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Morris Publishing Group’s Digital-First Journey: Long Way To Go, But We’re Making Progress

Augusta, GA – September 26, 2011

It’s been a little more than three months since Mr. Morris, Will and I visited employees across most of our company’s markets.  What a fantastic trip!  I enjoyed meeting with you and getting all the valuable feedback.

During our visits, we spelled out two specific goals for our company:

1. We will turn Morris Publishing Group from contraction to growth by 2013.

2. We will change MPG from a newspaper company into a Digital-First media company that publishes newspapers.

These are simple statements, but they will require a tremendous amount of work.  I am happy to report that we’ve made a lot of progress in the 90 days since our visits.

 

We shared the two charts below during our visits to show how the challenging economy and the fundamental changes happening to the newspaper business were affecting our company.

Step 1 of our digital transformation was to stop this steep decline by getting our costs in line with our lower revenues.  Over the last couple of months, our entire company, including every one of your business units, has taken some very difficult but necessary cost reductions to reverse the downward cash flow trend.  Thanks to these adjustments, the company will be on a much safer financial footing next year.

Step 2 is to focus on growing revenue and audience – an absolute must for our long-term survival. Even during this economic downturn, local businesses are spending 15-20% more money on digital advertising each year.  To turn our company from decline to growth, we need to capture a growing share of this digital spending.

This chart from Borrell Associates shows how digital spending is expected to grow in Jacksonville. Our other markets are similar:

We have many projects under way to help drive digital revenue and audience growth.  Here are a few…

  • Building the corporate team that can help support the markets’ revenue and audience effort.  Just last week, Bob Gilbert was named VP of Audience, and I hope to announce the VP of Sales very soon.  I’m also very excited that MDW’s sales and audience folks are being integrated into MPG to create one cohesive Digital-First support team.
  • Getting the right tools in the hands of our sales execs and reporters. A task force of experts from across the company is finalizing recommendations.  Another group is working to streamline the digital advertising fulfillment process so our sales folks can spend more time selling.  These two issues came up in every market we visited.
  • In late October, Publishers and VP’s of Revenue will meet in Augusta to decide on the most important revenue & audience opportunities for 2012.

 

I am proud, too, of the many Digital First innovations being led by folks all over our company. These will be great learning experiences, and a few may even turn out to be home runs.

Here are some highlights of progress being made all around our company:

  • Bluffton Today went from a paid 3,000 circulation daily to a free twice-weekly with 14,000 circulation last month.  Fresh news is reported daily on www.blufftontoday.com.  What a great move!  Advertisers flocked into the paper, and Bluffton Today is finally operating in the black.
  • Last year, Athens launched AthensTalks, a local social media site. They’ve gained 11,000 registered users, and traffic is growing every month. www.athenstalks.com
  • Jacksonville was the first to launch our new SoLoMo (Social, Local, Mobile) digital workshops.They had 500+ attendees from 470 businesses, with $100,000 in annual contracts so far.  Several other markets are following suit.
  • Conway just launched Conwaypedia with thousands of scanned in photos. www.conwaypedia.net.  Earlier this year they launched a crime site, which is now generating more than 300,000 page views per month. www.faulknercountybooked.com.
  • Amarillo launched a new texting service with Textcaster, branded “Know it Now.” They’ve signed up 1,400 users since Aug.1, and their goal is 2,500-3,000 by month’s end. www.amarillo.com/knowitnow
  • St. Augustine has upped its focus on video, including specialized local videos like “Fishing With Captain Sharky,” a local charter boat captain with a great screen presence.  www.staugustine.com/captsharky
  • Augusta and Lubbock were the first in Morris to test an online subscription model and launch iPad apps earlier this year, and both apps should cross 4,000 downloads in the next week.
  • Ten years ago, most of our papers printed extra editions after Sept. 11.  This month, we used our digital platforms to help our communities remember the fallen and share their stories. https://chronicle.augusta.com/911-ten-years-later and https://news.jacksonville.com/since911/. Try the Jax site on your smartphone.

This is only a partial list of the creative things Morris people are doing to serve their consumers and businesses in the digital age. I will highlight others in future postings.

I feel very good about the Digital First progress our company is making, and I’m confident this is only the beginning.

Stay tuned.

Derek

P.S. I’m writing this blog to help keep you informed about our company’s Digital First transformation.  But I want to hear from you, too.  Please feel free to contact me at [email protected].

About Morris Communications

Morris Communications Company, LLC is part of a privately held media company with diversified holdings that include newspaper, magazine, and cable television. Morris’ holdings include 11 daily newspapers, numerous nondaily and free community papers, magazines and specialized publications, visitor (travel and tourism) publications, including Where® Magazine, Wheretraveler.com, and Where® Guestbooks and provides cable television, internet, broadband, and telephone services.

For more information, please visit morris.com.

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@MorrisPubGroup

For Inquiries to Morris Communications Company, LLC:

Heather Nagel-Doughtie
Chief Marketing Officer
[email protected]

 

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