She is one of the most influential business leaders in Greater Cincinnati. She's in charge of the largest provider of news and media content in the region. When she speaks up at private meetings among the city's corporate elite, people listen respectfully.

Yet, for most of the public she serves and some of the people she employs, Margaret Buchanan can be inscrutable, in the standard definition of the word: "not readily investigated, interpreted or understood." The Cincinnati native who returned in the spring of 2003 to become the president and publisher of The Enquirer is not readily recognizable by most Cincinnatians.

That's peculiar for someone in control of such a dominant media empire that includes The Enquirer, the Cincinnati Post (through a joint operating agreement) and 26 Community Press and Recorder newspapers.

Cincy Business set out to learn more about Buchanan and her vision"”for The Enquirer and its related publications, for the business community and for the region. Repeated requests for an interview were neither granted nor rejected.

One business professional who knows her says, "Your headline is 'The Mystique of Margaret Buchanan'." Yet more than one Cincinnati executive says there's nothing mysterious about her. "She's one of the most transparent people I know," says Charlotte Otto, Global External Relations Officer at Procter & Gamble, one of Cincinnati's leading female executives, who befriended Buchanan when she returned here.

Another perspective comes from Enquirer reporter and columnist Jim Knippenberg, who covers the Cincinnati social scene extensively. He never saw Buchanan outside of The Enquirer building until this past November, when he encountered her at a Cincinnati Opera event.

From interviews with more than 20 people who have contact with her, a portrait begins to emerge. Margaret Buchanan is smart and strong. At age 48, with nearly 20 years in the newspaper business, she's a businesswoman in her prime. She's widely respected"”even among many Enquirer newsroom employees.

Consistently, people describe Buchanan with the word "engaged." They say she's an executive who does it all but without micro-managing, a visionary with exceptional leadership skills, and a person who is genuinely concerned about the city she calls home.

UC President Nancy Zimpher says the university is proud to have an alumna take this leadership role. "Margaret is an insightful leader, with a great appreciation for the welfare of our community and its reputation among cities nationally," Zimpher comments. "We are indeed fortunate to have her steady hand at the helm of such a major information source as the Cincinnati Enquirer."

Praise comes from other quarters, too. "I think she is the most engaged and probably the most inventive, hard-charging publisher I've ever had," says one veteran Enquirer journalist. Although few Enquirer employees interviewed said anything remotely disparaging about Buchanan, all those contacted agreed to talk about her only if they remained unidentified.

"She's very bright, and she doesn't suffer fools gladly," that same newsroom veteran observes. "But she wouldn't chop you off at the legs if you were making a fool of yourself."

"She's a tough cookie," says a business professional who has witnessed Buchanan in action in business meetings. "She eats nails for breakfast. Every word she speaks is carefully chosen."
Others talk about a woman who is exceptionally committed to her husband and two sons. "She's a good spouse, an interested and engaged parent, enjoys fun and recreation," one business leader remarks.

"She has a strong mind and a soft heart"”and that's a great balance," concludes Laura L. Long, executive director of the Cincinnati Business Committee.

SWEET HOME CINCINNATI

Biographical information about Margaret Buchanan is sketchy. Born in 1957 in Cincinnati, she graduated from Sycamore High School. In 1980 she earned a bachelor's degree in marketing at the University of Cincinnati, followed by a MBA there in 1982. She worked in advertising and marketing at Cincinnati Bell and IBM in Cincinnati before becoming a Gannett Co. Inc. employee at The Enquirer in 1986, as a "general executive" in advertising. By then she had married Greg Buchanan.

In 1987 she moved to Rockford, Illinois, to take another newspaper advertising and marketing position, and began her ascent in the ranks of Gannett. After four years as president and publisher at the Idaho Statesman in Boise, and as Vice President of Gannett's Pacific Newspaper Group, Buchanan was ready when Enquirer Publisher Harry Whipple announced his retirement.

Buchanan arrived that spring of 2003 to find a newspaper still feeling the demoralizing after-effects of the 1998 Chiquita scandal. After publishing an investigative series into the Cincinnati company headed by Carl Lindner "” who once, ironically, served as Enquirer publisher "” the newspaper agreed to a $14 million settlement to avoid legal actions. Buchanan arrived in time to preside over a closing chapter of the affair: the destruction of all the notes and materials The Enquirer reporters gathered for those Chiquita stories.


Other factors caused spirits to sag at what was once called "The Grand Old Lady of Vine Street." In the 1980s and into the 1990s, Gannett grew and prospered to become the country's largest newspaper group. Among industry analysts, The Enquirer was known as one of the more profitable Gannett operations.

But even The Enquirer was not immune from the chronic illness that came to afflict daily newspapers everywhere, an ailment stemming from changing demographics, new media technologies and choices, the resulting declines in newspaper readership and tougher competition for local advertising.

"For a while the Gannett margins were obscene. The real world has clearly hit," remarks one Enquirer journalist.

Buchanan promptly initiated a thorough review of all departments and operations. Changes were made in some key executive positions, and she brought in a new marketing director. She conducted small meetings with staff to present comprehensive strategic plans.

Within six months, The Enquirer launched CiN Weekly in an effort to attract younger readers. In 2004, Gannett"”with Buchanan in a leading role"”began a local acquisition spree: Design magazine, Inspire magazine and"”perhaps the biggest coup of all"”HomeTown Communications Network, which published the local Community Press and Community Recorder newspapers. Buchanan also beefed up the Enquirer's Kentucky edition.

She also saw the big picture: the survival and success of her business depends on what happens in the communities it serves.

THE BUCHANAN MANIFESTO

In November 2003, Buchanan delivered the keynote speech at the business summit meeting of the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber. It was her first and, thus far, last major public speaking engagement in her new role.

What could be called "The Buchanan Manifest' insists that Greater Cincinnati must grow and remain attractive to succeeding generations and newcomers by celebrating all that is good about it, by constructively criticizing what isn't good, by sharing a vision of what it could become, and by all stakeholders making the best things happen through regional partnerships.

"The Enquirer is an important and influential voice in our community," she said. "And, let me assure you, we take our responsibility as an information provider"”and our watchdog role"”very seriously. And, I am well aware of the need for The Enquirer"”and its Cincinnati.com web site"”to recognize how much Greater Cincinnati has going for it.

"We all share a common interest"”an interest in building a healthy and vibrant Cincinnati. My job as publisher of this community's largest print and online information source has a lot to do with bringing us all together in that discussion each day."

In that Chamber speech, Buchanan pledged to give readers a truer picture of what's going on, and why. "I see a disconnect between the reality of what Cincinnati is and our own perceptions, which get passed on from one person to another, then another. And, yes, some of those misperceptions may have been caused by your newspaper, for thousands around here and around the world to see," she admitted. "But, remember, we have a responsibility to cover the not-so-good things as well as the good things that happen...This is what gives us our credibility."

BOARDROOM IMPRESSIONS

A short survey indicates Margaret Buchanan has a growing fan club among top business leaders. Michael Fisher, president of the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber, and David Ginsburg, president of Downtown Cincinnati Inc., are among those who say Buchanan has improved The Enquirer's reporting and editorializing on local issues"”especially business and development. What might be called boosterism is, in their view, an expression of Buchanan's strategic vision.
Fisher points to how Buchanan committed her support and Enquirer resources to the Chamber's Partnership for Greater Cincinnati and the newly developing Regional Tourism Network. Beyond the Chamber, Fisher says he has observed Buchanan's work in the community on education, economic development, crime and race relations. "She wants to understand what is going on, and then how we can get better," he says.

"At the end of the day, she's publishing the largest daily newspaper"”and certainly is the most important online content provider (locally)"”and that overall media presence is awfully important," Fisher observes. "She brought in and developed talent, and set high standards of journalistic objectivity."

DCI's Ginsburg believes The Enquirer under Buchanan is more analytical, and more attentive to diversity and alternative perspectives. "I see her at almost every major function in the community," he remarks.

Buchanan reminds Ginsburg of the bestselling business book, Good to Great Author Jim Collins describes "Level 4" leaders as strong personalities who define an organization in the public's mind, outsized figures such as Donald Trump or Jack Welch. "Level 5" leaders are more dedicated to the organization's success than their own. They tend to be modest and avoid publicity.

"She's probably a good example of a Level 5 leader," Ginsburg concludes in assessing Buchanan.
"That's extremely high praise," responds Charlotte Otto. "That's very cool. The idea of servant leadership applies to her absolutely."

Otto was thrilled when she learned in 2003 that a woman"”and a Cincinnatian"”would lead The Enquirer. "I find her amazingly present, given all that she has to do," Otto comments, noting Buchanan's commitment to her family. "She's one of the most straight, down-to-earth persons I've ever had the pleasure to work with."


Otto and Buchanan serve together on the board of Cincinnati Center City Development Corp., known as 3CDC. One meeting featured a complicated presentation about real estate. As Otto recalls, Buchanan listened, then calmly voiced basic, common sense questions. "Will people understand why we're doing this? Will they get it? Will they care?"

With 3CDC, Buchanan chairs the group's marketing committee. The Enquirer's editorial support of 3CDC"”especially its off-and-on potential role in The Banks development project"”makes some Enquirer journalists a bit uncomfortable. Most of those interviewed acknowledge, however, that those editorials fall within the newspaper's usual editorial position.


Buchanan also serves on the Cincinnati Business Committee, whose board is composed of CEOs from Cincinnati's top 23 companies. "I think Margaret operates from quiet strength," observes CBC's Laura Long. "She understands the landscape. She observes, then listens and then communicates with a deeper knowledge about the subject matter."

Asked why Buchanan does not make more public appearances like her 2003 Chamber speech, Long says Buchanan cannot be omnipresent. "Maybe she's just humble," Long suggests.
Buchanan could become more visible in the community when she chairs the Cincinnati Fine Arts Fund's annual campaign in 2007. The drive, raising millions for fine arts programs and institutions, is traditionally led by top CEOs in the community. Notably, Margaret Buchanan will be the first woman to chair the fund drive since it began in 1949.

WHAT JOURNALISTS SAY

The heart of a newspaper is journalism, and The Enquirer has its share of fault-finders among journalists, inside and out. Editor & Publisher magazine, which originally revealed the terms of the Chiquita settlement, still criticizes The Enquirer for not leveling with its readers. CityBeat, Cincinnati's weekly alternative newspaper, had assumed the role of watchdog over local media"”The Enquirer in particular. Editor John Fox now admits he may be a bit more reserved because CiN Weekly is competing directly with at least some of CityBeat's readership and advertising base.

Inside The Enquirer, sources say the mood is mixed. In recent years, staff reductions and shuffling under Editor Thomas Callinan caused consternation. The situation seems to have stablized, and perhaps that's because a sober reality seems to be spreading among reporters and editors: they're lucky to have a job. Around the country, major metro newspapers are undertaking more rounds of painful staff reductions. The Cincinnati Post, which survived as one of the few afternoon dailies because of the agreement forged with Gannett in 1977, could cease operations after that deal ends in December 2007.

"The Post message has come through loud and clear," an Enquirer reporter admits.

One after another, Enquirer journalists talk approvingly of Buchanan's efforts, using that word "engaged." She's not a manager who hovers in the newsroom. But no other publisher has shared so much internal information with the news side, according to one veteran.


Employees interviewed note how Buchanan made changes in all operations. "She's doing what probably should have been done years ago," one staff member concludes.

Will Buchanan's strategies pay off? One former Enquirer reporter says it all comes down to what advertisers do if the newspaper's "household penetration" rate slips below a certain threshold. Recent media research indicates daily newspapers may continue to lose advertising regardless of what they do. Michael Krienik, of Krienik Advertising Inc., works with numerous clients who advertise in newspapers. He approves of Buchanan's diversification strategy and advances in the www.cincinnati.com web site. "But it's clearly a challenge," he adds. "As time moves forward, the number of people brought up on newspapers is declining, while the number brought up on broadcasting increases."

Another perspective comes from Ben L. Kaufman, the former Enquirer reporter and columnist who now writes for CityBeat. His e-mail address contains the phrase "mediacritic." But he's not eager to give Margaret Buchanan any grief.


"Her job is to make money," Kaufman comments. "Three of the four dailies I worked for are out of business. She needs advertisers and a healthy business community, or she will decline and the newspaper will decline."

There may come a day when Americans in major cities may no longer see a local daily newspaper on newsstands, driveways and porches. "I have loyalty to CityBeat, but I need a strong local paper," Kaufman says, emphatically. "If Buchanan's making money, that's good."

As for how she carries out that mission"”in the halls of The Enquirer building, in Gannett conference rooms, or in the corporate boardrooms around town"”does not matter so long as she succeeds, Kaufman adds. "She's defining (her role) for herself. That's her privilege. More power to her."