account of what they call “tax leakage.” As Gary’s pointed out, we just call that “paying our taxes,” and we were willing to do so as a part of our larger plan for doing the deal.

As I have told folks in Philadelphia and San Jose, we clearly were not selecting a journalistic all-star team; if we were, those papers surely would have been included. What we did instead was pick the markets where we thought our established, tested strategy would work. It’s what we know how to do, what defines our company. Other companies have other strategies and operating styles; they are not necessarily better or worse, they are different.

We know, like all of you, that the economics of the news business are changing, and that the margin for making mistakes has become much smaller. Where dominant daily newspapers used to be something very much like a license to print money, there are now distinguished, big-city papers losing lots of money.

Equally threatening is the fact that our relationship with our readers is changing. Our credibility is under assault on all sides – from talk radio, and bloggers, from political parties and the government of the United States. Partisan advocacy and ideology – the Journalism of Affirmation – threatens to take the place of our longstanding ambition: a journalism of verification, based on fair, honest, fearless newsgathering and truthtelling.

In other words, the stakes are very high. In seeking the create a 21st century news company – one that serves diverse audiences on many platforms, when and how they want to access us – we needed nothing less than the strongest team we could field.

Today we are earnestly and diligently engaged in just that pursuit: in Modesto and Merced, in Raleigh and Rock Hill. Soon, we hope, our team will be joined by colleagues in San Luis Obispo and Miami and State College, PA.

We know the battle is not ours alone; newspapers across the country are awakening from their slumber to embrace the opportunities and challenges we have described. More and more editors have rallied to the battle cry of ASNE President David Zeeck, who said: “I'm not spending another minute of my life worrying about the future of newspapers … I believe in newspapers and I believe they will last. But I also believe in the web. Heck I'm willing to believe in iPods and cell phones. Really what I'm saying is I believe in journalism.”

And if newspapers don’t defend journalism, who will? We know no other media have the will or the wherewithal to advance our central values into the new media landscape. In each of your communities, you should have the largest news staff, the leading website, the most ad salesmen and the best reputation. We still making good money, and have resources to invest.

I cannot guarantee you success, though in my heart I truly do expect us to prevail. But I can offer you the satisfaction of a choice well made.

For what are the choices for an honest journalist today? I can think of three.

We can give up.

We can hunker down and try to bleed as slowly as possible.

Or we can fight back.

I have not one moment’s doubt about those choices.

– Howard Weaver

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Following up on the previous post about Miami allowing online readers to post comments freely, here's a report from the semi-free-speech front:

Six weeks ago, gave readers the ability to comment on every news story.

The response has been a surprise, at least to me. In the first month, we got, round numbers, 4,000 comments on 3,000 stories from 1,000 users. The comments themselves got about 75,000 page views.

Talk-radio topics draw the big numbers. When the Sacramento Kings' coach got fired, there were more than 200 posts. A police officer shooting and killing a teen at a local shopping center drew nearly as many. "Serious" topics don't do as well, but they do business too.

We monitor the comments for libel, filth, hate and such, and reject those that don't pass. We do not edit them.

There have been challenges in these first weeks, mostly due to the unexpected volume. That and trying to find exactly where our line of acceptance should fall. This is a new connection with our readers, and it doesn't seem right that the letters-to-the-editor standards, while fine there, should be applied here. Some words and tone that wouldn't make the newspaper ought to be OK here. The default setting needs to be YES.

To help foster that freedom, comments are teased from the bottom of a story -- but the comments themselves live on a separate page. (We had some internal discussion about that before launch, with the Internet-generation people arguing story and comments should appear together. I think we made the right call.)

The system, built by in-house tech wizards, is tied in with InSite registration. It has more features than I've outlined, and other features we haven't enabled, such as using the Miami free-speech model. Nando is considering adoption of the system. Tech details upon request.


-- Ralph Frattura

Monday, June 05, 2006

New press, new look in Kansas City

Today's a big day for the Kansas City Star. The full-dress version of their redesign hit the streets this morning.

As you probably know, this coincides with operations at the new state-of-the-art pronting facility you see pictured at the top of the page to the right. The handsome, downtown facility is gorgeous, modern and oh-so functional, providing both visual and financial proof of their faith in the role printed newspapers will continue to play.

At the same time, of course, the Star is at the fore in finding other channels for delivering information audiences need, including frequent video coverage at

– Howard Weaver

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Could less competition be better?

Amy Graham has a post over at Poynter that dares to suggest there might be something to the agrument that competition isn't always the best thing for media.

At first blush the argument is anathema to those of us weaned on the ethic and exhilaration of completive newsrooms. I know for certain that the desire to kick the ass of whoever was covering my beat for the rival Anchorage Times motivated me more often than any deep, selfless desire to serve the public good. It kept me at the desk and on the phone late, steeled my nerves to knock on strange doors, made me double and triple check the factoids.

But Amy and others whose arguments she incorporates make some telling points. Could it be that times and circumstances have changed so much that we need to rethink the truism?

In an age of blogs and 24-hour cable and instantaneous updates on dozens of media websites, does it make sense for everybody to staff the daily White House briefing? How important is it for journalists from half our papers to staff the Super Bowl? Is your art director’s take on the Oscar preview page really that much better than the half-dozen others you could use from somebody else?

Suppose you could take the resources you’d save by skipping all that and devote them to something unique, particular and compelling? An investigation into college recruiting in your town, rather than game stories from every road trip of the Anytown Warriors; a unique graphic explanation of a controversial area shopping mall proposal, rather than that generic Oscar page; a close look at Pentagon procurement practices by Congressional district instead of a story that matches what the NYT, LAT, AP and Reuters all had from the briefing?

As we start to integrate 32 papers into the new McClatchy, these questions will become more sharply framed. Think about what you could do to optimize the resources in your newsroom by using something produced by a cousin. Think about what you can contribute to help them.

I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all answer here. But I am betting we will find more and more occasions where these questions matter.
– Howard Weaver