She was one of the early victims of the severe downturn decimating the newspaper industry, but Tracy Rafter hasn? let that slow her down. Since being laid off in 2006 as publisher of the Los Angeles Daily News, Rafter has embraced new media and is working to unlock its potential for the business community. She started her own advisory firm, Rafter Group Inc., to help companies and organizations overhaul their communications, and she has another venture in the works that she believes can revolutionize how mobile technology is used to spread information. In the meantime, Rafter is active in her highest-profile role since parting ways with the Daily News; she is now the chief executive of a coalition of L.A. businesses known as the Los Angeles County Business Federation, which counts as its members trade groups, chambers of commerce and companies such as City National Corp. As the head of BizFed, as it is known, Rafter has the freedom to work from home and spend time with her two young daughters, who she said are happy to accompany her to town hall meetings, business events and other gatherings. Rafter recently sat down with the Business Journal to discuss her career, her family and her prescription for L.A. business.


Question: After being in newspapers for more than two decades, how did you end up leading a coalition of business groups?

Answer: Right when I left the Daily News, I started Rafter Group. It? a business advisory with a focus on either organizational startup or transformation for growth. I contract Web firms and designers and editors and journalists and photographers and business consultants. I go in and figure out whatever the project or the company or the startup needs, and I engage the professionals to deliver those services. (BizFed) contracts my company to run and operate the business federation.

Q: Did you consider going to another newspaper?

A: I made a choice to pursue this path. It was a focused choice. Where community engagement and transformation is going to occur is really in this world of forming networks and alliances, and then using the communication and technology to engage people. This is very purposeful. I actually said no to several newspapering opportunities.

Q: How did you first connect with BizFed?

A: Interestingly, I helped the group coalesce and form. David Fleming, the founding chair, and several other of the organization leaders with whom I had good relationships, we got to talking and they asked if I would come help put it together and I did. I? completely hooked.


Q: The Daily News and other newspapers across the country are drastically downsizing. How does it feel to watch from the outside as the industry suffers?

A: It? tough to see people and an industry and a product that you love to have such tough times. What it is today, it breaks my heart. The newsroom is about half of what it was just two years ago when I was there, so that gives you a sense of how fast the layoffs (have come).

Q: So you were part of the first wave?

A: I saw the beginning of the tail-off. It was just the tip of the iceberg.

Q: Did you at least enjoy your time there?

A: I loved my time at the Los Angeles Newspaper Group. When I came, and I came in as senior vice president of marketing and advertising, that? when we were really positioning the cluster (of newspapers). So for all the national advertisers I was going out and telling the story, and about our penetration and demographics, and how we competed against the L.A. Times and other media in the market. We made hay. They were good days. We did really well.

Q: Could it have turned out differently for the Daily News?

A: Right before I left (the Daily News) ?it was so exciting ?we launched ValleyNews.com, which was citizen journalism. Just in the Valley, we launched 44 hubs in one day online and they had correlating weekly print products. It was letting real people tell their story and get their news online. It was very exciting. Sadly, when I left they abandoned the concept. I think if they? kept with it, they would be in a different place today.

Q: What lesson do you think other industries can learn from the problems in the journalism industry?

A: The lesson for other businesses is not to wait when you see change coming your way, to embrace and be bold, and go ahead and bite the bullet. If my company is going to be a third smaller than it was, let? do it now. Rather than kind of a slow death, you can get in front of it.

Q: How did you first get into newspapers?

A: In high school, I was in DECA ?the Distributive Education Clubs of America ?and you choose a profession and study it. I chose advertising and newspapering, and I got on the school newspaper. I went to the daily newspaper my junior year. The day I turned 17 I got a job in the newspaper business.

Q: So were you hooked from the beginning?

A: My dad always said you have to be trained in two different professions, so if the bottom falls out of one, you have a good fallback position. So, as I was doing advertising and media and communications, I studied architecture on the other side. I got certified in drafting.


Q: What made you choose newspapers?

A: I got offered a manager? job at the paper so I decided at that time to stay with newspapers.

Q: Did you ever work on the editorial side?

A: I?e been the publisher, so I had responsibility for everything. I did not ever work as a journalist, though.

Q: Was it difficult to be a woman in this field?

A: In most cases, it was very common for me to be the only woman in the room, but I didn? ever really think about it. In most communities, the Rotary Club is where most of the business and community efforts were done, and it was a male-only organization until 1987. When I was in St. Louis running the paper, I was the first female to be asked to join a Rotary Club. When I was in Rhode Island running a newspaper there, there was a 125-year-old male-only business club, again, where much of the business got done, and they for the first time changed their membership rules, and I became the first female to join.

Q: You have headed newspapers all over the country. How have these opportunities come about?

A: I was with one company (Ingersoll Publications, later part of Journal Register Co.) for 11 or 12 years, and they kept asking me to take on newspapers. I in essence became kind of a fix-it publisher. They would look to me to take on newspapers in markets that were struggling.



Q: So how did you end up in Los Angeles at the Daily News, which Journal Register did not own?

A: I had lunch with a friend in Philadelphia one Christmas ?he was an executive with Media News Group, and he asked me to come meet with the chief operating officer of the company. And I did.

Q: As someone who has received accolades as a female business leader do you see yourself as a role model for women?

A: You know, I?e been asked to speak on that topic to all different people, but I just see myself as a person in business. I happen to be a woman. We can always share our stories with people and inspire and inform. My experiences and stories might help the people I? talking to and inspire them, whether they are a woman or a man.


Q: Was it difficult to have children with such a busy professional life?

A: Yeah. In fact, at the birth of my children, I left corporate America and that? when we went to buy our own newspaper because it was to me a very serious thing ?having kids ?and I said I can? run the pace of a publisher of a publicly traded corporate job and have a child. To me, one was going to suffer, so I just quit at 34.

Q: That must have been surprising to your colleagues.

A: They ran a story in the paper in Massachusetts: ?racy Rafter retires from newspaper at 34.?It was the funniest thing. People were shocked.

Q: What did you do after that?

A: My husband at the time was in the newspaper business, too, and we said, ?hy don? we go do our own thing??This was a good way to start a family. So we moved from Massachusetts to Washington state and bought this 112-year-old community newspaper, and then that? when we had our second child.

Q: It must have been nice to have such freedom to raise your children.

A: It? wonderful in this age that you have all this freedom. You have a BlackBerry or mobile device, and you can work wherever and whenever you need to. With kids, they go to bed at a certain time and they?e up at a certain time. So I go to all their events and I? with them and volunteer for their field trips. But then, if I? online at 10:00, 11:00, 12:00 at night and they?e sleeping and I? working, then it all works.

Q: Since then, you have gone through a divorce. What kinds of challenges have you faced being a single mother?

A: There were definitely a lot of challenges. I have been blessed with the ability to just look at my kids and know how precious they are, and the clarity kind of comes around. I have a great network of professional colleagues and friends. Also, I do believe in God, and church is an important part of my life. I actually teach kids at my church. I think having that is a centering point in my life; it helps me make decisions and keep things in perspective.

Q: You have another company in the works, right?

A: It? in incubator form right now seeking venture capital to get it off the ground. It? called Impower. It harnesses a lot of tools that are out there in different sectors. It? a platform and it? a means of how the communication is engaged. It? the way which people engage and utilize their information.

Q: So it? a company seeking to improve the way social networking and other forms of new media are used by businesses?

A: It can be businesses, it can be organizations, it can be alliances.

Q: Sounds intriguing.

A: I kind of took a sidetrack to get the Business Federation off the ground, which has taken so much of my energy. Impower is out there and it will come to life at the right time.

Q: Do you think your kids will follow in your footsteps in the business world?
A: They do go to events. I go to a lot of community and civic and political events. They?e so darn cute. They actually go as my date a lot of times and they?l be the only children in the whole place, and they?l shake hands and talk to people. They load my BlackBerry: I bring home my business cards and they?l say, ?o you have cards for me, Mom??And they put the contacts in my BlackBerry.

Q: They sound very helpful.
A: My oldest daughter even asked me, ?f something happens to you, Mom, do I take over both of your companies??I said, ?f you want to, baby.?p>


TRACY RAFTER

Title: Chief Executive

Organization: Los Angeles County Business Federation

Born: 1964; Pocatello, Idaho

Education: Certificate in drafting, College of Southern Idaho

Career Turning Point: Moving to St. Louis at 23 to be a general manager of
Ingersoll Publications, later part of Journal Register Co.

Most Influential People: Her father, ?ecause he is a risk-taker and entrepreneur, and he is very diligent and focused,?and Bob Jelenic, former chief executive of the Journal Register Co.: ?e was amazing; he was focused; he was brutal.?p>Personal: Lives in Sherman Oaks with two daughters, Hailey, 11, and Hannah, 9

Hobbies: Spending time with daughters; going to the beach; listening to music; traveling

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