Longtime newspaper executive named Herald publisher

KENNEWICK -- When veteran newspaper executive Gregg McConnell got a call from The McClatchy Co. about the top post at the Tri-City Herald, he knew he should listen.

The Montana native was familiar with the Herald's "great reputation for journalistic integrity and for serving its community" and had admired its parent company based in Sacramento, he said.

So on Friday, McConnell was announced as the new president and publisher of the 37,500-circulation newspaper.

"When I was approached about the opportunity, it wasn't a difficult choice," he said.

McConnell was introduced by Bob Weil, McClatchy's vice president of operations, in a morning employee meeting.

He is currently the publisher of three newspapers in Northern California -- the daily Enterprise-Record in Chico and the Oroville Mercury-Register, along with the thrice-weekly Paradise Post. The papers are owned by MediaNews Group.

McConnell, 54, will start his new job in Kennewick on Oct. 24.

"I'm excited about being here, I really am. It's a great place to live," said McConnell, an avid golfer who looks forward to returning to the Northwest.

McConnell has held several management and executive roles at newspapers in Montana, Washington and California during his 36-year career.

He replaces Rufus Friday, who left in the beginning of June to become the president and publisher of the Lexington Herald-Leader in Kentucky.

McClatchy Chairman and Chief Executive Gary Pruitt released a statement that said he is delighted to welcome McConnell to the company and the Tri-City Herald, which he said will benefit from McConnell's leadership, experience and passion for community journalism.

"Gregg has a wonderful and rich background leading several small- to mid-sized daily newspapers. That kind of training and experience is invaluable," Weil said. "Publishers at smaller to mid-sized papers are deeply involved with every facet of the operations -- from traditional print products to growing digital opportunities, from custom publishing to community relations.

"Gregg brings that holistic skill set and outlook to the publisher's job in the Tri-Cities."

McConnell said he had never stayed in the Tri-Cities before this week, but was familiar with the newspaper while working in the Greater Puget Sound area and has driven through the Mid-Columbia and stopped for gas and food a number of times on trips to visit his now 94-year-old mother in Montana.

McConnell said it was a trifecta of reasons that led him to join the Herald.

First off, "going to work for this company for a lot of people in my position, it's not a career move, it's a career objective," he said.

He had conversations with previous Herald publishers, Friday and Cheryl Dell, and said it's an honor to follow them. "(McClatchy is) very careful with who they hire and they do a great job with helping their people be successful."

McConnell said he wasn't in the market for a new job, "but when you get a phone call from McClatchy, you listen."

Second is the chance to return to the Northwest. His wife is from the Puget Sound area.

And finally, he was attracted to the reputations of the newspaper and the community.

Those are "positive things on all counts, and it seemed like a good place to really grow some deep roots," he said.

McConnell grew up making the long drive to Western Washington with his brother to watch Seattle Seahawks games, but his true passion is ice hockey. He is a San Jose Sharks fan, and said he looks forward to cheering on the Tri-City Americans.

McConnell acknowledged that the newspaper industry, like any other industry right now, is dealing with a slow economy. But although circulation numbers have declined, studies have shown overall newspaper readership is on the rise.

To lead the organization to a prosperous future, a publisher must look at the way people read and get their information through the newspaper and expand the marketing opportunities for advertisers, he said.

The Herald's print product still is strong, but through its website the paper continues to reach more readers than ever, McConnell said.

The newspaper is no longer about putting ink to paper but is a vehicle for disseminating information, particularly now through digital devices that open up a two-way dialogue with the community.

He said there will be growing pains, but he views those as exciting times because the Herald already has seen rapid success with its online offerings and will continue to see that as the business moves forward.

"I'm just really looking forward to coming back on the 24th and getting started," he said. "I want to become familiar with how the Herald operates, how it interacts with the community and how it has built on this successful relationship that it has."

Born and raised in Western Montana, McConnell began his newspaper career in 1975 at his hometown weekly in Polson. He was a reporter and photographer, and months later moved across the state to hold the same positions at the twice-weekly Glendive Ranger-Review.

It was early in his career that McConnell decided he would one day become the chief executive at a newspaper. His then-publisher had refused to run a column, and told the young McConnell that if he wanted to be in the position to decide what runs in the paper, he needed to be in his job.

"So I saw that as a challenge," McConnell said.

He took his first management job in 1977 as the editor and general manager of a free-distribution weekly in Ronan, Mont. He joined Scripps League Newspapers in 1979 as an advertising director in Hamilton, Mont.

McConnell was in his late 20s when Scripps promoted him to publisher of a small daily in Taft, Calif., then later appointed him to the same job at the larger Petaluma paper.

He moved to Washington in 1992 to work with Sound Publishing's newspaper network, and spent five years as the general manager for nondaily operations with Skagit Publishing in Mount Vernon. From 2002-05, McConnell served on the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association board of directors.

He joined MediaNews Group in 2005 and returned to Northern California to lead the Lake County Record-Bee and its related operations. In 2008 he was promoted to group publisher for The Reporter in Vacaville and the Daily Democrat in Woodland, and a year later moved north to Chico to head up his current three properties.

McConnell and his wife, Diane, have two sons: Cory, 33, of Everett, and Lucas Shuck, 23, who recently moved to Japan.