Belinda Alzner sat down with Digital First Media CEO John Paton for an exclusive interview where the front-man of the second-largest newspaper company in the United States talked about his digital first, print last strategy and how he doesn't see Canadian newspapers investing in their digital products. Rhiannon Russell also reports on Paton’s advice for young journalists.

“Digital first is a transition strategy, not an end-game strategy. I don’t know what the end-game is. Neither does anybody in the business,” John Paton told me as he sat across from me at a table in the atrium of the CBC building on Front St. in Toronto last week.

What Paton does know, however, is that putting digital first and print last is a strategy that has worked to take The Journal Register Company – one of the two newspaper companies that he runs under Digital First Media – from bankruptcy to profitability in the two years since he has been at the helm. Digital First is the second-largest newspaper company in the United States, with 800 print and digital publications covering 18 states.

His strategy is exactly what it sounds like: Reporters for his newspapers produce news for digital platforms, innovate new ways to tell stories, and see their stories go through numerous phases before finally ending up in print. Newspapers that are merely re-purposing their print stories for the web are doing it "ass-backwards," Paton says.


After my interview with him, Paton spoke at a forum hosted by the Canadian Journalism Foundation, where he stressed: “We owe it to the communities who have sustained us not to falter just because we are afraid to change.”

J-Source had an exclusive Q&A with Paton, and we covered the CJF forum as well, with a report that outlines Paton’s lessons for young journalists. Both can be found below.