Dallas News Publisher Jim Moroney Really Wants to Stress, "Our Content Isn't For Sale"

Categories: Media
moroneyoncspan.jpg
News publisher Jim Moroney
Late this evening, Dallas Morning News publisher and chief executive officer Jim Moroney called to discuss editor Bob Mong's memo concerning the paper's new "business/news integration," which has some of the paper's section editors reporting directly to newly assigned advertising-side higher-ups. Moroney said he'd been on the phone all afternoon with Bloomberg News and The New York Times having to explain the arrangement. It wasn't till late today, Moroney said, that he saw our original item, and he took exception to a single line contained therein: "In short, those who sell ads for A.H. Belo's products will now dictate content within A.H. Belo's products."

"That one line got to me a little bit: 'They will dictate content,'" he said. "I think people will read that as, 'Whatever sells the most will be the content that'll get put online and in the paper.' But it's about the audience first. If we don't have a loyal, engaged audience, advertisers will fade away. Our content isn't for sale. If it is, we're out of business."

As I explained to Moroney, Mong's tortuously written memo -- which he explained to Unfair Park in a follow-up interview this morning -- certainly suggested at the very least a demolition of the wall that keeps a paper's sales-siders out of the newsroom. Said the memo, executive sports editor Bob Yates and Lifestyles deputy managing editor Lisa Kresl, among others, will report to so-called "general managers" now, thereby creating "a new business segment structure as the next step toward becoming the most comprehensive and trusted partner for local businesses." Sure sounds like dogs and cats living together.

Moroney said he understood how outsiders could get that perception from the memo, which has since made the virtual rounds on Gawker, The Huffington Post, Editor & Publisher, The Chicago Tribune and Jim Romenesko's Poynter blog. Fact is, Moroney acknowledged, even those on the inside read it that way.

"There are people here that are very upset, very concerned about it," he said. "We're talking to them directly too. Bob has; [senior vice president of sales] Cyndy [Carr] has; Lisa has. I get that. I also want to make sure the external constituency is hearing everything."

Hence, the reason for his phone call.

So. After the jump, Moroney takes his shot at explaining the new arrangement. He does so without interruption.

Update at 7:42 a.m. Friday:
The New York Times did indeed run a small piece this morning, buried at the bottom of Page B4, concerning the News news. A Northwestern media ethics prof says of the deal, "It strikes me as at least creating a perception issue when you have, in effect, sales managers managing news personnel."
I come from the advertising side of the media business. I started off in ad sales. The editor of this paper reports to me, and the business side reports to me. Just becaue a business person has an editorial person reporting to him or her doesn't mean our content is now for sale or that the salespeople, the business people, the publisher will dictate to the newsroom what content they choose to publish or not. I have never gone to Bob Mong and said, "You have to do the following for business reasons." Never done it, never would do it. The integrity of the process is absolutely fundamental to your business and our business. The moment they think our information is for sale, we're out of business. We will be a Greensheet, as Huffington Post put it. We aren't going to be and won't start becoming a Greensheet.

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. Lisa Kresl and Bob Yates will not operate any differently. In publishing the sports section, they have never been told what they had to publish in order to favor some advertiser, and that will not start now.

Now, you might ask, why the hell you doing this? Here's the reason. We are convinced the future of digital consumption of news and information lies in narrow niches, in segments, not one-size-fits-all. Further, what kind of news and information they want to consume on a mobile device will be different in different segments. In sports today people want the scores as soon as they're available. If they can get real-time information, they'll see how it's going. If I want restaurant information, I want location-based information -- such as the best Italian restaurant, and does it have drink specials, and what's the price range. It's not only different applications, but the content you're responsible for will be very different.

We've got to get our editors thinking about how people want to consume their news and information on digital platforms. I am confident that it's not going to be the same across the board. We are breaking things into narrow verticals. People don't search for restaurants in Dallas. It's more like: "Italian, mid-range, in the West End area." So people are thinking in segments in narrow segments, and we'll align our businesses to align with the digital experience. And what you'll see in the paper will change. Hopefully GuideLive and SportsDay don't get stagnant, and Bob and Lisa will publish the way they always have. 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.

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