“Intelligent.” “Passionate.” “Inspiring.” These are just a few of the descriptions we read in some of the 60 nominations we received for Publisher of the Year. Our annual feature gives staff members a chance to recognize a newspaper publisher that has gone above and beyond their duties. Our nomination form says we’re “looking to honor a publisher who has risen above the rest and accomplished what seems like the impossible, outmaneuvering the competition, outthinking the future and maintaining profitability.” And these men and women we read about this year certainly met all the criteria.
Jeff Johnson at the San Francisco Chronicle was recognized for transforming the newspaper into a local media company “driven by strong investments in people and products coupled with a culture of positive change in all areas of the organization,” according to marketing director Sarah Morse Cooney. They include investments in digital agency 46Mile and content marketing provider StoryStudio. Overall digital advertising revenue is up 19 percent over 2015, Morse Cooney wrote, and now comprises 41 percent of total advertising revenue for the Chronicle.
John Montgomery of the Hutchinson News in Kansas was described as a “rare find” by marketing director and circulation operations manager Sara Bass. “I would consider John to be ahead of his time, a true innovator, pushing us into the digital age by diversifying our brand with digital products that help to enhance our traditional print products,” she wrote. Also recognized for his forward way of thinking, Bass said, “John constantly pushes the staff to think about ways to improve the website, apps and social media channels. He pushed for the purchase of a digital marketing company eight years ago because he recognized that the news business was becoming more than just a print product. If not for his direction, the company may not have seen the need to provide the comprehensive digital and print marketing tools that advertisers and subscribers alike expect today.”
Although Davan Maharaj of the Los Angeles Times recently added the title and responsibilities of publisher to his current role as the paper’s editor-in-chief, he is no stranger to the comings and goings of the publication. He’s been with the paper for more than 20 years and under his watch as editor, the Times has won five Pulitzer Prizes. Communications director Hillary Manning recognized Maharaj for a number of items, including growth in readership and circulation, digital development, advertising wins, leading an effort to increase diversity in the newsroom, and creating ambitious accountability journalism.
And then there’s Frank Mercer of Main Street Media (publisher of nearly 30 newspapers in Kansas, Nebraska and Missouri). Santa Fe (Mo.) Times managing editor Klarissa Olvera wrote that Mercer could be found working into the evenings every night and on weekends, and even traveling several hours to cover city council meetings. He also serves as the IT guy for each publication. “He (is) without a doubt the go-to guy for any and all questions,” Olvera said.
Today’s publisher is not the same as yesterday’s publisher. More challenges arise each day, but at the same time, more successes are also being celebrated. It’s up the publishers to help their staff press on toward the finish line.
One such publisher is our 2016 Publisher of the Year Julie Bechtel. Bechtel serves as president and publisher of the Pantagraph in Bloomington, Ill. and the Herald and Review in Decatur, Ill. She is also group publisher of all Lee properties in Nebraska and Illinois. Her colleagues that sent in their nominations recognized her for leading a number of successful revenue initiatives, for her communication skills, for her deep understanding of the industry, and most of all, her ability to give back to the communities she covers. Bechtel is certainly a publisher who has gone above and beyond their duties.
We thank everyone who sent in a nomination this year, and we look forward to reading about today’s publisher next year. In the meantime, press on.