Taking the “paper” out of “newspaper”

Today in the New York Times, media columnist David Carr profiles John Paton, the new-since-September CEO of MediaNews Group which owns hundreds of newspapers in the US including the Lowell Sun. Carr singles out Paton as one of the few from within the newspaper industry who sincerely believes that the future of that industry does not include paper. Here are some excerpts from the article, Newspapers’ Digital Apostle:

The second-largest newspaper chain in America is now being run by someone who thinks that print is, if not exactly dead, dying a lot faster than anyone thought.

[Paton] also notoriously proposed that real transformation would happen only if the industry were willing to “stop listening to newspaper people.”

. . . [Paton] is absolutely convinced that if newspapers are to survive, they will all but have to set themselves on fire, eventually forsaking print and becoming digital news operations.

In Mr. Paton’s version of newspapering, a third of the news will be expensive local content produced by professional journalists, a third will come from readers and community input, and a third will be aggregated.

The [MediaNews Group] newspapers are also looking to their audiences to generated content as well, with accommodations made for blogging and photos from the community.

Mr. Paton already sees the logical end of the transformation: the elimination of some, if not all, print vehicles. “There are probably a whole bunch of dailies out there that cannot sustain themselves going forward at seven days a week,” he said. “Some should probably be weeklies, or there may come a time when they don’t put out a newspaper at all.”

Paton was in Lowell back in September and can be seen and heard talking to the staff of the Sun, foreshadowing much of what was in today’s NYT article, in the YouTube video below. Right after his visit several employee-written blogs made their debut on the newspaper’s website and there was an immediate uptick in employee activity on Facebook. Mr. Paton’s utterances are worthy of our attention both to help discern the strategic moves in the newspaper industry but also to see how those moves are implemented here at the local level.