Editorial: Strong Competition for Publisher of the Year

By: Kristina Ackermann

Selecting a person to recognize as publisher of the year in the middle of a recession is challenging. It’s fair to say E&P’s editorial board went into the selection process with a healthy dose of cynicism.

But in the midst of all the depressing news about layoffs, lost advertising, reduced print schedules, and increased competition, I have to admit that we were pleasantly surprised at the quality of nominations we received.

Publishers across the country at papers large and small were nominated by their employees, their peers, their spouses, and, in one instance, by an unemployed reader who was impressed by the paper’s “ballsy” coverage (his word, not mine). We received nominations from as far away as Germany and Nigeria, plus several for publishers serving a foreign language niche right here in the U.S.

We received more nominations for women publishers than ever before. Beth Erickson turned the Canton (Mass.) Citizen into an early success story despite her paper being derided as the “Ladies’ Home Journal” by her competition. Susan Ovans launched The Hull (Mass.) Times after being fired as editor of a different paper for disagreeing with the publisher’s politicizing of local election coverage. Lacking the funding for traditional production machinery, Ovans was an early adopter of Mac desktop publishing and was identified as an industry pioneer in a 1986 edition of TIME magazine.

We also heard from newspapers catering specifically to African American, Cuban, Indian, Asian, and LGBT communities. A handful of our nominated publishers were less than 35 years old; Alan Baker of The Ellsworth (Maine) American is 83 years old and still works five full days a week.

Ashton Phelps, outgoing publisher of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, has a fan club. He takes home the award for most nominations received for a single publisher. In his 32 years at the Times- Picayune he guided the team’s Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage of threats to global fishing stocks in 1996 and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Phelps’ last day as publisher was September 28, and his presence is already missed among those who worked with him both in the newsroom and in the New Orleans community.

Some publishers were nominated for their community activism; others were nominated on the virtue of not having made any layoffs. Nearly all the nominees were recognized for wearing many hats. Being a successful publisher in today’s climate means going on sales calls, writing columns, learning HTML and Web design, paying the water bill, delivering paper routes, serving on the local rotary board, and mentoring young journalists — often all in the same day.

The publishers that are truly committed to the survival of this industry are out there working their tails off every day, and too often the only thanks they receive is a nasty website comment and a subscription cancellation notice. So on behalf of all the employees who nominated their publishers, allow me to say “thank you.” Your efforts are appreciated, even if you don’t always know it.

As much as I would have liked to recognize several publishers, the one who stood out above the pack and clearly embodies what it takes to be publisher of the year was Bill Masterson at the Times of Northwest Indiana. Read his full profile here.

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