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Almanac: Coming back home to the COURIER

You would think that growing up in the newspaper business all your life, it would be an easy decision to take the helm of the Claremont COURIER, especially when considering how owning a newspaper is such a rare opportunity. But as the son of Martin Weinberger, I was also in a unique position to take ownership of my career, whatever direction it might have gone. Maybe timing is everything.

Being the “next generation” in a family-owned business has its own set of rules and expectations. In many cases, you feel the need to constantly prove yourself to show you are deserving of the title. Other times you question whether it’s the best career choice as you make the effort to follow your own passions.

So many questions, and such little time to make this career decision based on your family situation. Especially considering others assume it’s your duty to take over.

I was incredibly fortunate to have parents who knew the importance of doing your own thing, and being independent to make your own decisions and live with the consequences. They believed in taking responsibility for your own life and actions.

What all this led to was 29 years of “doing my own thing” as I followed my passion in photojournalism. I wanted to cover big news events and have the resources to do so. But having my eyes set on the big daily newspapers didn’t stop me from using the COURIER to get great experience, not only in photography, but in design, journalism and business management.

Martin and Janis were always willing to help even though it meant leaving Claremont with my wife Betsy, who was pregnant with our son Matthew.

Matthew is now 28 and recently moved to Claremont for the bright lights of Hollywood. After graduating from Virginia Tech with business and leadership degrees, he surprised us by announcing he was starting his own video production company in Virginia. I immediately thought, “Where did he get that from?”

I may have influenced his interest in film and video, but he wants to be an entrepreneur, just like his grandfather Martin, who bought the COURIER at the young age of 26. His great-grandfather Henry was in the movie business with MGM. In other words, it’s in his blood. Just like Peter, Martin and Henry.

Matthew is currently working at the COURIER shooting video, while continuing his freelance work and helping his mom Betsy manage our bed and breakfast in Big Bear. It’s absolutely great having him back, but we also understand his passion could lead him away from Claremont. My goal is to keep the COURIER a thriving business, when and if Matt wants a bigger role.

Our daughter Collette got the Weinberger graphics and photo bug, too. After graduating from the University of North Carolina, she landed a great job working in production for Disney in Burbank.

She also has a love for the outdoors, which is also a longtime Weinberger family interest, and was a COURIER photo intern, just like dad. Now at just 25 years old, she works for a huge corporation with very talented employees.

Fortunately, she benefitted from great advice from her mother on how to negotiate an early career with a large corporation. And like Matt, we will support Collette wherever her interests take her.

Fast forward to 2007

It had been obvious for years Martin needed knee replacement surgery. He already survived a quadruple heart bypass, but lost some of his mental sharpness due to anesthesia. After a year, his doctors were confident knee surgery would help his quality of life. Unfortunately, it did not.

The same culprit that impacted his recovery from bypass surgery—anesthesia—took enough of his mental capacities to end his career as editor and publisher. We hoped this would change with time, but it never really did. Martin had a new knee he would never use.

This obviously came as a shock because we were expecting a full recovery. Literally one day he was a newspaper publisher, the next day he wasn’t. He spent the next four-plus years at Pilgrim Place until his passing in 2011.

Passing the torch can bring up some unique situations. Siblings may have competing interests, or the parent may never really want to let go. For me, neither was an issue. I was working fulltime as multimedia director for the Charlotte Observer in North Carolina and needed a plan—quickly.

The next four years I commuted one week a month to help manage the family business. Collette had just entered high school and my wife was in the middle of her career too. It just wasn’t a good time to move.

At the beginning of those four years I discovered several issues that surprised and astounded me as publisher. On one hand, Martin did the COURIER a huge favor by always paying his bills. There was little debt. But that was largely because he was using family savings to offset losses. Everyone was getting paid except the Weinbergers. My mother Janis, who’s own memory was fading, remembered nothing.

It may sound odd, but it was at this point that I decided to really take ownership of the business. I had already hired a newspaper broker to evaluate the COURIER business model. He was motivated to sell. It was before the recession and newspapers remained a hot commodity commanding a lot of money. His suggestions were typical. We needed to layoff a reporter and photographer, while replacing a salesperson who had just retired.

It took only a couple of months before I had a large cash offer in hand. But I also knew if I sold the newspaper, it would struggle. There was just no way it would survive—or be anything like it is now—if the business was under a huge cloud of debt. I wanted to give back to the community that had given me so much growing up, so I decided to keep the COURIER, a wonderful community newspaper I knew Claremont would support.

And lucky for all of us I was right on this one. As for the advice on staffing from the broker? I did what any good publisher who cares about content would do, I didn’t replace a salesperson because Mary Rose said she could handle both sales jobs. I did layoff two people, but not a reporter or a photographer, because there was an ace in my pocket…I promoted Kathryn Dunn to editor.

We’ve been rolling ever since.

The future is fluid

It’s hard to predict what will happen to the COURIER over the next decade. The newspaper industry remains in decline due to losses in print revenue. But that doesn’t seem to faze Matthew and Collette, who have taken a genuine interest in the family business and in Claremont.

But changes in leadership for any family business are not as simple as it seems. You want your kids to grow up strong and independent, which also means they want to do their own thing. It took me 27 years to figure all this out. The good news is the COURIER remains in a fantastic place—Claremont.

Matthew thinks the COURIER “is a great way to be engaged with an awesome community. It has an excellent working environment and as a video producer, I have a lot of creativity to work on projects that support the newspaper and Claremont.” He also would not rule out running the business one day. “It all matters on the timing.”

The problems running a family business are not unique to the Weinbergers. It’s important to understand that it’s all very personal, yet with the COURIER, it’s all very public, too.

—Peter Weinberger

pweinberger@claremont-courier.com