ST. CLOUD (MINN.) Times president and publisher Sonja Sorensen Craig has a quick answer for the inevitable question.
"My normal, flippant line is, 'It's about time,' " Craig said in an interview.
The question: How does it feel to be the first woman president of Inland Press Association? "I'm pleased, but as I say, it is about time," Craig said.
At its 109th annual meeting in Chicago Oct. 23-25 Craig becomes the 91st president of Inland.
She takes over an association that has a strong sense of mission, even as it grows geographically far beyond its Midwest origins.
Inland added more than 20 newspaper members net and two new states over the past year, giving the association about 540 members in 46 states, Canada and Bermuda.
The growth has put Inland in a unique position among newspaper industry associations.
"It's more than a regional association, but it's not NAA [Newspaper Association of America]," Craig said.
But Inland ? and its new president ? knows what it wants to be to its members.
"I think it is very important to continue our repositioning which emphasizes the practical aspects of our organization," Craig said.
"Inland has very much taken a lead role in helping, particularly, small and medium-sized newspapers. That's our niche," she said.
Over the past years, Inland has become known for its nearly continuous round of cheap, determinedly practical workshops devoted to topics ranging from surveying local markets to increasing advertising from strip malls.
Among Craig's immediate goals for her one-year term as president is a survey of members to detail what more the organization can do for its papers.
Craig also brings a commitment to diversity to her new Inland position ? a legacy not only of her long employment in the Gannett chain, but more specifically her career start in human resources.
"I started in newspapers in what we still called the 'personnel department' at the Des Moines Register," she said. "I came up through the personnel route as well as labor relations."
Craig pursued labor relations most heavily during her eight years at Madison Newspapers in Wisconsin and later was named general manager of the Billings (Mont.) Gazette.
Before becoming publisher of the Times, she was publisher of the Wausau (Wisc.) Daily Herald.
Craig's commitment to diversity at the 28,000-circulation Times is probably best demonstrated by the recent "Gay and Lesbian Awareness Month" activities held at the paper.
The awareness month was suggested by the paper's diversity committee, which had determined from employee surveys that the staff needed more ed-ucation on gay and lesbian issues.
"It did create, shall we say, some strong feelings," Craig said. "It did create some, uh, interesting comments. There were people who were very much against it. There were people who were very much for it. We just made sure, in light of that, that was voluntary for employees."
The Times diversity committee assembled a panel discussion of local lesbian and gay people and parents of homosexuals.
There was a meeting devoted to legal issues, especially important since Minnesota is one of a very few states which bars discrimination related to sexual orientation.
Coincidentally, the 1,000th member of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association is a openly lesbian woman who works as a photographer at the Times.
"I felt really good about it when [the month] was over," Craig said.
Craig says she also feels good about the future of Inland ? especially in light of the recent successful completion of a fund-raising drive.
And she feels personally gratified that First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton agreed to attend this year's convention.
"I am so pleased," she said. "I tried so hard to get that woman.
?(Sonja Sorensen Craig) [Photo]
By: Mark Fitzgerald Sonja Sorensen Craig takes the helm this week sp.