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John Paton named MediaNews Group CEO: What's it mean to MNG's pay-wall experiment?

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In late August, we noted that the search for a new MediaNews Group CEO to succeed Dean Singleton had stretched out for seven months, with no end in sight.

At last, the situation has changed. John Paton, a director of the Journal Register Company, has been named the firm's CEO as part of an unconventional new operational structure. It's a bold move that will impact every initiative at MediaNews Group, which MNG is trying out and Paton has spoken against.

According to a news release, JRC, a media firm whose newspapers include New Jersey's Trentonian, has joined with MediaNews Group to create Digital First Media, a new company that will manage both entities -- and Paton will serve as CEO to all three.

A prolific blogger, Paton writes about the move in "Digital First: The Next Step." Awkwardly, he refers throughout to "Media News Group," rather than properly scrunching the first two words together. But the rest of his piece is full of bold declarations. He maintains that JRC has "blown up a lot of that received wisdom" about what newspapers can and can't do in the 21st century marketplace, and touts the rise in online revenue. "Digital dimes can replace Print dollars," he asserts. "And if our dailies continue on the trend they are on right now, by the end of the year they will have brought in more digital revenue than the costs of running their newsrooms. Digital revenues can pay for newspaper newsrooms."

Making these claims flesh, and reconciling potentially conflicting visions, will be a fascinating challenge for Paton and Singleton, who will remain chairman of MediaNews Group and publisher of the Denver Post and the Salt Lake Tribune. Last month, for example, MediaNews Group announced that it would experiment with digital pay walls at 23 properties, none of them in Colorado. In March, though, Paton denigrated the notion on WBUR radio in Boston. He called pay walls a "dangerous waste of time," because "marrying a new idea to an old model" is an "idea that never fails to fail." He said much the same in a January interview with NewsAndTech.com.

Paton is expected to act fast now that Digital First Media has been announced. A knowledgeable source hears that he's hoping to have a top-level management team together within a month or so. Whether that'll mean layoffs due to duplication or perhaps even a move of some operations from MediaNews Group's Denver headquarters is unknown at this point.

Look below to see a JRC video, which serves as an intriguing introduction to Paton.

More from our Media archive: "Dean Singleton interview about stepping down as CEO of MediaNews Group."

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