Into the unknown and beyond .
Jean-Marc De Jonghe knows two ways of life. Some days, he ventures off on his motorcycle for 12 hours at a time, in the scorching heat. Other days, he enjoys his creature comforts which involve sipping on his favorite wine, eating out at his go-to restaurant, or relaxing to the sound of his favorite music. He cherishes the unknown just as much as he holds to his habits.
It should come as no surprise that he be working alongside other business leaders to reinvent an industry that offers a daily ritual. Interview with Jean-Marc De Jonghe, Vice President of Digital Products, La Presse.
Q. Jean-Marc, you’ve been working in the print media industry for 15 to 20 years, and times have changed quite a bit. The press industry is far from easy nowadays. Why did you choose this industry?
A. I chose this industry due to its importance! I truly believe in the 4th power, which is the media. The media keep institutions in check, and I’d say that this has been at risk for quite some time now. I chose the information media industry because I want to play an active role in helping to develop new tools that can be used to preserve it so that it lasts for years to come.
Q. When exactly did this media crisis begin and what are its origins?
A. In the 2000s, media grew increasingly interested in the Web. Media outlets began chasing clicks and page views. Before they knew it, they had access to much larger audiences, but these audiences were less engaged. Before then, people could easily spend up to 45 minutes on one piece. Now, we browse media at our leisure, whenever we’re curious about a certain topic, in a very granular way.
In other words, relations between the media and the audience have become less significant, which has made advertisers less interested in our industry. Everything crumbled from that point on. Today, media companies are working to renew the audience’s experience, to develop a mindset that encourages them to take their time as they consume the contents
that journalists have themselves developed.
Q. That’s quite the challenge!
A. That’s exactly why I have hundreds of bright minds working on this! And that number isn’t high given the magnitude of the problem at hand.
However, I think that by having these young minds work on applications, we stand a chance, unlike others who prefer to duplicate or grab hold of the past.
Q. Speaking of, let’s talk about the decision made by La Presse a few years ago to focus on digital products. How are things evolving?
A. In 2010, we knew that we wanted to develop a mobile application and we understood that our future depended on it. We also knew that we weren’t equipped to face this challenge on our own. Once we came to terms with the latter, we began searching for a business that could help us develop this expertise. We weren’t looking for a subcontractor.
We wanted a Partner, with a capital P, who could join us on this venture and challenge us along the way.
Q. How did you come to a decision?
A. We had certain criteria in mind. We were looking for a team that had mobile industry expertise, agility, as well as values common to ours. We also wanted to partner with a local Quebec business since we felt it was vital that they knew La Presse and understood our context.
Also, we weren’t looking to work with a major player who would have promised to deliver on great ideas, but especially delivered a lot of bills! We listed what each partner had to offer and were able to identify 6 or 7 candidates. In the end, we really hit it off with Albert, the President of Mirego, and his team.
Q. Would you say that you’ve been challenged to your liking?
A. I can still remember going for food and drinks at La Buvette with Simon Audet and Martin Gagnon one summer evening. Simon had just grasped the magnitude of our crazy project, that is to say, what would become La Presse +.
I asked him what he thought of the idea and he said, “Jean-Marc, I’ll be honest with you. What you want to build is a cathedral. Maybe you should learn to build garden sheds first!” I burst into laughter. He was right! That’s why we first developed LP Hockey, LP Mots, and LP Mobile. We had to start somewhere. These products became our testing grounds where we learned to build an application as big as La Presse+.
Jean-Marc, I’ll be honest with you. What you want to build is a cathedral.
Maybe you should learn to build garden sheds first!
Q. Naturally, it just clicked between Mirego, the young tech company, and La Presse, the hundred-year-old newspaper. Why do you think that is?
A. Our values were so similar, and we were both driven by passion. Just like us, Mirego was motivated by the idea of creating awe-inspiring applications that users would love using. Sure, we may have different backgrounds, but our visions were fundamentally compatible. Sometimes it’s fun when David and Goliath team up instead of going head-to-head against each other. The smaller one can tell the giant to work faster, be more agile, and quick to turn on a dime.
On the other hand, the giant can help the smaller one pull from strengths and demonstrate how impactful each step taken is. That’s the kind of relationship we built between Mirego and La Presse: a win-win relationship that allows us to learn from one another.