Morris restructures newspaper group to focus on 'digital first'

Morris Communications Co. has restructured its newspaper group in an effort to implement a digital-first publishing strategy.

The Augusta, Ga.-based firm changed some of its own senior leadership, along with leadership at subsidiary Morris Publishing Group, incorporating key people at its digital support group, Morris DigitalWorks. Morris Publishing Group publishes the Juneau Empire and other newspapers and periodicals.

“We are transforming ourselves into a 21st Century media company,” said William S. Morris III, the chairman of Morris Communications. “The people and businesses we serve are moving quickly from print to digital, and we are determined to keep leading the way in meeting their needs in all the markets we serve.”

The president of Morris Dig­italWorks since its origin in 1996, Michael Romaner, will become the executive vice president of digital at Morris Communications.

Romaner will provide digital strategy and leadership for the company’s media enterprises, including magazines, books, radio stations, newspapers and visitor publications.

At Morris Publishing Group, Mark Lane, who was the vice president of sales at the Morris-owned Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville, Fla., will become the new vice president of sales. And Robert Gilbert is the new vice president of audience. He was formerly vice president of audience development at Morris DigitalWorks.

“Our newspaper company has a long tradition of digital excellence, and these changes will propel our transformation much more rapidly,” said William S. Morris IV, the president of the publishing group.

Derek May, the executive vice president of Morris Publishing, said “digital-first” is a strategy to get content to readers in the formats that they want, such as tablet computers and smartphones. It is also about the speed of reporting.

“When we break stories, we break them first on digital platforms and then, later on, summarized in print. We’ve been doing that awhile, but we’re going to emphasize that further,” May said. “This is not the elimination of the printed newspaper. We believe it is going to be around a long time.”

The strategy will also be a way to help businesses advertise digitally. May said advertising was once easier to understand by business owners because the choices were predominantly newspapers, radio and television. The digital revolution has added more platforms for businesses. In Jacksonville, the company held a workshop for business owners.

Other digital-first strategies involve iPad editions being produced daily by The Augusta Chronicle and newspapers in Savannah, Ga., and Lubbock, Texas, which will be rolled out across the country. Multiple newspapers are also publishing to Apple iPhones and Android-based smartphones.

“Integrating MDW’s skilled personnel into the newspaper group will help to speed its digital transformation from the inside,” Romaner said.

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