Richard G. Ballantine, publisher of The Durango Herald, announced Tuesday he will step down as the head of the 132-year-old newspaper, its parent company, Ballantine Communications Inc., and other multimedia ventures the company owns, including three other newspapers, Directory Plus and Ballantine Digital Media, which oversees Buzztown.com.
Standing atop a worn wooden crate in the Herald newsroom, Ballantine, 67, said he will be letting go of his titles as CEO of Ballantine Communications and as publisher of The Durango Herald.
After almost 30 years at the helm, Ballantine said he was ready to let new talent lead the company. His decision will be effective when a replacement is found.
“These times require somebody, and a company, that is nimble, adaptive and willing to try new things on the electronic side,” Ballantine said.
He emphasized that his decision in no way means the company is or will be for sale. He said the Ballantine family’s commitment to the Herald and to Durango is steadfast and won’t be changing.
Ballantine will continue to be chairman of the board of directors of Ballantine Communications Inc., and the newspapers’ editorial board.
The transition has been in the works for a while, said Elizabeth Ballantine, the publisher’s sister and a member of the company’s board of directors.
“We will be hoping that this new person will be able to bring us some of the skills and talents we need as we try to face the changes that all newspaper companies are facing,” she said. “We are not just a newspaper company, but a complex business of providing news and information in paper and electronic form. We need the new and technologically sophisticated skill sets to guide this company into the future.”
Her brother will continue to be the face of the newspaper in the community, she said.
The third generation of the Ballantine family remains fully committed to and engaged in the company’s operations and to Durango, said Chris Ballantine, Richard Ballantine’s son and a member of the company’s board of directors.
A search committee composed of members of the board of directors will begin looking for a new CEO and hopes to have someone in place by mid-May. They will be looking outside the family to fill that role, said Gary Hook, a Ballantine Communications board member who is on the search committee and is a former director of editorial operations at USA Today.
The Ballantine family has a long history of newspaper publishing.
Ballantine’s mother, Morley Ballantine, was a member of the Cowles family, a prominent newspaper family in the Midwest. She met and married Arthur Ballantine when he worked for one of her family’s newspapers, the Minneapolis Morning Tribune.
After deciding to purchase a newspaper of their own, they ended up buying two, the Herald Democrat and News in June 1952, eventually combining them under The Durango Herald masthead.
When her husband died suddenly in 1975, Morley Ballantine stepped into the publisher’s seat but found it difficult to wear all the hats she and her husband had shared for 23 years. In 1980, Richard Ballantine, the couple’s oldest son, returned to Durango from the Front Range to help his mother run the Herald. He was named publisher in 1983 and led the family’s efforts to purchase the other Southwest Colorado newspapers and create the Directory Plus phone books. More recently, he was the founder of Ballantine Digital Media.
When he steps down, it will be the first time in 60 years that a member of the Ballantine family will not oversee the Herald’s day-to-day business operations.
Ballantine said he is looking forward to traveling, reconnecting with friends and farming on the 400 irrigated acres the family owns on Florida Mesa. His decision was not based on health reasons, he said.
Ballantine’s announcement startled some community leaders.
“I can’t imagine you’re going to find anybody in the community that isn’t going to be surprised,” said Joel Jones, former president of Fort Lewis College who served on the First National Bank of Durango’s board of directors with Ballantine.
But with so many years of publishing experience and knowledge to draw upon, the family’s decision will be carried out well, said Ed Zink, co-founder of the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic and a former member of the Herald’s board of directors. He has known Ballantine since they were teenagers.
“However they choose to manage it, I have confidence it will be well-done, and the community will continue to have an outstanding newspaper,” Zink said.
During the past two years, Ballantine stepped down from positions on the board of directors of First National Bank of Durango and the board of trustees of Fort Lewis College. He joined the Fort Lewis College Foundation board of directors in January.