How the Flexible, Nimble Little Guy Beats the Smug, Plodding Big Guy

Rochester, the birthplace of the Gannett empire, is now the home of another giant media company:  Gatehouse Media.  Gatehouse owns almost every paper in the district, except for the two Gannett papers.   Because Gatehouse specializes in small-town newspapers, it's interesting to compare their little guy strategy with the Democrat and Chronicle's.

Here's one telling example.  When YouTube hit, video on the Internet was suddenly easy.  Both the D&C and a Gatehouse paper, the Messenger-Post, recognized that.  The D&C handled it by hiring "multimedia man", a "backpack journalist", who creates video-only reports which appear in the D&C's walled multimedia garden.    Actually, the D&C is so insecure about this guy that they put him in a walled garden within a walled garden.  His stories appear in a section of the RocMen that I can't even link to.  I can only link to individual video stories in the D&C Multimedia section.

The Messenger-Post took an entirely different tack.  They give their print reporters cheap cameras and had them add video to their stories.  The M-P treats video as a complement to the print story.  One good example is yesterday's coverage of an accident at a local ice warehouse.   Here's a better one:  a feature on a local sword swallower.  You don't have to watch the video to understand the story, but if you're interested in the story, watching the video adds more detail.  It's not always done perfectly, but the sword swallower piece is as near a perfect fusion as I've seen.

All of the M-P's videos are posted on YouTube.  Like the rest of the M-P's content, video is licensed under a Creative Commons license that makes it free for non-commercial use.  In other words, the M-P wants the rest of the Internet to link to, and use, its content.  Their response to new technology is to embrace it and use it to make their stories better.  The D&C's response is to wall it off in an inaccessible ghetto and forget about it.

By the way, the reason I know that Gatehouse gives its reporters cheap cameras is because I read it on Howard Owens' blog.  Howard is Gatehouse's director of digital publishing, an experienced journalist, and a smart, thoughtful guy.  I like the pragmatism of his take on disruptive video strategy.  Money quote:

Here is my brief definition of disruption: “The basic idea of disruption is to start at the low end, fulfilling a job to be done, with a product that is just ‘good enough.’”
  • Rely on current news room staff, who know news and story telling
  • Provide starter training, improving as we go
  • Don't get bogged down in trying to be like TV
The D&C's strategy is the opposite of this, and it shows.   Because the D&C treats video like some kind of obscure add-on, we're unlikely to see video of town hall meetings, press conferences or debates. 


Some Gannett History:

Frank was actually born about 15 miles from Canandaigua. He made his first money delivering the D&C. The family later moved to Wallace New York in Steuben County between Avoca and Cohocton. He delivered many papers there including Rochester, Buffalo, Elmira, Corning and Hornell. One of his most profitable ventures was selling animal carcasses to a fertilizer plant in Rochester. He attended Cornell University. The first paper he owned was Elmira, followed by Ithaca, Rochester and Utica.

He was a very bottom line guy, but on at least two documented occasions he eliminated advertising from his papers for a day to make room for important news (there was a newsprint shortage).

Great post!

The whole D&C on the Internet is misguided. They want to be able to claim that they have a presence on the internet, and are fully engaged in this 21st century medium, but they refuse to use the Internet to its maximum (or even above minimum) extent. It's like they want to continue using their typewriters in the computer age.


1) Articles only online for 7 days.

2) On-line articles and blog entries rarely have links to other relevant material.

3) The editorial board blogs, for the most part, present the same boring and cautious prose, and wishy-washy positions, as does the editorial pages of the dead-tree newspaper (as Rotten and many others have pointed out)

4) Tom Tobin writes about banal, boring stuff (I just had to throw that one in)

5) The comment section to the D&C blogs does not allow HTML tags (at least it didn't the one time I tried to leave a comment)

6) Videos? What's that? (as Rottenchester points out). Allowing people to link to videos? Why would the D&C want to do that?

Of course, as I said elsewhere, I would probably still be a D&C subscriber if they had not become too scared to challenge the Rethuglicans, and reported the facts without resorting to he said/she said. By the way, is the D&C too scared to challenge Entercom as well -- note this article, which barely touched the surface, failed to offer any voices critical of Entercom, and basically avoided any of the contentious issues involved here. Oh, click the link quickly, because it goes away in a few days.