Is it a burning bridge, or just a short window of opportunity?

Interesting post from Howard Weaver about what some newspaper companies are going through (and I think his primary intended audience is McClatchy).

He says this:

Time is not our friend. Mark Zieman in Kansas City introduced me to the poem Calmly We Walk Through This April’s Day, which includes the memorable couplet, “Time is the school in which we learn/ Time is the fire in which we burn.” (I think Mark probably heard it on Star Trek, but maybe he was an English major.)

That works well with some advice I offered a young editor at a non-McClatchy paper in an email exchange earlier today. Maybe I got a little wound up in my argument, but I closed by writing, “My current metaphor for our business is this: We have to move, and we can see a secure spot for ourselves right across the river. The good news is, there’s a bridge; the bad news is, it’s on fire. There’s time to get across, but not to [screw] around. I intend to get to the other side before the bridge burns up. Who’s coming with me?”

In the past, I’ve been a bit of an alarmist about the need for newsrooms to “get it,” and I still think that is terribly important. But not because the bridge is burning, but because we have a window of opportunity to build a new business that will be better for journalism, better for society and better for the companies we work for. (I should note, I’ve always made a point of saying journalist should prepare for the worst, because the preparation will help them and their companies take advantage of the best opportunities … there’s nothing to be lost by becoming online intelligent).

It’s a window in time, to be sure

Some hard choices have to be made by newsrooms (unlike Mr. Weaver, I believe there is a problem with modern journalism, that our revenue crisis has as much to do with journalism being broken as it does with competition from internet classifieds start ups), but I think newsrooms can find ways to evolve. Most journalists are pretty smart people.

Those newsrooms that do evolve will produce journalism that is better for society and because of that they’ll grow audience, which will make their classified platform more valuable (Unlike Mr. Weaver, I don’t believe that most newspapers are really extending their in-market reach with their web sites, and that’s a problem).

Those newsrooms that don’t evolve may survive despite themselves, because there will be a market left for a long time for the kind of stilted journalism that they produce; and, of course, some may be shuttered. And those that are shuttered will close because those local audiences will have been offered better alternatives from disruptive competitors.

The smaller the newsroom, the more likely it is to make the necessary changes.

But I no longer fear the crisis as I once did. I’m feeling surprisingly calm these days. Maybe that’s just because I work for a company that is doing pretty darn good, comparatively. I’m feeling pretty optimistic about the ability of many newspapers (but not all) to survive the current shake out — and I’m thinking that may be all that’s going on … some papers will close, some papers will morph into different kinds of operations, but a good number may actually grow stronger.

And I’d like to think I’m in a position to help make that happen.

And most of the crisis in newspapers is about big metros, who get all of the attention, rather than the kind of community newspaper I’ve spent my entire career working for, caring for and being passionate about.

That said, nobody should think I’m going to let newsrooms off the hook for “getting it.” The work still needs to be done — whether it’s motivated by a sense of crisis, or because it’s just the right thing to do — the work still has to be done. There’s still threats. There’s still defensive measures to be taken. (And of course, there’s huge opportunities.) It’s still an all-hands effort. We can afford to be confident, but we can’t afford to be cocky or cavalier.

So, you can still expect me to get riled up at times :)

Spare me the fancy redesigns and give me some text to read

The blogosphere has been abuzz with chatter about the Orlando Sentinel redesign, so I’ll skip hunting up some relevant link for this post — you all know what I’m talking about.

The whole hullabaloo reminds me of a thought I’ve had many times recently: Why not just let a print newspaper be a print newspaper?

Spare me the big graphics and four-column photos and color splashes. Stop trying to turn your print front page into a web page.

Why not go back to pre-USAToday newspaper design? It’s time to let stories meander, let front pages be grey and full of information; rather than stuffing as high a story count as possible into the A and B sections; why not just tell the stories that need to be told, and then tell them well?

On the web, frequency and quantity (much more so than quality or depth) is what drives page views.

Online is about information grazing. Reading print is a more leisurely activity, even if it’s just 20 minutes over toast and coffee before rushing off to work.

Train your newsroom staff to keep that web site fresh, and then let them take their time on writing the really important stories in a way that provides meaning and context; for an added bonus, make sure those longer stories are well written, since print readers — shocking revelation here — like to read.

On a daily basis, a good reporter should be able to produce three or four web updates (some call it breaking news) and then pick one of those items to turn into a quality, longer print story (or have some other print-appropriate piece in the pipeline).

Rather than trying to figure out how to use graphics and space-wasting indexes to capture the attention of “time starved readers,” or young readers, or soccer moms, or NASCAR dads, or whatever flavor-the-day your design consultant says you should reach, why not just cede the fact that local news is a niche interest, and your core audience for that niche doesn’t care about fancy packages — they care about the news, the information. Oh, and they also want comics, classifieds, stock listings and movie times (print is still a package).

If they want timeliness, they’ll go online.

News isn’t about a demographic (as in, “How do we target women, age 24 to 35, with one child and two cats?”), which seems to be the approach taken by the expensive design consultants. News is about meeting the needs of people of both sexes, all ages, religions and nationalities who want to understand the world around them. Sadly, that isn’t everybody, but it’s a lot of people, and surveys show newspapers are doing a poor job of meeting that need.

So fix it

Any copy editor with a pica poll should be able to put together a decent front page. It shouldn’t take an eye for art or snazzy color combinations.

The print product and the online product should be different products. They may serve the same audience, but they serve different needs at different times. The print product should provide context and a moment’s respite. The online product should say, “this is what is happening now.”

Hey, Mr. Publisher — you want to save your print circulation? Try digging into your archives and looking at your newspaper from 1971. Make your 2008 paper look like that. It should read like that. That should be your print design model and your print content model. I’d even bet that you would get some young readers back with such an approach, because your paper would finally appeal to what should be your target demographic — people who like to read the news.

A quick look at people who are not currently with newspaper companies

  • Chris Jennewein, Ron James and Jim Drummond are out at SignOnSanDiego.com. We can only hope they land newspaper industry jobs soon, if that’s what they want to do.
  • Sean Polay left Ottaway for a magazine company.
  • Bob Benz, Wes Jackson, Mike Higgins and Heather Lamm are now with Maroon Ventures, which consults for newspapers, but is more than just a newspaper-related company.
  • Michael Bazeley now works for Berekley’s law school.
  • Lucas Grindley, according to his LinkedIn profile, is still looking for work.
  • Joe Michaud left MaineToday.com to become a consultant. John Wilpers is consulting. Melinda Gipson is consulting.
  • Ken Sands is now with Congressional Quarterly.
  • Ed Canale, VP of Interactive for the Sacramento Bee, is moving on.

Wow, that’s a lot of smart, talented, experienced people — people who pioneered the online newspaper business — who are not currently employed by newspaper companies. Though some still help newspaper online operations through consulting, that’s quite a brain drain.

Of course, there are still lots of smart, talented, experienced people — including many pioneers — still in their newspaper jobs; it’s just surprising to look at such a distinguished list of people who are in different roles now.

Orlando redesign may be bold, but it’s not original

There is much being made of the Orlando Sentinel redesign.

Yes, it’s shocking. It’s bold. It’s wild.

But original? Hardly.

Just take a look at the Bakersfield California’s front page from today.

Orland’s plans seem tame by comparison, and Bakersfield launched that format on March 1, 2006 (I know, I was there; it was the same day we launched the current design of Bakersfield.com).

I’m surprised so few people have noticed the copy-cat nature of Orlando’s new design — and asked more questions about how well it’s worked where it was first tried.

It would be interesting to see what the BC’s current circulation numbers look like. After a major marketing push (Radio, TV, Billboards) launched contiguous to the redesign, the initial returns were not impressive. But maybe things have turned around. I don’t know.

In defense of Bakersfield’s circulation declines linked to above, it would be fair to note — the bakersfield.com site upgrade was substantial (in all modesty), and may have pulled readers from print; Bakersfield has long been aggressive with other online and print products, which could pull readers from the core product; and in an unfortunate coincidence, the Bakersfield economy took a nosedive immediately after the redesign was launched (contributing, in no small measure to the fact that my former Bakersfield home was sold in a foreclosure auction today, at about $125K less than we paid for the house (UPDATE: I assumed it sold at the time of post; but it didn’t, so the bank just took title — so it’s still on the market if you want a great home in Bakersfield at a bargain price).

UPDATE: Steve Yelvington tells us how to look up ABC circulation numbers.  For some odd reason, I’ve never been able to find that link myself, though I knew it was out there and have searched for it (so, Thanks, Steve!).  From the search, we learn that BC’s circ has fallen to 59,433.

Again, we can’t say for sure what impact the redesign has had on BC’s circ.  There are any number of factor’s at play.

Doug Fisher posted this:

Past experience shows newspaper makeovers don’t necessarily translate into financial success. After the Bakersfield Californian underwent a drastic redesign two years ago, the 60,000-circulation paper in California’s Central Valley saw a small initial jolt to circulation and revenue, sparked by the brighter look and expanded coverage of hot topics like immigration. But the gains have been erased as the area economy struggles. Bakersfield Californian Chief Executive Richard Beene says the steps were necessary to keep the paper relevant, but he has advice for others considering a similar redesign: “Don’t expect it to turn around circulation or revenue overnight. It’s not a magic bullet.”

Which originally came from the WSJ

Be careful with those shared CMS’s, or you just might wind up getting more explicit than you intend

Would you run something like this in your traditional newspaper?

I’m a bisexual woman, age 20, and I am threesome-ing it with my best friend and her boyfriend during a stay abroad. I knew the girl (who’s mostly straight) beforehand. The girl thinks it’s hot when I participate — i.e., when it’s all three of us in bed …

I don’t think many publishers would. Most newspaper editors would fly into a eye-bulging rage if this accidentally appeared under their mastheads.

But what happens when your newspaper uses the same CMS as your wannabe alt-weekly? Well, such edgy content just might appear as if it was published in your mainstream news edition, as it does currently in the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle. The column originally appeared in the D&C’s Rochester Insider.

A Rochester-area blogger writing for Rochester Turning found the post by accident while using the D&C’s Planet Discover-powered federated search engine.

Personally, I think most old-line editors will think this kind of double posting is more damaging to the brand than it is, but it is something to consider if you’re sharing a CMS (apparently, especially Saxotech) with a racier sister pub.

Hat tip to Rottenchester.

Lee Abrams isn’t breaking new ground, but at least he’s getting attention

I can think of some very good ideas for brining in people from outside the newspaper industry to help us save ourselves:

  • Outside perspective means a fresh look at our problems;
  • That other industry perspective might mean new ideas that haven’t been tried in our industry yet;
  • Somebody who has been successful in one industry is probably a very creative thinker and can really help us brainstorm;
  • The new person doesn’t know our sacred cows, or isn’t afraid of them — he or she can really blow things up and start over.

So it should be a good thing that Sam Zell brought Lee Abrams into Tribune, right?

Here’s what we get from Abrams: 15 trite ideas that have been espoused and debated in the industry for more than a decade. If there’s a fresh, significant thought in there, I can’t find it.

The sad things is, though, there are probably a lot of journalist who might find the whole memo radical and scary.  And maybe that’s the only reason the Abrams memo is important at all — not that it’s new, but that Abrams has a loud enough voice to be heard over the complaints of change resisters in newsrooms across the land.

Some tips for newspaper people new to community management

For newsrooms willing to take control of their participation and conversation on their own sites, here are some tips and suggestions I hope they find helpful:

  • Make checking comments on stories, forums and other venues for reader-submitted content a routine part of your job. There’s no need for this to overwhelm your other work. Keep a browser window open to your latest story, or the RSS feed or e-mail inbox for where comments appear as they come in. Glance at it between phone calls or before you get up to get another cup of coffee. Make it a habit to periodically check.
  • Make sure your site has an enforceable terms of service and guidelines or rules for all participants to follow. Here’s the GateHouse TOS. We also have something we call “pool rules” adjacent our comment box (you need to be registered and logged in to see it). The Star has something similar on its stories. (Of course, Terms, rules and posting them aren’t something the average news staffer can control, but they can advocate).
  • Registration should be required. This helps cut down on the drive-by nuts, makes it easier to ban bad actors and streamlines moderation time. No technical solution, however, relieves a newsroom of its responsibility to pay attention and participate. Ideally, your registration system includes publicly available user profiles. Contrary to myth, registration does not stifle participation. (Again, the typical newsroom staffer has no ability to require registration, but he or she should advocate.)
  • Take ownership. Top editors own the entire web site. Sport editors, for example, own the sports section on the web. Sports writers own the stories they post (or get posted for them — really, though, every individual in the newsroom should be posting his or her own stuff). Ownership means you pay attention and you care. You won’t let guests trash your house or apartment, so don’t let them trash your stories. Assert your ownership on your section or your stories — readers should recognize you as the owner.
  • Participate. When a reader posts incorrect information, offer up a correction or clarification. When a reader posts an assertion that would benefit from factual support, ask for it. When someone makes a statement that reminds you of an interesting quote or event that didn’t make your story, leave your own comment about it. Your participation not only makes the conversation more interesting, and keeps people coming back, it gives you credibility when it comes time to play cop.
  • Say “thank you” when people say or do something you appreciate. This also gives you credibility and it encourages future participation from others.
  • Act quickly to remove the most egregious rule violations. The worst of the worst posters should be banned immediately. It’s a judgment call on who gets a second chance.
  • Ban and remove only for violations of rules, not simply because you don’t like a post. This might seem obvious, but I’ve found that some journalists struggle with this point. Editors are tempted to remove posts simply because they contain factual errors or don’t like the tone of the comment. We had a situation recently where a post was removed because the writer had referred to Obama as a Muslim. By removing this post, we missed an opportunity to offer up a correction, and left ourselves open to charges of bias (because now the original writer is left to think the post was removed for political reasons, not because it was factually incorrect, since she still believes Obama is Muslim).
  • Learn how to deal with trolls. Trolls are people that know how to push your buttons. Their comments aren’t quite over the line, not quite personal attacks, but they get under your skin. If you take the bait from trolls, you get into arguments you can’t win, that make you look bad, and get the conversation off topic (I know, because I’ve too often taken the bait). It’s important to learn to recognize trolls and ignore them, and encourage others to ignore them as well. It isn’t outside the bounds of good community management to ban habitual trolls.
  • Keep your emotions out of it (see trolls, above). While your communication style must be personal, you can’t get personally involved in the community. Be friendly, but not a friend. You can’t take sides. You can’t get sucked into arguments. You can’t show anger. You need to treat everybody fairly and equally. (This is advice I could do well to follow better myself.)
  • When you remove comments or ban a user, you may want to let the community know. The public act of policing lets everybody know there is an owner of the forum asserting control. The good participants appreciate it, and once you set the tone, some volunteer moderators may even arise. In fact, good ownership will eventually give the owner the ability to step aside and let the community run itself.
  • Don’t forget the back channel communication. You should know who your regular participants are and how to contact them individually via private e-mail. And they should know how to contact you. Back channel e-mails might be about moderation issues, attaboys or just a little personal chit-chat. These e-mails foster better relationships and lead to more civil communities.
  • Reward your frequent contributors. Host a picnic, give away movie tickets, acknowledge them on your web site. These people are helping you build your business, so show them some love. They’ll appreciate it, be more likely to continue the participation and others will be encouraged to become one of them

News site participation is not a ‘set it and forget it’ venture

There is a tendency among some (many? most?) editors and newsroom staffs to take a “set it and forget it” attitude toward online community.

“We’ve got comments on stories? Great. Now we can get back to real journalism.”

Here’s a headline for you: Online community is real journalism.

In 2008, the notion that all a reporter needs to do is uncover a few facts and write 12 inches, while editors edit “professional” content is a quaint relic of antiquity.

The modern journalist participates.

It should have been that way since 1995, frankly, but getting newsrooms to see it that way has been like trying to make a rock float.

Last night, while looking for something totally unrelated, I came across this old Alan Mutter post about the Ventura County Star when we first launched comments on stories in 2005 (when no newspapers I knew of had active comments on stories (though it had been tried before)).

The experience “showed the unfortunate underbelly of the Internet,” wrote the chagrined John Moore of the Star. “The anonymity offered by the Internet on comments like this seems to encourage people to say the meanest, ugliest things about other people.”

UPDATE: The Star now has reinstituted public comments with a number of restrictions, including filters to remove a growing dictionary of offensive words. Earlier the paper said it would permit comments only if it didn’t”require us to hire a full-time babysitter.”

First off, I don’t recall John being at all chagrined. There was no embarrassment over the situation.  Bringing direct participation to our site was an expression of our desire to make our web site more webby. In fact, the editorial leadership of the Star was quite committed to finding a way, within limits, to make comments work (the Star has always been one of the most progressive newsrooms when it comes to the Web). The Star has continuously had comments on stories May 2005, and today, they even have them on racially sensitive stories.

Of course, as the quote above shows, that commitment stopped short of dedicating a full-time staffer to community moderation, or asking reporters to police their own stories.

Neither suggestion got much traction during our internal discussions.

And in the past three years, I can’t say that much has changed in newsrooms across America (and I have no specific information on the Star’s current moderation practices).

It’s not that news staffs see comments as a nuisance, or an undesirable appendage foisted on their news sites by over zealous web heads.  It’s just something that isn’t important enough to waste time on.

That’s a shame, because participation is basically the way digital journalism works these days. It’s all just a conversation, whether the individual journalist sees it that way or not.

By not participating, journalists cede that competitive advantage to others, diminish their own journalistic output, miss opportunities for better stories (and rob  their employers of business opportunities for growth).

If any news rooms are ready to make a commitment to participation and community management, here’s a helpful post Tish Grier on the traits of community managers.

On staff reductions and missed opportunities

My friend Matt Welch, a former LAT opinion editor, has some not very nice things to say about the Times:

A small detail, but perhaps illustrative (or counter-illustrative) at a time when the Holocaust itself will soon be blamed on Sam Zell — my former newspaper, in fat times as well as lean, does a l-o-u-s-y job of retaining, harnessing, leveraging, or even knowing about the information and talent percolating within its own walls. Some of the better writers in the country are kept far off the page, saddled with bureaucratic tasks while mediocrites churn out column inch after column inch and editors whine about there not being enough writing talent to fill the daily hole.

Yet how many times have managers looked around for the (many) people not pulling their weight, or for the staffing models dating from a half-century ago (or more), and said “You know what, let’s cut the bloat first”? Not bloody often. There are few writers in L.A. more hated within the Times than Mickey Kaus, but I agree with him, not them, that you could do much more with 500 very good people than you can with the 900 or so in the newsroom now.

Which reminds me of Mark Potts:

Well, maybe. The dirty little secret of big-paper newsrooms is that, well, they aren’t all that productive. That’s what gave a little edge to that alleged anecdote about the Post’s productivity–there usually were a lot of reporters and editors just sort of sitting around, reading papers. Every big newsroom has its share–more than its share–of reporters who write only occasionally, of editors who spend an unfortunate amount of time sitting and waiting for the next piece of copy to come in. For a lot of reasons, big newsrooms just aren’t very efficient–as a high-ranking editor at a big daily said to me recently: “We could put out the same paper with half has many people as we have now–but they’d have to be different people.

Bold added to the last quote to connect the dots with Welch.

Sorry for repeating an anecdote from a previous post, but when I was a reporter at the Daily Californian (El Cajon, Calif.), our reporters would laugh at San Diego Union and Evening Tribune reporters who complained about writing more than two stories a week, while we routinely wrote more than that in a day.

A friend of mine who worked for the Times at the back then, complained about about a pair of journalists whom nobody had seen in the office for two years, nor had their bylines appeared — can you imagine getting two years to work on a story? A newspaper story?

The Times bloat and waste is legendary.

So I understand where Matt is coming from. And Mark, also, who was writing about a Tribune memo indicating Sam Zell has plans to cut staff and newshole dramatically, reasoning that some of the less productive staffs at the bigger papers can become as productive as some of the staffs at smaller papers.

That’s not an entirely unreasonable thought.

The Internet punishes inefficient business models, and one of the biggest inefficiencies at many, many newspapers are staff writers who aren’t as productive as your average part-time blogger.

I realize “quality journalism takes time,” and that most bloggers don’t do as much solid reporting as your typical newspaper journalist. What I am pointing out is: this is what the competitive landscape looks like. Either newsrooms adjust, or they die.

The modern journalist, whether cloistered in a big-media newsroom, or working independently as a journalist-blogger, must be more productive than was required under the old print-only paradigm.

That may be an unfortunate truth for many, but it is reality.

Returning to a quote from Matt that I excised above:

I think one of the worst things to happen to modern newspapers is the Buyout. Not because I weep for journalists losing their fat newspaper jobs — truly, I do not. But because a generic get-out-of-jail-free card is too often taken quickest by those who have genuinely interesting prospects outside of the Velvet Coffin, instead of the lifers just looking to hang on to the meal ticket.

It seems logical that the most entrepreneurial, the less risk-adverse, the most creative, the ones who can imagine a future outside of print journalism would be the first to take a buyout. That has got to be a problem for our industry.

But one of the things that crossed my mind during my forced hiatus from blogging, when the debate around Tribune’s productivity increase started, and reflecting on all of these staff reductions and buyouts — the question came to mind — if a newsroom, under economic pressure, can afford to lose 10, 20, 30 or even 50 staff positions now, why couldn’t those same newspapers have lost them five years ago — and lost them to the Internet side of the business?

Imagine if the Los Angeles Times had shifted 50 or 100 positions to web-only content production five or 10 years ago how much further along would LATimes.com be in audience growth today?

When the history of the newspaper industry from 1995 to 2005 is written, the historians won’t wonder why the Tribune Co. didn’t invent Google itself, or Ebay or Facebook, or that Hearst didn’t react more quickly to Craigslist, or ask why the New Century Network didn’t buy Yahoo!?

No, the big question will be — why didn’t newspapers invest in online when they had the chance?

Not only were opportunities squandered to shift more resources to the Web, but starting in about 2000, most well-run (well-run being a relative term) newspaper web sites started to turn a profit. Very little of that extra cash flow went into hiring more people, investing in product development or buying up Internet start-ups (one notable exception, E..W. Scripps buying Shopzilla). Almost all of it went to the bottom line.

And again, I’m not talking big, grand, innovative R&D — but simple stuff … doing what we already knew worked, such as user participation, social networking, blogging, web-first publishing and so on — stuff that we now consider the blocking and tackling of a good news web site. Basic stuff that few newspaper web sites really do well yet, but if they had started sooner, would have mastered by now.

It wasn’t hard to predict as far back as 2002-2003 when online recruitment revenue was strong for newspapers, and other classified categories were starting to take off, that the good times wouldn’t last. A recession was inevitable (they always are), and we were already in an unpredictable war footing, and broadband penetration was increasing (with observable changes in adoption rates for consumer reliance on the web) — it was easy to see this day coming.

But like the little pig who built his house of straw, the big newspapers took the easy route. They kept expenses low and bragged about 30 percent year-over-year increases in online revenue.

Now the strong winds are blowing and they’re looking at the big brick houses in the Silicon Valley and saying, “Those lucky bastards.

Here’s a surprise: The three men most responsible for one of the best newspaper web sites in the country let go

It’s no understatement to say I owe my career to Ron James. In 1995, I interviewed Ron — whom I’d known from my days as co-publisher of a little weekly in Ocean Beach — for an article I was writing for the San Diego Business Journal about local online publications. At the time, Ron was editor of the San Diego Magazine web site.

After the interview, Ron asked me, “How would you like to be our East County correspondent” — see Ron had a vision for the Web’s expansive possibilities, turning SanDiego-Online.com into a portal for San Diego before the web-meaning of the word was invented.

In response to his question, I said I had a better idea — what if I got together with a friend of mine who owned a group of six weeklies in East County and put those online. Ron didn’t hesitate. “Great,” he said. And East County Online, the first group of US weekly papers on the Web, was launched just two weeks later.

When we started, I didn’t even know HTML, but my online career was launched.

During my interviews for SDBJ, I also spoke with Jim Drummond, who was single-handedly launching what is now SignOnSanDiego.com. Back then, the San Diego Union-Tribune had no faith in this web thing and the original site was strictly real estate advertising. Drummond toiled with little support and staff for years, until the U-T hired Chris Jennewein.

If you don’t know Chris, you should. He’s a legend in the industry. He’s been doing longer than just about anybody I know and launched the original MercCenter for the San Jose Mercury News back in the 1990s.

Through Ron, I got to know Chris and have long considered him a friend and a mentor.

I’ve learned a lot about online audience growth from watching Ron and Chris’s work in San Diego. They’ve led the industry and set the example for creating web sites that do a great job at attracting readers. They have few peers in the industry. SignOnSanDiego has also been an industry leader in revenue growth.

So how is it possible that the San Diego Union-Tribune has let these three talented, hard-working, right-on-target men go? It’s shocking. (link via Romenesko).

It’s all too common for internal politics to overrun good business sense at family-owned newspapers. That’s the only explanation in this case that makes any sense.

UPDATE: There’s no way the U-T can come out of this looking good, but bless their hearts, they’re trying. E&P reports that Gene Bell has confirmed Jennewein’s departure.

“Among the changes, is the consolidation of strategy, product development and Internet sites under the leadership of Mark Davis, currently vice president of strategy,” the statement continued. “This change results in having to say goodbye to Chris Jennewein, vice president of Internet sites.”

Gene Bell, president & CEO, added: “We thank Chris for all he has done and his contributions over the years. His work has built a strong foundation for our Internet business and our evolution into a multimedia company – an evolution that will continue, as we adapt to our readers’ changing media habits and preferences.”

Great formula for ongoing growth — get rid of the people have provided your newspaper’s only true online leadership to begin with. Retreating is always a great go-forward strategy.

UPDATE II:  A post on Voice of San Diego contains this interesting tidbit:

A reporter who attended a 2007 newsroom strategy meeting in which Winner laid out ideas for the company’s future said the editor closed the session with this request: Don’t tell the workers at SignOnSanDiego.com about what was discussed. …

Also, Steve Yelvington: San Diego Union turns against its future.