End of the road at Morris DigitalWorks

[Update: Michael Romaner has more details and a (we think) complete list of everyone who worked for MDW over the years.]

I just filed my last expense accounts, tying off my final paperwork at Morris DigitalWorks, where I've spent the last decade.

But I'm not leaving Morris. I'm being mainstreamed. As of this week I'm part of the Morris Publishing Group, which is rebooting with a new digital focus. I'll be reporting to Bob Gilbert, newly named VP of audience development. We'll be working directly with people in our local operating units to innovate, create, measure, report, share and advance.

Over the years, MDW helped Morris newspapers win stacks of awards and build one of the strongest online revenue streams in the industry. MDW also created online publishing software and became a successful vendor with clients throughout the United States and in Europe and Australia.

Now MDW is being dissolved, not in failure but in success. The old battles are over and we've won. We're digital-first. We've successfully embraced an open-source software revolution in our Web operations. Along with other Morris units, we've created a spinoff company to provide technology-driven shared services to other media companies. It's time to turn the page.

This isn't just paper shuffling; instead of being part of a specialized, separate "Internet division" pushing for change in the newspaper division, we'll be in the publishing group, pushing to change ourselves.

One of my first projects will be pulling together a virtual innovation project team consisting of smart people at our "formerly known as newspapers" business units. They'll devote a percentage of their time to designing, prototyping and real-world testing in a process modeled on what we've learned from the open-source software community. We will work together.

There are new battles to be fought, but they are different. We have to adapt to a new economic reality. It's as if we are mammals facing a new post-dinosaur world. We have no luddites and no curmudgeons to rail against, or to blame. Our future is up to us, and I'm looking forward to it.


Your patience pays off! The digital guys take over. (Say hello to Gilbert for me and tell him it has been too long.)

Keep us posted on how it goes. You're plowing the row! Many will soon follow, I believe. Good luck.

Since the late 1990's, media companies have toyed with the idea of launching new products online to gain audience acceptance and to measure a product's revenue generating protenial. Unfortunately, this practice has been used primarily to justify the existence of a like product in print. The digital-to-print business model has served the industry well in the past and in the interim, as news media companies transitions toward what they will become in the near future. Congratulations to Morris Publishing Group for having the courage to stand the status quo on its head, reverse the process and be one of the first to embrace the notion that digital media is next step in the evolution of newspaper and not a new and separate business unit that must nutured independent of the core news operation.

While I applaud Morris for recognizing that dramatic times call for dramatic measures, I'm left wondering whether your statement that the digital folks "won" means that the newspaper "lost." This is certainly possible. History tells us that there's no case anywhere where a multi-platform approach achieves a significant share in both platforms. That is, newspapers for years have tried to sell direct mail products, but never acheived a significant share in direct mail. Some TV stations have also tried to sell cable. Ditto. We've even seen newspapers try to produce TV news shows in places like Norfolk, New York, Sarasota, and elsewhere. Ditto again. What worried me in the past was having the print managers in charge of digital. What worries me more is having digital managers in charge of print, since print tends to generate 90% of the company's revenue. God bless you, and good luck spinning those plates.

Let's hope that this move resonates across the industry.

Hats off to you and Morris. I remember someone saying this day would come. :-) Sounds like you've got interesting new horizons ahead, too.

... from Michael Romaner: MDW . . . End of an Era.

I struggle with the "We Won" comment. Not sure there are any winners in a field that has lost 40% of its revenue over the past few years. It is a great move to merge the groups but to be the profit, you need followers. Don't forget that "formerly known as newspapers" is still bringing in the lions share of the revenue. Godspeed.

MDW should be the failblog.org headline for a month!

Ex: A lot of folks have struggled with the "we won" reference. But I think it's important to speak to the digital media partisans: it's over. Quit looking for curmudgeons to bash and get to work building the future. We're all in this together.

We've suffered mightily, as you note. Revenues are way down (not primarly because of the Internet), a lot of us have lost our jobs, and those of us who haven't have lost pay and benefits. Nobody comes through anything like what we've experienced without scratches. And we're not done. As the Harvard guys keep telling us, incumbent industries almost never survive major disruptions.

But I'm optimistic. Moving shared services, adhub, digital ad operations, Web hosting and MDW's Web developers into the NMT spinoff could be a big win as that unit takes on more external business. Refocusing Morris Publishing Group away from protecting the declining business and toward building the new businesses is the right thing to do. I think we'll be moving a lot more quickly in coming months.