BY KATHY GIBBONS
TRAVERSE CITY — Neal Ronquist originally is from Minnesota.
So he wasn't about to let a little thing like northern Michigan winters keep him from moving to Traverse City.
Ronquist, 44, started today as the Traverse City Record-Eagle's new publisher. He's a 22-year newspaper industry veteran, and most recently was group publisher of five daily newspapers in central Indiana, including the Chronicle-Tribune in Marion.
The Record-Eagle is the fourth daily Ronquist has helmed. He also served as publisher of the Russellville, Ark., Courier and the Austin Daily Herald in Minnesota.
"There's definitely a time of listening and soaking it all in so you can understand the history and determine what you need to know to make good decisions," Ronquist said Monday as he met with staff and settled in his new office.
What he knows so far is that Traverse City has "a great reputation" — the town as well as the newspaper.
"It's a great community," said Ronquist, who holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and another in government and international affairs from Augustana College in Sioux Falls, S.D., where he also played baseball. "And the paper has a great reputation. The editorial product is outstanding. It has solid business practices and partnerships."
Ronquist said he'll be active in the community here as he has at his other posts. In Marion, for example, he at one point chaired the chamber of commerce board.
"It's important for me to do those things," he said. "It's important for our business because it's a great way to develop partnerships and relationships.
"We're not just covering the news. We're part of the community. We want to be a proactive leader."
Challenging times for newspapers also present opportunities, Ronquist said.
"Times have gotten better, but we're not out of the woods, so to speak," he said. "It's an exciting time because we can be creative and innovative. I think it's an energizing time to be in the industry.
"Our print product is obviously going to evolve, but it's not going to go away. There's demand for it. That said, we have to look at all the other formats where people want to receive information."
And the fundamental function of the newspaper as watchdog as well as source of other community information hasn't changed, he said.
"Obviously, we have a role to play in making sure that government is transparent, in making sure the public knows what the truth is," he said. "We have a role to entertain people with stories about their friends and neighbors."
Everyone in the community won't always agree with the paper's coverage or editorial positions, Ronquist acknowledged. That's why being able to have open dialog and respectfully disagree on those occasions is important, he added.
"We're a business, too, and we're in this together," he said. "We want to make sure the community prospers because if the community prospers, our business prospers.
"It goes hand in hand."
Ronquist and his wife, Renae, have two daughters: Reese, 8, and Rachel, 11. His family will join him in Traverse City full-time at the close of the school year.