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San Diego Union turns against its future

Submitted by yelvington on May 8, 2008 - 11:40am

A long time ago someone said to me: "When the parent becomes threatened by the child, the stage is set for a Greek tragedy."

If reports are to be believed, that's playing out right now in San Diego, where Karin Winner, the editor of the decaying and decrepit Union-Tribune, has engineered the exit of Chris Jennewein and Ron James, two of the best online guys in the newspaper business. Not the first time this has happened. And sadly, probably not the last.

The newspaper's audience in-market penetration has sagged to 54%, while the website has added 17.2%, according to the latest ABC data. In addition, the website has built a separate national audience/revenue proposition (out-of-market usage is not measured by ABC) based on inbound tourism. So the response is for the newsroom to seize control and oust the growth guys. Dumb.

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I worked with Chris Jennewein on an "electronic billboard" project at the AJC in the early 1990s, before there was a Web, and thought he was pretty well ahead of his time. Even though I had no idea back then what the heck any of this was about. Hope somebody scoops him up real soon.

First off, let me say I have the upmost respect for Chris Jennewein. He's truly an online innovator and it's a shame the Union -Tribune couldn't figure out a way to keep that talent. With that said, in the visits I had to their newspaper, and from comments I received from friends of mine who are in the print newsroom, there was a huge disconnect between Chris's large online team and the print newsroom. According to the those in the newsroom (and I realize this is one-sided) they wanted more involvement with online, but apparently Chris wasn't much into that concept. If that was true, Chris has nobody to blame but himself.

The newsroom folks are finding that they need jobs and they have been trained for years to B.S. very well.

So, they talk a good game by reading blogs, weasel their way into online and manage to oust the online people.

Basically, these three online people will be replaced by print people who have talked a good game and need to save their pathetic jobs.

They will be installed and instantly start doing everything we have all tried over the last 10 years that has failed and we have learned from.

This happened to me and several people I know and is happening everywhere everyday.

Print folks are like rats on a sinking ship. Jumping off and shoving the online folks out of the lifeboats with their slick talk and "connections" within the newsroom that will (they sell it this way) allow greater "integration."

Of course, this greater integration will be integration with STUPID ideas that were proven to be failures over and over for the last several years.

Get ready for more live chats and blogs for everyone -- including mailroom employees. Not to mention more unbelievably BORING uses of video/audio. And, let's not forget super downright dumb reasons NOT to do succssful things, such as breaking news.

Print people thrive by being able to talk a good game (that is what they learn to do with all of their free time in the newsroom) and this is going to further sink newspaper web sites, which already are flattening in growth.

I would LOVE to hear the bold new ideas from the incoming print folks who will run the web. I will predict a flashback to every stupid idea from 1998 -- all over again.

I will never forget the dumbest idea from my brillant print editor who became the online managing editor with no experience vs. myself who had 7 years at that point. Drum roll..... 50 minutes of audio of a 9 person primary mayoral debate.

Newspaper online operations are doomed. Period.