Steve Ainsley has spent his life on the move. While the Miller-McCune magazine president and publisher may not have stayed put in one place long, he has long considered Santa Barbara home.
“We know more people and feel more at home here than any other place we lived,” he said. “It’s a natural fit.”
Ainsley’s father was a salesman for IBM and the family moved frequently, living in 12 different states. Ainsley finally settled at New York University to study journalism after transferring from the University of Virginia.
“My family always saw (moving) as an adventure,” Ainsley said. “I had an advantage in that I had moved around as a little boy; for me moving was the normal state of affairs.”
Ainsley quickly determined he preferred the business side of journalism and he set his sights on Charlottesville, Va., after graduating. He sold ads for the small local newspaper, where he met his wife, Anne.
“We knew what we we’re getting into and did whatever it took,” Ainsley said. “Journalism is one of those fields that you have to have a passion for to be successful, and spending a great deal of time with someone who didn’t understand that would be difficult.”
After getting promoted to the newspaper’s affiliate in West Virginia, Ainsley and his wife took jobs in Kennebunk, Maine, and in Sebring, Fla., when his paper was sold to The New York Times Co.
“The newspaper business has always been a great business,” he said. “Today it’s under huge financial pressure, frankly, because of online. But back when I started, newspapers were growing rapidly.”
Ainsley served as publisher of The New York Times Regional Media Group’s newspaper in Florence, Ala., before being named publisher of the Santa Barbara News-Press in 1992. He led the News-Press until shortly before The Times sold the publication in 2000.
“It’s a community that lent itself to my philosophy of how to run a newspaper by being engaged in the community,” Ainsley said of Santa Barbara. “It has always been a town that prides itself on maintaining a certain tenor and ambiance by not getting too distant or too big.”
Ainsley led by example, serving on numerous nonprofit boards of directors and keeping the News-Press active philanthropically. He was honored as Santa Barbara Humanitarian of the Year and as the Anti-Defamation League Santa Barbara/Tricounties Person of the Year. He is a trustee emeritus of the Santa Barbara Foundation and already has rejoined the Santa Barbara Partners in Education board.
After Santa Barbara, he landed his “dream job” as president and chief operating officer of The Times’ Regional Media Group but an opportunity with another New York Times newspaper, the venerable Boston Globe, was too hard to resist.
In 2006, Ainsley joined the financially struggling newspaper and managed to negotiate difficult union concessions to keep the publication afloat.
“It was scary, to be honest with you,” he said. “I had to go to all the union people and ask for significant concessions from them — everything from reduction of benefits to reduction of salaries.
“I had the obligation to finish the job. I had no intention of being the last publisher of the Boston Globe; I wanted there to be a few after me.”
Ainsley retired in 2009 and eventually returned “home” in May to join Miller-McCune, a nonprofit public-policy magazine and Web site. He plans to stay for a while.
“This was my final move,” Ainsley said.
» Who are your influences? “My parents both had extraordinary work ethics and it served me well, but one of my heroes is Stan Musial. I read everything I could about him because of how humble he is. In sports, humility is not marketable anymore and I think that’s a shame.”
» What’s something people don’t know about you? “I’m basically a pretty shy and reserved person, and when you’re a publisher you can’t afford that. I also like reading mystery novels; I read the complete annotated works of Sherlock Holmes.”
» Are you a Tony La Russa fan? “I’m not. He’s a good manager, but everywhere La Russa has been his stars have been among the well-known performance-enhancing drug abusers.”
» AL or NL style? “I detest the DH.”
» Will Albert Pujols stay with the Cardinals? “I can’t imagine letting Pujols go. What I like so much about Pujols is when (the media) started calling him ‘El Hombre,’ he told fans not to do that because there’s only one Man, Stan Musial.”
» Small ball or home run? “Small ball the way.”