National media exec tells grads to be bold

Laura HollingsworthLaura (Busby) Hollingsworth, a 1989 UW-Green Bay graduate who is now president and publisher of one of America’s most influential newspapers, The Des Moines Register, returned to campus to deliver the commencement address at mid-year ceremonies Dec. 20 at the Weidner Center.

Hollingsworth is widely regarded as a rising star within the media industry. She was appointed publisher of The Register in September 2007 at age 41. Within a year she was given additional responsibility when The Register’s parent, Gannett Co., named her group president of the company’s west division, overseeing 16 markets in the western United States.

The Sturgeon Bay High School grad addressed the approximately 300 graduates and audience of more than 1,500 and shared memories of her own UW-Green Bay days and early career choices.

She acknowledged that the current economic recession makes it a “scary’ time to be graduating from college. She quickly added, however, that history suggests plenty of opportunity for those who stay bold and creative.

“Some say the current environment is something our country hasn’t faced in nearly 80 years,” she said. “That may or may not prove to be true. But if it is, then the upside opportunity could be larger than in eight decades, too.”

She noted that in her business, some of the brightest brands were born during times of severe recession or even depression: Time, Fortune and People magazines, CNN, MTV, The Weather Channel and USA Today.

“Today, we in the newspaper and media industry are in the midst of enormous change and we must adapt and innovate rapidly to survive into tomorrow,” Hollingsworth said. “If we do, our future is enormous. If we don’t….well, somebody else certainly will.”

Hollingsworth encouraged the graduates to take risks, and to remember that creative problem solvers rise to the top in challenging times.

She recalled that she, too, began her career in what was considered a “down” economy in the early 1990s. She said her UW-Green Bay bachelor’s degree in Communication Processes prepared her well. (Her return to campus included time to visit with longtime faculty members Phil Clampitt and Tim Meyer (shown below) and Cliff Abbott.)

Phil Clampitt, Laura Hollingsworth, Tim Meyer

Hollingsworth worked six years on the staff of the Green Bay Press-Gazette and later became an advertising executive for newspapers in Olympia, Wash.; Rockford, Ill.; and Lansing, Mich., before moving to Des Moines in 2002 as vice president of advertising. She was named general manager in 2005.

She has received the Gannett President’s Ring for excellence in advertising six times, and was recognized by Presstime magazine as an industry up-and-comer in their annual “20 under 40” publication.

Hollingsworth has made a priority of accelerating The Register’s transformation from traditional newspaper to a multimedia enterprise serving a range of audiences. While the print edition holds the No. 1 ranking nationally for newspaper market penetration, the website has expanded to attract 2.1 million unique users per month. Hollingsworth has ultimate responsibility for all aspects of the business – news, advertising, distribution and production – and for establishing priorities and standards.

Because of Iowa’s first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses, the publisher’s role in guiding coverage and shaping endorsements draws national attention. This year, The New York Times reported on The Register’s sizeable influence and also noted a milestone involving Hollingsworth and her two top editors. For the first time in the paper’s 150-year history, women fill the top three spots on the paper’s editorial board.

Hollingsworth’s community involvement includes serving on the boards of directors for Variety – The Children’s Charity of Iowa; Principal Financial Charity Senior Golf Classic; Character Counts in Iowa; and the Greater Des Moines Partnership.

“I am passionate about the health and welfare of our children,” Hollingsworth said. “Personally, this is where I dedicate a lot of my own time and giving. Dedicating ourselves to improving the lives of all our children will certainly benefit us all.”

Hollingsworth lives in Johnston, Iowa, with her husband, 18-year-old daughter and 3-year-old twins. Her parents reside in Sturgeon Bay.