Legacy costs and legacy thinking

“You are freed from the shackles of your presses,” Jeff Jarvis told Journal Register Co. editors at a company conference in Philadelphia today.
Jarvis was a surprise guest speaker at a gathering of about 80 JRC editors and reporters a few hours after it was announced that he, fellow new media model guru Jay Rosen and former Huffington Post CEO Betsy Morgan would join a special advisory board to help steer the company from a traditional newspaper business.
Jarvis led editors in a lengthy brainstorming session built around his premise that the company needs to plan for newsprint to go away a lot sooner than anyone thinks they will (i.e., two to five years). He wasn’t predicting that they would, just saying that the most sound business strategy would be to find a model for local journalism that does not depend on print by then. It’s the only way to ensure success regardless if that happens or newspapers end up being around for another 50 years.
After an exciting but overwhelming exchange of ideas about all of the possible niches to be served, platforms to be used, and networks of community and business partnerships to be made, one longtime “I’ve got ink running through my veins” editor said that he couldn’t believe he was saying it, but that it would be a lot easier to pursue these models if they weren’t dealing with a print edition right now.
So … just burn the boats, right?
Not when 95 percent of the company’s revenue still comes from print.
But there are immediate steps that can free editors and advertising departments like this to help change that percentage.
Journal Register Co. CEO John Paton has pledged a focus on reducing “legacy costs” while investing in technology and resources for better journalism and stronger advertising sales.
Consolidate and/or outsource printing, delivery, ad production, page production.
In an earlier post I used the quote about “gargantuan waste” still existing in today’s newspaper operations.
Talk about gargantuan waste. In a company with 19 daily newspapers, guess how many different world/nation pages are being built, separately, every night. Nineteen or close to it. Entertainment sections, advice pages, comics, etc.
But we can remove page building, for example, from the list of things that editor needs to worry about. That could free up staff time to be plowed back into front-line reporting, and it could help us change the news cycle from one based on afternoon-to-night schedules dictated by print to something that is dictated by what our readers need and when they most want information.

So it’s not just about cost structure. With some of these moves also come an opportunity to eliminate “legacy thinking.”
We can’t get rid of print (and don’t want to if it serves an audience that wants it and makes money). But we can begin, quickly, to change the environment in which it dictates our entire approach to news.
Will editors be willing to give up control over some of this stuff – from the exact angle of a graphic illustrating the story about the town budget, or even which story leads the state page – in order to accomplish the much bigger overall mission?

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