InterActive publishing: Q&A with the Register's Doug Phares

SANDUSKY He's not one to wear a hat very often, but if he did he'd have many. Doug Phares, publisher of the Sandusky R
May 24, 2010



He's not one to wear a hat very often, but if he did he'd have many.

Doug Phares, publisher of the Sandusky Register, has a rich history in the newspaper business.

Before arriving at the Register in January 2005, Phares was president of the Niles, Mich.-based Leader Publications and served as publisher of several area daily and weekly newspapers.

He also served as senior vice president of Boone Newspapers Inc. and operated its division of newspapers and its corporate administration.

Before that he was marketing and sales director for the Fergus Falls Daily Journal in Minnesota, circulation and distribution director for the Courier-News in Elgin, Ill., and general manager for the Star Newspaper group of McHenry, Ill.

He now serves many roles as publisher at the Register, including spearheading a new Web-based family of products that include the entertainment magazine, local sports site, and a rejuvenated

In addition, Phares launched the Register's FIT magazine, a healthy lifestyle guide, the Answer Book, medical directories and is planning a host of other new products.

Phares is active in several community organizations, including Rotary and United Way of Erie County. He serves as a board member and chair of the Interactive Media Committee for the Inland Press Association and is a board member of the Ohio Newspaper Association.

Phares, a 1988 graduate of the University of Illinois, lives in Perkins Township with his wife, Margaret, and their three children Connor, 12, Morgan, 10, and Erin, 9.

Q: Tell us Doug, what is a good day at work like for you?

A: One where we spend our time looking forward at what we can do to serve the community versus reacting to something that didn'tgo right.

Q: Describe a difficult day.

A: A difficult day is going to be a day where it didn't go right. If you think about it, we're as much a manufacturing plant as we are anything else here. We run 24 hours a day, seven days a week. There's a lot of equipment and a lot of hands and a lot of things that happen between when a story gets written and a newspaper lands on someone's doorstep. A difficult day is going to be when some part of that goes bad. It could be weather or it could be a mechanical problem. It could be something that causes deadlines to get blown in the newsroom, which screws up a very complicated system. We could get late, breaking news or something else like that. It could just be a highly controversial issue that we're covering where a lot of people want to talk to us and interact with us about it. At some point, that could get a little overwhelming.

Q: You are a board member of the Erie County Economic Development Corp. How is the new GEM going to be different from the old GEM?

A: It's going to be an organization that is much more proactive and much more transparent and I think one that is going to take the good of the old organization and build on it. We're more inclusive. We're going to have to raise some money. We're going to be asking people for money. We're going to need it because part of where GEM struggled was lack of staffing and lack of resources to do a lot of the things it needs to promote this region and attract the kind of business we want to attract.

Q: Tell us Doug, why the newspaper business?

A: Why not? So many people know exactly what they're going to do when they come out of school. I didn't have a clue. I liked to read. I didn't even like to write so much when I got out of school, but I fell into it like you do with so many things. I came in through advertising and marketing and got hooked. It's an intoxicating business. The constant cycles, the deadlines and the interaction with the community ... this is fun. It's crazy, but it's fun. You know, I started and didn't intend to keep doing it for long. I was just getting married and I was sure I was going to find myself somewhere else. It kind of stuck.

Q: How has the industry changed from when you first started?

A: When I first started we still thought we were the king of the hill -- both from giving news and information to people and from just a marketing vehicle that makes money. That was really the beginning of the rapid changes that have happened with the proliferation of cable TV and the Internet. All that's changed -- how people get information, where they spend their time and how they interact with the world. It's really caused us to have to react a lot more quickly. For about 400 years this business was about the same. The last 20 (years) or so, we've had to really look it in the face and understand it's really changing a lot.

Q: How will the Register be different than it is today five years from now?

A: I think you will see five years from now, our interactive offerings -- what we do electronically -- be it the Internet, or via cell phone, or be it satellite dishes, or, I don't know, laser beams; we're going to be getting information to people in very different ways. We'll still be doing a lot of the same things we do, but instead of it just coming out on a printed piece of paper, it's going to come to people in a lot of different ways. And they're going to be talking back to us a lot more. Just in the last year or two, we've seen with the Internet and our Web editions -- which are growing like crazy -- that people have opinions and ideas. If you sift through those, we're finding that we're actually writing better and telling better stories because we're learning more about what people think and want. I think we're going to be a lot more engaged with people than we are today, or the way we were 10 years ago.

Q: What do you love most about being the publisher of the Sandusky Register?

A: Being in the middle of everything. That is one of the really cool parts about this job. You're in the middle of it. Be it a community event, an activity, breaking news, a business is opening, an industry is expanding or contracting -- you're in the middle of it. It's a neat place to be.

Q: What surprised you most when you relocated to the North Coast?

A: We came from the other side of Michigan, which offered a lot of the same natural resources on Lake Michigan itself. But this place ... boy, it's hopping in the summer. After our first summer, my wife and I looked at each other and said, 'Whew! We need a nap.' Between the opportunities to boat, or play in the water, between Cedar Point and the offerings there, the islands, just the natural resources of the area -- there's a ton of stuff to do here.

Q: Other than the Register, what is your favorite newspaper and why does it top your list?

A: The Wall Street Journal. I read it every day. While some people look at it as a business newspaper, it is, in fact, a really well-written, well-executed newspaper that gives you a very round view of what's going on in the business world and the world in general.

Q: Please share with us a moment or event that changed the course of your life.

A: The birth of my first child. I was just chatting with friends today who are a few months into their first baby -- it really makes you think about things differently. You know, up until that point, you're mostly a free agent. We were married, but still, two adults ... both self-sufficient. You're not really responsible to anyone or anybody else. Suddenly, goofy things like making sure your insurance works becomes important to you. Things change. You think about your community a lot more -- at least we did. You realize you've taken out at least a 20-year commitment if not more. At that point, I think the worst I'd ever done was a three-year car loan.



Rock or Bach?

I'd say more rock. I don't have a favorite band so much. I really enjoy experiencing new music. I recently got exposed to a group called The Killers, which I believe, technically, I'm too old to be listening to. But I really enjoy them. There's no one genre that I'm wedded to. I do enjoy classical and will sometimes listen to it on an afternoon if that's what comes on the radio.

Indians or Browns?

Oh, it'd be Browns. I just don't have any use for baseball. I never have. But really, it'd be Bears.

What is the most played song on your iPod?

I've listen to it two times this week, "Driving the Last Spike," by Genesis. How it got to the top of my list, I'm not sure. But they're an old favorite.

What was your very first job?

Delivering the penny saver (an advertiser paper) ... I think I was doing that at 12.

What was the last book you read?

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett. A friend recommended it. I really enjoyed it.

What is your favorite food?

Pasta and red sauce with spicy Italian sausage. Lots of sharp parmesan grated on top and a stout red wine to go with it.