Recognizing those who remain committed to news excellence

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Dedication to the news publishing industry is in the blood of Editor & Publisher’s second class of 15 Over 50 honorees. They are still firmly committed to journalistic and publishing excellence and have transformed themselves just as the industry has during the past few decades. They are optimistic about the future of the industry as well as recognizing its many challenges. They are sharing their passion and experience with younger colleagues to create a viable future for news publishing.

(in alphabetical order by last name)

John Bednarowski, 52

Sports Editor, Marietta Daily Journal, Marietta, Georgia

First journalism job: Sportswriter/editor for The UAB Kaleidoscope (the University of Alabama at Birmingham) during 2000.

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned working in the news industry?
The most important lessons are grounded in the fundamentals. You don't have to be an expert, but be a good listener. If you don't understand a response, then ask for clarification. It's simple. If you try to fake your way through an interview, the interviewee and readers will recognize your obfuscation, and it will damage your credibility. Take good notes. Don't rely on a voice recorder because eventually, it will fail. However, notes plus a recording will result in a better, more efficient story. Maybe, the important lesson is to read more than you write. You can always learn by reading. When you find writers you enjoy reading, you can borrow the techniques you like the most until you find your voice.

What are your predictions for the future of news publishing?
I often joke that social media will be the end of civilization as we know it, although I’m only half kidding. Social media has done much damage to the reputation of news outlets and has made it more challenging to determine which stories are true, which are false, and which are complete garbage. However, I’m convinced the problems with social media will eventually bring people back to traditional and verifiable news outlets, albeit likely in a completely digital form. We have evolved from being reporters and editors to become photographers, videographers, podcast hosts and recorders, newsletter publishers and salespeople. It is all about proving our worth to our readers, viewers and listeners. As a sports editor, I've come to believe you must consider your ad rep as your best friend. As much as it pained me at first, sponsored content with strong editorial control is good for the paper, readers and the sponsor, and it helps to keep us employed.

Joye Brown, 66

Columnist/Associate Editor, Newsday, Long Island, New York

Photo: Joye Brown enjoys a cooling dip during an August 2021 fundraiser for cancer research when more than $500,000 was raised.

First journalism job: My first job after college was at a radio news network.

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned working in the news industry?
That first job taught me to listen. My first experience with a scrum of reporters, as a cub newspaper writer in North Carolina, led me to dig where the scrum would not. The best interviews still are those when the subject lets me see the world through their eyes. Thoughtful, authoritative reporting can always make a difference. Manners matter. It is essential to go where you are not welcome, actively solicit criticism and keep talking to people who may not want to talk to you.

What are your predictions for the future of news publishing?
Some of the most interesting and compelling reportage is taking place in real-time — on TikTok and Snapchat, Instagram, podcasts, webinars, news blasts and newsletters, text talks, video, memes, graphics, Alexa, apps and virtual reality. The list will continue to grow as the media landscape shifts, shifts and shifts again. It’s exciting. It’s an opportunity to grab, grow, interact and hold audiences in other ways yet to be imagined. It’s challenging (since too many of us operate from a  “newspaper” mindset), but I do not believe it to be impossible.

Christian A. Hendricks, 58

President, Local Media Consortium, Managing Partner, Extol Digital, Raleigh, North Carolina

Photo: Chris Hendricks enjoys some relaxation and fresh air during a round of golf.

 First journalism job: Marketing Director, The Observer-Dispatch, Utica, New York (1990)

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned working in the news industry?
Journalism isn’t a business model. Instead, it is a public interest supported by readers and businesses believing independent, high-quality journalism is good for communities and our democracy. People want to know the truth and people want to be told stories. Journalists strive to tell truthful stories in a compelling and meaningful way. Journalists are, in a sense, chroniclers of community events and activities, whether the stories are good, bad or ugly.

What are your predictions for the future of news publishing?
Printed newspapers will disappear. Journalism won’t. Journalism has no skin in the delivery format game. It can be oral, visual, text or combinations of all of these. The most efficient and effective forms with the most compelling information and stories, as determined by readers and businesses, will win in the end. I think, for the most part, print will lose to digital as the medium of choice. Local news as a community service, not as a highly profitable business, is where I believe local news publishers will find the preponderance of success in the future. As a result, general-interest news coverage delivered by local news outlets will become less popular, supplanted by increasingly compelling and in-depth stories affecting or about the locale.

Bret Jacomet, 61

VP of Technology, M. Roberts Media, Bullard, Texas

Photo: The Jacomet family on a hike to Roan Mountain, TN. (L to R, Brandon Jacomet (son), Jeff Jacomet (son), Bret Jacomet, Candace Jacomet (wife), Alyssa Jacomet (daughter) and Ryan Jacomet (son).

First journalism job: Digital Sales Manager, The Lima News (Ohio)

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned working in the news industry?
During the years, I have worked with some of the best people in the industry. I have been part of great teams that have produced stellar work. I have survived challenging issues, setbacks, delays and cancellations. Lessons are many, but here are a few of my favorites:

  • Understanding what the market wants vs. what we think they want, along with the importance of collecting and following the data.
  • Down-up ideas are just as important as top-down ones.
  • Finding the right people and developing your team is worth the investment. Don’t accept or project mediocrity.   
  • Sales and editorial departments are part of the same company. Interdepartmental communication is essential and can work together for a higher good.
  • Spend time in the market. Talk to your best and your worst clients. Meet business owners who don’t do business with you. Looking someone in the eye and shaking hands is very powerful.
  • “The way we’ve always done it” is code for “it’s a problem, and we need a better solution.”

What are your predictions for the future of news publishing?
There will be a resurgence of locally owned news organizations as big, disinterested investors sell squeezed properties. Those new owners believe in the value of quality journalism and will employ like-minded operators. There will be a period of rebuilding and reinvention focusing on the needs of an underserved/ignored audience. These organizations will flourish by boldly developing new products and services and delivering them in many ways, including technologies yet to be developed. 

Anita Johnson, 92

Part-owner and publisher of the Eugene Weekly, an alternative weekly, Eugene, Oregon

First journalism job: I worked during the summer of 1946 as a high school student at The Coeur d'Alene Press, the daily newspaper in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned working in the news industry?
Don't mess with deadlines. Submit your story before the last minute. Ask the second question, which is probably the question your subject does not want to answer, so go after it. Do not talk down to your readers. They will recognize it immediately and will be offended. Be passionate about your work and have some fun doing it.

What are your predictions for the future of news publishing?
A democracy cannot survive without a free press. I love print media, so I desperately want it to continue. Electronic media technology may squeeze print, but we know investigative reporting is critical, as is the publication of the news in some form. Unfortunately, the form is difficult to predict during this turbulent time.

Anne Karolyi, 53

Managing Editor, Republican-American, The Sunday Republican and rep-am.com, Waterbury, Connecticut

Photo: Anne Karolyi with her husband, longtime photojournalist Mike Orazzi, with their old Jeep on a road rarely traveled, at the Connecticut-Massachusetts border.

First journalism job: Reporter at The Pottsville Republican, Pottsville, Pennsylvania

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned working in the news industry?
I learned to strive to rise to the standards that should define us: accuracy, ethics, balance and transparency for how we work and whom we cover. It’s important to remember who we are: storytellers, watchdogs and mirrors of our community. We must know how to fight and win for Freedom of Information. Go into the field; stories and better details await in person, not on a phone or a computer. Knock on the door. Talk to people on the street, at the store and in the park. Report and write for readers, not sources or yourself. Writing in a narrative style, flush with telling detail, holds an essential place in the news; report so you can see, hear, smell and feel the stories you write. I learned to value a good photographer and, more recently, the opportunities for video, audio and social media posts. Listen to your readers, especially the angry ones. Embrace coaching and mentorship; it is our responsibility to guide the next generation. If you are a boss, hold your staff to high standards and expectations, but let them do their jobs and create their path. Find joy in editing; for a good story is a beautiful thing. Encourage creativity. Remember to have fun.

What are your predictions for the future of news publishing?
I hope that a new generation embraces what is the best of us, the core values of journalism, and applies them to every venue possible, whether print, online or a format not yet imagined. We’re not there yet. With that, a new generation of advertising staff can disrupt, even discard, every old model and practice and discover fresh ways to sell the value of authentic, active journalism in a community. The rise of nonprofit and grant-funded journalism gives me hope that finally, tough-eyed journalists understand marketing is not necessarily a dirty word and selling the value of your work to the public is essential to our survival. We must engage with our readers, talk to them and build a relationship they will support — “just because we publish” is not a reason anymore. We must set ourselves apart from the plethora of information flooding into people’s lives and market it and prove its worth. This will define those who succeed. However, if I could predict the future, I’d win the lottery and build a barn home with mountain views.

Alan Leveritt, 69

Publisher, Arkansas Times, Little Rock, Arkansas

Photo: Alan Leveritt takes a break for some quality time with Inka.

First journalism job: Publisher of Essence, a bi-weekly independent high school newspaper I started while in high school.

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned working in the news industry?
No matter how bad things are, don't walk out the door. Call someone and continue to call people until you determine how to fix the crisis. When I had some early, moderate success, I came to think I/we were bulletproof. We weren't. A measure of success is how you respond to failure. If you start publications, eventually, one of them will fail. You must be ready emotionally and financially to advance and not let the defeat, defeat you.

What are your predictions for the future of news publishing?
I have no idea. A big part of my job description is how to rebuild a shattered business model. We launched an alt-city magazine during 1974 with paid circulation and dependent wholly on advertising. Today, we circulate the monthly print magazine for free, charge 2,900 online subscribers $110 a year for complete access, sell advertising on both the website and print and host seven significant events annually with ticket sales and sponsorships. I joke we are becoming an event company that publishes a magazine though that is not entirely true. To say we have evolved during the past 47 years is an understatement. Today, we focus on Arkansas politics, personalities, culture, food, arts and music. We have become the voice of the blue community in a red state which is what excites me every morning. It drives our online subscriptions and gives us a very clear identity and reason for being in the community. Much of that voice comes from Senior Editor Max Brantley, who writes The Arkansas Blog on our website and accounts for almost half of our traffic.

Bryan (Mac) McKenzie, 63

Senior writer, Charlottesville, Virginia

Photo: Mac McKenzie displays his rock licks.

First journalism job: Sportswriter at the Ingham County News, Mason, Michigan (1977). I was fired because I’m just not a sportswriter.

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned working in the news industry?
Never assume too much about yourself or your sources. Always question why someone is helping you. What’s in it for them? Ask yourself this question, especially if they are politicians. Don’t be a jerk. If you treat folks like human beings, you can receive much help, especially from secretaries and janitors. I believe you must create a space where you can step back from being a reporter. Early in my career, I lived, breathed and (seldom) slept the identity of a news reporter. Journalism is what I’ve always wanted to do, and I’ve loved all 44 years of it. If the boss wanted me to work longer hours, then I did. If the boss wanted more stories, then I found them. I discovered within a few years that everything I was as a person was in my job. Unfortunately, my first ex-wife found that, too. The job eventually pulled us apart as we grew in very different directions. A similar situation happened with the second ex-wife, as well. Find something in yourself outside the office. I rediscovered my love of rock music, motorcycles and martial arts and allocated time for those activities that would have been unpaid work time. I even told the boss no on occasion. I found the boss understood. Take care of yourself. No one else will.

What are your predictions for the future of news publishing?
I don’t know. I’m not sure the suits in the big office know, either. It will be a struggle. As more local outlets’ online sites are operated remotely, corporate locations and print space shrink, the local feel and appeal will die. Money will be an issue, too. Online does not pay enough to generate living wages for many news reporters, and print is too expensive to stay viable. Trying to cover more with fewer people who have to create podcasts and videos and do their own iPhone photography dilutes time for research and the actual crafting of a story. In a town like mine, readers quickly notice poor writing. At some point, local news will rebound as we drop meeting coverage in exchange for passionate topics and clickable links. Locally, we already have podcasters discussing land use issues and Twitter posters covering meetings’ live feeds. Maybe an entrepreneur will bring those loose cannons together to create a new local news outlet.

Nancy March, 67

Editor, The Reporter and Montgomery Media, Lansdale, Pennsylvania

Photo: Nancy March at her rural Pennsylvania home with her bike as she enjoys biking to work whenever hours, distance and weather allow.

First journalism job: General assignment reporter, The Mercury, Pottstown, Pennsylvania, and eventually editor.

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned working in the news industry?
Working in journalism comes with responsibility and privilege. The responsibility is to make a difference in people’s lives and the community, regardless of audience size. Sharing relevant content with one person for one day has value. Have I written a story today that exposed a problem in my community? Have I offered a solution? Has my work caused someone to view an issue or situation with a new perspective or empathy towards others? Have I given a voice to the silenced, or have my words created a smile? That’s the responsibility — the privilege is in having that opportunity every day. 

What are your predictions for the future of news publishing?
News publishing has certainly changed during my career, but it has remained the same in ways I think help inform the future. People want to know what’s occurring in their schools and their town meetings. They want to know whose house is on fire, whether a car crash in their neighborhood caused severe injury, who scored a touchdown during the high school game and where they can volunteer or learn a new hobby. Newspapers and news websites continue to be the most reliable source of local news and civic engagement.  People still turn to a news site to learn what’s occurring in their towns, whether local government, school boards, police news or sports. News sites are where they read about the personalities in their area and gain some perspective on local issues. It is also where the average person can have their say on a larger platform via letters to the editor and see their actions reflected when they become involved. I think news publishing is both critical to society and important in our daily lives. In one form or another, journalism has a future.

Joe Mathes, 60

VP Digital Strategies/General Manager, Wisconsin Media Group, Kiel, Wisconsin

Photo: Joe Mathes, vice president digital strategies/general manager, Wisconsin Media Group

First journalism job: I was the circulation manager for the Action Advertiser, Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, 1983

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned working in the news industry?
 I’ve always sought a differential advantage in sales. Earlier in my career, that advantage came in higher readership, larger circulation and the latest technology. Eventually, I realize the true differentiator is people. Any company is only as good as its people, and I am so fortunate to work with a fantastic group of people these days. Secondly, you can never become comfortable. It's imperative to learn, grow and innovate. Comfort, in my opinion, is the single most significant contributing factor in the decline of newspapers. Newspapers were a license to print money until the mid-to-late 2000s. Many newspaper people and organizations became comfortable and didn’t innovate and change until it was too late. Finally, you’re never too old to dream, set new goals or be vital to your colleagues and your organization. 

What are your predictions for the future of news publishing?
News publishing continues to deliver more and more content digitally. I think that's good. That’s just the way readers want our product. The fantastic news is that they continue to want to consume our content. I see print continuing to be viable in the future but in very select and niche ways, such as special interest publications, hyper-local news coverage and publications. Where there are readers, there will always be advertisers. The future for advertising is building owned-and-operated audiences and extending those audiences, selling digital marketing services, events, promotions and other non-traditional channels.  

Betty J. Ramsey, 61

Regional publisher, Farmville Newsmedia, LLC; Suffolk Publications, LLC and Tidewater, LLC, Farmville and Suffolk, Virginia

Photo: Betty and Gary Ramsey enjoy Chase Away the Blues at Tryon Fine Arts Center, Tryon, North Carolina.

First journalism job: Advertising director

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned working in the news industry?
I started on the advertising side of the house, where success meant you had to listen to your customers, use what you heard to determine their needs, and then use that information to provide them with solutions. It was a win for customers, the paper and me. When I moved to the news and management side of the house, the greatest lesson I learned was that the same principles applied. Listen to people in the community you serve, and listen to all your staff — from the front to the back of the house. Determining the needs and wants of your community and finding solutions is a team effort. Do it right, and everyone wins.

What are your predictions for the future of news publishing?
The billion-dollar question! Seriously, for community media companies like ours, content will continue to be hyper-relevant to the communities we serve. Engaging our audience both online and in print is the path forward. But, of course, our readers' wants and needs will most certainly change, and when they do, so will we. We are listening.

L. Cody Sossamon, Jr., 70

Publisher, The Gaffney Ledger, Gaffney, South Carolina

Photo: L. Cody Sossamon, Jr., enjoying some relaxation from advertising sales.

First journalism job: Advertising sales at The Lexington (South Carolina) Dispatch-News

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned working in the news industry?
My father, who was publisher of The Gaffney Ledger for 30 years (1969-1999), was my journalism mentor: treat everyone with respect, tell the truth, including all sides in every story, take a stance on community issues and make a profit (an increasingly difficult task).

He stressed that newspapers record their communities' history, and awards, births, deaths, marriages, accomplishments and all of the other seemingly minor information found on our pages are important to someone. From his example, I learned that being a champion for the "little guy" and holding public officials accountable are two primary reasons newspapers are indispensable to a free and open society. 

What are your predictions for the future of news publishing?
I am hopeful printed newspapers will thrive for many years, but with the emphasis placed on digital news by many media outlets, that hope is becoming a pipe dream. I am concerned for the future of journalism and news publishing because so many people believe what they read on Facebook and other similar sites. Also, "journalists" who are biased are alienating readers. Finally, there is too much editorializing in "news" stories and sensationalizing in headlines.

Julia Stidham, 51

Associate Publisher, The Union/Swift Communications, Grass Valley, California

Photo: Julia Stidham visiting a local apple farm Bierwagen’s/Happy Apple Kitchen, which represents the area’s strong agricultural community and great apples. (Photo by Winding Road Imagery, Grass Valley, California)

First journalism job: My first paid position was working for a lifestyle magazine reporting and celebrating life in California's Sierra Foothills. I worked primarily in design and sales. During middle school, I first became interested in journalism when I took the student newspaper class as my 7th grade elective. I had a great teacher named Mr. McQuiston, who made the entire process interesting and exciting. I was assigned to do more design and layout. I loved the freedom, creativity, brainstorming and the opportunity to test new looks for the publication.

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned working in the news industry?
Stay open-minded and be willing to accept change. Don’t be afraid to try new ideas. Stay close to your readers. I want to know what information and content they want, not just what we think they want. It’s okay for your team/employees to outshine management, and it’s a quality you should encourage. This creates a great environment and fosters trust, growth and teamwork. It is my job to help each person on my team advance their careers. Every employee is a unique person. My mission is to learn what makes them feel successful and what drives them.

What are your predictions for the future of news publishing?
 With all we have experienced during the past 17 months, everyone could use some simplicity in their lives and receiving news from trusted, factual sources. The “what-was-old-is-now-new-again” feeling is currently quite pervasive; we want to feel a sense of community and familiarity again. Everyone feels more nostalgic, so if you combine that with data-driven, local-focused stories both online and in print, it will be welcomed and serve everyone’s current needs. 

Robert E. Tribble, 84

Owner, Trib Publications, Inc., Manchester, Georgia

First journalism job: The Manchester Mercury 

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned working in the news industry?
News is more than just reporting what is happening. News is a record of the history of the community, and it helps make the community stronger and progress. It is the job of a newspaper to help develop the community and make it a better place for everyone.

What are your predictions for the future of news publishing?
 Newspapers must adapt to the changing times. We must continue to provide accurate and important news events. However, for newspapers to continue to be successful, other products, such as magazines, podcasts, and other content types and channels, must be incorporated into the news coverage.

Jim Zachary, 59

Editor, The Valdosta Daily Times; CNHI Director of Newsroom Training and Development and CNHI Deputy National Editor, Valdosta, Georgia

Photo: Jim Zachary visits CNHI’s Claremore (Oklahoma) Daily Progress. Claremore was home to Will Rogers — a loyal Daily Progress reader. Jim shares the paper with one of his favorite humorists. 

First journalism job: Reporting, typesetting and pasting up pages during high school for The Auburndale Star, Auburndale, Florida (1979)

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned working in the news industry?
Journalism matters. Truth-telling matters. What we do has always been essential and always mattered, but it has never been more important or mattered today. We must directly challenge misinformation with reliable, trustworthy news. In many of the community newspapers we serve, the local newspaper may be the only reliable source of information. We must be diligent and prepared for the task. During my career, and especially in the last few years with CNHI, I have learned that we must respect and embrace our communities, report the news accurately, and provide solid but fair commentary. When we do those jobs professionally and responsibly, readers will continue to recognize the value of having a reliable, trustworthy news source and robust marketplace of ideas, even when they disagree with our editorial opinions or news coverage. In essence, our currency is our credibility, integrity and reliability. 

What are your predictions for the future of news publishing?
Our past is our future. We must continue to evolve, embrace new technologies and, in many ways, reinvent ourselves. While we pivot our distribution and revenue models, we cannot abandon our long and important legacy of delivering reliable news, investigative and enterprise journalism and vital commentary while championing the public's right to know. It is simply not true that young people do not care about the news. Our future depends on understanding that news always matters and matters to every segment of our communities, regardless of race, gender, orientation, age or income level. If we are to be successful, we must embrace diversity, equity and inclusion, not merely as a business strategy or initiative but as the centerpiece of our culture. My work at CNHI has been refreshing during my long newspaper career because it is a company that embraces technology and prioritizes diversity, inclusion and equity while emphasizing the absolute importance of quality journalism and trustworthy news reporting. Regardless of the look and content of our digital sites and the emerging technologies we implement, journalists must be truth-tellers, informing communities and championing the First Amendment. 

During his 48 years in marketing and advertising, Bob Sillick has held many senior positions and served a myriad of clients. Since 2010, he has been a freelance/contract content researcher and writer. He can be reached at bobsillick@gmail.com.

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