By Dave Schultz
It doesn’t happen very often, but there was a change of leadership at News-Banner Publications (Bluffton) on Tuesday, Nov. 1.
Mark Miller, who was the editor and publisher of the News-Banner as well as the president of the company since 1997, will step down from those roles. Doug Brown, formerly the publisher of the Post and Mail (Columbia City) and most recently the president of the Whitley County Chamber of Commerce, has assumed the responsibilities of president and publisher.
Miller, soon to be 66, says he is “retiring but not going away — just scaling back.” He will remain at the newspaper as the Opinion Page editor, will do some feature writing, and he’ll also be involved as needed in the editorial staff. He also wants to continue to work on what he refers to as the company’s “niche” publications like Who We Are, Senior Living, and the AdamsWells Phone Book. He’ll also still be involved on the corporate level, serving on the company’s board of directors.
His number one responsibility, he says with a smile, is “to stay out of Doug’s way.”
“After 41 years in the business, 30 in a leadership position … it’s just time for someone else to do this,” Miller said.
That someone will be Brown, 47, who has lived most of his life in Whitley County. He is a 1987 graduate of Churubusco High School and graduated from Indiana-Purdue University Fort Wayne with a bachelor’s degree in fine arts. He started at the Post and Mail in 1993 as a graphic designer and remained at the newspaper for 17 years, serving as advertising manager, general manager, and then seven years as the newspaper’s publisher.
He has been the executive director of the Whitley County Chamber of Commerce for the past four and a half years.
Brown draws an interesting parallel between the two professions. A chamber has members; a newspaper has subscribers. A chamber has sponsors; a newspaper has advertisers. A chamber has events; a newspaper has special sections.
“They’re really very, very similar, and I said this before I stepped into this role,” he said.
He is pleased, however, to be going back to the world of a daily newspaper.
“Once you get this in your system, it’s hard to get it out,” he said. “There’s nothing that brings the joy, the lows, the challenges to you that a newspaper does.”
The process of bringing Brown to the News-Banner has been going on for more than a year. As Brown puts it, “This process has had a birthday.”
“I had Doug in mind very early on as someone I wanted to talk to,” Miller says, noting that the two of them had connected at various newspaper endeavors over the years. “I called him up and said, ‘Let’s have lunch.’ I asked him, ‘Do you have any interest in getting back in the business?’ There was no hesitation.”
Brown and his wife Larisa have been married 25 years and have two sons — Chandler, a senior at Rose-Hulman, and Seth, a recent graduate of Churubusco High School.
George and Dianne Witwer, the primary owners of News-Banner Publications, are happy to bring Brown on board. George Witwer says they bought the paper with Jim Barbieri in 1986 and for years before that, Barbieri led the business. Miller came on board 11 years later and has led it for 19 years.
“That’s why we took such a long time. This was a national search,” Witwer said. He admits, however, that the first candidate and the last candidate was Brown — a selection that followed the review of dozens of resumes and conversations with a few other candidates.
“Not only was he an outstanding publisher in Whitley County, but to take over a job like the Chamber of Commerce and grow it like he has is really remarkable,” Witwer said.
Witwer says it’s been obvious that Brown “leaves a trail of people really liking him.”
“That’s why I think he will be such a fantastic leader for the newspaper,” Witwer said. “We are a community newspaper and Doug is the kind of person who is going to jump into the community and really get to know people and serve them. To me, he was just the person to pick up the mantle and lead the newspaper.”
“I’ve known Doug for a number of years, and I know his level of commitment to his local community and local news,” Miller said.
“I really can’t express how excited I am about this community,” Brown said. “Everything I’ve heard is really inviting and welcoming and I am looking forward to hitting the ground running — and not just getting involved in the newspaper, but in the community as well.”