Rising star Lloyd Mullen reflects on newspaper ownership

Teri Saylor

Special to Publishers' Auxiliary

Jul 29, 2020

Lloyd Mullen

For Lloyd Mullen, ink runs in his veins. He has newspapers in his DNA. As part of the Mullen family, which has been publishing newspapers for 35 years, he has devoted his life to the industry. Last spring, Lloyd, at 31, was awarded a spot in Editor & Publisher’s 25 Under 35 list of rising stars in newspapers.

Owner of The Port Townsend (Washington) Leader, he recently stepped away from his role as publisher and now enjoys consulting with several newspapers.

Lloyd’s parents, Tom and Annie Mullen, are longtime newspaper owners and publishers in Washington, Montana and Wyoming. His brothers, Jesse and Louis, are also in the news business — Louis as an owner and publisher, and Jesse is in media management and consulting.

In 2016, the Mullen family was featured in the Postal Museum and Smithsonian Institute series on Postal Families.

“We all take the responsibilities of the job seriously. The newspaper business is built on credibility. Most of our properties have been around for more than a century, which means our readers’ grandparents trusted what they read in the pages of their community newspaper. To violate that trust diminishes the business model,” Tom Mullen wrote in an essay for the series.

NNA featured a profile on the Mullens in 2017. Lloyd reported at the time that he literally lived at the Port Townsend Leader, occupying an apartment right above the newspaper office until a year ago, taking his philosophy that publishers should live where they work to a whole new level.

He aimed to modernize the newspaper to appeal to an audience of his generation and predicted that “as long as people want to know what is happening in their community, journalism will matter,” he said.

After Lloyd’s 25-Under-35 recognition, we revisited him to see if his business model and views have changed. Here is what he told us.

NNA: How have things changed at the Port Townsend Leader and your role at the paper over the last three years?

LM: Things have changed quite a bit over the last three years. As of last September, I became a vested owner and stepped away as publisher. I am now consulting for several newspapers.

NNA: What are the biggest challenges your newspaper is facing in 2020?

LM: The biggest challenge we’re facing in 2020 is maintaining advertising revenue. We live in a tourist–based economy, and COVID-19 has caused the shutdown of most of our locally–owned businesses during their peak season. We’re lucky to live in a county with an average age of 55+, so our circulation is higher than ever. That begs the question — should we adjust to a new model?

NNA: What is the best advice you have received in your career, and do you still follow it to this day?

LM: If it can be said in person, don’t send an email. A lot can be misconstrued in an email. There is no tone. If you want to build and ultimately maintain relationships, do it face to face… or at least on the phone.

NNA: What is the most important skill a fledgling publisher or editor needs to have to succeed in newspapers today?

LM: Empathy. You’ve got to be able to understand why people are acting a certain way. If you’re working with an angry customer, more often than not, they just want to be heard. The same can be said for your staff. Get to know the people you work with (community included). Chances are you’ll spend at least 40 hours a week with them for the next 5-20 years. If you can see things from another point of view, namely theirs, you’ll be far better off.

NNA: Why is it a good idea to still invest in newspapers? And is the current model still working?

LM: Beyond the fact that we keep the public honest, you can make a healthy living if you’re doing it right. You’ll need to tell me what you mean by current model. Larger chains are going online; community weeklies do both print and digital.

NNA: What does the future hold for the Port Townsend Leader and community newspapers in general?

LM: We’re lucky to be in a county that values local businesses with local ownership. They’re the lifeblood of our industry. If we don’t have healthy, vibrant downtowns, community newspapers will suffer under their (our) current (advertising revenue based) model. As for community newspapers in general, the future looks brighter than ever. As long as the owners or publishers live locally and are invested in the community, the newspapers will thrive.

Teri Saylor can be contacted at terisaylor@hotmail.com.