It’s that time of year again where we honor our Publisher of the Year. Every year, we search for the individual who has “risen above the rest,” but honestly, it seems unfair to name just one publisher of the year in 2020. In the middle of a global pandemic, a turbulent political climate and the protests taking place in the streets over racial injustice, every publisher is moving mountains this year. If we could, each one of them would be getting a piece of this award.
Like Francis Wick. The CEO of Wick Communications was recognized by several colleagues for his leadership regarding the Local Journalism Sustainability Act.
“Wick took it upon himself during coronavirus to draw up a bill that will help journalism survive not only through the pandemic but through an already changing environment that newspaper and media companies have struggled with over the last few years through consolidation and digital transformation,” wrote Emily Walsh, publisher of the Observer Media Group.
His team was also one of the recent recipients of the Google News Initiative Innovation Challenge to develop NABUR, a curated neighborhood social media platform that he is currently testing in four of his 30 markets. In addition, he’s a co-chair of the Family Owners committee of America’s Newspapers, where he spearheads a group of next-generation family owners who are committed to keeping the newspaper industry alive.
And there’s Rachel Fishman Feddersen, the publisher and CEO of The Forward, the national Jewish media outlet founded in 1897.
Fishman Feddersen was recognized by Lisa Lepson, vice president of development, for transforming “an ailing legacy publication into a thriving digital platform with a strong social media presence and exciting multimedia content while maintaining our role as the most significant Jewish voice in American journalism.”
Thanks to Fishman Feddersen’s efforts, The Forward is growing reach and engagement in meaningful ways, wrote Lepson. “This August, we had nearly 3 million readers—double that of August 2019. Our daily newsletter list has grown more than 60 percent in 2020 to more than 137,000 recipients, while maintaining or improving open rates and click-through.”
Also, The Forward’s operating deficit decreased to just more than $2 million, less than four years after Fishman Feddersen took the helm in 2019, shared Lepson.
These are just some of the nominations we saw this year out of the more than 60 we received, but after careful deliberation, we are proud to select Frank Blethen of the Seattle Times as our 2020 Publisher of the Year.
Blethen is a fourth-generation member of the family which founded the Times in 1896. He became publisher in 1985, and over the course of my two-hour phone interview with him, one theme kept popping up: family. As the news industry becomes populated with hedge fund owners, Blethen and the family-owned Times are a rare species now. But Blethen’s passion is working on saving the free press and local indefinite journalism for many generations to come.
While speaking with Blethen, he shared that one of the most important lessons he has learned in his long career is to keep good people around you, ones who trust you and who you trust. It brought to mind the saying that family doesn’t have to end with blood. Collectively, as an industry, we are a family, helping each other up the mountains we face so that we can rise above it all together.
Nu Yang is editor-in-chief of Editor and Publisher. She has been with the publication since 2011.