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Dallas Morning News restructures, Armageddon begins

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If this were April 1, I’d write it off as a joke. But this close to Christmas, it might be a sign of the Second Coming.

The Dallas Morning News has reorganized; the people who generate editorial now report to people who sell ads.

Under the plan, editors of sports, real estate, entertainment, auto and travel now report to sales managers – who have been given a new title: General Manager.

In The Dallas Observer, a news blog, the extensive report includes an interview with Editor Bob Mong – who has been given a new title: Pimp.

In that interview, he told The Dallas Observer: “There’s no journalist in our organization who will allow a business person to cross the line. It just won’t happen. I’m not going to allow it to happen. [Managing editor] George [Rodrigue] isn’t. [Executive sports editor] Bob Yates or [Lifestyles deputy managing editor] Lisa Kresl won’t. But I think it’s an attempt to go to market in a different way.”

Look, I know thookerimes are tough for newspapers; I’ve written about little else since I started this blog. And coming from the B2B world, where editors are expected to be as rigid as Silly Putty, I know it’s possible to operate on the up-and-up without a huge barrier between sales and edit.

But perception is reality. And it’s already near-impossible for newspapers to operate without the perception that their coverage has been bought. I’m pretty sure it doesn’t strengthen the paper’s case when editors get their annual reviews from sales managers. The reality is that journalists have always had the dominant voice in newspaper decisions. That needs to change; the voices of journalists and advertising folks need to be heard together. In a 167-year-old institution, I don’t think you can achieve that by simply turning it upside-down and saying, “OK, the ad guys are in charge.”

If advertisers think there’s a chance they can influence editorial decisions, then that’s what they’ll try to do. And when a news executive puts himself in the position of saying, George Rodrigue would never let anything like that happen,  he’s one unforeseen circumstance away from becoming a liar. It’s an untenable position.

Further, I don’t believe this kind of change addresses the real problem that newspapers are having. They aren’t losing ad revenue because advertisers have suddenly decided there’s something wrong with the product. They’re losing it because advertisers have decided there’s something wrong with the medium.

You can’t directly measure the full response to a print ad, and advertisers now live in a culture where everything can and must be measured. They’re spending more money online, and the funding for those initiatives has to come from somehwere. It comes from print.

If anybody should know this already, it would be the DMN’s advertising staff, which is in constant contact with its customers. But instead of taking on the real issue of delivering advertising response, they’re going to try to satisfy advertisers through more interaction with the content side of the business. So they, just like the journalists, are in denial. They’re going to fix the wrong thing, and I suspect they’re going to do it poorly.

It’s true: Newspapers have to reinvent themselves. But this isn’t reinvention. It’s not innovative. It’s not courageous. And it’s not the prelude to a long and prosperous future. It’s rolling over and submitting. It’s giving up.

Here’s how BusinessInsider.com reported it:

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About the Author:

Bob Rosenbaum is founder and principal of The MarketFarm, a content-oriented strategic communications firm.

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