"There is a desire to drive the business forward so there is a platform to build the business for the future," said Douglas Bennett, the company's newly named CEO. "We recognize the need to deliver new audiences to the business if we want to get back to growth."
The company has been searching for a new CEO since February when Richard Ballantine, publisher of The Durango Herald and head of Ballantine Communications, announced that he would be stepping down from his post. Ballantine has spent 30 years running the company, which has been owned by the Ballantine family since 1952. Ballantine will continue to serve as chairman of the company's board of directors.
Ballantine Communications owns four newspapers – The Durango Herald, the Cortez Journal, The Mancos Times and The Dolores Star – as well as Directory Plus and Ballantine Digital Media, which oversees Buzztown.com.
Before working as an independent consultant this year, Bennett was senior vice president of Freedom Interactive at Freedom Communications Inc. and president of the company's digital division. The Santa Ana, Calif.-based media company owned newspapers, television stations and magazines across the country before recent consolidations. The company's $43 million digital division developed mobile and social-media strategies including partnerships and relationships with Yahoo and Google.
Ballantine Communications may be a much smaller company, but there is no less desire or need for those products here, Bennett said.
He said he sees an opportunity for the company to expand into television and emphasized a desire to add more photographic and video content to news coverage.
On the advertising side of the business, Bennett said he envisions enhancing the company's digital-marketing services to become more like an advertising agency for local businesses that can understand and provide social media, daily deals, QR codes and direct mail advertising.
He expects the digital side of the company to grow fastest, but clarified that he wants to eliminate silos in the company.
"I don't like to think of the business as print and digital," he said. "I like to think of it as a content business. We're going to deliver this content how people want it, and we need advertisers to support it."
Digital and social media provide a pathway to new readers, and they aren't a pursuit Bennett said he is willing to abandon "just because there's not enough money in it yet."
He supports the metered access The Durango Herald installed in May.
"It says the content you are creating is important because there is a charge for it," he said.
Yet he didn't take a hard and fast approach to the wall between editorial and advertising that most news organizations hold so dear.
"We're an advertising-supported business, and our revenues in print haven't been growing," he said. "To get where we need to be, we need to embrace advertising where appropriate in our content."
Many of the visions Bennett described were similar to initiatives he headed during his time at Freedom Communications, including focuses on producing more video and photo content and using social media as a starting point for the news cycle.
Bennett described his career as one focused on the intersection between traditional and digital media. He spent four years as the president of National Lampoon, the Los Angeles media company most famous for its humor magazine, and before that was president of a digital-publishing company and a website search company, both venture-capital funded companies. Before that, he headed MacMillan Publishers.
Ballantine said he doesn't see a drawback in the fact that Bennett has never worked as a reporter or editor in a newsroom.
"He's a good communicator," Ballantine said, emphasizing the benefits of Bennett's digital, financial and management experience. "Digital distribution and digital interactivity is where communication is and is going. We felt we had to have a leader who knows how we can play a role in that."
The decision to hire Bennett was unanimous among the company's board of directors, board member Gary Hook said.
"Everybody feels very strongly that Doug is going to be transformational to the company," Hook said.