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A few minutes with… Bill Hudnutt

Bill Hudnutt
Bill Hudnutt

In October, the board of Lorain County Printing & Publishing Co. elevated Bill Hudnutt from general manager to publisher of its flagship daily, The Chronicle-Telegram in Elyria, Ohio.

Bill Hudnutt, 34, became the fourth generation family member to become its publisher. He was preceded by his father A. Cooper Hudnutt, grandfather Arthur D. and great-grandfather A.C. Hudnutt, who took the paper under the family’s complete control in 1927.

“Bill has been living and learning this business since he was a child alongside his father, the late A. Cooper Hudnutt,” Paul Martin, president and CEO of Lorain County Printing & Publishing Co, said in announcing the appointment. “As such, now seemed to be an appropriate time to name Bill as the publisher to extend the family’s commitment to Lorain County, both today and in the future.”

Since you were a child?

I guess I was an independent contractor first, starting with my paper route. When I was old enough to work in paper, I started with ad services, going along with salespeople on their calls. Then I jumped to circulation and then into the pressroom.

I went through every department at an entry level when I was going to school. And when I graduated I went to the more management-level.

And lessons learned?

I think of it as football, although maybe the (Cleveland) Browns aren’t a good example this season. But there are football guys and business guys. The editorial team is the talent and they’re always going to operate under their own rules, as talent always does. You need a person who can talk to both sides of the newspaper. That’s the role I’ve taken on. I’m able to walk through that church and state door. I can speak the language of both sides.

Tell us about the Hudnutt family’s media enterprises.

Our market is Lorain County, Ohio, a county of about 400,000 about 25 miles west of Cleveland. We have two dailies, The Chronicle-Telegram and the Medina Gazette and four radio stations. And of course all those have digital operations and social media initiatives.

Traditionally, we haven’t done the best job of
combining those products to be a unique marketing force.

But that’s changing…

Yes, we’re having (newspaper) reporters appear on radio stations, and we’re cross-promoting through the products themselves. This is especially (a good opportunity) with the new FCC regulations, now that anyone, basically, can own anything.

What do you see your paper and media properties’ advantage in the market?

We’ve never tried to be bigger than we should be. We don’t have ambitions of turning into a Cleveland metro newspaper. We know who we are. We know our brand and our history. We know the content that our market wants and needs.

I see such an appetite for local content. As long as we focus on that, there’s going to be an audience for it. Now, whether we can monetize enough so we can innovate a lot remains to be seen.

Speaking of that, how do you see your company’s digital future?

When I came in 2005, we were kind of behind in digital, but we didn’t know we were behind, because no one knew they were behind, right? I came up pushing digital. But one huge misnomer is that digital is a department. It’s not. It has to be woven into all of our processes, not just to be relevant—but to make us become efficient.

Let’s remember, newspapers have always used new technology. We don’t use the same presses in our building as we did in 1927.

That said, there’s a belief that the audience for digital and print are different. I think there’s a lot more overlap than people think. Our (print) circulation has stayed relatively stable. It’s tough to build it quickly, obviously. We’re not losing a lot of customers but we’re not gaining a ton, either.
There are print opportunities As an industry, we don’t do enough for the casual reader. We’ve go to realize a lot of people don’t necessarily buy the paper for the news. They buy it for the ads, the classifieds, the comics. We need to create content to reel them in.

You were in the pioneering class of Inland’s Executive Program for Innovative Change. What influence did that have on you?

The EPIC program allowed me to see these trends bubble up. We heard a lot of people, for instance, doing events back then. We heard about digital agencies from The Dallas Morning News. Visiting the Stanford Design School was kind of a game-changer for me. I think it’s brilliant in applying (empathy) to your products and your processes. And then there was the concept of failing fast.

There were just a lot good conversations, a lot of good speakers with a birds-eye view of the business. And maybe the best of EPIC was hearing that you’re not alone in the struggle.

You believe newspapers can offer the content that attracts an audience of this digital era?

Absolutely. One thing that struck me in in EPIC was that we’re all in a similar situation—fighting for peoples’ attention. They say they don’t have time for the newspaper. Well, yes they do. People will give you an hour for good content, because they have an hour for “Game of Thrones.” You just don’t get to tell them what interests them anymore. Now need to get out the product people are willing to pay for.

You’ve seen other newspaper families getting out of the business. Will this happen to your family?

No, we’re in it for the long-term. I have decades ahead of me, and it would take, like, a “Godfather” offer for us to sell. In my opinion, we’re so uniquely positioned (in our market). Nobody knows this area better tan us. Nobody’s going to come in and know more about this market than us.

It’s too big an opportunity to discard for sale.

Bill Hudnutt and his wife, Joey, were expecting a fifth-generation Hudnutt in late November when The Inlander talked to him for this visit.