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Eckenrode new Breeze publisher

By Staff | Sep 19, 2019

Ray Eckenrode has assumed the role of publisher for the Breeze Newspapers.

Eckenrode, who brings decades of experience in the newspaper industry, replaces former publisher Scott Blonde, who now serves as publisher for two Ogden Newspaper owned daily publications in Utah.

Eckenrode received a journalism degree from Penn State and began his career in the newsroom. He comes to the Breeze Newspapers from the Ogden-owned Altoona Mirror in Altoona, Pa., where he worked for 27 years, 15 as general manager.

He began full-time in his new position in Cape Coral on Sept. 3 and he will oversee all Breeze Newspapers publications including the Cape Coral Breeze, North Fort Myers Neighbor, Pine Island Eagle, Fort Myers Beach Observer and Bulletin, the Sanibel Island Reporter and Sanibel Captiva Islander and Lehigh Acres Citizen as well as all special publications. Eckenrode also will oversee operations for the Breeze Newspapers commercial printing plant on Jetport Loop in Fort Myers, the largest such operation between Tampa and Miami.

“I’m thrilled to be in Southwest Florida as part of the Breeze Newspapers operation,” Eckenrode said. “It’s a great media market for hyperlocal print products and there’s a ton of opportunity to build other media-related businesses with The Breeze brands and how recognizable and valued they are in their communities.”

His future vision for Breeze Newspapers does not include major changes, but improving on what the company does so well — and that’s delivering community news.

“I wouldn’t expect to see many big changes,” Eckenrode said. “The Breeze is a fantastic operation. It’s been run very well. I would not expect (many changes), certainly not with the core print products, which are fantastic models.

“I’m not going to make changes just for the sake of making changes. As with any organization, there’s stuff we can do better, things we can tweak, things we can work on, but the core of what we do is right on the money.”

What he does hope to accomplish is to take what’s working and make it flourish. Eckenrode plans to become more digitally focused — while keeping print the center of operations — improve branding, hold events and expand sports coverage in the area.

“I’ve had a lot of experience with events where I came from,” Eckenrode said. “This seems like a pretty robust market for events already, but we’ll look. In the Cape there might be an opportunity to do events that aren’t here right now.

“I think another thing you’ll see us doing is getting more involved in digital. Our bread-and-butter is still print — this is the right market for it.”

Eckenrode hopes to create a louder voice in the city of Cape Coral for The Breeze, which has been a staple in the city since its inception.

“I’d like to market the paper better,” Eckenrode said. “Maybe we can do a better job of telling the community all the things we do, and what our brand is and what it means to the community. You might see The Breeze logo a little more. Overall, I’m coming to a fantastic place, a fantastic organization and, I’ve come to find out, a lot of fantastic people.”

His response when asked what he can bring to the table?

“I hope an understanding that the newspaper really belongs in the community,” Eckenrode said. “Hyperlocal is the right way to deliver print on that community basis where people really connect. Where people are reading stories where the names in the stories are people they know.”

The Pennsylvania native is encouraged with the market he is now engrossed in, even reminding him of his youth.

“For someone who was raised with newspapers and really loves them, it’s a pretty neat thing to walk into print newspapers that are still healthy and thriving and vibrant and really important to their communities, and I look forward to seeing what we can do with that model and keeping it going,” Eckenrode said. “We’re in a really unique market that we have so many tourism-based businesses, but then also a growing population. You usually have to pick one or the other — a service economy or a tourism-based economy — we have them both here which I think allows for a lot of flexibility in what the papers do in their communities.”

He is keen on continuing to provide community-driven news to readers in whichever publication area of Breeze Newspapers they may be.

“The papers should reflect the communities,” Eckenrode said. “That means they all should have a little different character, and I think they do. I want to keep that. I want to maintain that. They should have their own identity.”

So, why the decision to come to sunny Southwest Florida?

“It’s personal and professional, a little bit of each,” Eckenrode said. “I’m sick of winter. But I wouldn’t come for climate alone if it wasn’t the other part of this, which is: I love newspapers, and I love print newspapers — and this is the right place and the right model for print newspapers to keep delivering local news and information to readers and keep delivering results to advertisers and keep doing it for the foreseeable future.”

Eckenrode can be reached at reckenrode@breezenewspapers.com .

– Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj