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The Gospel According to John Paton: Burn baby Burn

“If I was running a newspaper company in Canada I would be setting things on fire” John Paton, speaking at the Canadian Journalism Foundation’s forum

The problem with the phenomenon of John Paton, Newspaper Publishing God, is that most people aren’t really paying close enough attention to what he’s doing and to what he’s saying. The John Paton that gets all the attention is the guy who ordered Flip cameras delivered to every single reporter within a couple of weeks of taking the reins at the then bankrupt Journal Register chain. The guy who created the Ben Franklin

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Print focus kills newspaper sites

It is impossible to underestimate the extent to which our print focus is crippling our ability to transition to digital. We tweet breaking news. We shoot video. We live blog and post our stories on Facebook – we’re digital, right?  We don’t have a clue. If this was 1972, Canadian newspapers would be the 48-year-old with bell-bottomed pants, a tie-dyed shirt and fat sideburns crashing a college house party while insisting he’s “hip” and “groovy”. Eighteen years after the Web was born and we are still devoting the vast majority of our digital resources to simply dumping print stories

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Another brick in the wall – but maybe a doorway too

It’s baaaack. Like Jack Nicholson smashing through the bathroom wall with a fire axe; only in this case it’s the accountants and consultants, and they’re not breaking down walls, they’re building them. The pay wall is back, our walled garden of content. The soothing sotto vocce whispering inside our scared little skulls: “You are worth it. If they really liked you, they’d pay for it.” The frantic attempt to inflate value by manufacturing scarcity, instead of manufacturing value. The very big boys down south – the Wall St. Journal, the New York Times, Boston Globe etc etc – and dozens of

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Are we doing too much online?

One hundred and ninety three. That’s the number of navigation links our website is displaying today … on its home page alone. Nearly two hundred clickable links, choices for you to make, that take you deeper into our site – or spin you off elsewhere in the chain where you can begin the link roulette all over again. 193 links. Hell, most days our newspaper prints fewer than 100 pages, it’s hard to imagine why we need all those links each day. Links to sections and subsections of content. Links to searches and sorts. Links to features and topics.

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Shut up so I can listen to you

Few things vex online news organizations as much as commenting does these days. Many sites find themselves flooded with obscene, viputerative, sexist, racist or just plain dumb comments that they cannot afford to properly moderate nor influence and which leave them despairing for the quality of their audience. Which is one of the reasons the Knight and Mozilla foundations are running a Beyond Commenting Challenge, hoping to unlock innovations in this critical piece of online

Subtlety usually dies just after civility

journalism and my god speed them on that journey.  (UPDATE: the contest has closed: I’ll cover the results

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The Future is now – so why is everyone facing backwards?

Back in 2005 my newspaper was lucky enough to be the only Canadian participant in The Learning Newsroom, an ambitious, 18 month-long, million dollar, newsroom culture transformation experiment. At one point we were asked to describe what the newspaper of 2015 would look like: how would it function? what would it cover? etc. etc. At the time, I had been reading Harvard prof Clayton Christensen’s The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fall and luxuriating in the outpouring of ideas and creativity bubbling out of the web developer community.

The past is somewhere you’ve been –

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Now that the seas seem calm – launch the lifeboats

It was only last summer that researchers presenting a State of the (Canadian) Media report offered the cautious suggestion that newspapers’ decades long slide in market penetration might finally have hit a “floor” or at least flattened for the foreseeable future in the 30 per cent neighbourhood. Frankly, to me it sounded like whistling past the graveyard; an excuse for managers to keep their heads down and focus on cost containment while keeping one eye on the retirement clock. 

Don’t wait until you’re sinking to launch your lifeboats

But to many it seemed a not unreasonable conclusion – especially

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Witness: a news column for this century

News doesn’t happen in newsrooms.  Funny, you’d never know that to look at one. Walk into your average newsroom today – even your ravaged, post-layoff and voluntary departure newsroom – and you’ll see an awful lot of reporters sitting at their desks and trying to sweet talk other people into doing their job for them.

Witness will not be done by phone – although it may be livestreamed by one. Witness will be just that – a journalist giving witness to the things he saw and heard and said. The goal will be to come into the office

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What should a news column look like in the age of Twitter?

(If you’re in a hurry, you can skip the Intro and jump straight to the pitch)


Returning to reporting after a 3 year, 148 day long adventure, first in web and digital training and then in CMS wrangling, I find myself pitching for a spot as a daily news columnist.

And desperately needing some help.

It’s not the writing, I’ve done this job before – in fact the first job I ever had on a daily newspaper was as a news columnist for the Toronto Sun – it’s not the writing I’m worried about.

But here’s the thing

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Breaking News: The Top 5 mistakes newspaper make when news happens

Last month a large and boisterous fire appeared on the rooftop gardens of a Toronto waterfront condo during the afternoon rush hour. Bright orange flame pierced thick black smoke, and the wind-whipped plume was so large and so high it was visible from clear across Lake Ontario, in St. Catherine’s, 51 kms to the south. Thousands of workers in the downtown towers gawked at the fire from their windows, commuter traffic slowed to a crawl along the elevated expressway mere metres from the fire-struck condo. On the islands and ferries and boats in the harbour, all

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