October 21, 2016 | last updated October 21, 2016 4:27 pm
2016 Connecticut Family Business Awards: 1st Place Winner

Record-Journal embraces digital age amid changing media landscape

PHOTO | Contributed
PHOTO | Contributed
A company group photo.
PHOTO | Contributed
Eliot White (president and publisher, fourth generation) and Liz White Notarangelo (executive vice president, fifth generation).
PHOTO | Contributed
The Record-Journal is a 149-year-old family business, so they have created a timeline representing significant events in the company’s history that is displayed prominently. This is a photo of the whole timeline.
PHOTO | Contributed
Record-Journal employees enjoying a Mexican Fiesta lunch in the work cafe.

Record-Journal

Headquarters: Meriden

Industry: Newspapers

Year Founded: 1867

Founder: Thomas Warnock and E.E. Smith

Generation Currently Running Company: Fourth

No. of Full-Time Employees: 85

No. of Part-Time Employees: 6

Family Members Currently Employed at Company: Eliot White, President and Publisher, fourth generation, father of Liz White Notarangelo; Liz White Notarangelo, Executive Vice President, fifth generation, daughter of Eliot White

Company Website: www.myrecordjournal.com

For those working in — or closely following — the newspaper industry, it seems each new day brings another bleak headline: a long-established paper going under, another newsroom cutting its staff.

Against this backdrop, the family-owned Record-Journal in Meriden isn't just hanging on. It's thriving — so much so that Editor & Publisher, the national journalism trade magazine, named it one of its "10 Newspapers That Do it Right" last March.

The secret? For one, the company embraces change, said Liz White Notarangelo, executive vice president and assistant publisher. Over the last year, the Record-Journal Publishing Company changed its name to the more all-encompassing RJ Media Group — reflecting its shift to multimedia news. It also moved from its 110-year-old location downtown into a new modern office space, and surpassed ambitious goals for growing its digital audience and revenue.

"Change has to excite you or this isn't the right industry to be in," said Notarangelo, the fifth generation of her family to help run the newspaper. Readers may prefer to get their news online these days, but she rejects any suggestion that newspapers are a dying business.

"I don't think about it that way," she said. "I actually think 10 years ago a lot of people in the industry felt that way about it and were more focused on surviving. But now I think the tone of the newspaper industry has changed and it's really exciting."

Rather than being a threat, she said, the internet is creating opportunities. "If you combine our print and our digital products together, we have more reach than we've ever had by far," said Notarangelo, who was also among Editor & Publisher's "25 under 35" this year, in part for her "healthy optimism" in a turbulent business climate.

Last year, Notarangelo led a charge to boost digital practices by launching Revolution 2015, with the goal of increasing page views and digital revenue each by 20 percent. The company divided into teams by department, studied the industry's best practices and introduced new ways to drive audience and revenue growth.

The results were better than imagined: page views jumped by 40 percent and revenue by 53 percent. Social media drove much of the increase, Notarangelo said.

"Our firm lives and breathes social media now," said Notarangelo. "We're using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest — and if anything new comes along, we're testing it out."

The move to a new office near the Meriden/Wallingford border helped set the tone for innovation, said Notarangelo. She said the old building, with offices on three different floors, made teamwork challenging.

"We have a very modern office now," she said. "It feels very open and collaborative."

Despite moving in new directions, the newspaper's roots are firmly planted in the community. Notarangelo's father, Eliot White, is president and publisher. Before that, her grandparents, Carter and Barbara White, ran the paper together for decades — Carter as publisher, Barbara as editor.

As a teenager, Notarangelo worked summer jobs in just about every department. After getting her MBA, she returned full time in 2006, and launched the paper's first website, MyRecordJournal.com.

The paper itself dates back to 1867, when it began publishing as The Weekly Visitor. In 1892, Notarangelo's great, great grandfather, E.E. Smith, purchased it with Thomas Warnock and made it a daily, The Morning Record. In 1977, it merged with the afternoon paper, the Journal, and became the Record-Journal.

Notarangelo said the focus on community news has been crucial to the newspaper's success, and the flexibility of family ownership has made it more resilient than some corporate-owned industry peers.

For readers, she said, one of the big advantages of family ownership is accessibility. "We see people at the grocery store, or at chamber events, or out and about in these towns. People aren't always happy with what a newspaper is covering … but they always give us feedback. We're available for them to reach out to us, and they do."

Diana Reilly, associate director of the United Way of Meriden and Wallingford, said the newspaper "has a sincere interest in our success and the success of our community." In addition to donating advertising space and covering United Way events, she said the paper supports a summer youth camp and donates food baskets for the holiday food drive.

As a former employee of the Record-Journal's Newspapers in Education program in the late 1990s, Reilly remembered the company staging holiday parties for residents of a local women's shelter.

"I knew then it was more than just putting out the newspaper," she said. "It was about reaching out into the community and doing what they could to make a difference."

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