The parent company of The Inquirer, the Philadelphia Daily News, and Philly.com named a new publisher Monday - Terrance C.Z. "Terry" Egger, an industry veteran who previously led the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Egger, 57, takes over Oct. 1 at the region's largest news company, which has fought to keep its journalism strong while battling steep slides in circulation and advertising revenue.
"There are big challenges ahead," Egger said in an interview.
Editors who served under him described Egger as inspirational, smart, and driven - an upbeat leader who remembers people's names.
Egger said that in Philadelphia, he would bring urgency to the task of maximizing revenue - "every extra dollar you can bring in" - while protecting the central journalistic mission of the news entities.
"We have to remember that it's about the journalism we do, and the news and information we produce every day, and its value to readers and users," he said. "We're a content, news, and information company. That is our core competency. And we need to monetize that."
The company must remain financially viable, he said. Asked if he would bring plans to reduce the staffs at The Inquirer, Daily News, or Philly.com, Egger said that the next year promised to be tough financially, and "we may have to make adjustments."
"I don't take that statement lightly," he added.
The announcement was made Monday by the current publisher, H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest, who became sole owner of the three news properties in June 2014. Though stepping aside as publisher, Lenfest will remain involved in the firm's strategic planning and on its new board of directors.
Egger said discussions about the publisher's job arose after he received a call from Lenfest last summer, not long after the philanthropist's friend and Philadelphia Media Network co-owner, Lewis Katz, was killed in a plane crash.
"I just admired what he wanted to accomplish in keeping a journalistic voice strong in Philadelphia," Egger said.
Egger was one of eight corporate and civic leaders whom Lenfest asked to join him on the board when it was created in May. On Monday, Egger called the publisher's job in Philadelphia a "unique opportunity in our industry." He will also serve as CEO of the company.
Through multiple online platforms, digital products, and printed newspapers, Philadelphia Media Network has earned a massive audience, he said, estimated by the company at 1.8 million adults a week in the eight-county area.
"We need to turn that into revenue," he said.
Many of those nearly two million people don't pay a dime to the company, reading its news and commentary online free. The result is that, like many other traditional newspaper firms, PMN has struggled for footing in an ever-evolving digital landscape.
The Inquirer and the Daily News have endured years of declining circulation and advertising, while their Internet arms have failed to replace the lost dollars.
The newspapers have gone through rounds of newsroom and advertising layoffs, buyouts, and departures. This month, six senior Inquirer journalists accepted a buyout following settlement of a new two-year labor contract.
At the same time, the papers continue to produce outstanding journalism. The Inquirer won a Pulitzer Prize for criticism in 2014 and took the Pulitzer for public service in 2012. The Daily News won in 2010 for investigative reporting.
Egger has spent more than three decades in the news business as a publisher, advertising executive, and marketing leader. He is founder and principal of CZ Advisors, a Cleveland-based consultancy, and most recently led the Cleveland Host Committee's winning effort to secure the 2016 Republican National Convention.
He promised to "aggressively pursue more creative advertising and marketing solutions for businesses throughout the market. We want our business partners to grow, and we want to help drive that growth."
Lenfest called Egger "a proven leader in the industry," someone with "a tremendous vision and understanding of what we need to do to keep our printed papers strong while also expanding our digital news portfolio."
Egger's leadership and management skills will serve the company as it continues to transform into one of the industry's most innovative media groups, Lenfest said.
"He understands the importance of strong journalism as our lifeblood," Lenfest said.
Egger is a native of Rock Island, Ill., a city of 38,000 people on the Mississippi River, perhaps best known for its signature role in the classic blues-and-folk song "Rock Island Line," recorded by everyone from Johnny Cash to Ringo Starr.
He earned a bachelor's degree from Augustana College in Sioux Falls, S.D., and a master's in speech communication from San Diego State University.
Egger began his newspaper career at a biweekly newspaper in Southern California, later working as advertising director for the Copley Los Angeles Newspapers chain and as vice president of advertising for the newspapers in Tucson, Ariz.
In 1996, he became president and publisher of the Post-Dispatch, at which he supervised all operations, including STLtoday.com and Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis.
"I could not speak highly enough of Terry," said Arnie Robbins, who served under Egger both as managing editor and editor of the Post-Dispatch. "He's a very classy guy. People loved working for him, because he was such a nice guy. He's also a very smart, driven guy."
Robbins said he interacted with Egger at least five times a week in senior staff meetings and private conversations.
"You never felt you were working with somebody who just wanted to make money," he said. "He wanted to make money for all the right reasons - to support the journalism. He believed a [strong] news organization is vital to the community."
Robbins described Egger as an engaging public speaker, comfortable and effective before groups of journalists, advertisers, or subscribers. Egger left the job of editing the paper to the editor, Robbins said, while sharing advice and asking questions.
They did not always agree.
As a publisher, acquainted with local business leaders, he might have been more pro-business than a newspaper editor would be, Robbins said.
"What was great about Terry, though, was, you could have that discussion with him," he said. "I don't ever recall an argument about something. It would be a discussion. They were after the fact, never, 'You need to do this.' "
In May 2006, Egger took over leadership of the Plain Dealer, Ohio's largest newspaper, as president, publisher, and CEO. He also oversaw the operation of Sun Newspapers, a chain of weeklies in towns across Northeast Ohio.
"Terry Egger is an inspirational guy," said Susan Goldberg, who worked with him as editor of the Plain Dealer from 2007 to 2010, "a great leader who really understands the challenges the news and information business faces right now."
Goldberg, now editor-in-chief of National Geographic magazine, said Egger was deeply committed to Cleveland, and she expects that to be the case in Philadelphia.
"Not just serving on boards," she said, "but he really cares about the lives of regular people. He really cares that the newspaper and all its digital extensions be providing news and information that helps people in the community live better. . . . Serving the public trust, shining a light on wrongdoing, celebrating accomplishment."
When the paper wrote a tough series of stories on corruption in county government, she said, Egger backed the newsroom in the face of vocal criticism.
In September 2012, Egger announced plans to retire early the following year, saying he was excited about a new phase and thinking of returning to teach in college classrooms, where he began his working life.
"I love this industry, but with the changes in the industry, it was time for me to look to a new chapter in my life," he told the Plain Dealer.
He stayed on, though, as the Plain Dealer announced in April 2013 that it would soon cut home delivery to four days a week.
That July, with Egger still in charge, the Plain Dealer executed long-expected newsroom layoffs, cutting about 45 reporters, photographers, designers, editors, and clerks. Several managers were laid off and other people resigned, slicing the newsroom staff by about one-third, the Plain Dealer reported. About 20 people were laid off from the Sun newspapers.
"It's just a very tough day," Egger told a Plain Dealer reporter as the layoffs occurred. "We certainly feel for some very wonderful colleagues who are affected by this, but we need to reset the business and we need to move on."
The Plain Dealer, Sun Newspapers, and Cleveland.com are owned by New York-based Advance Publications Inc., which has cut newspaper staff and publication days across the country to pursue an online strategy. Egger left the Plain Dealer at the end of 2013.
Howard Gensler, president of the Newspaper Guild of Greater Philadelphia, which represents journalists and advertising staff at the two newspapers, said the union hoped Egger would "tackle the big problems facing the company and the industry that, due to a revolving door at the top of this company, have not been consistently addressed over the last 10 years."
Gensler added, "We certainly hope there's no need for layoffs. We also believe that if Mr. Egger takes an open-minded look at the company, he will find many places to save money before he gets to the journalists and our members in advertising, circulation and finance."
Egger said he planned to move to Philadelphia area. He and his wife, Renuka, have three children, Anthony, Ali, and Danny.
"With Gerry's ownership, a strong new board of directors in place, the talented professionals working at PMN, and a vibrant community, we have what we need to evolve and succeed," Egger said. "I can't wait to get started."