Top media exec, Class of ’89, urges innovation, adaptability

Top media executive Laura Hollingsworth has a quick, unmistakably direct answer to the inevitable question of whether newspapers are dying.

“Tonight, let me answer that question with an emphatic ‘no’,” Hollingsworth, a 1989 UW-Green Bay alumna, told a crowd of more than 100 people at UW-Green Bay’s Weidner Center March 13. “That said, will they continue to stay the same and to be newspapers? Emphatic ‘no.’ ”

Hollingsworth, the president and publisher of The Des Moines Register and a regional group president with Gannett Co., Inc., emphasized innovation and adaptability during her speech, which marked the one-year anniversary of UW-Green Bay’s After Thoughts series for women.

Hollingsworth’s address, “Leading through Transformative Change: Lessons from the Media Trenches” offered an inside look at the ever-evolving news media landscape. Hollingsworth, a Sturgeon Bay High School graduate, achieved her goal of becoming the president and publisher of a major newspaper by age 40, she said — and it’s become a vastly different job than the one she set out to do.

When the 2008 recession began, Hollingsworth said, it changed the business so immeasurably that “whatever publisher’s playbook I had, I threw it in the garbage.” Very quickly, she said, she started “working from the gut.”

But Hollingsworth and her colleagues also were working smart, she said, evaluating purpose and priorities and making tough decisions. That’s included a reimagining of the traditional newspaper to be adaptable across platforms — and a reinvention of journalism for the digital age. It’s a leadership lesson that applies across sectors, Hollingsworth said.

“We have to become comfortable with the uncomfortable,” she said.

Hollingsworth added that what she termed “a return to purpose” is critical, and advised companies to get cost structures down and look at their core competencies — what the company itself must do, versus what can be outsourced or handled by vendors.

The first non-faculty or staff member to speak at After Thoughts, Hollingsworth made quite an impression, said Suzy Pfeifer, director of Marketing and Fund Development for Encompass Early Education and Care, Inc.

“I think it’s a wonderful tribute to the education you can get at (UW-)GB,” said Pfeifer, also an After Thoughts committee member. “But she also just seems like a wonderfully involved woman leader, who fits right into what we want to showcase in this series.”

Designed to connect women in the community with UW-Green Bay, After Thoughts gatherings showcase faculty, staff and guests, and convene women after their workdays for learning, enrichment and fun. The sessions provide “After Thoughts” for participants to take with them when they leave.

And while After Thoughts is aimed at women, the March 13 event also drew what Bev Carmichael, assistant chancellor for University Advancement, happily referred to as “a few good men” — Green Bay Press-Gazette president and publisher Kevin Corrado among them — for Hollingsworth’s address.

In introducing Hollingsworth — a 2008 UW-Green Bay Commencement speaker and 2011 Distinguished Alumni Award winner — Carmichael also lauded the alumna’s recent establishment of a named scholarship. Ensuring access to education is a passion, Hollingsworth said before her speech, and she is happy to help students afford their University education.

Hollingsworth’s address was serious, yet peppered with humor. After telling the audience her first job — a just-out-of-school advertising gig with the Press-Gazette — involved taking the ad territories no one else wanted, she quipped, to audience laughter, “I was the adult bookshop specialist for the Press-Gazette.”

And the top-flight media exec made it clear she hasn’t forgotten her roots —at UW-Green Bay and even earlier.

“We all have mentors and role models,” she said, gesturing to a special guest in the audience, “and my mom, Phyllis, was my first.”

See our photo gallery of the event.

You may also like...