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An unsung hero of Journal Register Company’s turnaround

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Emily M. Olson

This morning we welcomed a new editor at The Register Citizen in Torrington. Yesterday, our company announced its first-ever profit sharing program and handed out an extra week’s pay to every employee.

Both made me stop and think about the contribution of Emily M. Olson and hundreds of employees like her across Journal Register Company.

For years, Emily worked hard for “the old JRC” as a reporter and editor at our weeklies in western Connecticut including the Litchfield County Times and New Milford Times.

She was editor of the Litchfield Enquirer, the oldest newspaper in Connecticut, in January 2009 when JRC filed for bankruptcy, closed the paper and laid her off. Three months later, our neighboring JRC division in Torrington had an opening for a copy editor, and we brought her back into the company.

Emily was promoted and became the founding editor of four new weekly papers that we launched in early 2010 as “the new JRC” emerged under the leadership of John Paton. One of the papers we launched was The Litchfield News, filling the void left by the Enquirer’s demise and utilizing Emily’s knowledge and relationships to re-establish our commitment to that community under a new business model.

Fresh off this success, Emily was promoted to managing editor, the #2 position in our newsroom. Then our top editor joined the staff of our sister paper, the New Haven Register, and Emily filled in as we launched a thorough search for his replacement.

By thorough, I mean that this was five and a half months ago, and our new editor started this morning.

In the meantime, we underwent one of the most radical transformations of a physical newsroom in the country.

When the New York Times came to interview staff about the launch of The Register Citizen Newsroom Cafe and an “open newsroom,” the reporter wanted to speak to the person on our staff with the longest history in print newspapers. Someone who might have the most natural resistance to suddenly conducting story meetings that are open to the public and live-streamed on the web. Someone who might think engaging the audience at every step of the process of local journalism is too much a departure from traditional media.

That would be Emily. Except her message was incredibly positive, despite the huge leap we were making into uncharted waters. And despite the fact that she was holding down two jobs at the time (and three jobs for a while as we unexpectedly had a vacancy in our weekly editor slot as well). And despite the fact that she hadn’t quite signed up for such a position of leadership in our own newsroom, not to mention the newspaper industry itself.

She was designing print edition pages at midnight and appearing on NPR with Jeff Jarvis at 9 a.m. the next morning articulating an incredible message of change for traditional newspapers. And then back at the Newsroom Cafe, talking to members of the public about story ideas and corrections and bringing the community into the planning process for the day’s local news cycle.

Who is behind what has been called a remarkable – and remarkably rapid – turnaround at Journal Register Company? People like Emily Olson and many, many others like her across the 992 communities the company serves with local journalism and advertising. As John Paton asked them to do just over a year ago, they are “changing the tires of a car while it is driving down the highway.”


Written by mattderienzo

March 15, 2011 at 1:29 pm

Register Citizen improves ‘Fact Check’ program

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Last year, we got some attention in the newspaper industry for taking a relatively simple step toward improving accuracy. We added a “Fact Check” form at the bottom of every story on RegisterCitizen.Com.

While we were not the first or only news outlet or website to do this or something similar, we’ve felt the concept is an extremely important statement of accountability to our readers and sources.

So we were thrilled when a “top 10” major U.S. newspaper, The Washington Post, implemented something similar about a month ago.

They invented a better version of what we were doing, and so we’ve learned from that, and overhauled our “Fact Check” program to incorporate a lot of what they’ve done.

Now when you click on the “Fact Check” box at the bottom of a story where you notice an error or omission, you will be directed to this page. It gives readers more opportunity to point out what was wrong, to tell us what should have been written, and to even suggest other sources we could speak to who would help us improve the story.

The new system also provides readers the (completely optional) opportunity to provide contact information and an opt-in to be contacted in the future if we write about the same topic or similar topics, so that we can avoid similar mistakes down the road on which the reader might have insight.

Written by mattderienzo

March 5, 2011 at 1:34 pm

Toward a better conversation at MiddletownPress.Com

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Middletown Press Editor Viktoria Sundqvist explains an important change tonight to the online story comment system at MiddletownPress.Com.

Instead of going up immediately and unfiltered, online story comments are now being screened by monitors prior to being posted on the site.

The downside is that there might see a slight lag time before you see your comment appear. We don’t expect that to be a long lag time, and feel it is far outweighed by the benefit of being able to screen out comments that are obscene and blatantly and intentionally untrue.

When we implemented a similar change at RegisterCitizen.Com last year, we expected to see a drop-off in the overall amount of story comments because of that loss of immediate back-and-forth debate. But after an initial dip, we found that the overall number of comments came back stronger than before. We think that’s because some community members who were so disgusted by the nature of what the nastiest comments left our forum, and came back when it was safe again to have a decent conversation about local news and sports.

Why don’t we switch to a “registration” system, some have asked?

First of all, if the goal in suggesting that is to require people to identify themselves and “own” their statements, registration does not force anyone to identify themselves. It is still an anonymous system, as it’s easy enough to register as “Mickey Mouse” and create an email account such as And it would not cut down on abusive comments among those who really want to be abusive. Other than make it more difficult for everyone to comment in the first place. There are programs that allow you to login via your Facebook or Twitter identity and comment, and that’s the closest thing out there on the web (but still possible to manipulate) to an “identity” system. I can see us adopting some kind of hybrid system down the road where you can sign in and identify yourself that way, but also choose to comment anonymously instead if you wish. And it will be up to the reader to consider what stock they put in anonymous comments vs. identified comments.

More importantly, the nature of the web is that readers find stories based on topics of interest to them, referred by Google searches, friends’ recommendations on Facebook, etc. That means they might be reading about river quality, or dirt bike racing, on 15 different sites. If we all required separate registrations, it would kill any kind of conversation. We feel the input of people who visit occasionally and don’t want to take the time to register is valuable.

Written by mattderienzo

March 4, 2011 at 10:03 pm

New opportunities

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I’m excited to be taking on an expanded role for Journal Register Company in Connecticut, and thought I’d take the opportunity to recast this blog to address all of the publications and communities I am now working with, and to make a new commitment to keeping it updated regularly!

While still based primarily at my office in the new Register Citizen Newsroom Cafe in Torrington, I will be splitting my time at The Middletown Press and the office of the Litchfield County Times in New Milford.

In Torrington, we’ve made huge strides over the past year, and with the December opening of our “open newsroom” especially, in bringing the community into every step of the process of local journalism.

I’m looking forward to meeting as many people as I can in the coming weeks, and am eager to hear what I can do to help you and help our publications better serve these great communities.

Written by mattderienzo

February 22, 2011 at 4:49 pm

>LATEST COLUMN: Community, transparency are Register Citizen themes for 2011

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Community, transparency are Register Citizen themes for 2011

If you have yet to visit The Register Citizen’s new offices at 59 Field Street in Torrington, stop by, ask for a quick tour. You’ll understand how much things have changed for Northwest Connecticut’s local newspaper since January 1 of last year. And you’ll catch a glimpse, we hope, of what we mean by a “digital first” and “community first” approach to local news.

Written by mattderienzo

January 2, 2011 at 2:27 am

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>A case for Torrington as Connecticut’s Christmas capital

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My 3-and-a-half-year-old daughter “gets” Christmas for the first time this year, and the excitement is building.
She decided that Christmas was finally coming last night when she saw the first real snow of the year. She started singing “Jingle Bells,” and pointed out every set of storefront Christmas lights on our drive through town.
Then we drove by the famous “Christmas House,” and, unplanned, stopped, got a closer look, and went inside. She was blown away, and I was blown away. It was magical, even for an adult, and a stick-with-you-for-a-lifetime experience for a child.
Reading RegisterCitizen.Com later that night, I came to this firm conclusion:
Torrington is the Christmas capital of Connecticut.

Sorry, Bethlehem.
But Torrington has the snow.
Torrington has the Christmas House, which to the unfamiliar, is the home of a private resident who has gone over-the-top nuts decorating the outside and inside of his home with Christmas light displays, Nativity scenes, moving Santa Claus figurines, rooms full of nutcrackers, snow globes, running train sets and more.
Torrington has Christmas Village, which opened for its 63rd year yesterday and features Santa and Mrs. Claus and live reindeer, and has delighted generations of children in Northwest Connecticut.
Torrington has the 1900 Hotchkiss-Fyler House Museum, which is decorated in turn-of-the-century Christmas style and offers tours throughout the season.
Torrington has the world-class Nutmeg School of Ballet and its annual production of “The Nutcracker” at the historic and beautiful Warner Theatre.
The Warner Theatre has a bunch of other Christmas programs on the schedule also, including “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” and “A Very Merry Doo Wop Spectacular.”
Torrington has the amazing “Christmas Angelicus” concert at Trinity Episcopal Church Dec. 19.
Plus, the downtown and Coe Memorial Park are decked out in lights.
Don’t forget ice skating at Major Besse Field, and one of the best sledding hills around.
And shopping.
Torrington has Christmas shopping opportunities galore. There’s East Main Street, and every big box store you could need, of course, but there are more small business shopping opportunities this year in our beautiful downtown.
Main Street mainstays such as Libby’s Torrington Furniture, one of the best small toy stores in the state, Toy Jam, newcomers such as Barking Dog Guitar Traders and Bender Showrooms, and “shopping experiences” such as Brazen Betties, where you’re bound to see something that presents a unique gift opportunity.
Come for Christmas Village and the Christmas House, enjoy the snowy scenery of the Litchfield Hills and check some hard-to-buy-for people off your shopping list.
And tell me if there’s another community in Connecticut that has this much to offer for Christmas.

Written by mattderienzo

December 6, 2010 at 5:37 pm

>City Views to discuss Register Citizen Newsroom Cafe project

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>I will be a guest on Tim Driscoll’s and Sam Slaiby’s “City Views” cable TV call-in program at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday (Dec. 7) on local Cablevision Channel 5 to discuss The Register Citizen’s Newsroom Cafe project.

We’ll see about possibly getting it live-streamed on RegisterCitizen.Com as well, for those of you who do not have cable or live outside Channel 5’s coverage area.

Please call in with your questions.

Written by mattderienzo

December 6, 2010 at 3:03 pm