By David Bjorkgren
On Oct. 30, 2016, the Hellenic News of America will celebrate its 29th year as a newspaper, even as it peeks over the horizon of its 30th anniversary. The newspaper is hosting a celebration that day at the Concordville Inn, with a 4:30 p.m. reception and silent auction, followed by a 6 p.m. awards dinner with entertainment.
Birth of Hellenic News
The newspaper’s founder and publisher, Paul Kotrotsios, never imagined himself going into the publishing business. His career began in radio.
“I was the general manager of the Greek Radio Network for seven years. I was responsible for news, for advertising, for everything,” he said.
After his daughter was born, he and a business associate took Kotrotsios’ wife, Linda, out to lunch at Barnaby’s restaurant in Havertown.
“Michael asked me, ‘what are you going to do next now that you have more responsibilities?’ I said I have in mind to open up a travel agency, open up a CPA office or to do a Greek-American newspaper.”
They kicked some ideas around and, in 1987, with the help and advice of a few friends, the Hellenic News of America was born. It seemed like a natural fit after radio. “I knew the people in the landscape, from New York all the way to Denver, Colorado. I’m a product of that,” he says.
From that first luncheon, a business plan was drawn up. The first issue of the Hellenic News of America was conceived and developed between July 20, 1987 and Sept. 7, 1987, when the newspaper hit the streets. The very first copy was printed in Upper Darby, at Leos’ Printing.
“He was kind enough to spend hours and hours with me because at that time, there were no computers. There were typesetters,” Kotrotsios recalls.
They printed about 2,500 newspapers.
“The first newspaper was out on the streets to everybody’s home. I made a mistake to make it complimentary for everybody. It was very difficult then to establish a subscription because people thought it was offered to them,” he says.
In those days it was a challenge just to get the news and photos into the paper. On the advertising side, they had to convince people to give them a chance.
“There was a lot of traveling, out all the time taking valuable time from family, my personal valuable time, from my kids’ time,” he said. “I was fortunate to have the entire backing of our family because they love it. It’s important, to have the support of your family, to have them believe in the mission, which is to serve and promote the Greek community in America.”
The goal, he says, is to do good in the Greek American and the Phi Hellenic communities.
“We realized there was a vacuum. There was nothing to ignite the community, to network and connect the community,” he says. “We bring them together in many functions every year. We are able to have a strong following because we give back, we are the social fabric of the community, the great connectors. We appreciate that responsibility very much. That’s why we’re trying to do so many networking events to bring them together, to give them an opportunity, besides what they do in their societies, in their churches, their clubs. We want to provide communications for all the societies and all the churches.”
The newspaper’s role is to inform the Greek American community and provide them with opportunities to network. The goal is ultimately to create a stronger and unified Greek American community. Kotrotsios says, “When you have a goal, and you can see it, you can do it”. And that is just what he did when he set out 29 years ago and the Hellenic News of America was born.
On the newspaper’s 25th anniversary, Maryland State Sen. John P. Sarbanes described the Hellenic News as a newspaper that “holds a well-deserved place as one of the finest and most informative newspapers in the Greek American community,” according to Tsounis’ article. Former Pa. Gov. Ed Rendell observed that the Hellenic News of America has seen the Greek-American community go through tremendous change “and has been a prominent part of its preservation and development. “
“The HNA has helped many Greek-Americans stay connected with Greece, build valuable financial ties between America and Greece, and develop social relationships around the world,” the former governor says in the article.
Vice President Joseph Biden thanked the Hellenic News “for your good advice all these years” and congratulated it on a remarkable success story, Tsounis reports in her article.
Anthony C. Skoutelas, former principal of the Odyssey Charter School in Wilmington, Delaware, appreciated the newspaper’s coverage of the school.
“You have often reported on our school activities and accomplishments and this fact has not gone unnoticed,” he said.
Yiorgo Chouliaras, director of Greek Press and Communications Office in Washington, D.C., adds that “the Hellenic News community news reporting is an honor to the Hellenes who struggle to make their communities a success. You encourage young persons to continue promoting their communities’ goals.”
In the family
Kotrotsios was born in the village of Parakalamos, Ioannina, Greece and is a graduate of The Aristotle University of Thessaloniki.
Kotrotsios received a degree in economics from The Aristotle University and in 1979, at 23 years of age, he came to the United States from Greece. He earned a Master’s degree in Business from St. Joseph’s University in 1984.
He and his wife, Linda, have three daughters: Aphrodite, Stavroula and Ioanna.
Linda has raised their three daughters while supporting Kotrotsios in his business ventures. A mentor for the family, she is also a primary administrator of the Hermes Expo, an annual event that brings together businesses and organizations to promote the Hellenic community.
In fact, both the Hellenic News and the Hermes Expo are products of the Kotrotsios family, who demonstrate the determination and focus to make both ventures succeed.
“When you help and uplift your community, you help uplift yourself,” Aphrodite Kotrotsios was quoted as saying in an article by Catherine Tsounis. “This was a guiding principle that influenced and inspired me to be involved and give back to my community.”
Kotrotsios says he is on a mission to keep Hellenism alive and has aided both immigrants and Americans in their search for economic opportunities. The approach of the Hellenic News of America and the Hermes Expo has always been an inclusive one. Anyone who wants to contribute can and everyone’s efforts counts.
Day to day
The Hellenic News of America serves as a source for regional, national and international news of interest to Greek-Americans and it has an established Mid-Atlantic presence, primarily in Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Virginia.
Operating out of Concordville, Pennsylvania, it is ideally located to reach about 120,000 Greek-Americans living with a 50-mile radius of Philadelphia and 1.7 million Greek-Americans in the Mid-Atlantic region, according to the results of a Mantzvinos Group survey.
“This presence allows the Hellenic News of America to generate and curate content specific to the local Greek-American communities of these states, and the interests of Greek-Americans in general, as well as provide advertising opportunities for businesses wishing to target this cultural and affluent ethnic community, either in one specific state or throughout the region,” Kotrotsios says.
The newspaper is distributed through 110 centers from Connecticut to Virginia, through Greek stores, schools, more than 20 Greek Orthodox churches and other businesses, with the bulk of their subscribers receiving it by direct mail.
“That’s why we emphasize the subscription because it’s better for everybody, making sure the newspaper will be in the mailbox every month,” Kotrotsios says.
It’s a small cost to subscribe, $96 for a two-year subscription, and with each subscription you get to send a year’s subscription to someone you know, “whether it’s going to be your daughter, your son, your son-in-law, your daughter-in-law, your Congressman, your mayor, your friend, your doctor,” he says.
Not everyone who reads or supports the paper is Greek or Greek-American. Eighteen percent of subscribers are non-Greeks. “They want to know what is going on in the Greek American community,” made possible by the lengthy and informative articles, Kotrotsios says.
What keeps it all running, besides the Kotrotsios family, is the pool of contributing editors that provide articles for the newspaper. “At this point, I want to thank each and every one of them, not only for their unique situations as contributing editors, but they pay their subscriptions religiously, all of them,” he says. “It’s because of them and a few other supporters that we are here today.”
He’s also grateful to each and every supporter, advertiser, subscriber and everyone that gets involved. “Most of all I want to thank those that say the positive word,” Kotrotsios says. “We like to think positive.”
Kotrotsios continues to see the value of the printed newspaper each month, even as he expands the newspaper’s presence online.
“Not only old timers, but young lawyers, doctors, professionals, any type of profession, like the hard copy,” he says. “This is a monthly newspaper that provides briefings on relevant issues pertaining to our community. You can go through in a few minutes and select an article or two, see the pictures who is who, see what is going on in the Greek American community, what is going on in Greece, what is going on in our economy here, in the job market here, anything that pertains to the Greek American community and the Philhellenic community.”
That said, readers can also find the Hellenic News online with its own website at www.hellenicnews.com. The website receives more than 12,500 visits per month, with one-third of its views coming from Greece. It continues to expand its reach on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter while finding innovative ways to reach readers and audiences in this digital age. The newspaper also maintains a 66,000 name database containing 25,000 emails.
“This ever-growing email list allows the Hellenic News to push its news and advertising content to recipients in every state and in Greece.”
Looking forward, the Hellenic News is transforming itself from a print newspaper only into a “dynamic and engaging media company.”
One aspect of the paper that won’t change is a decision to make it bilingual in Greek and English, utilizing journalists fluent in Greek from Greece and New York.
“I want to develop that a little bit and make sure we’re going to perpetuate the language because the Greek language has survived for 8,000 years,” Kotrotsios says.
Elias Tomazos, president of the Hellenic Society Paideia, described the Hellenic News on its 25th anniversary as a “fountain of wisdom and strength of the Greek language” and thanked the newspaper for its support of the Hellenic Society Paideia.
An example of the newspaper’s reach and dedication can be found in its coverage of a memorial tribute to University of New York professor, Dr. Constantine Georgiou, back in January 2011. The event, sponsored by the Hellenic American Educators Association, UFT (HAEA), took place at the university. Kotrotsios and Stavroula Kotrotsios, assistant editor of the Hellenic News, braved a blizzard in Pennsylvania and covered the event for the newspaper.
Focusing on national and international issues that affect Greek Americans has always been part of the newspaper’s mission.
“America is a superpower. Nobody looks to conquer America. Everybody looks to conquer Greece because of its resources. It’s a small country with a large history, since the dawn of civilization with so many offerings to mankind because of the Greek culture,” Kotrotsios says.
The west benefited from ancient Greek society and the world needs to appreciate what Greece has offered and can continue to offer, Kotrotsios says, just as we appreciate the ancient cultures of China and Israel.
“Those are the cultures that have prevailed over the last 8,000 years of history that we have documented,” he says. Yet, when people think of Macedonia, for example, they don’t think of Greek Macedonia. There’s little understanding or knowledge of Cyprus and the turmoil caused by invasions there, he says.
“And we hope this year that they’re going to find a just solution for Cyprus. We have a direct violation because it’s an invasion and occupation and nobody applies the rule of law,” he says. “What’s happened to the world today? Do we have one rule of law for you, one rule of law for me?”
In 2012, in honor of the 25th anniversary of the Hellenic News, a Congressional Proclamation was issued recognizing the role the newspaper played in promoting the interests of Greece and Greek Americans, as it brought pertinent news about the community.
“The Hellenic News of America has, since 1987, advocated for Hellenic-American Interests, strengthened connections within the Hellenic-American community and educated Greek Americans and Philhellenes about current national issues pertinent to their communities,” the Proclamation states.
That same year, Kotrotsios, who also served as President of the Hellenic American National Council, demonstrated his political activism on behalf of Greeks and Greek-Americans by asking members of the U.S. Congress not to support an invitation to have the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia join NATO or become a United Macedonia.
“It would be ill-advised for the simple reasons that FYROM creates hostility, regional instability, and advocates irredentism in an effort to boost internal nationalism,” he advised members of Congress. “Additionally, it promotes an identity that is not its own thereby threatening the harmony and stability of the entire region. It is the only country in Europe that fuels serious and entirely distinct conflicts in relation to its neighbors (NATO member countries, Greece and Bulgaria) with no effort for immediate resolution.”
The newspaper’s goal to promote dialogue and support intellectual debate was highlighted in a letter written to Kotrotsios in June 2009 by Peter N. Yiannos, of Wilmington, Delaware. He praised the Hellenic News and sponsors for hosting a book signing at the Concordville Inn for author Aris Melissaratos. Aris Melissaratos is the founder of The Aris Institute and currently serves as the Dean of Stevenson University’s Brown School of Business and Leadership. Aris also served as Senior Advisor for Enterprise Development to the President of Johns Hopkins University and as Secretary of Business and Economic Development for the State of Maryland.
“Mr. Aris Melissaratos, a very accomplished business technologist, just published the book INNOVATION-The Key to Prosperity, co-authored with N.J. Slabbert. I started reading the book and I really was absorbed by it… Thank you, Paul and the entire Alexander Hionis family for sponsoring the book signing event and bringing this treasure to our attention.”
One of the key successes for Paul Kotrotsios and the Hellenic News is the annual Hermes Expo, which features hundreds of exhibitors from around the region, nation, and the world. The Expo offers business owners a chance to come together and share knowledge and experiences. Countries represented at the Expo have included Bulgaria, Canada, Cyprus, Germany, Greece, Romania, the Municipality of Himara, the United States as well as the Greek-American businesses that form the backbone of the Hermes Expo.
“It’s not only about whom you know, but how well they know you,” Kotrotsios says.
The Expo was born out of the newspaper’s fifth-anniversary celebration at a downtown Philadelphia restaurant.
“Downtown there was a Greek restaurant and the chef, Paul, told me you’re doing a great job for the Greek American community, you’re uniting them, you’re promoting the restaurant. You’re promoting Hellenism,” Kotrotsios recalls. “On Monday, I’m closed. Take the keys and the store is yours.
“We invited 200 people, but 600 people came to the celebration. They got served in the parking lot. A big success. We went for breakfast early in the morning. That’s where the Hermes Expo was born because people asked me what are you going to do next? Capitalize on this. They liked what they saw.”
Kotrotsios decided afterward that he wanted to thank all of his supporters over the years and in 1992 organized the Hermes Expo International at the Taj Mahal casino hotel in Atlantic City.
“We had over 10,000 people. We chose the very first week of March and the following week of March we had the blizzard. Can you imagine if we had had it a week later? The timing was perfect,” he says.
The Expo is named after the Greek God of Trade and Communication and its main goal is to promote trade relations between Greece and the United States.
For example, in 2007, the municipality of Thessaloniki in Greece reinforced the image that their city is a bridge to the American economy at that year’s Expo at Trump Marina Hotel and Resort. The Expo gathering helped open possible trade relations between Thessaloniki and Philadelphia, Jersey City, and Baltimore, Maryland.
In 2009, Aris Melissaratos, author of INNOVATION-The Key to Prosperity, wrote a letter to Kotrotsios praising the Expo after being part of a book signing there.
“The Hermes Expo that I’ve attended for the last four years are a testament to your ability to pull people together and to forge lasting and meaningful connections. However, the make-up of the audience that you and the Hionis family assembled for my recent book signing was simply magnificent. The high numbers of professionals; doctors, lawyers, businessmen, as well as the diversity of ages were very impressive and exceeded all of my expectations,” he wrote.
Between 2010 and 2012, representatives of the Greek Teachers Association Prometheus were invited to attend the Expos and honored for their work.
“They have distinguished themselves in their profession,” Kotrotsios says. “Their devotion to the Hellenic principles and ideals are exemplary. They are passing the torch of the values of Hellenic Education to our youth. They keep alive the importance of Hellenism to our community and the United States.”
In 2010, the Expo began offering the Hippocrates Seminars, unique medical symposiums organized by the Board of Directors, Education and Cultural Programming Committee of the Hellenic Medical Society of Philadelphia in conjunction with the Hellenic Medical Society of New York.
“Your inclusion of the Hellenic Medical societies and the annual superb presentation from the European Union perspective by our friend, Ambassador Angelos Pangratis, has truly made this symposium a very important part of the expo that fulfills a cultural and intellectual path to the future,” wrote Aris Melissaratos in a letter to Kotrotsios in April 2010.
Other Expo seminars offered year to year cover topics such as trade, economic analysis, international education trends and impacts on competitiveness, and Green Global initiatives and energy strategies.
In 2011, Vasilis Bollanos, the Mayor of Himara, the Greek-speaking region of Northern Epirus, Albania was introduced to the American public at the Hermes Expo International.
Pyrros Dimas, the Greek weight-lifting athlete who will go down in history as the only person to win four gold medals in his field, was presented the Hermes Awards at the 2012 Hermes International Expo gala.
Other Expos have included a mentor fair for youth. Mentors from the fields of entrepreneurship and banking, medicine, law and engineering came together to provide the youth with guidance and advice for the future.
The most recent Hermes Expo International, the 25th, took place April 6, 2016, at the Concordville Inn in Concordville. Kotrotsios is now gearing up for the 2017 Expo, which will focus more on the businesses.
“We want only business,” he says. The Expo’s audience will be more targeted and more effective, he explains. “This is business to business. Whoever wants it, we can sit down and develop a program for them.”
The newspaper is also expanding its scholarship program this year, hoping to offer scholarships to deserving students every year.
“We have families donating $500, $1,000, $5,000 every year. We distribute everything in the name of that family,” Kotrotsios says. “We’re doing a campaign right now. We’re doing whatever we can for the kids in our community.”
To receive a scholarship, eligible students need to write a winning essay about Greek-American relations.
Ten professionals on an independent committee will grade the essays and pick a first-, second- , and third-place winner, who will receive scholarship money.
“We have first, second, third and fourth generation Greek Americans that read this newspaper. Of course, we want them to stay in touch with the community. Of course, we want them to stay in touch with Greece, whatever Greece represented,” Kotrotsios says.
In the community
As the Hellenic News of America lays out plans for its own future, it continues its primary mission–to bring Greek Americans together and to remind them of their rich heritage. It’s all there in its mission statement:
“Working together, we will promote your products and services, companies, and industries. As a unified front we can create awareness and advocate for the national issues in mainstream American society. This will solidify the foundation for our youth to carry on the Hellenic traditions in America and maintain their heritage; forming a link to support fellow members of the community and create synergy to perpetuate Hellenic culture and traditions. Chronicling the Greek American community’s history and development will assist the preservation of the Greek Language & Heritage to survive in America. We seek to promote the strength of the community as a whole, connect and engage the Greek‐American and Phil-Hellenic communities by going beyond the news…”