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The company, based in Yardley, Penn., owned 19 daily newspapers and more than 150 nondaily publications. Its flagship newspaper was the New Haven (Conn.) Register. After July 2011, the company was owned by Alden Global Capital, a hedge fund.
The Journal Register declared bankruptcy twice in its final years — in 2009 and 2012. In the first bankruptcy, after years of financial difficulties in which it was delisted from the New York Stock Exchange and threatened to close several papers, the Journal Register filed for bankruptcy protection in February 2009 and emerged that August. Three years later, the company filed for bankruptcy again in a strategic move to unburden some of its debts, including underfunded pension obligations, built up before its first bankruptcy. The company was bought by 21st CMH Acquisition Co., an Alden subsidiary fund, coming out of its second bankruptcy.
The company hired a new CEO, John Paton, in January 2010, and he quickly began incorporating a “digital first” philosophy into the papers’ production approaches. It is watched by many in the media especially for its attempts to leverage legacy infrastructure in its efforts at innovation. The journalism academics Jay Rosen, Jeff Jarvis, and Emily Bell sat on the company’s board of directors. In September 2011, Paton became a CEO of MediaNews Group while remaining the Journal Register’s CEO, managing both companies under the name Digital First Media. The two companies were formally separate before their 2013 merger, though Alden is also a significant investor in MediaNews.
By 2012, the digital first strategy had resulted in sharply increased digital revenue, though its gains were not enough to offset the company’s ongoing drop in print advertising revenue. Paton said in September 2012 that he was considering reducing print days for several Journal Register papers. The following year, Digital First dropped one paper in Oneida, N.Y., from six days a week in print to three.
Digital First began experimenting with paid content at Journal Register papers by requiring users to take a Google survey question before seeing articles, and announced in 2013 it planned to combine that approach with mobile and digital paywall experiments. Later that year, Paton announced all Digital First papers would incorporate digital subscriptions.
In April 2010, the company launched the Ben Franklin Project, in which newspapers would produce a single day’s edition using only free, digital tools. The following month, two of the company’s newspapers took part in the project. In July, each of the company’s newspapers did the same thing.
In June 2010, Paton announced the launch of the ideaLab, a project to give 15 of the company’s employees technological tools to experiment with and determine how they might be used to better the business. In December 2010, the Torrington Register Citizen opened a newsroom cafe, which invites members of the community to spend time in the paper’s newsroom. The paper also hosts daily news meetings that are open to the public, as well as classes on blogging and other skills for members of the community.
In September 2010, after expanding its advertising partnership with Yahoo, Journal Register announced a partnership with the neighborhood news provider Outside.in to create a hyperlocal news and ad portal in the Philadelphia area. The company also partneeds with ProPublica on news apps and with NYU for citizen-driven election coverage. Digital First partners with GlobalPost on foreign coverage and with NewsCred for syndication services.
The Chi-Town Daily News was a nonprofit local news site in Chicago that folded in 2009 and reorganized as the for-profit Chicago Current. The Daily News was launched in 2005 by former Chicago Tribune reporter Geoff Dougherty and had a staff of eight at its peak. The site was funded by a combination of membership…