Director Q and A: New NAM President Beth Bennett

Beth Bennett is a tireless advocate for community newspapers.

She also is a first.

Her election last month as president of Newspaper Association Managers (NAM) makes her the first person to succeed a spouse as the leader of the North American coalition of state, provincial, regional and national trade associations. David Bennett served as NAM president in 1996, when he was the executive director of the Illinois Press Association.

Beth Bennett’s achievement capped NAM’s 98th annual summer conference, which the executive director of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association hosted in her state’s capital, Madison.

NAM President Beth Bennett

A collaborative champion for her member newspapers, Bennett has been at the helm of the Wisconsin group since 2010. Before leading the way in the Badger State, she was the director of government relations for the Illinois Press Association.

Bennett also has distinct roots in community newspapering. Her family published four newspapers in central Illinois, serving as her introduction to the industry. That history carries over in her role as a director of the National Newspaper Association.

The Relevance Project appreciates Bennett’s participation in the monthly question-and-answer feature. Read on and you will discover a unique aspect of her newspaper association and why Bennett can see the forest for the trees.

Congratulations on being elected to lead the Newspaper Association Managers. What are your priorities as president?
My priority is to connect with all NAM members, and to facilitate outreach on issues of interest or concern.

Can you introduce us to your association in Wisconsin?
The Wisconsin Newspaper Association has been working on behalf of Wisconsin newspapers since 1853 by providing advocacy, resources and education. Our mission is to strengthen the newspaper industry, enhance public understanding of the role of newspapers, and protect basic freedoms of press, speech and the free flow of information.

What makes your association different from others?
Each newspaper association is unique.  It is always interesting to learn about the history and the laws surrounding the newspaper industry in each state. For as many differences, there are just as many common threads to the newspaper industry in each state. 
A unique fact about the Wisconsin Newspaper Association is that it owns and maintains a forest in Eagle River, Wisconsin.  Known as the Press Forest, the land was purchased and is maintained by Wisconsin newspaper publishers as a destination for industry leaders to gather.
Every year, newspaper professionals from across the state head to Eagle River for what is known as the “Trees Retreat” to participate in one of the association’s most treasured traditions. The annual Trees Retreat is a time to connect, reflect and be inspired. The history of the Press Forest is chronicled here.
The development of the Press Forest led another unique tradition —- the construction of the WNA Publishers Memorial Pylon.  The Memorial Pylon contains the names of deceased Wisconsin publishers.  The names were originally printed on press plates and hung from wooden structures. Families, friends and members of the newspaper industry continue to gather annually for an engraving ceremony to pay tribute to publishers who have passed away during the previous year.
Over time, the names on the press plates began to fade. In 2014, a more permanent monument was erected on the Trees Retreat campus. The WNA Memorial Grove now consists of five granite pylons and several benches that provide visitors a place to reflect.

What do you like best about your job?
Networking with the membership and improving upon the rich traditions of the Wisconsin newspaper industry.

The ongoing legislative battles to fight off attempts to obstruct the public’s right to know.

What is your proudest career moment?
To date, the defeat in 2016 by the legislature to repeal all laws requiring the publication of public notices in Wisconsin newspapers.
I am also very proud of overseeing the fundraising and construction of the new WNA Publishers Pylon that memorializes deceased Wisconsin publishers.  The new granite memorial replaced the deteriorating wooden structure located in the WNA Press Forest in Eagle River, Wisconsin.

What are your association’s priorities?
To provide the resources necessary to support the needs of the membership . 

How has the pandemic changed your association and members?

The WNA and its affiliated foundation and services corporation have yet to return to in-person functions. The WNA cancelled its 2020 convention and held a virtual convention in conjunction with the Iowa and Minnesota Newspaper associations in 2021. 
November 2021 will mark the two-year anniversary of the last time that the WNA and WNA Foundation boards of directors met in-person.  Whether we will return to an in-person annual convention in 2022 is an unknown.

If you had unlimited resources to advance our industry, where would you invest your time and money? 

I would invest in staffing devoted to building turn-key websites for WNA members. 
My personal challenge is to encourage weekly newspapers to transition their business model from that of a weekly print newspaper to that of a daily news source via their websites.
Shrinking staffing and financial resources stand in the way of moving the weekly newspaper model forward.  Having the support of the newspaper association in developing easy to maintain websites could make the difference in the future viability of community newspapers.

What do you like to do outside of work?
I look forward to the rare days when there is nothing on my calendar.  I enjoy spending that time with my family and my dog Howie, who is my best buddy. 

How would your best career advice to a newcomer to newspapers? To a veteran with 10 to 15 years until retirement?
To a newcomer I would stress that understanding the role of the newspaper in the ongoing welfare of the community is vital. To a veteran I would — and do — encourage them to recall and rely on the reasons they chose the newspaper industry as a profession.
I believe that the rich history that newspapers play in the daily lives of their communities helps in sustaining both new and veteran newspaper professionals. 

-Tom Silvestri

The Wisconsin Newspaper Association was “created by newspapers for newspapers.” It consists of three entities: Wisconsin Newspaper Association, the not-for-profit trade group; Wisconsin Newspaper Association Foundation, a not-for-profit organization; and WNA Services, a wholly owned for-profit subsidiary.

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