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Power of the pen Featured

8:48am EDT February 26, 2004
David Greenfield knows news. As president of Copley Ohio Newspapers, he oversees the operations of The Repository in Canton, The Dover-New Philadelphia Times-Reporter, The Massillon Independent and The Suburbanite weekly in Akron. He also serves as The Repository's publisher.

Copley Ohio Newspapers is a division of California-based Copley Press Inc., which publishes nine dailies, eight weeklies and one bi-weekly, and provides news to 1,700 clients through its Copley News Service.

At the Repository, Greenfield oversees a circulation of 102,780 daily and 118,240 on Sunday. This may seem daunting, but he enjoys the challenges that are part of the deal.

"Some people love to hate their newspaper," Greenfield says. "What other medium can promote that sort of emotional response? Do people really get that mad at TV, radio or something they read online? Generally not. Do they ever bother, for example, to respond to those sources with a letter to the editor? Not usually.

"When people talk about newspaper as a dinosaur or that it's a dying business, that's absolutely incorrect. I think its power, both from a marketing and informational standpoint, is as relevant as it ever was."

Smart Business sat down with Greenfield to talk about management techniques, walking the editorial/advertising tightrope and finding your niche.

You supervise 375 employees at The Repository and oversee 500 full-time and 100 part-time employees with Copley Ohio Newspapers. How do you manage all those employees?

Each daily newspaper has its own publisher who reports to me. They are allowed to be very autonomous in covering their communities. The Copley Press insists on independent newspapers that serve their communities well.

In certain types of advertising sales and programs, we join forces because we can deliver such a large percentage of the market's readership. We've only had this group in its current composition since 2001. We've spent a lot of time building our sales and marketing resources as a group. (In our market of) Canton, Massillon and Dover-New Philadelphia, we can deliver a wide number of readers with a common classified advertising tool we developed called Classified Connection. Now, when an advertiser places a classified ad in The Massillon Independent, depending on the type of ad, that reader also will get the readership in Canton, a much more effective buy in the market and an easier sell of the goods.

We meet with our editors each quarter to discuss recruitment. We bring in well-known, professional journalists to do training for our newspapers. The newspapers also share Copley's Washington (D.C.) and Columbus bureaus so their resources sometimes extend to those areas. We have advancement programs for our journalists as well.

Balancing editorial integrity and advertisers' desires is a challenge that publishers have faced since the first newspaper accepted paid advertising. How do you navigate the balancing act?

It's probably the trickiest business of newspapering. Our philosophy is that the business interests of the newspaper are separate and distinct from the news interests of the newspaper. We do not allow our advertisers to have any favorable standing as pertains to news coverage. It's something we have to monitor closely every day. There are factions in any typical newspaper that might argue that the business interests of the newspaper should prevail. For example, the advertising department rarely likes to see a negative story about a large advertiser. But if the story is fair and accurate, it's our absolute obligation to run it. There's quite a bit of nuance to that equation.

You have to start with good journalists you can trust, and you have to instill in the organization the sense that there are two missions: to serve readers and to serve advertisers. It is possible that an advertiser has been unfairly treated, and that advertiser would have the same recourse as any other person who felt that he was unfairly treated by the newspaper.

How do you find a niche for your publications in a region supersaturated with media outlets?

We have titles in Summit, Stark and Tuscarawas counties. Those markets have a relatively healthy retail base. When we purchased each newspaper, each was a healthy and thriving business entity. The philosophy was to look at how they might put together their marketing strengths to improve sales and to continue to keep our resources strong -- capital investment, number of employees, etc. Northeast Ohio is saturated with the print medium, but newspapers remain an enormously strong informational and advertising influence in their markets.

The Repository's Web site, for example, which receives 17,000 unique visitors a day, is probably the most visited and popular Web site in Stark County. A challenge for the future is how to use the power of the Web site to supplement the revenue and influence of the newspaper in general. That's a challenge I think a lot of publishers are looking at now very seriously because there's a heck of a lot of competition from electronic and fringe advertisers.

The leverage the newspaper Web site has is, what other Web site in or around Canton has 75 people a day devoting journalistic resources to it? We have people looking for sports scores, headlines, opinion and obituaries. There's a natural gravitation to it. (The newspaper industry) hasn't done a very good job figuring out how to market it as of yet. ... We're looking for the right way for print and electronic to complement each other.

As the American public gets more cynical about the news they read and watch on TV, how do you work to maintain an freshness in reporting that's engaging, yet doesn't become so sensational that readers don't take The Repository seriously?

We look at the news, and present it, in a different way every day. Our readership research in this market has shown that the local daily newspaper has done an outstanding job in maintaining its credibility against its competitors because its competitors, particularly Internet information and sometimes cable television information, have shown themselves to be, at times, unreliable and less than thorough.

As the public is bombarded with more and more information, our research shows that they gravitate more toward their trusted local community newspaper. They feel they know the people who run it; they understand the newspaper is vested and interested in the community; and they have higher level of trust toward the information presented by the newspaper than other sources. Competition keeps you sharp, but the other aspect is some of the competition doesn't have a very good reputation for veracity.

You serve on a number of community boards and are a member of several national press groups. You also serve on the Ohio Newspaper Association board and as state chairman of the Ohio Coalition for Open Government. How has serving in these positions affected you as president and publisher?

It's very easy to get trapped behind your desk, dealing with inside issues, and let the community walk by your door and never notice it. My level of involvement gets me talking to people, gets me understanding broader issues and allows me to hear people who might either be complimentary or critical of the newspapers we manage.

It's vital to have people in your management structure who aren't afraid to go out and listen to what people are saying about their products. It's easy to hide because most of the time, if you're the newspaper guy in the community, you're going to receive more complaints than compliments. Whether it's, 'My newspaper was under the porch' or 'You covered this badly,' you can't be afraid of that because that's how you learn and adjust. HOW TO REACH: The Repository, (330) 580-8451 or www.cantonrep.com; The Copley Press, www.copleynewspapers.com