Focus on members

A few minutes with…Heidi Wright

Heidi Wright
Heidi Wright

So, what is it you do, Heidi Wright?

I serve as COO for EO Media Group, joining the company just over a year ago after my predecessor, John Perry, retired.

Tell us about EO Media Group.

The company, originally known as East Oregonian Publishing Company, was established in December 1886 and has been owned by the same family since 1908. Today, we are known as EO Media Group and are headquartered in Salem, Oregon, which is also home to our Capital Press regional agriculture newspaper. In addition, we staff a capital bureau reporting team in Salem, in partnership with Pamplin Media. Besides Capital Press, we have two dailies and eight weeklies in Oregon and Washington, with just over 43,700 paid circulation.

Historian William (Bill) Willingham has written a book capturing the 110-year history of the company under the current owners, the Forrester and Brown families. The book, scheduled to be published in November, is titled “Grit and Ink—an Oregon Family’s Adventures in Newspapering, 1908-2018.” As family-held newspaper companies go the wayside, it’s a timely read about newspapering over the last century.

What do you see as EO Media Group newspapers’ advantage in their markets?

One advantage is the family’s commitment, as spelled out in our recently updated mission statement, to “produce credible news that gains our communities’ trust, because a well-informed public keeps our communities strong.” As the company transitions to the next generation, especially in these divisive times, that commitment continues. Another advantage is a deep knowledge and familiarity with the communities we serve, given the long history of the company. For Capital Press, that community is defined not by geography, but rather the agriculture sector.

You’ve worked at both family-owned and publicly traded newspaper companies. Speaking generally, what corporate environment do you prefer?

Although both have advantages and disadvantages, my preference is a family-owned environment.

While family-held media companies need to pay attention to the bottom line too, now more than ever, there is also room to develop new revenue streams and business lines that might not turn a profit for six months to a year. And there’s the ability consider more than the bottom line when making decisions about our markets and the communities we serve. Obviously, this is more difficult to do with the quarterly profit expectations of a publically traded company.

Also, my experience has been publically-traded companies usually develop and implement their strategic plans consistently across all properties, which leaves little ability for publishers at the local level to dedicate resources and efforts to market-specific opportunities.

What drew you to the newspaper business in the first place?

What drew me to the newspaper business was a deep respect for the community newspaper in Butte, Montana, where I lived for 25 years. Butte is a unique, passionate, “in your face” kind of town and The Montana Standard, a Lee Enterprises newspaper, understood how to connect to the community. When an opportunity came up at in 1996, I left an analyst job in the coal division of Montana Power and started my newspaper career as the Standard’s controller. Subsequently, in 2000, I was named publisher of The Montana Standard by Mary Junck.

Now that you’re deeply in the newspaper business, how does its future look to you?

From a reader standpoint, I believe we have an opportunity to capture more audience that wants the credible, real news our journalists produce, rather than “echo chamber” noise at the fringes. The challenge for all of us is to figure out to deliver that content in a way that reaches a younger audience and financially stabilizes our business. The current discussions around Internet privacy in the US will have a profound effect on our industry, if the only ones at the table with access to first-party data are the likes of Google, Facebook and Amazon.

We’ll be further ahead if we stay focused on how to profitably increase the number of eyeballs we’re reaching for advertisers, rather than concentrating on the vehicles we use to deliver content, that is, newspaper, website, e-mail, social media, etc.

And, we need to parlay our current audiences and news-gathering efforts to find new, profitable revenue streams. For example, one effort we’re focusing on right now is tapping into the $11.8 billion tourism industry in Oregon with a platform (OneBoat) that will be profitable for us and work in partnership with the efforts the statewide tourism agency, Travel Oregon.

Tell us about your involvement in Inland, and what the association has meant for you and EO Media Group.

As long as I can remember, the Inland annual conference was the “must attend” event each year. The programming helps all of us get out of the day-to-day weeds and see new opportunities for our respective organizations. And the value of making and keeping connections in the industry is immeasurable.

Editor’s note: Heidi Wright has been nominated for a two-year term on the Inland Press Association Board of Directors. Elections for board members will take place at the Annual Meeting in Chicago September 10.