IAPA’s Family Reunion

By: Mark Fitzgerald

Inter American Press Association (IAPA) member newspapers publish in every corner of the Americas, from the Anchorage Daily News in Alaska to La Opinion Austral in the Patagonian city of Rio Gallegos. At last count, they had a combined circulation of 43,353,762. Among the newspaper owners are some of the giants of the hemisphere’s media corporations. Yet, IAPA’s 57th annual meeting, which runs through Oct. 17 in Washington, has something of the feel of a family reunion.

Partly, that’s because even the biggest of the Latin American newspapers and chains remain in family hands. The Santos family in Colombia, the Chamorro family in Nicaragua, the Mantilla family in Ecuador, and the Junco family in Mexico are just a few examples.

What’s even more striking, however, is the active involvement of newspapers that serve the small towns and cities of the U.S. heartland, far away from the deadly journalistic climates of Guatemala or Colombia. Edward L. Seaton, for instance, is a member of IAPA’s executive committee, a frequent participant in its fact-finding missions — and editor in chief and publisher of The Manhattan (Kan.) Mercury, the flagship of the Seaton family’s chain of papers in the Plains states. Seaton’s own interest in Latin America dates back to his college years, when a Fulbright scholarship gave him the opportunity to study in Ecuador.

“Just because we’re in the middle of country doesn’t mean we don’t think internationally,” Seaton said. “Kansas, with its agriculture and airplane manufacturing, has the highest percentage of exports of any state in the country. And I like to point out that I live in the congressional district that Dwight Eisenhower came from. Bob Dole is in the district to the west and immediately east is the district Harry Truman came from.” Foreign policy is not an abstraction in Kansas.

That combination of a global outlook and local, often Midwestern, roots was typical of IAPA’s first U.S. founders and backers, noted Scott C. Schurz, president and publisher of the Bloomington, Ind., Herald-Times, one of eight dailies in the family chain, Schurz Communications Inc. “You had men like John Knight, Jim Copley, Charles Scripps, Jim McClatchy, even Raymond Dix, who had a group of small papers in Ohio and Kentucky and was a past president.” Schurz himself is a second-
generation IAPA member: His father was active in the 1960s.

Editor & Publisher , owned by the Brown family until its sale to VNU in 1999, was another early IAPA backer. After World War II, Robert U. Brown and five other journalists, meeting regularly at Barbetta’s restaurant in New York, helped create the beginnings of the modern-era IAPA that is beholden to no government and fights for press freedom.

Those principles remain the most important motivator for members, said Scott Schurz: “The reason Schurz Communications is a member is because of a deep-seated feeling that press freedom is important throughout the hemisphere – and not just in the United States.”

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