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Barbara Lombardo of Saratoga Springs, NY, is a journalism adjunct at University at Albany and retired executive editor of The Saratogian, The Record and the Community News. Follow her on Twitter @Barb_Lombardo.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Ben Franklin would be proud of Journal Register Company experiment

The letter below went to all the employees of the Journal Register Company, the parent company of The Saratogian, from CEO John Paton, who in a very short time has done remarkable things to turn around the image of JRC in the news industry.

Anyone can publish nowadays, as you well know. We in the news business take pride in doing it well, with credibility and consistently.

Paton created what is called the Ben Franklin project: Can you produce a newspaper using only free, online tools? Can you?

Two of the newspapers in the company became the sites for this experiment. And they did it!

I'll be writing more about this and what it means in the days ahead. I'm learning about it myself. There's lots of info about it that you can Google if you want to jump ahead. Below, I'll share the letter from Paton, which includes the challenge to all of the JRC newsrooms.

FROM CEO John Paton:

We did it.

On April 21 we launched the Ben Franklin Project. Our ambitious idea was - from content creation to sales, ad order entry and customer relationship management - to actually produce and print products using only free, web-based tools. We were to bypass costly proprietary systems and the legacy editorial process by going straight to the web and the audience in our communities. And we were to do all of this at one of our dailies and one of weeklies within 30 days.

Well, we did it – in 29 days.

The amazing staffers at our daily, The News-Herald in Lake County, Ohio and our weekly at Montgomery Media's Perkasie News-Herald reinvented almost every process it takes to produce a website and newspaper and involved our communities every step of the way.

See VP of Content, Jon Cooper’s post on The Ben Franklin Project site for details on how our brilliant and innovative colleagues just pulled off what must be a first for our industry.

Our journalists dove deep into their communities to find out what they wanted and collaboratively developed stories. Working the crowd and the cloud they worked on stories including blighted neighborhoods and dangerous intersections.

Our production folks bravely dropped all of the familiar tools of our industry and figured out how to do their jobs with no budget just a connection to the web.

The result has been groundbreaking for our Company as we have changed our focus and culture from legacy based to Digital First.

I don’t know if Ben Franklin would be proud but I sure am. The Journal Register Company is now a company to be watched and that is because of you.

So, what next?

How about starting Monday, and 30 days from then, every one of our 18 daily newspapers pulls off another Ben Franklin Project? What do you say?


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