Beryl Love takes over as Editor of The Cincinnati Enquirer

Written by Rory Glynn

At 3 p.m. on a weekday nearly 18 years ago, Beryl Love sat poker-faced in a daily meeting of Cincinnati Enquirer editors. At the long conference table on the 19th floor of 312 Elm Street, Love waited for his turn to speak. His printout of the day’s Page 1 contenders contained one dark horse scrawled in the margin: Survivor. When it was his turn to speak, Love, then an editor on the night desk, pitched a story about the premiere of a TV show about a bunch of ordinary folks stranded on an island. Survivor became a phenomenon; Love showed an early knack for knowing what appeals to an audience.

Nearly 18 years later, Love is back in Cincinnati, now serving the Enquirer audience as its executive editor. Love, who grew up in Cincinnati and graduated from old Forest Park High School and the University of Cincinnati, is back in his hometown after a decade away, first as editor of the Reno Gazette-Journal and most recently as developer and editor of USA Today’s National News Desk. Love, who replaced Peter Bhatia, now in Detroit, returned to 312 Elm in January against a backdrop of industry-wide losses in print readership, advertising and staffing. Love sat down with Cincinnati People to discuss his new role, the experiences that prepared him for it, the challenges the industry faces, and being a single dad to son William, 12).

Q: You left Cincinnati in 2006. How has The Enquirer changed since you’ve been gone?

A: When I left here, we were doing a lot of things online, but there was this mentality that you were the editor of the paper. Yeah, we had a website, but it was about what was on Page 1, what are the deadlines and all that. It’s just a completely different Zen flow to the day. We do everything in real time now. In short, we’re doing things I couldn’t have even imagined when I left here 11 years ago. Leading an organization through transition is the most challenging part of the job.

Q: Are today’s journalists, here and elsewhere, now more accustomed to change in the digital age?

A: I can’t really remember a time when we haven’t been talking about how we needed to change. We’re used to it. When I was here before, we acknowledged a change was coming and we liked to think we were responding to it. But we didn’t know what we didn’t know. I was having a conversation the other day and I was asked if I had big plans for change, like I was going to one day roll out a new structure and a new workflow that would suit us for the next five years. It’s more of an evolution, where we have to constantly evaluate what we’re doing, especially with the number of resources we have. We can’t afford not to make sure that everything we do has an impact.

Q: Is there a tension between doing things that are innovative and transformative, and the legacy business, the need to “feed the beast” of the print product daily?

A: I would say that print remains an important part of how we deliver information, still, particularly in this community. There is a seven-day a week print habit that many people have. We respect that. But when it comes to positioning ourselves for future growth, and still being relevant, and still addressing the needs of a generation that has always been plugged into the Internet in some way … I wouldn’t call it a tension, but I would say we just have to continue to find ways to make sure that one platform doesn’t dominate all our time and attention, and print has the danger of doing that because it’s very labor-intensive. We just have to strike that right balance and make sure we’re not putting all our time and energy into something that isn’t going to be there for future generations of Enquirer readers who don’t have that habit.

Q: Is Cincinnati’s print habit greater than other markets?

A: Probably a little bit. We have experimented in some of our markets with decreasing the days of delivery, to mixed results. But here there’s no plan in the immediate future to drop the number of delivery days because it’s still viable in this market.

Q: Do you see that day eventually coming here?

A: I think so. It’s already changed a lot. (Because of earlier deadlines) It’s already no longer the place where you find out who won the Reds game. But it’s still a great platform. You don’t have to connect to wifi, you don’t have to power down on the airplane, and you can share it at the breakfast table without crowding around a small screen. If the print edition were the latest development in media, we’d probably be calling it a disrupter because there are so many benefits to it. As digital as I am in my life, I still enjoy it.

It’s interesting to me because it sort of has this official feel to it. If somebody has an accomplishment and we publish it online, a million people can see it, but when it’s in the paper, it feels real. It’s still the daily newspaper. I, for one, don’t want to accelerate its demise. We just have to figure out how to put it in the right spot, so to speak, so we can continue to be innovative digitally, because absolutely that’s our future. That’s where the bulk of our audience is now.

Q: What do you hear in the community from readers?

A: You know, I haven’t been out a ton yet in my three weeks, but what I have heard, and even going back to Reno, is people long for the days of the big, fat newspaper that had everything in it that it did. But they understand. When I take the time to explain that because of the changes in the industry, especially on the business side … We have fewer people than we did when we published once (in print) a day, and we continue to be committed to watchdog journalism, to public-service journalism. Maybe the paper’s smaller, and maybe you miss some of the things that we now deliver to you online. But people are reasonable. They want us to succeed.

Jeff Berding told me, after complaining about coverage of FC Cincinnati, especially with the stadium, after getting all that off his chest, he still said, “We’re all rooting for you. I’m rooting for you. Because a city without a newspaper is a dying city. People love to complain. We’re an easy target. But that’s coming from a place of they want us to succeed. They don’t say what did you do to the paper, they say what did you do to my paper. Few industries have that type of intimate relationship with their end user where they use that possessive. That’s what motivates me. They still care.

Q: What did you think of The Enquirer’s ventures into innovative storytelling, like the podcast The Accused and the special report Seven Days in Heroin? Do stories like that help the more traditional audience see the possibilities of digital storytelling?

A: So because we’re this (USA Today) network now, I was involved in a very small way with Seven Days in Heroin. Peter Bhatia and I talked about it, and we agreed it was something that needed to be presented in an innovative way so it lived up to the amazing content. It was our job (on the national desk) to make sure that work being done at local sites got the proper national exposure and support, whether that’s visual, data, investigative, whatever. I was happy to be able to provide that support. It’s an example of our company working together as a network of journalists around the country, rather than a bunch of siloed operations.

The fact that a traditional media organization like a newspaper produced Accused, which was No. 1 on iTunes’ list of podcasts, shows the possibilities. First and foremost, we’re storytellers. Don’t limit us to one medium. What hasn’t changed is it’s pretty much empty technology without a good story. The story is what we need to get out there.

Q: What kind of stories do you like most?

A: I love stories that make me cry, that pull me in on an emotional level. It’s hard to write a sewer-rate increase story that grabs you emotionally, right? That tells me a lot about where we should be mining for good stories, to move away from some of the journalistic legacy beats. And I like stories that make an impact, that lead to change, and ultimately make the community a better place.

Q: What was the first story you ever reported?

A: It was at the University of Cincinnati, and it was a sensitive story. The college of education had just appointed a dean who was African-American, and someone decided they needed to write racial slurs on the walls of the building. I got sent to write that story. I still remember the headline: Writing on the wall reeks of racism.

Q: You first moved here when you were in sixth grade. Compare and contrast Cincinnati then to Cincinnati now.

A: Obviously all the changes downtown, and the fact that people are moving back into the urban core. But some things haven’t changed, like the whole dimension of the East vs. the West side. The fact that Bengals fans are frustrated. The fact that people who have lived here a long time complain about traffic when they have no idea how good they have it.

Q: What is one real, tangible thing you missed about Cincinnati?

A: Living in northern Virginia, which is very transient … it was hard to feel a sense of community. My community was sort of my son’s school community. Here there’s just such a tremendous sense of community pride. This community pulls together when it needs to. I missed that a lot.

Q: In your first stint here, you helped launch and led CinWeekly, a free publication aimed at young adult readers that was unlike anything the paper had tried before. What did you get out of that experience?

A: Professionally, it was probably the best thing I ever did, even if I didn’t realize it at the time. If you wanted to be a top editor, you had to do a tour as the city editor and then the deputy managing editor and managing editor … there was a very linear path through the newsroom. Because CinWeekly was part of a larger strategy to focus on audience development, I got to work with people in marketing and got exposure to the business side of it. I had thought I had taken this left turn in terms of the traditional career path, but really what I had prepared for was the job of editor now, where you do have to understand those things. It prepared me for the changes our industry has been going through.

Plus, it taught me that it’s OK to have fun. As journalists, we need to be skeptical and hold people accountable and fight for public records and all that. But we don’t always have to be so self-important. We can enjoy being part of the community as well. It’s OK to cheer from the press box occasionally.

Q: It’s been a little over a year since the death of your wife, Wendy. What has the year been like, and what do you want people to know about her?

A: It was challenging. (She died on) New Year’s Eve, 2016, but really it was very challenging in the years leading up to it because she had been very sick. She was suffering from addiction to alcohol. It seemed very sudden to people (outside the family), but it had been a rough three or four years. So, becoming a single parent is a challenge. One of the big draws of coming back was he’s one of 13 cousins, and 10 live in this area, and so the family connection makes him feel grounded. I say we’re a two-man crew, but we don’t feel that way anymore.

But it’s been very tough, and one of the things I’ve tried to do is be very open about the disease of alcoholism. It is a disease, and it’s a misunderstood disease, and I think more people suffer from it and ultimately die from it because we don’t talk about it openly. There’s a stigma attached to it that prevents people from getting help, prevents families from getting help. It affects the whole family. So I try to use the opportunity when people bring it up is that one thing I learned through all of that was that you’re not alone in that situation. Ultimately, in Wendy’s case it wasn’t enough. But I hope those close to us use that as an inspiration to help others and not feel you have to hide it in any way.

Q: How important is fatherhood at this stage of your life?

A: It’s everything. It was before. It’s one of the reasons I tell people, if there’s not a big story happening and it’s 5:30, I’m out of here. I get here early enough. I’m not going to apologize for working 10 hours a day. But in this industry, sometimes you feel like you’re slacking if you’re not shutting the lights off every night. And I want people to feel that way in their own lives. I’m not going to measure your performance based on whether you’re here all the time. Get out and enjoy your family, because it’s precious. And you don’t get that time back.