The global digital transformation of newspapers
By Madeleine White
Montgomery previewed clips from his ongoing documentary, "Breaking the News", to a room of almost 100 industry leaders. The movie showcases Montgomery's global-trekking journey to find out what is happening to journalism as it gets swept up by a digital wave.
His presentation centred around the theme of evolution and how newspapers have to start making revolutionary changes to survive in the natural selection the marketplace imposes on the industry.
"Evolution by its nature is a very cruel force even though it sounds gentle and slow," he said. "It's an extremely cruel and unforgiving environment to be in and we're in that."
The five showcased clips shoed how different media makers around the world are dealing with the pressures of providing quality content on multiple platforms.
The first segment was in Edinborough, where Ally Palmer formerly from the Scotsman declared that the newspaper industry was in a crisis even if there wasn't a recession -- it was being forced to evolve because of changing technologies. But even if the way news was being delivered was changing, brand recognition -- being the place people trust for valuable information -- was critical to engaging the younger people and surviving, he said.
Mario Garcia, who was interviewed in Prague's Futuroom, echoed Palmer's urge for brand-building but added part of good journalism now involves being able to report differently for the different platforms -- be it SMS or touch media, like the iPad.
Montgomery, who passed around his iPad so delegates could play with it, showed the room what media on these different platforms looks like. He brought the crowd to Las Vegas where he met a 27-year-old Russian editor-in-chief named Svetlana Mamixchenko. Mamixchenko has build her own media house from the ground up and it was awarded the best designed newspaper award in 2008. Her paper, Akzia, is multidimensional -- having a presence in the mobile, internet and print worlds.
She has also been able to capture the elusive youth market. Montgomery attributed her success to the experimental ideas her young news team try.
"It isn't that hard to go from a print-focused mentality to a multi-media mentality if you have the right chemistry, the right leadership that is open to new ideas," he said, adding the right people are often younger.
"These leaders need to understand that we're in a Darwinian evolutionary phase. We need to try, we need to fail and we need to fail often so that we learn to take that knowledge forward in the next experiment."
Montgomery also brought his audience to 24 Sata's newsroom. It's a daily newspaper in Croatia that publishes online and in print. It's another newspaper geared at and run by young people. Boris Trupčević, the editor-in-chief, boasted that when the paper started the average age in the newsroom was 26. Five years later, the company is still young at 31.
Trupčević stressed that key to 24 Sata's success was its flexibility. He suggested that newspapers should be prepared to change every two years -- specifying that change can be small. His newspaper has seen a lot of changes, including a throw-back to publishing two print editions a day when 24 Sata distributed an afternoon paper to commuters in town.
All of the changes, Trupčević maintains, have been to make the digestion of news simple and low-cost. Take the paper's website. On one page you can read the article, browse the photo gallery and view the video. The changes are working for 24 Sata. In 2009, the company saw a 19 per cent profit, said Trupčević.
Montgomery finished his previews by bringing it back home. His final clip was a brief interview with his former colleague at the Chicago Sun-Times, Michael Cooke. Cooke, now the editor-in-chief at the Toronto Star, spoke about how despite all of these changes the paper still needs to make money because good journalism is expensive.
Cooke's sobering comments seemed to jump-start the question and answer period in Montgomery's presentation, when Ryerson University's chair of journalism, Paul Knox, asked how digital changes like SMS alert or mobile apps were going to help build good journalism.
Montgomery's response: "What's your name, I want you to speak in my movie."
Madeleine White is a Toronto Star radio room reporter. She is covering the Canadian Newspaper Association conference Ink + Beyond.