New Company Led By John Paton Will Manage Journal Register, Media News

John Paton, recognized for turning around the Journal Register Co., is now CEO of the considerably larger MediaNews Group as well — and will lead both via a new management company named for his own mantra: Digital First Media Inc. The common thread between the two companies? Hedge fund Alden Global Capital, which acquired the Journal Register this summer, holds the largest stake in MediaNews — and, unless I’m hallucinating, isn’t mentioned in the announcement (included below).

It’s a huge jump for Paton, who will be managing nearly 11,000 people and running the second-largest newspaper chain in terms of circulation with a presence in 18 states. He comes in just weeks after a major MediaNews shakeup in the Bay Area. More to come; in the meantime, here’s the way Paton’s pitching it on his Digital First blog.

Paton firmly believes “digital dimes can replace print dollars”, offering Journal Register as an example:

Since implementing our Digital First strategy in mid 2010 our Digital audience has doubled to more than 12.3 million uniques and our entire audience has grown from 14.9 million monthly customers on all platforms to nearly 21 million customers.

That’s more customers for what we have to offer. A lot more.

In Q2 of this year, 10 of JRC’s 18 dailies are up year over year in advertising or within 2% of last year’s ad revenues because of digital advertising growth. JRC newspaper digital revenue grew more than 81% year over year in Q2. That’s against an industry average of less than 10%.

How this will apply to the MediaNews papers remains to be seen. For instance, most of the smaller papers are trialling versions of paywalls now while Paton is firmly on the record preferring open ad-supported access. I’ve reach out to Paton on that and other aspects and will update when I have more.

Journal Register Company, one of the nation’s leading local news and information companies, announced today the creation of Digital First Media Inc. Digital First Media will manage both Journal Register Company and MediaNews Group Inc.

John Paton, as the Chief Executive of Digital First Media, will act as CEO of both Journal Register Company and MediaNews Group.

In a separate release, MediaNews Group, the nation’s second largest newspaper company as measured by circulation, announced its appointment of Mr. Paton as CEO and the new agreement with Digital First Media. Mr. Paton, a director of Journal Register Company, has also been appointed to MediaNews Group’s board of directors. Mr. Paton and Digital First Media will report to the boards of both MediaNews Group and Journal Register Company.

This arrangement provides MediaNews and Journal Register Company with immediate cost benefits, and the ability to leverage the combined scale and expertise of both companies for their mutual benefit.

“This allows these two great companies to accelerate our Digital First strategy of transitioning from what have largely been print-centric businesses to modern, multi-platform media companies focused on local news and advertising,” said Mr. Paton, who is also a director of the Newspaper Association of America. “I am very excited to be working with MediaNews Group and the Journal Register Company teams. This initiative creates a local news powerhouse with more than 880 multi-platform products in 18 States serving more than 57 million Americans per month for the benefit of our communities, customers and employees.”

“Media News is intent on continuing its transformation from a print-oriented newspaper company to a locally focused provider of news and information across multiple platforms. At the forefront of our efforts is developing a successful digital strategy. With ‘Digital First,’ John has implemented just such a digital strategy for Journal Register Company. We are delighted to tap into John’s experience as we accelerate further our successful transition to a digital world,” said Dean Singleton, who will step down as CEO of MediaNews Group. Mr. Singleton, who is the Chairman of The Associated Press, remains Chairman of MediaNews Group and the publisher of the Denver Post and Salt Lake City Tribune.

Digital First Media represents the codification into a management company of a digital strategy that Journal Register Company has been pursuing with great success since February 2010, when John Paton was named Chief Executive Officer of Journal Register Company. MediaNews will benefit from that experience, and from cooperation with Journal Register Company, as it continues its own evolution to compete in the new media landscape.