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Spotlight >> The Powers Behind the Throne: Eileen Coleman/Philadelphia Newspapers, Inc.

Publishers may be the ones in charge of the newspapers, but without administrative assistants things would never get done. Here are some of the best in Knight Ridder. They are the “go to” people at their newspapers, and their influence reaches into the communities as well.

“I said, ‘You’re going to want to be interrupted.’ ”

Spotlight feature photo
Eileen Coleman, Philadelphia Newspapers, Inc.

Lots of folks at Philadelphia Newspapers, Inc. (PNI), say they’d be lost without Eileen Coleman, administrative assistant to Publisher Joe Natoli. Astrid Garcia’s teen-age son means it literally.

When Garcia, PNI’s senior vice president, moved her family from San Jose in 2004, then-16-year-old Richard Gillespie felt so at ease with Coleman that he called her when he needed help finding his way around on the city’s streets.

Garcia says it shows how Coleman cheerfully and competently helps not only her and the publisher, but also “anyone else who needs it.” For her part, Coleman says she “likes to make whatever experience people have with the publisher’s office be efficient, easy and one of the better parts of their day.”

As publisher of PNI, parent to The Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News, Natoli oversees two newspapers with vastly different styles and audiences. Coleman is his contact person with everyone they employ or serve. “I get every kind of phone call you can imagine,” she said, “from the senior citizen who can’t manage the voicemail system to complaints from the vendor who ran out of papers to employees with a problem who ask, ‘Who do you recommend that I talk to?’ ”

A 23-year veteran of PNI, Coleman has been there longer than either publisher she has worked for. She started as an administrative assistant for the senior vice president of labor relations and became assistant to Publisher Bob Hall in 1990. When Natoli came to Philadelphia in 2003, he relied on her experience to help him get to know employees and members of the community. “Eileen has deep roots at PNI and in the region,” Natoli said. “She knows everyone in the building and around town.”

Coleman drew a floor plan of the building for Natoli so he could learn where each employee’s desk was located and be able to greet him or her by name. When PNI held a public reception to welcome its new publisher, Coleman advised him about who should be there and whom should he meet.

Although her workday includes its share of tedious tasks (“Some days I think, ‘Oh my gosh, if I have to change this schedule one more time.…’ ”), Coleman said the best part of her job is having “a front-row seat to history.”

She recalls being the one who got the phone call that former Philadelphia Mayor Frank Rizzo had died, and having to disobey Publisher Hall’s orders that he not be disturbed during a staff meeting in order to tell him of the 9/11 attacks. “He said, ‘I thought I said no interruptions under any circumstances,’ ” Coleman recalled, “and I said, ‘You’re going to want to be interrupted.’ ”

But there are the more lighthearted moments, such as the party held to celebrate the opening of PNI’s new Schuylkill printing plant, when she found herself doing the Twist on the dance floor with then-Mayor Ed Rendell.

“I thought, ‘This is a pretty good job some days,’ ” she said.

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