This from Jay Rosen on Twitter: "People have asked me so I'll ask you, @JTEMPLERMN: you're blogging about them now, but why didn't you DO these things as boss of the Rocky?"
A good question.
Here's my Twitter response:
"Think of what I'm writing as things I learned from running the Rocky. I did what I could."
I also heard something similar from Tom Davidson, who asked:
"RT @jayrosen_nyu: Asking @JTEMPLERMN: you're blogging about them now, but why didn't you DO these things when you were boss at the Rocky?"
Here's an edited version of my Twitter response to Mr. Davidson:
Good question. I did what I could. I don't want to sound like I'm making excuses. But Rocky was in a JOA. (JOA stands for joint operating agreement, a Justice Department sanctioned business deal that otherwise would violate anti-trust laws because it allows "competing" newspapers to combine their business operations to keep both editorial brands alive.) That's very unwieldy. In JOA, business and editorial separate. And web even more complicated. Advertising and editorial hosted by different companies. Think of what I'm writing as lessons from being in the trenches for many years, wishing I could have done things differently. (I would add here, that it's important to understand that as much authority as I had, and Scripps was great about giving me rope to do what I thought was right, there's nobody in such a complex organization who can control the whole thing. You can try to use your influence, but that's about as far as it goes on many matters.) I'm not pretending I have the answers. I am saying what I would try to do if I were in a situation where all forces could align.
The issue of all forces aligning is the key. That's not happening at many, perhaps most, local news organizations I know. It's what's potentially exciting about new people coming into ownership roles in the business or creating new local news organizations. Starting from scratch, as it were, perhaps they'll be able to make all forces align and help everyone, inside and outside the organization, understand what it's trying to do and why that's worthwhile for them.
I then asked Mr. Davidson: Does that make sense? I think we did a lot of things really well and smartly at the Rocky. But conversation needs to be bigger.
In part, that's what I'm trying to do now: Make the conversation bigger.
I'm trying to look ahead free from the responsibility of running an existing newspaper. I learned many lessons at the Rocky Mountain News. But I know I have much more to learn. (For example, how to do basic coding on my blog for google analytics and to replace the blogger icon with my own favicon. Only half kidding.)
We tried many things in Denver prior to the closing of the Rocky and the dissolution of the JOA. But for all involved it was a very unwieldy structure, with its own unique problems. In a JOA, the newsrooms are completely separate and independent from the business operation. That has its advantages. But it also makes it very difficult to build a team dedicated to the same cause or to build new businesses. The Web was even more complex than print. I don't want to make excuses. The Rocky, The Denver Post and the Denver Newspaper Agency tried many things. I tried many things on my own and learned a lot in the process. I'm grateful for the experience but also enjoying the perspective being a "free agent" gives me.
Finally, I felt I shouldn't just criticize the American Press Institute's white papers, but instead offer up some of my own thinking.
Hope this helps. Happy to discuss further.