Business Q & A

A conversation with Roy Heatherly

The Wichita Eagle

Roy Heatherly is enthusiastic about, well, everything really, but especially the future of The Wichita Eagle.

Heatherly was named publisher of The Eagle recently, after spending a career at newspapers in Jackson, Tenn., and Monroe, La. Most recently, he was publisher of the Jackson Sun, which is owned by the Gannett Co.

Although he speaks with a mild drawl, Heatherly, 59, is a 1974 graduate of West High and later of the University of Kansas. He started out selling radio advertising in southeast Kansas, reconsidered that as a career, and tried out as an advertising salesman while living with his parents in Jackson. He came up through the advertising and marketing side of newspapers.

He and his wife, Beth, have three grown children and a grandchild, all of whom live in Louisiana.

You’ve made several attempts over the years to come back to Wichita. What’s so appealing?

It’s a great city. It’s the friendliest city I’ve ever been in in my life. I grew up here. I don’t know; I have these ties to come back, I guess.

Is The Eagle profitable?

Absolutely. Oh, absolutely. … No industry was not impacted by the recession. Every business today has been cutting back and changing the way they do business because of the recession. We’re no different.

And I can’t think of a business that’s not been impacted by technology. What we did was allow people to position us. As an industry we didn’t tell our own story.

What are the challenges?

We are still getting our arms around this whole thinking digital first. We are in transition. We are moving from a legacy print publication into a multimedia entity. Understanding and embracing that completely is one of our challenges.

The second part of that challenge is getting this market to look at us that way, that we do have multiple platforms. When you talk to people they still look at us as just a printed product. They call us “the newspaper,” and we’re so much more than that.

So, a lot of people see The Eagle as stodgy?

Yes, but that’s our credibility ticket. That’s what separates us from everybody else. We are the watchdogs. We are the defenders of the First Amendment. We are the voice of the community. We would not be that moving into a multimedia company if we weren’t also the old print newspaper.

Any other challenges?

We also have just some basic customer service issues that we have to address. We can’t hide them. They’re out there, and we have to fix them. … I don’t think it’s going to take that long. Over the next month or two we should have the bugs worked out. Some are communication issues internally that are quick fixes. And some is stabilizing our carrier force and making sure we are getting papers delivered.

So, you’re encouraged about the future?

McClatchy (The Eagle’s parent company), you talk about a company focused on growth and winning. When they took on Knight-Ridder, they had a ton of debt, and then the recession hit. Look at what they’ve done since, how they’ve retired most of that. We’re going to be coming out of that in a few years extremely strong. We’re a public company, so we’ve had to make cuts and this type of stuff, but for the public we are here, we are strong, we are going to grow. We are not in trouble down here at all.

I get passionate about this because it bothers me that people think we’re in trouble. We’re not.

You send cheery notes out to the staff every day. Are you really that positive a person?

There is too much not to be positive and excited about. What other business in this community has the opportunity to touch as many lives, to influence this community and be part of the growth of this community? … It goes back to the “It’s a Wonderful Life” thing: What would this community be like if we weren’t here? It would not be as good without us here.

God has blessed me in so many ways. I can’t wait to get in here every morning – I can’t wait to go back in the evening, sometimes. I really can’t. There’s nothing hokey about it.

Reach Dan Voorhis at 316-268-6577 or Follow him on Twitter: @danvoorhis.