September 03, 2015

The decline and fall of the Dallas Morning News

Robyn Tomlin
via News online story
Should be great celebration that the Dallas Morning News has a new managing editor, right?

Erm, WRONG! At least as I see it.

First, it's been without one for nearly a year. Given the ongoing layoffs, downsizings, and firings by print media, the fact that it took the Snooze this long to fill the position, combined with it having recent retirements of a few seasoned reporters, says something right there.

Second, the fact that, among Robyn Tomlin's past is working at Digital First Media's ultimately failed-and-shuttered Thunderdome project, as its founding editor, says something else. Her experience in digital media, touted by the Snooze (which fails to mention Thunderdome's collapse), isn't all good.

I'm not blaming Tomlin for Thunderdome's collapse; newspaper people know that was a plug-pulling by bean-counters, of something that might have been at least moderately successful. That said, I wasn't as enthusiastic about it as the likes of Ken Doctor, either.

As for her background? Besides Thunderdome, DFM has long been a trainwreck.  A recent attempt to sell itself to a single buyer collapsed, even though that was on the low end of the ask by DFM. That left founder John Paton, he of the long-term loudmouth about his digital media insights (in spite of bankruptcies of subparts of DFM, and it), to bail out. That said, DFM, like Belo, has long resisted paywalls, which is another issue.

And, Tomlin, with all of her digitality talk in the Snooze's intro piece, might have some of that same mindset as did Paton.

Also not totally good news is the Snooze's editor, Mike Wilson, having come from Five Thirty Eight. Five Thirty Eight exemplifies modern, "branded" online journalism. With retirements among older reporting staff, the Snooze has no news reporters to "brand." Its op-ed columnists aren't "brandable" even at AAA level, even though they think they are. Sports? Maybe.

Third, the News has lost nearly 8 percent of its print subscribers in the past 9 months through June 30. Would be great if it had recouped that with digital subscribers.

Unfortunately, Oct. 1 of last year is the first full business quarter after the Snooze killed its paywall, in one of many acts of digital stupidity. (That link has other, earlier acts of digital stupidity also listed.) Given that Tomlin comes from an anti-paywall newspaper company (setting aside her time at Pew), and ESPN's not paywalled because it gouges people with a la carte cable (but is still a bit worried about money), don't expect this to change. And, don't tout e-editions, whether paywalled or not. I haven't even bothered to click to see if the Snooze, like the Austin American-Stateless, wastes time by separately formatting different size e-editions for different devices, because ... nobody reads a PDF on a smartphone!

And, steering this back to Wilson, the Snooze's zigs and zags on paywalls, including the stupidity of the period when it had a basic website for free plus a premium paywalled one, have long been predicated on "branding," beginning with the Snooze putting a premium value on itself as a brand.

Fourth, speaking of rebranding, has "DMN Media" really made that much selling its graphic arts, marketing and whatever else it claims to have for sale? I mention that after my Googling confirmed James Moroney still runs the whole DMN schmeer.

And, he's the person ultimately responsible for other circulation-related "bright ideas" that are not, isn't he? Such as the print-edition subscription partnerships with the New York Times or Washington Post?

If I can get the Snooze for free online, why would I enter one of these print partnerships? The NYT still gives me 10 free stories a month, and then, I can decide to pay, or the hypothetical I can try to figure ways around the paywall. (I've not been to the Post on as regular of a daily basis, so I'm not sure how hypothetically easy its paywall can be eluded.)

Yours for $24.99 from the Dallas Snooze,
if you're really that stupid or gullible.
Of course, that's only one portion of stupidity there.

A media company arrogant enough, and customer-insulting or condescending enough, to think that people will pay $25 for a beer T-shirt, deserves the continuing failure that is surely headed its way.

No, seriously. That's its price.

With such brilliance like that, why isn't the Beloplex already under water? And, don't forget that there's nothing left on the post-split print side of the Belo world. The Snooze, the Snooze's marketing services as exemplified by a 25-buck beer T-shirt, and a store with 25-buck beer T-shirts, are all that's in that cupboard.

That, in turn leads to point the fifth.

Robyn Tomlin. She escaped a self-fluffing tire fire at DFM (stands for Dead Fucking Media as well as Digital First Media), to a great landing spot at Pew. Why did she leave?

Does she really believe that, based on her DFM past, she can turn around the Titanic of Young Street? Well, if so, I'd suggest she think again, unless she can get the Titanic to run over Moroney, among other things.

For that matter, why did Wilson come to Dallas? Was it a financial matter at Five Thirty Eight parent ESPN, which seems to be dumping higher-end salaries wherever and whenever possible? Given that Wilson left Five Thirty Eight only a year after starting there, it's an interesting thing indeed. And, why did he leave the St. Petersburg cum Tampa Bay Times after more than a decade as ME? Was his further ascension blocked?

In an interview with CJR that I'd previously missed, he hints at what I really figured was happening at the Times ... he was worried about its shrinkage. And, so, he ditches Nate Silver after less than a year (from leaving Tampa to first contact with his Snooze predecessor, Bob Mong), for another paper that's had plenty of shrinkage battles?

I don't get it, on his part. And, knowing what I've read, and interpolated, about the Snooze on digital, I suspect Mong and/or Moroney blew digital smoke up his ass.

And, judging by his use of the 98-cent words like "verticals" and "curate," he blew his own digital smoke right back up their asses.

Have fun, with a match not made in heaven, but self-created a few steps lower.

(Note: I've Tweeted Tomlin, a bit snarkily with reference to the T-shirts, and link to this column. We'll see if she answers, in comments or return Tweet, as to the more serious question of why she's coming to Dallas, along with her view on paywalls or other matters digital, and how she envisions trying to right the Titanic. And, I've just done the same with Wilson.

Snark about the beer T-shirts aside, the reality is that I see this as emblematic of "Belo culture," something Wilson, especially, will have to deal with in one way or another.

Speaking of that, I have rattled Michael Lindenberger's chain, for what that's worth. The "scorn and cynicism" are part of the "few reasonable points," Michael. I recognize you may not understand that, but that's part of the whole idea of Belo culture. As for the "scorn and cynicism," as I Tweeted back, I'm sure I've got less of that than Jim Schutze at the Observer, but he's sui generis. Of course, the Snooze, or News, if I'm more polite, never actually addresses his issues with it, either. The paper and designated hitmen/hitwomen just make the same comments, in more detail, about him.

And, Michael, the main issue, beyond Belo culture? Your newspaper's decade-long [15-year-long or more if we count the CueCat] cluelessness on All Things Digital is more than "a few reasonable points." It's One Big Point, and much of that's been under the person now running your Titanic.

Otherwise, if Lindenberger is himself "hanging on," or whatever, I understand the defensiveness. I've also talked at various points in my life to multiple old-timers who either got the ax or who got their job structures run through major overhauls. I feel sad for them. But, they worked for a place that, even by daily newspaper industry standards, has exemplified cluelessness on All Things Digital.

Otherwise, Michael, yes, part of this is about tweaking your paper. As with Schutze, it seems senior staff there don't have a sense of humor or a sense of reality. Maybe that's part of the defensiveness. If not to me, to yourself, I'd suggest at least being honest about that defensiveness, if that's what it is.

Oh, and ask Wilson, since I'm sure Moroney would say "nyet," if a JOA with the StartleGram is part of the future.)

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