Many newspapers enter, no one leaves
April 2, 2014 8:37 AM   Subscribe

Newspaper company Digital First Media is expected to announce today that it is shuttering Project Thunderdome, its three-year old experiment in news content creation and sharing.

Thunderdome was launched in 2011 by the Journal Register Company, which later merged with the Media News Group under the leadership of Digital First Media. DFM is relatively small compared to other media companies but it has pursued an aggressive digital strategy that emphasizes shared content across all of its platforms.

The New York-based Thunderdome, which has an editorial staff of about 50 people, was the centerpiece of this strategy, an effort to produce in-depth national content with a strong multimedia focus. This content would be shared with DFM's newspapers (including the San Jose Mercury News, Denver Post and St. Paul Pioneer Press), which could then use their own limited resources to focus on local stories.

However, Thunderdome produced stories more slowly than expected and there was limited enthusiasm among DFM's newspapers for the project. Although Thunderdome created some impressive stories, including Firearms in the Family, Decoding the Kennedy Assassination and an interactive March Madness Bracket Advisor, DFM has apparently decided to end the project. The move is part of DFM's cost-cutting strategy and is considered a black eye to DFM CEO John Paton's aggressive, digital-first strategy.
posted by Rangeboy (15 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I must have blinked because I have never heard of them.
posted by srboisvert at 8:41 AM on April 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

posted by oceanjesse at 8:51 AM on April 2, 2014

Ah well. At least now we can try and pick up the pieces, and just try to get beyond Thunderdome.
posted by JHarris at 9:49 AM on April 2, 2014 [4 favorites]

Distressing to news orgs trying desperately to figure out how to evolve -- the thing with Thunderdome is that they invested quite seriously in it, they had executive backing, and they produced some decent content. And it failed. What do legacy news orgs, who maybe have senior management in place who are legacy print people, who may distrust or even revile the internet, to do?

All-in doesn't work. Half-assed doesn't work. The only thing that seems likely to work is a war of attrition -- you hope you're the last one standing.

But this is disheartening.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 9:50 AM on April 2, 2014 [3 favorites]

I must have blinked because I have never heard of them.

They produced content for many small newspapers, you wouldn't have heard of them, I don't think, unless you read Romenesko or industry stuff. You might have seen their content, but it would just be like regular 'here's a thing in my newspaper' or 'in my online news' -- not overtly branded as theirs.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 9:53 AM on April 2, 2014

Jim Brady is a great, smart, hardworking guy who really cares about journalism and I'm sorry to see this project of his fail. On to better things I hope.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:08 AM on April 2, 2014

With a name like, "Thunderdome," it had to be overrated.
posted by rhizome at 10:21 AM on April 2, 2014

I have never heard of this but I'm disappointed that it's not some kind of platform for mashups.

Two cultural artifacts enter, one cultural artifact leaves!
posted by aubilenon at 10:40 AM on April 2, 2014

There's a strain of this really aggressive anti-sharing mindset in a lot of news orgs that I think is a holdover from a time when "the scoop" was a bigger thing. Now everybody's heard the news on Twitter before your newsroom can even roll out of bed, and you need to get it out there far and wide even if it hasn't had all the polish you used to be able to put on an article before it went to print or you went on air. It takes a journalist who can work fast and a newsroom culture open to being open and sharing content to get your take on the story in front of enough eyeballs so that they can see and hopefully appreciate your reporting style before that news item is old news, and it's really a struggle to get a lot of people in the business to embrace that.
posted by jason_steakums at 10:50 AM on April 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

And some (hello CNN) go the other direction and just infodump half-assed stories to keep up, which is another problem. There's a sweet spot between the two extremes, though.
posted by jason_steakums at 10:52 AM on April 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

I worked at a small (50,000 daily) newspaper in Connecticut a couple of decades ago. I observed the Journal Register's business practices as it gobbled up a number of other small papers across the state. Karma, it came for you JRC.
posted by CincyBlues at 11:04 AM on April 2, 2014

I must have blinked because I have never heard of them.

I had... in job ads about a year ago. Boy am I glad I didn't go work there.
posted by Jahaza at 11:32 AM on April 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

I like to browse the regional newspapers from around where my parents live back in Pennsylvania. Like a bad April Fools joke, a bunch of them all decided to go behind a pay wall on April 1. It used to be that some of their stories were online, but not the entire paper, which was cool. I was often able to talk to my parents about news they saw and news they missed. But now to see anything, you have to subscribe and pay. It's the same pay wall on all of them, so I know some larger entity owns these papers and decided this was a good move. Perhaps a necessary move, but it raises the bar higher than I want to jump just to read the "cat rescued from a tree" stories from 600 miles away.
posted by lagomorphius at 2:34 PM on April 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

I guess we're finally getting beyond Thunderdome.
posted by gc at 7:37 PM on April 2, 2014

Beat you to it! WAAAH-hahaha!
posted by JHarris at 8:28 PM on April 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

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