Paton appointed CEO of MediaNews Group

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 7 2011 8:00 p.m. MDT

DENVER — John Paton has been appointed CEO of MediaNews Group Inc., replacing William Dean Singleton, who announced in January he would step down as chief executive.

The appointment of Paton, a digitally focused media executive with his own blog, underscores MediaNews' shift toward delivering news across all platforms, not just print, as more readers get their news online from traditional media and social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook.

Paton said his digital-first strategy doesn't ignore print but allocates resources to transform traditional media into multimedia, multiplatform companies focused on local news that readers will seek out.

"The goal is to pursue quality journalism," Paton told The Associated Press. "There's room for crowdsourcing, but we need to have professional journalists, and that means we need healthy news organizations. If we're going to be healthy, we have to be digitally focused."

Singleton, also chairman of The Associated Press, will remain chairman of MediaNews and publisher of The Post and The Salt Lake Tribune, two of more than 50 newspapers owned by Denver-based MediaNews.

Paton also is chief executive officer for The Journal Register Co., another newspaper publisher now owned by lenders after a trip through bankruptcy court. The Alden Global Capital hedge fund acquired JRC earlier this year, and two Alden managing directors are on the MediaNews board.

The newly created Digital First Media, headed by Paton, will manage both MediaNews and The Journal Register Co., which has 18 newspapers in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Connecticut, Ohio, New Jersey and New York, and other publications and websites.

"Alden Global Capital is in the driver's seat here," media analyst Ken Doctor said. "Potentially, with a big line under potentially, this could result in the first truly national newspaper company of local properties."

The newspaper industry traditionally has been splintered, but there has been consolidation more recently as publishers look for efficiencies in printing, advertising sales and other costs. "The new economy favors scale and efficiency. That's the reason this deal came together," Doctor said.

Paton said it's too early to say what changes to expect at MediaNews, but Doctor predicted layoffs of some management and corporate staff.

MediaNews said in a news release the arrangement with Digital First provides immediate cost benefits and the ability to leverage the combined scale and expertise of MediaNews and Journal Register to benefit both companies.

"We said in January that MediaNews was intent on continuing its transformation from a print-oriented newspaper company to a locally focused provider of news and information across multiple platforms to profitably address the rapidly changing industry landscape," Singleton said in the release.

"At the forefront of our efforts was developing a successful digital strategy. I have known and respected John Paton for more than 20 years. With 'digital first', John has successfully implemented just such a digital strategy for Journal Register. We are delighted to tap John's experience as we accelerate further our successful transition to a digital world."

Gordon Paris, who has been MediaNews' interim president since the beginning of the year, and Michael Sileck, interim chief revenue officer, will continue in those roles throughout a transition period.

Paris will remain a director of the company and after the transition period will serve as an adviser to the company focusing on strategic transactions.

Paton insists digital revenues can pay for newspaper newsrooms. Since implementing a digital strategy in mid-2010 at JRC, where 1,000 video cameras were distributed to reporters, the digital audience has grown from 14.9 million monthly customers on all platforms to nearly 21 million customers, Paton said.

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