John Temple Reflects on Building an Online Newspaper
John Temple is the former editor of the Rocky Mountain News, the Denver newspaper that ceased publication in 2009. Under his editorship, beginning in 1998, the paper won four Pulitzer Prizes and numerous other awards for journalistic excellence. He also held the titles of president and publisher.
Temple joined the Rocky in 1992 as metro editor. He was named managing editor in 1995. Before joining the paper, he was managing editor of The Albuquerque Tribune, another E.W. Scripps Co. newspaper. He has also worked at The Toronto Star, Canada’s largest newspaper.
Temple also served as VP/News for Scripps’ newspaper division since 2006. In that capacity, he acted as a sounding board for editors and publishers to help them explore and develop print and online initiatives. Temple has a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Toronto. He is married to artist Judith Cohn and has three children.
Question: How did you adapt the Rocky Mountain News to the internet revolution?
Temple: Well, let’s start in 2005, the most significant thing we did then was launch a citizen journalism initiative called YourHub.Com. We decided that what had happened in the newspaper market is people wanted news closer to home and that we were not providing that and other news organizations were and they were making revenue off of it and it was taking money away from our business, money that we needed to survive. So instead of starting weekly newspapers, what we did was start community websites. We started 42 websites serving the entire metro area, all the communities in it and then we reversed published from the web system and produced 18 print sections that went out to households on Thursday with the newspaper. And the whole idea was to engage the community more and take advantage of the strength of people having digital cameras or having their own laptops and really bring them into our community and let them… let us become more the platform or the moderator for them rather than the distributor to them. And that was the most significant effort we made on the website, the other thing we did was we kept trying to push the newsroom to become more and more web oriented, recognizing that the revenue wasn’t there yet, we knew that we had to try to own that space and we really wanted to try to grow faster than our competitors online and it’s a very, very competitive space and very difficult to do but we put that emphasis on it and one of the ways that we did it for example was I gave the staff a sort of a media audit, we have staff meetings and when they came into the room, I told them, “Tell me… I’m going to give a grid… until this point today, mark down how much time you’ve spent doing the various activities, watching television news, reading news on the internet, talking on your cellphone, sending e-mail, reading magazines, reading books, etc. etc. all media,” and in all those staff meetings, at the end of the meeting, we had collated the results and in every single case, it showed us that these print journalists were spending more time news online than they were reading print and the goal there was to send the message to everybody that if we were doing this, just imagine what people who are not paid to produce print journalism are doing. So, we have to be where the user is, we can’t tell the user, “Come to us.” We’ve got to go where the user wants to be in and meet their needs and I think that helped us and we kept pushing to become a more web-oriented organization.
John Temple Reflects on Building an Online Newspaper.