Project Thunderdome Shuts Down – Mad Max and Post Apocalyptic Linotype

April 8, 2014 by  
Filed under Journalists, News, Online

I was genuinely shocked to hear late last week that Digital First Media’s Project Thunderdome was shutting down. Whether accepted or not by the network of papers it was serving, it was a bold project with a plan to save newspapers with a new model for news.

I was lucky enough to visit the Project Thunderdome office in New York just after they started, while on my CNA scholarship trip in 2012. Between the New York office and visiting the Journal Register properties in Connecticut, I was able to meet Jim Brady, Steve Buttry, Matt DeRienzo and even John Paton.

It was a fairly empty office at that stage. And now it will be again. I wonder where John Paton will park his glorious wooden desk now. Anchoring their open plan New York office, it will suddenly be a very lonely place to sit.

Here’s a roundup of coverage of the shutdown, starting with John Paton’s own post about the announcement:
– John Paton: Moving On From Thunderdome | Digital First

From Mandy Jenkins: Thunderdome’s demise is déjà vu all over again | Zombie Journalism

“Thunderdome never even got the chance to carry out even the beginnings of our goals. We were on the brink.

DFM and Thunderdome was founded on the idea of “putting the digital people in charge”. We were put in charge – and we made positive, forward-moving changes”

– From Steve Buttry: Looking for my next opportunity, whatever that is

Anyone who says Thunderdome failed is wrong. As I said about TBD, you can’t fail unless you were given a chance to succeed.

No denial or sugarcoating here. I don’t agree at all with today’s decision to cut Thunderdome or with the company’s new direction. But neither of those calls was mine to make and I’m not going to criticize them or waste time discussing them.

The newsonomics of Digital First Media’s Thunderdome implosion (and coming sale) » Nieman Journalism Lab

“With Thunderdome folding, the creation and production of national content will presumably fall back to the papers — though don’t expect new resources to be added back, even though some were cut in the move to Thunderdome.
“Paton parlayed a small hand on a way-down-on-the-food-chain (Journal Register Co.) into a major U.S. digital news company.”

Reflections of a Newsosaur: Lessons from the Digital First implosion

Schadenfreude broke out among some publishers today when Digital First Media killed an ambitious interactive publishing initiative and commenced layoffs to bolster the bottom lines of its newspapers in a reported plan to groom them for sale.

But no one should be happy that Digital First hit the wall.

Inside the Thunderdome newsroom: heartbreak and hustle | Poynter

“We still feel like we’re fighting for the future of journalism. We just won’t be doing it together.”

Reinventing a newspaper chain for the digital age is really hard — just ask Digital First Media – by Mathew Ingram on GigaOM

And yet, the images that name conjures up — of the post-apocalyptic world of the Mad Max movies, with brutal hand-to-hand combat and cars retrofitted with machine guns — make it one of the best metaphors for the newspaper world that I’ve heard in a long time.

One of DFM’s most recent efforts was what it called Project Unbolt: an attempt to get the newspapers in the chain to rethink every step of the entire news-gathering and publishing process, in order to try and make it more natively digital first and more efficient.

A number of media-industry insiders responded to the news about Digital First Media with expressions of outright or barely-disguised schadenfreude — about how the demise of Project Thunderdome was unsurprising

Beyond Project Thunderdome | Yvonne Leow
What went wrong at Digital First Media — and what’s next? | Poynter


Above, a Linotype machine I found hidden in a corner at the New Haven Register.
Below, getting my #famousjournogeeksimet on with John Paton in the Project Thunderdome office.

And here, Storified, reactions to the collapse of Thunderdome.

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