Bill Church

Senior Vice President of News, GateHouse Media

Bill Church is Senior Vice President of News for GateHouse Media. His previous jobs included Executive Editor of the Sarasota (Florida) Herald-Tribune and Executive Editor of the Statesman Journal in Salem, Oregon.


We really have some expertise in being able to take data and synthesizing it. And a lot of it has emanated from the work that our investigative reporting teams have done. But interestingly, a project that the Herald-Tribune in Sarasota did on judges had a commercial implication to it, because it’s information that other lawyers and judges would be interested in. This was the case, though, where we did the research and someone else saw the opportunity. And so we’re working now on, OK, we have access to a lot of data that we spend a lot of time cleaning and validating, and it’s the type of information that a lot of companies pay for, or readers might be interested in. How do we take advantage of the information that we openly share with our public, but is there another opportunity for us to be able to provide it for someone that may have a specific interest, because the data that we’re accessing is actually public data on so many levels that just is not available in the form that the public needs. So we’re in the early stages on this, but I’m truly intrigued by it.

Jason Taylor, who leads our GateHouse ventures, and his team are just brilliant about being able to bring together (events), working with local markets where you celebrate the top athletes across sports. Typically they’ll bring in a well-known celebrity sports figure in a banquet opportunity, and sponsors have the opportunity of getting to an audience that they typically don’t get to reach. And these events can go from 200 to 400 attendees. And they’re such feel-good events because you get a chance to not only get in touch with some inspirational stories from these athletes overcoming significant obstacles, but getting to celebrate good things happening in local communities.

It’s a reflection in many ways of what’s happened to our industry for, now, more than a decade. Our industry has continually lost jobs, even at an accelerating level, and yet at the same time the basic structure of newsrooms hasn’t changed. ... It is frightening in its consistency over the years that as the number of jobs have (been) lost, what hasn't changed is the percentage of editors, the percentage of reporters, and the percentage of journalists filling a number of roles in that newsroom.

What we’re seeing is, does it hit a really targeted audience, what would be described as a passion tribe, you know you love great storytelling, or you’re a big sports fan. And then having engaging personalities, who sort of in many ways are filling the needs that have always existed among readers. Are you making them smarter? Are you giving them something to talk about? Are you looking after their interests? Those are the three principles that really came out of the Readership Institute at Northwestern a couple of decades ago. I don’t think as editors we’ve really understood that the work that was done there still holds up now in terms of how do you actively engage with folks.

We actually encourage the differentiation in a market-by-market level, because that’s the sweet spot. But what’s happened over the past few years as GateHouse has grown, we have come across areas of common interests. For instance, we were pleasantly surprised when we did a recent audience engagement survey that moved 57,000 responses, and the No. 1 interest among those email subscribers was regional and state news, even above local news.

I’m actually very optimistic right now. I think it’s the reality of going to the doctor and him telling you’ve got to lose weight, and you’ve got to change the way you live your life. And that’s where the industry is right now, and it’s really up to us to decide whether we’re going to make the changes that we need to make.