I was shocked when I saw the Google News Alert on my Blackberry this evening. A MarketWatch story announced that Andrew Langhoff is becoming the new CEO of Dow Jones subsidiary Ottaway Newspapers. While Langhoff is no stranger to the media space– and has been with Ottaway for five years– he isn’t the traditional choice for CEO.
His predecessor, John Wilcox, started as a reporter and worked his way up the editorial and business ladders of the old print world. Before taking the helm of Ottaway, he had been and old school print guy, spending the past 40 years working his way up the newspaper ranks. Wilcox did do a lot to pull Ottaway into the present, but it was clear after the turn of the century that fresh blood would be needed soon.
Langhoff is an interesting cat. He served as SVP of the internet publishing division (the first leader of the then new group) while also the firm’s general counsel (the role into which he was first hired). He hired me back in 2004, and I lasted all of six months before finding a culture that suited me better (I spent the next year chillin’ as a freelance writer and loved it).
He was one of the few people there who actually had a vision for the internet, though Ottaway (like most newspapers) was rather late to the party. But, it was decidedly 1999. At times, though, it did seem forward-looking. I remember discussing Web 2.0 ideas with him, back when the movement was in its infancy. But, it came out in ways that were a bit dated. The notion of communicating and leaving comments on stories, for example, did sound a lot like some famous flameouts. Remember TheGlobe.com, anyone?
He did have a less-than-charming expression for using the whiteboard– “Langhoffing.” Apparently, this term arose during his stint with a dotcom-era startup where he held a business development position. I suspect that few, aside from the Chief Langhoffer himself actually used it.
I’m being a bit to harsh, here. He was thinking the right way, and many of his ideas were downright revolutionary in the newspaper space. Clearly, there was a cultural shift. The Medford Mail-Tribune, an Ottaway property, now uses Twitter to announce the availability of new stories online. Before Langhoff arrived at Ottaway, that would not have been possible.
It’s hard to say where this will take Ottaway. This is a pretty radical move for a newspaper company, and the industry is in dire need of original thinking. If anyone is fit for the task, it is Langhoff. Before things soured for me at Ottaway (and my attitude with it), I was quite happy working with him. But, I wonder if the industry is too far gone. Also, I think is web-savviness is about half what the newspaper chain needs to get back on its feet.
So, best of luck, Andrew. I hope you are able to find the right combination to keep print newspapers relevant.