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Sioux Falls Paper Changes Focus on Marketing, Not Journalism

Scott Ehrisman reports that that Sioux Falls paper has axed several veteran reporters. I read the paper's own Sunday description of its newsroom changes and find a distressing absence of specifics on actual news activities. President and publisher Bill Albrecht and executive editor Maricarrol Kueter call their new senior management team "talented journalists," but the new functions they highlight seem to have less to do with journalism and more to do with marketing:

  1. Patrick Lalley is now called the "content strategist." That means he will "oversee the newsroom’s expanded content generation effort." That's not journalism; that's management. And journalists don't produce content; they write news.
  2. Cory Myers is now called the "consumer experience director." Myers "will study digital metrics and use audience feedback to assist reporters as they refine their approaches to their coverage beats," which sounds distressingly like training reporters to engineer their output with search engine optimization tricks rather than focusing on digging for good information, challenging authority, and writing great reports whose quality speaks for itself and enlightens the citizenry. And hey: we're not consumers; we are fellow citizens, for whom the Fourth Estate performs a vital function.
  3. Jodi Schwan is now an "audience analyst." Along with editing the Sioux Falls Business Journal, Schwan will "analyze audience metrics and market trends and work with marketing and advertising staffs as well as with the local news staff to identify opportunities for new products and new coverage approaches." This position is marketing, not journalism.

I know you can't walk into a meeting with corporate and say your plan for the paper is to do the best darn journalism in South Dakota. That's the kind of nutty talk you hear from some blogger who just slogs away writing one punchy, well-researched blog post after another and doesn't invest in SEO or marketing. You've got to tell corporate you've got new titles and metrics and strategies that will boost profits and Tweet-Klout X.Y%. And alas, it looks like you've got to make room for all sors of new positions and marketing strategies while spending less on real journalists practicing real journalism.

You do your business model, Bill and Maricarrol. I'll do mine. I look forward to comparing journalism-to-marketing ratios.


  1. Tim 2014.11.18

    RCJ did this not to long ago, all you have to do to see their results is open it and look around, not much journalism there.

  2. mike from iowa 2014.11.18

    Its those pesky words again. Maybe "content(adj) strategies" is a way for the paper to appease and make wingnuts happy. Maybe just give them complete editorial control.

  3. Nick Nemec 2014.11.18

    I wish they would please stop putting that ad covered 1/3 front page on the thing.

  4. Mike B 2014.11.18

    Everything is marketing. Get used to it. Newspapers are there to to provide news and information but they must provide a profit too or they are out of business.

  5. Loren 2014.11.18

    Well, Mike, maybe they should just call themselves "papers" instead of NEWSpapers then. Sounds to me like SD is just going to get a louder echo out of their echo chamber, more telling folks what the want to hear rather than fact.

  6. Douglas Wiken 2014.11.18

    Shoppers is the term. The PO should be looking at ad content versus new content for keeping their subsidized mail rates.

  7. lars aanning 2014.11.18

    The Argus Leader, like all other newspapers, faces severe financial constraints in this digital age - but more distressing is the effect that the two major healthcare corporations have on the ability of the newspaper(s) to do investigative journalism...

  8. WayneF 2014.11.18

    Yes, the Argus Leader has become a "shopper," like the inserts with ads and a few canned articles. Argus Leader sacrificed its once-tough, objective stance years ago in order to keep its head above water financially. Cory's right--the new philosophy is marketing, pure and simple. Sadly, that is the case with much print journalism (and even broadcast media) throughout the nation. AL's sale to Gannett was the beginning of the end, I'm afraid. Sad. AL used to be cutting-edge journalism.

  9. JeniW 2014.11.18

    The newspapers are like all other businesses, they sell what sells. They too have to make a profit to stay in business.

    Unfortunately, that is the way it is. The days of investigative reporting has gone by the way of the wind.

  10. Jenny 2014.11.18

    So are Monty and Ellis still there? Lalley can be annoying and full of himself, but Monty and Ellis are very good journalists.

  11. Roger Cornelius 2014.11.18

    The Journal and Argus are going to market themselves right out of business and it won't be the digital age that causes their demise, it will be that total lack of investigative reporting.
    During the primary and general election campaigns, Cory produced what should have been daily headlines for both papers. What did the two largest newspapers in our state do, ignored them for whatever reasons. I would really like to know their reasoning for such decisions.
    If these newspapers can't produce a product that has content and information they should go out of business.
    For years now, the first thing I did in the morning was to grab a cup of coffee and read the Journal, now that I have it online, it is the last news source of the day for me.

  12. leslie 2014.11.18

    business wont train its own people, media wont report local news. repubs/employers tell state gov./education to train employee pool (SDWorkforce) but NOT philosophy! repubs tell NPR to pay its own way. NPR sucking pretty bad. employees underinformed, overworked, underpaid and vote republican. brilliant.

  13. larry kurtz 2014.11.18

    did anyone else catch monty today saying on 100 eyes that cory has an effective role as a liberal blogger and should not seriously consider a job as chair of the party?

  14. Sam 2 2014.11.18

    Newspaers will go the way of the stone tablets and the horse and buggy. When the state legislature shows some back bone and makes the internet the offical public notice instead of newspapers it will be over for them. We need to end their subdized mail rates and public notice requirements. More people get their news from smart phones than newspapers.

    Why are my tax dollars spent to support the Watertown PO, when they could help feed the homeless?

  15. grudznick 2014.11.18

    Mr. Montgomery knows that with with Mr. H as head of the SDDP blogging right out of the party's mouth there would be no room for him, so he see's Mr. H's coronation as party king as another pike in the neck of his employer.

  16. Mike B 2014.11.18

    Newspapers are good for the economy even if they are not what they once were.

    I worked with Patrick Lalley and he pursued excellence always.

  17. JeniW 2014.11.18

    I don't think that the hard copy will completely end for a while. There are people who like having the hard copy, plus the people who like to get coupons, plus it is a venue for the advertisers, as evidence by the Sunday paper being mostly advertisements.

  18. grudznick 2014.11.18

    That $10 minimum wage is going to pound another nail into Mr. Lalley's pate as it ever inflates the price of his newspaper boys wages.

  19. jerry 2014.11.18

    Coffee News will now start editorials and have an opinion page

  20. 96Tears 2014.11.18

    One Bob Mercer has more integrity, depth, insight, guts and peerless experience than the combined news staff at the Argus. Bob is a fearless reporter and he works without a net.

    The Argus Sanford is now coming clean in Kueter’s and Albrecht’s puff piece that their true goal has been to become a pandering rag for those its management considers Sioux Falls’ elite. An audience analyst, a consumer experience director and content strategist seem like titles for a team intent on manipulating a reading audience. That leaves the hard gritty work of covering beats, digging for information and reporting news without filters to pander to a pet audience to someone else.

    The Argus Sanford scribes gave us a belly full of manipulating their dreck to pander to the elitists in the SDGOP during the past 18 months. The Kueter/Albrecht manifesto means they’re going to double down on more of the same. If you got the money, we’ve got your spin.

    Bill Janklow once referred to Sioux Falls as a first class town with a third rate newspaper. Despite all the wealth in Sioux Falls and in Gannett’s treasury, it seems like the Argus has fallen down since then.

  21. grudznick 2014.11.18

    Mr. Mercer seems to work mostly on spite. Now that Mr. Chet Brokaw fellow, there was a reporter.

  22. Lynn 2014.11.19

    Real Investigative reporting is so important now more than ever in our state and it's too bad we are not able to have a version of MinnPost here in South Dakota. Could something like this survive here? It would run on donations and would there be enough to support high caliber reporters free from constraints?

  23. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.11.19 is a great model, Lynn. Run on donations? Well, folks, you tell me. If I wage a capital campaign and promise to give up teaching and work the blog as a full-time reporter, can we come up with the $40K I'd need to replace a full-time teaching job and cover the extra travel, research, and tech costs of raising the game to MinnPost-level journalism to seriously compete with that Sioux Falls paper and Bob Mercer?

    Can we find 333 supporters to kick in $10 a month?

    Can we find three benign patrons who would each write a check for $10K, then cover the rest with tip jar action and enhanced ad sales (and if we raise the game to MinnPost level, we can sell more ads).

  24. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.11.19

    Note for donors: I will never hire an audience analyst or a consumer experience director. Donations also purchase no editorial influence whatsoever. If you donate, you're doing so because you think the mission that I determine and the posts I write for this blog are worth your money.

    Does that pitch work?

  25. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.11.19

    And while we're thinking about it (thanks, Lynn, for encouraging me to hijack my own post!), do I need to rebrand? Is Madville Times too silly of a name to get big-money donors to take the blog seriously? Or is being a liberal Demcorat in South Dakota silly enough that I do't need to fret about what the blog is called?

  26. JeniW 2014.11.19

    Cory, you would essentially be creating a small business.

    If you are seriously considering such a venture, and I hope you are, I think you need to have a candid visit with the MinnPost staff about the good, the bad, and the ugly of doing so.

    The first year could be tough money-wise, and maybe into the second year.

    I have gone into a small business with three other partners. It has its challenges and rewards.

    But whatever you decide, do not give up your license or whatever it is called to be a teacher.

  27. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.11.19

    JeniW, my teaching license is good through June 30, 2019. No need to give that up.

    That said, I'll put in a call to MinnPost, see what they can tell me.

  28. Jenny 2014.11.19

    Yes, Madville Times could use a better name, and yes we could all donate to Cory more. He's put in an awful lot of his time doing research to try to find the answers to disturbing corruption happening in our state government.

  29. 96Tears 2014.11.19

    Perhaps a 'DakPost' would include both Dakotas. Since Forum Communications is based in Fargo, I'm certain a professional standard involving a non-profit is applicable on both sides of the state line. I'm done venting my spleen about the Argus' "coverage" of the 2014 election and would like to see a substantive solution in place to lead by example.

    Cory, rebranding might be a good idea at this time. You've come a long way from a localized blog to being the most engaging and (perhaps not financially) successful political news resource in South Dakota.

  30. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.11.19

    96, someone else will have to run a "DakPost" that would span both Dakotas. I can see the business case (more readers, more stories), but I don't have the interest, and I'm not sure a blog spanning two states can maintain one coherent identity. The audiences would be pretty disparate, as would the donor bases.

    "Madville" nods to origins and tradition, but I can see the case for acquiring a new brand better demonstrating the mission and scope to new readers. But heck, then there I go having to buy another hosting plan and maintain this site for archival purposes! :-)

  31. 96Tears 2014.11.19

    You're right, Cory. It ain't worth the bother of archiving everything and having to re-educate readers. You haven't needed to go to your audience. So far, you've had good luck offering quality and groundbreaking news the brings your audience to you.

    As to a MinnPost variation, I'm thinking it would be better to create the non-profit as a separate entity from Madville and would be open to journalists throughout both states to contribute as the thing grows. There has to be an outlet to quality reporters like Denise Ross, Bob Mercer, Seth Tupper, Katie Zerr and others in print and broadcast news.

    Not wanting to rant again about That Newspaper, but the declaration that news should be adjusted to fit the audience is a move in the wrong direction. Real news sets its own direction.

  32. Roger Cornelius 2014.11.19

    My online Rapid City Journal annual subscription is $120, I would gladly donate that amount to newspaper that has substance.
    I've been saying for years, what Rapid City needs is a damn good newspaper.
    The MinnPost concept seems like a workable idea and worth serious consideration.

  33. Roger Cornelius 2014.11.19

    My suggestion for a name change would be Dakota Reporter, but I think that name is already taken.

  34. John Hess 2014.11.19

    South Dakota Times.

  35. John Hess 2014.11.19

    Hiedelberger Post.

  36. jerry 2014.11.19

    I like Madville Times as a name and as a brand. If it were up to me, I would leave it as is. Maybe the tip jar could be rung with a little more gusto.

  37. Bill Fleming 2014.11.19

    It took me a long time reading here before I got that by "Madville" you meant Madison, South Dakota. You could easily redesign your Flag (or I could :-) and totally lose the geographic reference if you wanted to. To me, your site has always been more about ideas than geography anyway. Just sayin'.

  38. larry kurtz 2014.11.19

    ip won't do it but a strong paid propaganda response to DWC could be a valuable asset to our party and Madville should only have it rolling in the sidebar.

  39. leslie 2014.11.19

    I have kept for years bill f.'s hot pink ink logo sticker on chrome as it is one of the best designs I have ever seen.

  40. Bill Fleming 2014.11.19

    Nice of you to say that, leslie, thanks. :-) It's a collaboration between me and my wife and business partner Susan Turnbull.

  41. David Bergan 2014.11.20

    Interesting thread! My two cents...

    1) To the uninformed "Madville Times" could sound like "Angrytown Always". Not the best connotation for a political website. :)

    2) Easy to spell. Pandora music was initially going to be Pythagoras music (homage to the sage of music and math), but the latter is impossible to spell. Pandora, on the other hand, is impossible to misspell. In other words, don't make users remember how to spell Heidelberger. ("e" in the middle of each syllable, John Hess)

    3) Search engine optimization will take care of itself if you select a name that currently has 0 hits on Google. That's the branding dilemma. If you make up your own word (e.g. Kodak, Sony), you have complete control over its destiny... which is quite powerful in the information age. Otherwise, you take descriptive words (e.g. Mitchell Roofing, Sioux Falls Chiropractic) and people instantly know what the business is about, but you fight everyone else for clicks and Google ranking. Also this method could potentially paint yourself in a corner if you want to expand/change the scope of your business.

  42. grudznick 2014.11.20

    Mr. Bergan, are you offering your services to help improve Mr. H's blog site in the internet standings and maybe take over #1? I, for one, think it is a fine site and is way better to read than the changes that went on over and Mr. PP's site that really rip your mind around while you try to scroll and read. This website has errors a lot like the server is broken but the other blog is really really slow and changed to look like the Argus. If you help, Mr. Bergan, do not make this site look more like the Argus.

  43. David Bergan 2014.11.20

    I'm not offering any of that kind of help, grudz. Just ideas. I renamed my business 2 years ago, and was sharing the keys points of that process.

    When I make websites, I code from scratch so it stays as lean and quick as possible, and I can track down/fix every error. And design-wise, I'm also very minimalist. This website is much more busy than what i would make... to say nothing of the AL website.

  44. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.11.21

    What?! David, you don't like my sidebars? :-)

    Good naming advice, David. "Heidelberger" in the title is out, despite its beautiful syllabic symmetry (yes! central e's!). So I either go with some new quasi-pharma-Latin neologism (Veriquex? Liberegal? DakotaDem?) or I try to buy

  45. David Bergan 2014.11.21

    I mostly browse your website on my tablet, and thus constantly pinch-zoom the sidebars off the display. So... yeah... they aren't a feature for me. But they aren't anywhere near the most annoying kind of cruft tablet users put up with.

    Back to naming. If you go the made-up name route, stick to two or three syllables. Our new name has four, and that just becomes a mouthful when I introduce myself. It's also harder to remember.

    If you want to borrow from an established name, I always liked The Cleveland Plain Dealer. It sounds a lot less stuffy than the Times', Posts', Leaders', Journals' of the world. Also more memorable.

  46. larry kurtz 2014.11.21

    Cory, listening to earth haters like DB is a waste of your resources.

  47. larry kurtz 2014.11.21

    Cory: if i start a Dem version of DWC will you put it in Madville's sidebar?

  48. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.11.21

    If you're speaking of David Bergan, Larry, you are jumping to an incorrect conclusion.

    Would adding a Democratic version of a venomous, lazy, fact-free blog pimping content from corporate-fascist overlords add any value to the blogosphere?

  49. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.11.21

    David, doesn't my WPTouch widget not serve you a tablet-optimized version of the page?

  50. larry kurtz 2014.11.21

    Yes, Cory: a counter to DWC's venomous, lazy, fact-free blog pimping content from corporate-fascist overlords could add some value to the blogosphere.

  51. Bill Fleming 2014.11.21

    Getting websites from standard to responsive is an artform all its own. Most sites suffer functionality when they get reduced down, and you have features on your blog that seem unavailable in the mobile formats, Cory. I usually do what Bergan does and use the traditional site, because the mobile optimized version seems too minimal. Could be I'm just too lazy or too impatient to look around the responsive version and find out where everything went, but I'm probably not alone in that regard. It's hard to wean readers from old formats into new ones. Grumble, grumble, grumble... :-)

  52. Jenny 2014.11.21

    I like Prairie Progressive but that one is already taken.

  53. Bill Fleming 2014.11.21

    Kurtz, if you build it, they will come... or not. LOL

  54. Jenny 2014.11.21

    I never even knew Madville was from Madison. I always wondered where that came from, it is very peculiar and sounds like we're all mad nuts like Kurtz ;)

  55. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.11.21

    True, Bill! On my tablet, I cannot recall finding a mobile version that I prefer to the regular version. I actually get cranky when a website insists on serving me the mobile version (mobile Twitter really gives me functionality fits).

    Before worrying about format, I just need to get the comment section to stop timing people out. Anyone else having that trouble? (Now that's the kind of audience experience analysis that Sioux Falls paper should focus on; leave the journalists alone and let them journalize!)

  56. Jenny 2014.11.21

    How about Heidelberger's High Times On the Prairie?

  57. mike from iowa 2014.11.21

    I get timed out better than half the time,but then I'm used to abuse. Just hit back button and re-submit. Then it goes through. BTW,my opinion doesn't count.

  58. Jenny 2014.11.21

    Cory, if you're really interested about the name change, maybe put a survey up and ask readers if they think your blog should have a title change. Yes or No.
    Change is always good.

  59. Bill Fleming 2014.11.21

    Yes, I almost always get timed out.

  60. Bill Fleming 2014.11.21 matter what device or format I'm using.

  61. Bill Fleming 2014.11.21

    At our shop, we've started to design the responsive look first, then adapting the full site to it. It's still hard, but a better approach somehow.

  62. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.11.21

    Jenny, here's one more blog-origins surprise for you (though I've told this story many times to others): the term actually stuck in my head when I heard fellow MHS debate grad Jon Lauck use it many moons ago. I noticed the South Dakota political blogosphere when he astroturfed much of it into existence in 2004 with his blogging for the Thune campaign. Before I knew he was on staff as a campaign advisor, I thought I might have fun doing what Jon was doing. So in nomenclaturally and conceptually, the Madville Times has ties to the GOP spin machine that predated Pat Powers's entry into the field.

  63. Roger Cornelius 2014.11.21

    Leave Madville Times as it is, it is one of the most user friendly blogs out there, I like it. Don't get caught up in the need to change just because someone feels a need for change. There is no need to change a tire if it is not flat.
    Madville works as well as it does because it has been designed well.
    The "your request timed out" thing has gotten somewhat better, previously you had to retype your whole comment, now it saves your comment for reposting, could do better.

  64. bearcreekbat 2014.11.21

    I agree with Roger that Madville Times works better than other blogs I have visited. The "timed out" issue is easily dealt with by copying the comment and pasting it back after reloading if need be. Keep up the good work Cory!

  65. larry kurtz 2014.11.21

    Is there a link to SDDP from Madville? Hell no.

  66. David Bergan 2014.11.21

    Let me know when you see that earth-hating DB, Larry, so I can shout him down.

    "Madville" is basically an inside joke for a very select crowd. I had to explain it to my brothers and they're both Madison-born MHS graduates. And it's not like, funny, once you hear it explained. It's more like "Oh, ok, I get it. I thought he was just mad at Republicans."

    How about Lakodia Plain Dealer? That's about as much of an inside reference as Madville without the anger ambiguity. It sounds better, hooks in with native roots.

    Or wait to see where your (more) permanent settlement is once Erin is called and riff off that.

    PS Hello from Mission.

  67. larry kurtz 2014.11.21

    Brookings has been Brookville, Hot Springs Hot City, Hill Town, Spearditch....

  68. Jenny 2014.11.21

    Lalley's paid to sell that paper. He more like an advertising strategist now.

  69. 96Tears 2014.11.21

    Lalley imagines himself as a Kardashian-style TV personality. Zero news instinct or professional ethic in that boy.

  70. larry kurtz 2014.11.21

    96, thanks for the laugh: Lalley's a dork.

  71. 96Tears 2014.11.21

    Larry - A friend emailed that Lalley's making an ass hat of himself on Facebook right now. Just saw it! He's ripping into any and all broadcast journalists, Joe Prostrollo, Jeff Harkness and anybody who thinks he's acting rude on Doug's page. It's a meltdown. Things must be rough at Argus Sanford.

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