Photo by from tronc YouTube video
Malcolm CasSelle and Anne Vasquez talk artificial intelligence and monetization in the tronc video.
During the glory days of the San Diego Union and Evening Tribune, publisher Jim Copley often boasted how his papers had turned out the vote for Richard Nixon, and the Republican president concurred, designating San Diego as his "lucky" city, even as he pulled the 1972 GOP convention and moved it to Miami in the wake of a pre-Watergate influence-peddling scandal involving the corporate owner of Sheraton hotels here.
San Diego endured that humiliation by declaring itself "America's finest city," abetted by an orgy of self-congratulatory coverage in the two Copley papers.
But almost 50 years have passed, the Copley dynasty long ago petered out, leaving the San Diego Union-Tribune clinging to a much-diminished life, and eroding — some fear — the city's national identity.
The latest dispiriting omen for both the newspaper and the city it once championed has surfaced in the form of a splashy online video produced by the U-T's current Chicago-based owner, now called tronc, formerly known as Tribune Publishing,
"This is the future of journalism, this is the future of content," says Malcolm CasSelle, tronc's chief technology officer. "It doesn't get much better than that."
Adds tronc chief digital officer Anne Vasquez, "It's about meeting in the middle. Having a tech startup culture meet a legacy corporate culture and then evolving and changing. And that's really the fun part."
Notes CasSelle, "We have great titles, we produce tons of great content every single day. We're really focused on how we deliver it to people in a way that they want to consume it more and more."
Says Vasquez, "One of the key ways we are going to harness the power of our journalism is to have a [sic] optimization group, this tronc team, will work with all the local markets to harness the power of our local journalism, feed it into a funnel, and then optimize it so that we reach the biggest global audience possible."
As she speaks, a graphic of a solar system, portraying each of tronc's major daily newspapers appears on the screen, with the notable exception of San Diego.
Despite excitement expressed for video, tronc saw fit to leave the U-T out of theirs.
"Right now, we're averaging about 16 percent of our article pages have [sic] the type of video player that we can monetize," Vasquez continues, adding that the company is shooting for 50 percent by 2017.
A slide titled "Video Opportunity" appears, listing video rankings for the chain's papers, again omitting San Diego.
Concludes CasSelle, "The role of tronc is to transform journalism. From pixels to Pulitzers."
Local optimists may posit that the U-T is lucky to be left out of its corporate owner's pie-in-the sky promotion, which has drawn derision from across the web
"Tronc threatens a nightmare hellscape of video content in new warning to employees," said the Verge.
Of tronc’s talk about using machine learning and artificial intelligence to gather stories, Madison Malone Kircher wrote for New York Magazine: "Translation: We’re going to replace many of the people who get laid off with 'artificial intelligence,' which means those that remain will be asked to churn out more work in the same amount of time as they did in the years Bt (Before Tronc)."
Said Slate: "The Future of Journalism Is a Deadly Swarm of Buzzwords, According to Tronc."
So, could tronc's indifference to San Diego be a good thing, signaling that the U-T might be once again spun off to yet another new owner, such as one-time nonprofit publishing hopeful Malin Burnham, or Democratic billionaire Irwin Jacobs?
Unlikely, say inside media watchers, especially since the paper continues its rapid decline, no longer has its own printing plant, and must be run on the presses of the Los Angeles Times and trucked south from the City of Angels every night.
More realistic is the prospect that cost-conscious and Hollywood star-struck tronc chief Michael Ferro will ultimately subsume the San Diego operation into the L.A. Times, though a glimmer of hope remains among some that media giant Gannett, its takeover bid currently spurned by Ferro, might ultimately win its battle to buy the chain, spinning off the Times and U-T to Democratic charter-school billionaire Eli Broad.