Dean Ridings has been named as the first CEO of America's Newspapers, effective Nov. 11. He was interviewed by Mark Fitzgerald for America's Newspapers.
So, Dean Ridings, what is it you do?
I will be leading (as of Nov. 11) the newly merged organization of America’s Newspapers, and working with newspapers across the country to improve the state of journalism in America.
And, of course, you most recently served for more than two decades as president and CEO of the Florida Press Association. What sort of changes did you see among associations over that period?
Associations face some of the same challenges as their members with the disruption we’ve seen the past decade. Many newspaper associations enjoyed revenue based on classified advertising, and as those revenue streams are being disrupted, they have had to look at new ways of funding their programs — or be faced with cutting their programs.
One of the ways the Florida Press Association found to generate new revenue was Intersect Media Solutions. Tell us about IMS.
IMS is the FPA’s for-profit subsidiary that has evolved into an ad agency. It provides services to national and regional advertisers and makes it easier for them to advertise in newspapers. The profits from IMS have subsidized dues, so it has been beneficial to the members as well.
IMS also enables businesses to advertise in newspapers. It will provide the research and help advertisers connect with the right audiences, and it executes the buy and provides custom billing solutions.
Newspapers’ strength is that they are intensely local, but that doesn’t always work to their advantage in servicing advertisers. Most newspapers have different pricing structures, different deadlines and their ad sizes are different. So, that makes it difficult to make a regional or national buy. IMS does all the legwork and makes it easier to meet the deadlines and gets the best rate the advertiser would qualify for. It has helped keep advertisers using newspapers, because it keeps the cost down for the advertiser.
We sometimes hear that businesses are giving up on newspapers, preferring to buy Facebook or some other digital platform. Do you find that advertisers want to be in newspapers?
Absolutely! One IMS advertiser came to us concerned about its newspaper program because of the noise and the news they are hearing about circulation declines. They wanted to be sure that the FSI program will continue, as it has a significant impact on their business. We know that newspapers provide a desirable audience that’s better educated and with higher incomes — and that are ready to spend their money.
So how did you come to be involved in the newspaper industry in the first place?
When I was 27, I was a marketing director at a regional bank in Florida. A consultant to the bank was good friends with an owner of a regional newspaper company, and he recommended me to the company. I interviewed with them, and they offered me the position of publisher of a small daily outside of Kansas City, the Daily Standard in Excelsior Springs.
And how did you wind up at Florida Press Association?
Several years later I went to work for another newspaper company, Republic Newspapers out of Knoxville, Tennessee. At one point, I published a group of the company’s newspapers in Florida and became active with the Florida Press Association, but then moved back to a corporate position in Knoxville. When a position opened at the association, I think they liked my Florida experience, but as I had the added value of not currently working for a member, they didn’t have to worry about potential fallout from hiring someone away from a member. I was initially hired to run FPA’s for-profit subsidiary and in 2001, I became the president.
You had an interesting, and well-traveled youth. Please tell us about that.
Yes, my parents were missionaries. I was born in Florida, and lived there until I was 10. Over the next nine years my family lived in New Zealand, Australia, Hong Kong and Singapore, with the majority of that time spent in Singapore. It was a great experience, and while I missed out on some normal American high school experiences, I am grateful for the opportunity to experience diverse cultures.
Back to the newspaper industry. Florida’s newspapers have had booms and busts that are extraordinary compared to the rest of the industry.
Boom and busts are cyclical aspects to any business, including ours. We always think that newspapers are special, and the only ones to be disrupted — but that’s not true. I don’t care if you are in real estate or retail, you have to adapt.
But Florida typically does better in the good times than the rest of the country — and does worse in the bad times. I think that in Florida we have learned to enjoy the good times, but not build an expense structure that requires (those good times) for the long run, and to stay nimble.
At one time, we had incredible profits with our classified programs, and that went away. We have to look for new revenue. Whether it’s an association or a newspaper, those challenges are the same. As an association, we want to create an environment where our members can come together, share best practices, and learn from each other — and also to get recharged and to stay enthusiastic. But, we still have to make sure that we can pay the bills.
And finally, what made coming to America’s Newspapers, the merger of Inland and SNPA, so attractive?
Both organizations have a great reputation. The thought of them coming together as a national organization, with a national platform, with the chance to implement strategies on a national basis, is a wonderful opportunity. I am looking forward to working with the board, members and the staff at America’s Newspapers to tell the story of why newspapers matter and to advance the cause of great journalism.