For the second time in its 130-year history, a Kentucky publisher will become president next month of the prestigious National Newspaper Association. John (Chip) Hutcheson III, publisher of The Times Leader in Princeton and The Eagle Post in Oak Grove, will begin a 12-month term during NNA’s convention Oct. 1-3 in St. Charles, Missouri.
The late George A. Joplin of the Commonwealth-Journal in Somerset served as NNA president starting in 1976.
“I am honored to move into the NNA presidency,” Hutcheson said. “I never dreamed my career would lead in this direction, and I cannot help but think how proud my father would be (he was publisher of The Princeton Leader from 1949-1976, and died in 2002). Yes, there will be great time demands related to this position, but I look forward to opportunities to travel across the country to encourage newspaper personnel from other states and to be a strong proponent for the fact that print is not dead.”
Hutcheson, who began his newspaper career as a sportswriter, credits Publishers’ Auxiliary, NNA’s monthly publication, for first stirring his interest in the organization.
“For as long as I can remember, every issue had information that proved helpful to me in publishing a newspaper,” Hutcheson said.
Encouragement from the late Guy Hatfield, a Kentucky newspaper owner and publisher, and Max Heath, a retired vice president and executive editor of Shelbyville, Kentucky-based Landmark Community Newspapers and chair of NNA’s Postal Committee, further persuaded Hutcheson of the value of becoming involved with NNA. (The three men also served as presidents of the Kentucky Press Association at various times.)
“When I saw the work that NNA does in Washington, D.C., on behalf of all newspapers I was sold on the value of NNA for our industry,” Hutcheson said.
But when he became involved with NNA, Hutcheson didn’t imagine it would lead to the organization’s presidency. “I was asked to be an at-large board member by Illinois publisher Jerry Reppert in 2005, then three years ago was asked if I would consider moving into the officer rotation that would end up with me serving as president. I think of so many others who are qualified and certainly more capable than me, so that is what makes this honor so special.”
Knowing the importance of NNA, Hutcheson hopes other in the Bluegrass state will follow.
“I would encourage other Kentucky publishers to be involved with NNA,” he said. “It will be beneficial for them in their particular newspaper operations, but their involvement will also benefit our industry. It would be impossible for me to list all the great ideas that fellow NNA members have provided me, especially as we talk about common issues that we face. And we need more Kentuckians involved with our efforts to lobby our Congressional delegation on issues that are vital to our well-being.”
As such, Hutcheson’s No. 1 goal during his 12-month term is to increase NNA membership.
“As an organization, we are 2,400 newspapers strong. However, with more group ownerships, getting newspapers involved in any organization these days is a difficult chore,” he said. “The accomplishments of NNA are enjoyed not just by its membership, but by many non-members. Perhaps the best example is the work done in the postal arena, thanks in large part to Max Heath. Without the work done by NNA, every newspaper which uses the mail to deliver its products would be paying higher rates and have even worse service than we now have.
“When we talk about goals, the efforts of NNA are indeed relevant. We fight continually for improved service from the U.S. Postal System — I can tell you that Max is beating up the USPS constantly over not meeting service standards, as well as its reduction of processing facilities which has caused so many newspapers great consternation because they can’t get papers to readers outside their primary circulation area.
“NNA is also actively opposing any legislation that would impose an advertising tax. Recently the Department of Labor announced a sweeping revision to the overtime rules in the Fair Labor Standards Act, and NNA is opposing those because of the devastating effect that proposal will have on newspapers.
“There are other issues as well, but those are at the forefront of our efforts these days. Also, we want to get the message out that newspapers are vital to our democracy. Also, NNA has helped wage fights across the country to preserve public notices in newspapers.”
These days, any time two or more newspaper people gather, the conversation invariably turns to the future of print.
“I am still a strong proponent of print, acknowledging that we must be open to all avenues that makes us the information source in our communities. But print is still very strong, especially in community journalism,” Hutcheson said. “We as an industry have great opportunities to increase our presence in communities, but I am convinced that print’s future is still strong.
“Community papers are still alive and well, and should be for many, many years to come. Community papers offer news and photos that you cannot find anywhere else. In our market, our biggest competitor these days is Facebook — but we try to use that to our advantage. I am sure many are in the same position we are — Facebook is not going to tell you what happened at a city council meeting or a school board meeting or have all the details about the Friday night football game. People still cut out photos from community papers and stick them on their refrigerators, or they buy extra papers so they can send photos of their children to relatives who live out of town.”
Among today’s community newspapers across the nation, many have embraced digital platforms and social media while others prefer a slower approach. There’s room for both, Hutcheson said. “I think they can complement each other. Digital offers weekly newspapers the opportunity to be daily as far as major news events,” he said. “Print still is the major revenue generator for every community newspaper I am aware of, but certainly digital offers us opportunities to fulfill our news mission as well as bring in additional revenue.”
To make NNA as effective as possible, a strong membership is needed, Hutcheson said. “There are states where NNA is strong and others where its presence is not as strong as we need, especially from the perspective of having members who can lobby Congress. NNA’s goal is to improve the landscape for all newspapers, but the reality is that we have newspapers that won’t ante up the annual membership fee. We’ve got to help publishers and group owners understand the value of their membership for the good of our industry.”
Assuming NNA’s presidency won’t be the first time Hutcheson has been in the spotlight. In November 2013, Hutcheson, a Baptist layman, was elected to a 12-month term as president of the Kentucky Baptist Convention. Only five laymen had served as KBC president during a 75-year stretch.