January 30, 2014

Publisher's Notebook: Sometimes, it’s better to stay out of the way

By Willie Sawyers

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — This is the speech I gave Friday at the Kentucky Press Association annual convention in Lexington.


I consider my year as president of the Kentucky Press Association to be highly successful, primarily because I didn’t do anything to muck it up.

Yes, the doors are still open at 101 Consumer Lane in Frankfort. We sold a lot of advertising for newspapers in 2013. We planned a great convention for you this week. We laid the groundwork for a very good 2014 when another president takes over. In other words, it was business as usual for KPA.

You see, when you’re part of the best press association in the country, with the best executive director and the best staff in the country, and the best board members, the best thing you can do as president is just to stay out of the way. I think I did that very well.

I do believe that my tenure as president made history though. I presided over what has to be the longest board meeting in KPA history. The summer board meeting in July lasted so long that some of our board members, perhaps for the first time in history, finally got tired of talking. I’m not going to mention any names, but, yes, it was a historic occasion.

It lasted so long because we had some very important issues to discuss. One was the creation of a director’s position for the KPA Journalism Foundation, whose primary job is to seek additional funding for our college internship program. We have a director in place now. Her name is Julia Meister, and she’s already beating the bushes so we can give more college students practical experience in the newspaper and public relations industries.

While some press associations are struggling to maintain existing services, KPA has made a substantial financial commitment to a brand new position, which I think will pay dividends.

Also at the July meeting, we hammered out a new funding mechanism for the Legal Defense Fund. Member newspapers agreed to increase or maintain their contributions to the fund, which to date has distributed more than $600,000 to help newspapers defray the cost of legal battles that are waged to keep public records open or to protect the freedom of information.

One of my biggest contributions as KPA president was on the golf course. Yes, I know it’s a tough job but someone had to do it. I was part of the winning team that brought home the trophy to Kentucky in the inaugural border war golf scramble with our counterparts in Tennessee.

It was for a good cause though, because we helped raise $10,000 for our journalism foundation, which will be used to fund three more college internships this summer. We will be placing 23 interns in newspapers and PR firms this summer, but the requests for interns are still double that amount.

We have about 50 interns apply for the summer jobs and more than 40 newspapers who’d like to hire them for 10 weeks. But we can only grant 23 internships at this time. That’s why I made increasing the funding for this program my top priority this past year.

We’re already busy planning the next border war that will be held in Kentucky this September. I expect to see many of you on the golf course this fall having a good time, shanking a few shots and donating your money to help college students gain valuable experience at our newspapers.

As president, I had the honor of carrying the Kentucky flag into the National Newspaper Association annual convention in Phoenix in September. I met and talked with newspaper people from all over the country, and got a positive vibe about our industry. My newspapers had a solid 2013 and are planning on having a great year in 2014. I hope yours are as well.

If you ask me what will I miss the most from this past year, I’ll have to admit it was the 103 degree, sunny days we had in Phoenix. Because frankly, I haven’t been warm since, and doesn’t look like I’m going to be any time soon thanks to this Polar Vortex.

I’ve been in the newspaper business for 34 years, and I’ve calculated based on my current financial holdings, that I can’t retire until five years after I’m dead. So, you’ll likely see me around.

I’m proud to join a long line of distinguished newspaper people who’ve served as president of the KPA. It was a very rewarding experience. I got a few things accomplished. I played some golf. I helped raise more money for our internship program. And I stayed out of the way.

Thank you.


Sometimes, it’s better to stay out of the way