The South Florida Sun-Sentinel let slip this week that it would no longer put its newspaper at the center of it’s sunny south Florida universe. The world now revolves around a digital star.
The plan is to make almost everyone serve the digital product first. A select, small group will be assigned to transform all that digital content (a dismissive term denoting commodity rather that quality which I continue to dislike) into a newspaper. Everyone else is reporting for the online news site. The organization is no longer hiring newspaper reporters, per se.
Does it matter? Is that a meaningful shift?
I don’t know the answer to those questions. It’s not the first time a news organization has sought to change the nomenclature surrounding its business model in hopes of making plain its digital intentions. It’s only been three years since the venerable Journal Register Company announced the creation of Digital First Media. You can’t make your intentions any more plain than that. I guess you would have to say that change didn’t completely change the fortunes of a legacy media company.
I’m sure that spinning terms alone isn’t sufficient to make change. It may be true, however, that tinkering with our processes is necessary to chart a profitable course in the long term.
The changes in south Florida represent an evolution. It used to be that digital departments operated as standalone stepchildren at places like the Washington Post. They were seen as experimental and technical and more akin to an engineering enterprise than the core mission of journalism. Sometimes they weren’t even in the same building. …
Then the geeks were integrated back into the newsroom. Over time, smart, often younger, journalism school grads proved evangelical about digital consumption. Many organizations grew more sophisticated, for example reassigning some reporters to come in very early to break stories online in keeping with consumption patterns. The latest wave seems to be treating the print product as a side dish.
By the way, ignore these changes at your own peril. There are still plenty of people in our business who continue to keep their heads down. They think of themselves in entirely analog, old-school newspaper terms. You may have people at your newsroom who still don’t know how to update the website, who don’t know how to look for sources on LinkedIn and who certainly don’t mine Twitter for breaking news. I don’t worry about insulting them, because they are not reading my words right now, are they?
They will soon find themselves on the wrong side of media history.
Time will tell whether the changes at the Sun-Sentinel mean something or whether they are just another misstep as we all try to find our footing in the digital age. For now I salute the Sun-Sentinel efforts to make change and respond to a changing world.