Steve Levene Sells Reporter Newspapers
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Steve Levene Sells Reporter Newspapers

Steve Levene sold Springs Publishing/Reporter Newspapers to Atlanta native Keith Pepper. The hyper local papers remain profitable, claim outreach of 100,000 a month.

After 35 years with the Atlanta newspapers, Marcia currently serves as Retail VP for the Buckhead Business Association, where she delivers news and trends (laced with a little gossip).

Founder of Springs Publishing/Reporter Newspapers, Steve Levene found the right buyer in Keith Pepper.  Here Levene visits (pre-pandemic) the Newseum in Washington, D.C.
Founder of Springs Publishing/Reporter Newspapers, Steve Levene found the right buyer in Keith Pepper. Here Levene visits (pre-pandemic) the Newseum in Washington, D.C.

Veteran media whiz Steve Levene recently sold Springs Publishing/ Reporters Newspapers to Atlanta native Keith Pepper, the Atlanta Business Chronicle reported last month.

Pepper returned to Georgia after years in New York City applying and honing his expertise in tech startups and a history with marketing media. “My future goal here is to have a relevant and profitable company that covers the stories that are meaningful to the community and to do it in fun, engaging, and non-sensational ways.”

A New York native, Levene knew he had “ink in his blood” and a passion for publishing, writing and business management when he headed out of Ivy League The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania with a Master of Business Administration. Exciting posts such as running Asian operations for The Wall Street Journal living in Hong Kong led him to become assistant publisher (as part of Barron’s/Dow Jones & Company) in the mid-’80s.

In 1996, post-Olympics, he was recruited by the Maryland Berger family, who bought the then Southern Israelite, to transition to the Atlanta Jewish Times as publisher. He recalls, “I was living in Princeton, New Jersey, and Atlanta looked like a nice Jewish community within a nice community. Backing up, in the 1970s, I found publishing enticing – writing, pasting, waxing, photography – having worked on my high school and college newspapers.”

By 2005, Levene was vice president of Renaissance Media, which had a string of other Jewish papers, such as in Detroit and Baltimore, in addition to Atlanta. “I had the itch {to own} in 2005 and was intrigued with Sandy Spring’s new successful cityhood. From my kitchen table, I put it all together and started the Buckhead and Sandy Springs Reporter Newspapers.”

He formed a small group of investors, later added Brookhaven, Dunwoody editions, plus Atlanta Intown, added in 2013, and Atlanta Senior Life, added in 2016. “We never looked back. We were consistently profitable, meeting trends like online publishing head on.” The papers started biweekly and were always free. In 2019, they went to monthly and home mailing.

Photo by Hawkins & Clover // New publisher Keith Pepper says his goal is to have a relevant and profitable company that covers the stories that are meaningful to the community and to do it in fun, engaging, and non-sensational ways.

As Levene sailed into his late 60s, he began to look for a new, younger, owner. He mused, “There has got to be someone out there who has roots here, who wants to keep this going. I had 10 loyal employees to whom I was connected. I turned 70 in summer of 2020, and even this pandemic year ended with a profit. Yes, this industry is tough, but there is a role for a hyper local paper.”

Levene said that he didn’t list the paper for sale in an official way but spoke privately through friends who might know the right buyer. “I had no sense of urgency, just a good fit.”

Bringing his own vision on top of the already solid business model, Pepper assumed ownership from Levene, along with their great rapport and shared life experiences. Pepper said, “The first change I am making is ‘no change.’ Levene left a profitable business with a solid team.” Pepper further intends to lean into his panoply of expertise and strengths in operations, recruiting, fine tuning databases, motivating teams, marketing, and realizing advertising potential by further engaging readers with more modernized digital and social media emphasis and a freshened website. The print product will remain their main flagship.

Pepper has found excitement in the positive outpouring from the community, including media luminaries and local CEOs, about his role in the new venture.

He was born at Northside Hospital, became a bar mitzvah at Temple Emanu-El, graduated from Riverwood High School, then Henry W. Grady College of Journalism.

While in school he was involved in media, working for WSB Radio, first as an intern, then producing Braves and Georgia sports shows, and ultimately becoming a producer of Atlanta’s Morning News in the mid-’90s.

A year in Israel found him working as a counselor and interested in the mental health field, which led to his Master of Social Work from Smith College. Then, after working at an Israeli tech startup and in New York City for 20 years, he was ready to come back to Atlanta in 2019 and live on the Atlanta BeltLine, “smack in the middle” of his Intown publication and suited to the Midtown vibe. “Coming from Manhattan, I am used to eating out seven nights a week. Pre-pandemic I was happiest eating at a bar with my laptop. I still remain tied to Sandy Springs and Dunwoody through family and dear friends.”

Long-term, Pepper, a top ranked jogger, eschews the vision of being a media mogul with grand expansion plans. “After all, Georgia these days IS the center of the world, with dynamic and influential neighborhoods. I intend to engage culturally, civically and corporately and have fun doing it.”

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