“Digital First” at The Dallas Morning News means a complete overhaul

Here is what I’ve learned about the ‘digital first’ overhaul at The Dallas Morning News: very little of the traditional newspaper model applies anymore. From the editorial process to production to staffing to revenue – it’s all been reinvented at The Dallas Morning News.

About ten years ago, TDMN looked at declining revenue and subscriptions and knew a change was necessary. The paper began by charging for its online content. In 2013, paper subscriptions declined by 7.4%, while online subscriptions increased by 30.3%, which bore out the paper’s decision to refocus.

So, the publishers and editors at The Dallas Morning News decided to tear it all down, in nearly every way. Waves of layoffs leaned out the staff. Not only are there fewer employees, very few of them still had the same jobs or responsibilities they still had in the ‘paper first’ model. In addition, they decided their landmark headquarters were no longer appropriate for ‘digital first.’ The old building was just too big, and could no longer be renovated for new tech. The Dallas Morning News relocated to a much smaller facility closer to the heart of downtown Dallas.

The Dallas Morning News also uses big data to grow its digital subscriptions, and guide its editorial decisions. They use the data to learn which stories gather the most attention, and redirect resources to those types of stories, thereby growing interest and revenue. The paper also crowdsources some of its reporting. In North Texas, where high school football is king, they have just two reporters dedicated to high school football coverage.

I used this picture in my PowerPoint as the perfect metaphor for TDMN’s transition. On the left, the iconic Rock of Truth that sat outside the paper’s downtown headquarters. When the Morning News relocated to a more tech-friendly facility in downtown Dallas, it wasn’t practical to lug that giant slate across town. So, they recreated it with this high-tech lightboard to symbolize that the newspaper’s goals hadn’t changed, just the way they achieve them.

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