Why I stopped working for a newspaper company

Jugendschutz im Internet by licensed under CC BY NC 2.0
Jugendschutz im Internet by Frank Zimper licensed under CC BY NC 2.0

When I admitted yesterday that I don’t read newspapers, I didn’t cite that as a reason for my departure from the Orange County Register. It’s no secret that the Register offered buyouts in June and Gustavo Arellano reported early on that I was on the list of journalists who would leave.

My decision wasn’t easy. When I joined the the Register in 2005, it was an exciting news and information organization trying to exceed online just as much as it had in print.

During my first eight years at the Register, I worked on advancing our digital efforts. I started as a slightly glorified web monkey, part of a team that got stories online and made sure the site’s many moving parts were updated throughout the day.

Freedom. It was a great time. There weren’t enough bosses to review everything that published online, and standards were still being set. I could experiment without fear of losing my job. I threw in some fancy CSS and JavaScript trickery. I did things like embed a tour of the Rose Parade (a Google Map that could be navigated with custom buttons) into an article. I made tables sortable. I never had to ask for permission.

Risk. The Register had forward-thinking people like Glenn Hall on staff. He headed up the business section, and had been watching my work. He asked if I would like to join the business team as editor of our technology coverage. He wanted to add my online skills to the leadership of the section. For that, I will always be grateful.

Strategy. Under Glenn’s leadership, I was challenged to develop a strategy for our online business coverage. The team executed that strategy, birthing many successful blogs, tweaking our content management system to its limits and asking journalists to use systems and write content that was not traditional newspaper fare.

Leadership. The web team lured me back to become leader of a four-person “Web Task Force” that worked on purely digital products. We helped editors beef up their online coverage, and we helped launch new online products.

Social. When I began experimenting with social media, before its worth could be proved, my bosses never asked me to stop. I created our first official Twitter account, @OCReggie, and led the team that manned that account. The Register supported me when I asked to throw the Social Media Day Orange County series of events. I led a small team that traveled to bureaus teaching journalists how to use Twitter and Facebook in their reporting. I developed a tentative social media strategy for our parent company, Freedom Communications, and that evolved into a formal project that sent me to our properties in Texas and North Carolina to help launch their social efforts.

Variety. Regardless of my official position, I always had my hand in a ridiculous amount of digital projects. I had input on our content management system, helped conduct live chats, coded part of our short-live iPad project and even helped with marketing and sales projects. There was no lack of digital work.

Shift. When our new owners took charge, they announced a strategy that would create quality products for paying subscribers. Many interpreted this as a print-centric approach. My friends asked if I would stay with the company, since I was a “digital” guy. I defended the new strategy. I wanted to boost the quality of our work, and I supported our focus on paying customers. It made good business sense. I shifted into a writing position that eventually turned into a 5-day-a-week column for the business section.

But … I didn’t see our digital efforts move forward. I was happy that we hired dozens of new journalists. I was excited about new weekly community papers. I couldn’t believe how thick our paper had gotten. But I didn’t see any real advancement for our online subscribers.

For the last year, I’ve written a column for a newspaper company, while not helping our digital readers. That’s why I left.

What’s next? Well, I’ve revived this old blog. Tomorrow, I’ll share my next move.

Update: My next move.

3 thoughts on “Why I stopped working for a newspaper company

  1. Kevin,

    Your forward thinking expertise is awesome. I remember all that you were doing at the OCR. Good for you, for moving on.

    Your efforts will be needed and appreciated somewhere else. I look forward to reading about, or seeing what’s next for you.

    Best,

    Greer

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