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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.

Friday, July 15, 2011

New owners, same mission: Local content

Beverly McKim, the editor of WG Life, a weekly paper The Saratogian publishes for the Wilton- Gansevoort area, was first in the newsroom to notice the email sent at 2:15 p.m. Thursday to all employees of Journal Register Company.

“We’ve been sold,” she said.

She read aloud the email from John Paton, the CEO of The Saratogian’s parent company, announcing that the Journal Register Company had been bought by Alden Global Capital.
“That’s a good thing,” he wrote of the sale, noting that the hedge fund had already been an investor in the company and has other newspaper company investments. “They know what we do, they like what we do, and today they are putting their money behind our efforts. Today’s announcement is a ringing endorsement of your efforts and demonstrates Alden’s confidence in our business model. Importantly, it also positions us well to continue to pursue our Digital First strategy and expand our company going forward.”

I believe him. I believe in our company strategy and the management team Paton has pulled together, which he said will remain in place. And I believe in The Saratogian and care about the communities it serves.

Paton’s email admittedly caused a bit of a distraction Thursday afternoon, Googling Alden Global Capital and following the emails of a handful of JRC employees in other states who “replied to everyone” to vent about long hours, low pay, outsourced jobs and feeling underappreciated and being frustrated by technology that falls far short for a company whose turnaround has centered on the mantra “Digital First.”

Those are frustrations with which I think many people in the news business, and not just those in JRC, can identify. Paton responded evenly, cc’ing everyone, in emails acknowledging the company’s goals, shortcomings and challenges, and asking simply, “Is your preference that the company remain bankrupt then simply go out of business?”

The Journal Register Company came out of bankruptcy under Paton’s leadership. He reinvented its mission and totally turned around its image, in a positive way, within the news industry. Evolving into a company that sees the future and has a future hasn’t been painless and we’re really still in the early stages of the changes that are in store. Paton has said time and again that the key to the company’s survival is to “invest in our core competencies, which are content and sales, and look hard at reducing our infrastructure costs.”

One of our Community Media Lab bloggers posted the news of The Saratogian’s sale and expressed uneasiness about being owned by out-of-town investors.

Actually, The Saratogian has been owned by out-of-towners since 1934, when Col. Walbridge sold The Saratogian to the Gannett Company. I wasn’t around then. But I was there 60 years later, when Gannett was unloading some of its smaller properties and sold The Saratogian to the Journal Register Company, which saw a synergistic opportunity because it already owned the Record in Troy.

Funny thing at the time was that local people were worried about us not being a local company anymore – not realizing The Saratogian hadn’t been locally owned since 1934. That meant we were doing our job at The Saratogian then, as now, and that our owners, then and now, know that The Saratogian’s niche in this competitive market is local content. And now, thank goodness, we are emphasizing digital first.

So what happened in the newsroom after we learned about the sale, Googled the company and read the emails?

Online Editor Emily Donohue created a “family tree” to help online readers understand at a glance the connections between victims of the explosion that leveled a house in Washington County Salem.

Photographer Erica Miller filed her day-after photos of the disaster, and reporter Michael Cignoli wrote his second-day story and filed a video taken at the scene, as a young girl creates a memorial with a stuffed animal beneath a tree and an emergency responder explains how they will go about determining the cause.

Betsy DeMars, the assistant managing editor, consulted with reporter Paul Post about his story and video on SPAC’s alcohol crackdown and edited reporter Lucian McCarty’s update on the Family Court case involving the accidental shooting of a 12-year-old boy.

Chelsea Kruger edited the obituaries that would appear online and in Friday’s print edition, then moved on to the police and courts column.

Nicole Russo, the sports editor, convened her crew, including with horse racing writer Mike Veitch, for an all-systems-go meeting in advance of next Friday’s start of the 2011 Saratoga Race Course meet and the season debut of the daily Pink Sheet.

In short, everyone continued to do what we do every day – gather and report your local news. And that’s what we intend to keep doing.

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2 Comments:

Blogger Paul P said...

Barbara,

Now if the new owners can get the circulation department functioning well, maybe several of us who have stopped home delivery out of frustration will come back.
Paul Phillips

July 16, 2011 at 8:29 AM 
Blogger Fresh Ink said...

I'd love to have you back as a subscriber. Please get in touch with me at blombardo@journalregister.com so I can bring your circ problem to the attention of the circulation director and publisher.

July 16, 2011 at 10:38 PM 

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