Don't tell Gloria Fletcher, who as president of Sound Publishing guides what has become Washington's largest and fastest-growing newspaper company, that print media is a dying industry.
Bellevue-based Sound, which owns 38 daily, weekly, community and monthly newspapers in this state, assumed ownership this month of its latest acquisitions, the Daily World of Aberdeen and three weekly newspapers in Grays Harbor County for an undisclosed amount of money.
"We don't believe this is a dying industry," Fletcher said "We believe in print but understand the value of the digital component as well."
Sound, as the U.S. subsidiary of Canada's largest independent newspaper company, has become more visible since Fletcher's arrival in April of 2012 with the purchase of the Daily Herald in Everett and the Seattle Weekly and Fletcher has, without a lot of fanfare, quietly become one of the state's most influential business women.
"Influential business woman" is a designation that would be uncomfortable for the low-key Oklahoma native, a 1984 honors graduate at the University of Oklahoma, who became publisher of her hometown Woodward, OK a year later.
Within three years, she had become an executive of American Publishing Co., overseeing a group of the company's newspapers. By the time American Publishing was acquired in 1999 by Community Newspaper Holdings Inc. and she was made vice president to oversee 38 newspapers in Oklahoma and the Central Midwest, Fletcher had a 4 year old and a one year old.
In her roles as a key executive of four publishing companies, she has carved out increasingly key roles and has thus helped break the mold of what traditionally had been, with a few nationally notable exceptions like Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham, an industry dominated by men.
Fletcher's belief in the future of newspapers fits well with the philosophy of Canadian parent Black Press, the Victoria-based company founded by David Black, who ran the company and grew it to dominance across British Columbia and Alberta before elevating president and COO Rick O'Connor to succeed him as CEO of the company.
Fletcher's philosophy mirrors O'Connor's as well, as he made clear in a telephone interview we had this week in which he said "the value of print is being undersold and the value of digital is being overhyped."
"I'm not saying we don't embrace digital," O'Connor said. "But print is still king, representing 90 percent of our revenue."
He notes that the newspaper industry is beset by a "lot of uncertainty and where there is a lot of uncertainty people tend not to invest," but notes that "when you look at Warren Buffet and other non-newspaper people investing, it's a sign of how smart people are viewing the prospects of the industry."
Among those non-newspaper people getting into print is, of course, Seattle's Jeff Bezos. founder and CEO of Amazon. His purchase of the Washington Post in the summer of 2013 created conversation and conjecture across the traditional media industry.
Bezos' Post purchase created an interesting convergence with Sound in that it was about four months before the Post-Bezos announcement that Sound purchased the Everett Herald from the Washington Post Co., providing the opportunity for m to joke to the Herald's new publisher, Josh O'Connor, that he might now be sitting in the chair Bezos had hoped to be sitting in.
The fact that a move into newspapers by non-newspaper people isn't always going to be a winning proposition was emphasized by word this week that Boston financier Aaron Kushner and his 2100 Trust LLC holding company, which was formed specifically for the purpose of buying and growing major newspapers, may be having serious growing pains. Perhaps even survival pains.
This week Kushner either stepped aside or was stepped on and forced out by investors from his role as publisher of the Orange County Register a week after the Los Angeles Register folded six months into Kushner's experiment to create a daily LA to compete with the Los Angeles Times. Kushner had purchased the OC Register a year before Bezos' acquisition of the Post.
Perhaps in keeping with the premise of his Trust, for which he remains CEO, he was replaced as publisher by former casino executive Richard Mirman, who has no newspaper experience.
And naturally Kushner's travails have been greeted with great glee by traditional newspaper people, as evidenced by a column in USA Today headlined "Kushner's bold bet on print ends up as a farce."
But Black Press' O'Connor and Sound's Fletcher are not worried about the problems of those who are newspaper believers but may lack the experience to deal with the challenges.
Black Press touts itself as "home to some of the oldest, most trusted community newspapers in North America."
In fact, Black Press itself has grown in size and prestige as a newspaper company by grabbing off once-marquee titles of once-dominant but now sinking media companies, as with Honolulu Star-Advertiser, which once carried the Gannett flag, the Akron Beacon-Journal, formerly a McClatchy newspaper, in addition to The Herald from the Washington Post.
The Black, and thus the Sound, business strategy is based on newspaper clusters, as with the importance of "cluster" in the Grays Harbor acquisitions. It is clusters that mark Sounds presence in East King County with its Reporter Newspapers, in Kitsap County and on the Olympic Peninsula, where it owns the daily Port Angeles Evening News.
The cluster concept is also in place for Black in Hawaii where, as a result of acquisitions that include two dailies related to the Aberdeen purchase, it owns all the English-language dailies on the islands.
In fact O'Connor makes it clear that he is enough of a believer in the importance of clusters that he says "where we are already operating is where we intend to invest," saying in response to one of my questions that expansion in the Western U.S. outside of Washington is unlikely.