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Hiring of a new publisher marks internal shift within Village News publications

A veteran media executive who began his 35-year newspaper career as a Texarkana police reporter has been hired as publisher of Village News Inc., which was launched 12 years ago in the Fallbrook area and has steadily expanded its staff, circulation area and product offerings.

Scott McElhaney will step into the position that Julie Reeder has held since the Village News printed its first 24-page edition in the Fallbrook area in December 1997.

Since then, the tight-knit, family-oriented company has grown to produce three weekly newspapers, three Internet sites, a lifestyle magazine and an annual Sourcebook reference guide. The company has also moved from rented offices into permanent residence inside a historic Victorian home in downtown Fallbrook that has been the site of several reader- and advertiser-oriented special events.

“They saw an opportunity and they seized it,” McElhaney said of the company’s locally-based founders and investors. “They put a focus on local, local, local and it’s paid off.”

McElhaney’s focus on sales and operations will allow Reeder to shift her attention to other functions of the company. Her new job title will be corporation president and editor-in-chief.

“This will free me up to concentrate on the creative side, which is what I really enjoy,” Reeder said in a recent letter to company staff. “I will work with [McElhaney] to launch new products, generate new business, lead editorial and focus on Web-based opportunities.”

The company’s three newspapers together distribute more than 27,000 copies each week in a sprawling area that stretches from Bonsall in northern San Diego County to Lake Elsinore, Menifee, French Valley and Anza in southwest Riverside County. The papers’ Internet sites have logged about 1.5 million page views a month and up to 75,000 Web visits a day during local wildfires and other peak news periods.

Reeder, a 47-year-old Fallbrook resident, described McElhaney in her letter as “a proven leader, innovator and manager.”

His industry experience includes stints at the Orange County Register and the Arizona Republic.

His five years at the Wisconsin-based Journal Community Publishing Group included the post of president of the company that owned 100 publications and six printing facilities in six states. His eight-year stint as a publisher, vice president and chief operating officer of Irvine-based Fancy Publications saw the launch of a book publishing division and 50 new annual, bi-annual and monthly periodicals.

While McElhaney’s publisher role at the Village News Inc. is new, his connection to the firm stretches back several years. McElhaney, 52, consulted with Reeder on advertising sales and other company functions for three months in 2007. Since then, he has conducted periodic one-day training sessions at the company.

His ties to San Diego County run even deeper. His work as publisher and general manager of the Vista Press brought him to that community from 1988 until 1993. McElhaney and his wife, Carolyn, have owned property in San Diego County for the past 22 years, and their three children and five grandchildren live in Southern California.

“This is a great market and I am very excited about this opportunity,” he said. “The company has a very talented team and I look forward to working with them.”

During his career, he has served as a board member of the Suburban Newspapers of America and the Free Circulation Publications trade organizations. He has been a volunteer, supporter and a board member of several civic and community organizations that include the American Heart Association and the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

McElhaney, who does not have any ownership interest in Village News Inc. met with his new staff Monday afternoon. He said he does not expect to implement any immediate changes, and his initial efforts will center on customer focus and helping small businesses market themselves and grow.

“A major emphasis will be consulting with local businesses on how to leverage their strengths and market effectively,” he said.

Despite declining readership and revenues at scores of newspapers throughout the country, McElhaney said he is confident of the future of community newspapers, Village News Inc. and the vast region it serves.

“I’ve been around this market for 22 years, and I’ve seen it go up and down several times. It is resilient,” he said. “I think this (market) will be one of the strongest areas in both counties as the economy improves.”

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