By Mark G. Auerbach
When Westfield, MA, native Patrick Berry bought his hometown daily newspaper in 2011, it was just another small newspaper barely surviving amidst the swirl of changes in the media, specifically newspapers. Four years later, The Westfield News Group (which also publishes three weeklies in Massachusetts and Connecticut) has reinvented itself, sharpened its focus, expanded its services, and begun to thrive in a media market overshadowed by the news sources of the Internet.
Like many people growing up in the depressed areas of Western Massachusetts, Berry couldn’t wait to move to greener pastures. After high school, he went to college at CUNY in New York to major in marketing and advertising, and then began a fast track of jobs with television companies like Katz Communications, Cox Communications, and Nielsen Media Research. But after 9/11, New York City no longer had the same appeal for the young executive, husband and father of two small children.
“I heard about a position with Sinclair Broadcasting, which would bring me back to Western Massachusetts,” said Berry, who applied and became the national sales manager with the ABC television station in Springfield, MA. “It offered a better quality of life near my extended family,” said Berry. He remained with Sinclair, until the station was sold, and then returned to Nielsen, telecommuting from his home in Westfield.
In 2008, the longtime publisher of The Westfield Evening News died, and soon after, Berry approached the paper’s owner, Allbritton Communications of Washington, DC, (primarily a television company), to buy the paper. He took ownership in 2011.
“I had a strategic plan to remake The Westfield Evening News,” he said. “We changed the name of the main paper to The Westfield News, because news happens 24/7. We outsourced the printing, added color, enhanced the technology, developed a website, and brought the infrastructure up to date,” Berry said. “With a smoother operation in place,” Berry added, “we branched into some other areas. We launched a weekly radio show on Westfield State University’s public radio station, where we could showcase community people and issues. And, since we no longer printed in-house, we turned the unused office space into The Press Room, a coffee shop, which also hosts local musicians and events.”
Under Berry’s leadership, the Westfield News Group has become a bigger community asset. “We sponsor events of interest to the community from The Springfield Symphony Orchestra and The Chester Theatre to the Berkshire Film and Media Exchange and the Noble Hospital Ball,” says Berry, who also produces Candidate’s Forums for local elections. “They’re not debates, but opportunities for those running to present their platforms.”
Today, 30,000 people read one of the Westfield News Group’s four newspapers, and 14,500 people regularly visit the Westfield News Group website. Berry has a staff of 50 full-time, part-time, and freelancers making the print and online presence happen.
Michael R. Knapik, executive director of Advancement, Alumni and University Relations at Westfield State University, applauds Berry for his contributions to WSKB 89.5FM and Westfield. “Not only is Patrick an engaging, inquisitive and informative host (as you would expect the owner of a newspaper to be), but he is also a willing collaborator, helping the University to enhance and expand its media outreach. Patrick deserves our thanks. Even though we live in an online world of communications, it really says something that Westfield still has its own newspaper and radio station connecting residents and preserving our hometown spirit.”
Small business lessons learned
Berry says that three mentors have helped him refine his business skills–his older brother, Daniel, who has been successful in several local businesses, and two former ABC executives in Springfield, Chris Westerkamp and the late Will Meyl. “They taught me to be the best television media manager I could be,” he says.
Berry has used his experiences and mentors’ advice to build The Westfield News Group. Some of the lessons he’s learned in building a small business: “Know your customer and your potential customer better, and the key to success is to diversify” he says, as he pours me an iced coffee in The Press Room, which has become a community center in the small college town of Westfield. In fact, Berry is often the morning barista. He likes to chat with the downtown people about news and community happenings.
Running a small business is a 100% hands-on proposition for anyone, but running a news organization is also a 24/7 proposition. Berry tries to balance work with family time, golfing, and bicycling. He’s also been on several local boards and creative industries groups, such as the Berkshire Film and Media Collaborative, which promotes filmmaking in Western Massachusetts. He serves on their steering committee to promote networking.
Diane Pearlman, executive director of Berkshire Film and Media Collaborative, says “Patrick is a visionary and leader in the business community in western Massachusetts. His innovative spirit, generosity, collaborative nature, and true entrepreneurship are qualities needed [as we continue] to grow our creative economy in the region.”
The media landscape may change, but Patrick Berry has taken a struggling newspaper that traces its roots back to 1824 and moved it into the 21st century. That’s succeeding in small business.
For information on The Westfield News Group: http://thewestfieldnews.com/
Mark G. Auerbach is principal at Mark G. Auerbach Public Relations, a Springfield, MA, based marketing, public relations, development and events consultancy. You can find more information about Mark at Facebook and LinkedIn.