By: Mark Ftizgerald
Lee Enterprises Chairman, President, and CEO Mary E. Junck — who engineered the blockbuster $1.4 billion cash deal to acquire the storied Pulitzer Inc. chain — has been named “Publisher of the Year” by Editor & Publisher.
In its April cover story, E&P notes that Lee was a successful if somewhat sleepy newspaper chain, “and then along came Mary.”
But Junck also has a human touch. As longtime top editor Walker Lundy puts it: “She is truly a decent human being, not necessarily a common trait for publishers.”
The Pulitzer deal propels Lee to the nation’s fourth-largest publisher in terms of dailies owned (58 in 23 states), and its seventh-largest in terms of circulation (1.7 million weekdays and 2 million on Sundays). And when the acquisition closes, Lee will become a rare newspapers-only media company with a valuation of more than one billion dollars.
Like Lee’s $694 million deal to buy Howard Publications in 2002, the Pulitzer acquisition reflected Junck’s determination to grow top-line revenue and to be prepared to pounce on opportunities to buy medium-sized papers in good markets.
After becoming Lee’s first woman CEO in 2002 after many years with Times Mirror, Junck “put together an acquisitions team that met literally every Friday,” says Greg Veon, vice president of publishing.
But the E&P profile also suggests the Pulitzer deal has overshadowed other accomplishments during Junck’s short tenure at the top of Lee. With a series of acquisitions, Lee is now one of the nation’s biggest publishers of agriculture publications. Lee newspapers are also spinning out a wide variety of niche publications. And, in an era when some of the best-regarded newspaper companies turn up on the industry’s crime blotter, Lee appears squeaky-clean, a pioneer in transparent corporate governance.
A native of Iowa, Junck tells E&P it’s good to be back in her home state, in Davenport, but knows some people figure she must miss the big city. “To people who aren’t Midwesterners, it might seem strange,” she explains.”I think the fact that I grew up out here made it easier for me to figure out I could live in Iowa.”
A full profile of Junck will appear in the subscribers-only print section of this Web site later Monday.