Stephen Key expects his first day as executive director of HSPA to be a lot like any other Monday.
After 17 years as a lawyer and lobbyist with the association, he knows the needs of Indiana newspapers.
But with the industry facing changes, Key understands that his role in helping HSPA promote newspapers and press rights is more important than ever.
“I’m excited about the challenges and responsibilities of the position because I care about newspapers and believe in the importance of their role in a democracy,” Key said. “HSPA will continue to serve as a support for Indiana newspapers, particularly in these tough economic times when newspapers are facing changes to the core business model.”
As part of the association’s restructuring approved by the board of directors this year, Key will retain his role as general counsel in the executive director position. On Monday he replaces David Stamps, who is retiring after 14 years in the top spot at HSPA.
A former journalist, Key worked at Midwest newspapers for 13 years before earning a law degree. That experience gives him a great understanding of press association issues, Stamps said.
“I know HSPA members appreciate getting his legal advice grounded in common sense about how the newspaper business actually operates,” Stamps said.
Selecting Key as the next executive director of HSPA was an easy choice, said Don Hurd, president of Kankakee Valley Publishing and president of the HSPA board of directors.
“His experience as a former journalist and as general counsel for HSPA provides him with some unique insights that will help further strengthen HSPA’s mission for serving the Hoosier newspaper industry,” Hurd said. “He was a natural selection to lead our efforts to empower newspapers.”
As executive director and general counsel, Key will direct strategic planning and government affairs for HSPA. He’ll continue to lobby for the public’s freedom of information rights before the Indiana General Assembly and help draft proposed legislation.
Key still will offer advice on legal questions to HSPA’s 173 member newspapers on a range of topics, especially access to information.
“Reporters, editors, ad directors and publishers will be talking to the same person if they have questions,” he said.
Key’s work will include efforts to grow Midwest Advertising Placements, HSPA’s advertising arm. Members benefit from the service because the association’s MAP director does the legwork of building relationships with media buyers to increase national advertising in Indiana newspapers and on their websites.
Despite a tough economic reality, MAP already has made significant inroads since its start last year, a trend Key expects to continue in 2011 and beyond, he said.
While the newspaper industry is going through challenging times, it’s far from dying, Key said. Newspapers will continue to be an integral part of communities, he said.
“No other institution does what a newspaper can do in collecting the news of the day or week and organizing and editing it to meet the interests of a diverse readership,” he said.
Key has been recognized many times for his work to promote press rights and public access to information through HSPA.
This year, he was honored with the Louis Ingelhart Friend of Journalism Award from the Indiana High School Press Association and a special citation for journalistic excellence from the Ball State University Journalism Department.
In 2008, he received the Excellence in Public information and Education Award from the Indiana Judges Association.
Prior to serving HSPA, Key worked at papers in Illinois, Kentucky and Indiana, including three years as managing editor at the Noblesville Daily Ledger and three at the Daily Journal (Franklin).
“I still love to hear the sound of a press as it builds up to full speed and see the day’s edition start rolling off the other end,” he said.
Bud Heron, retired editor of The Republic (Columbus) and former Daily Journal editor, “stole” Key from the Daily Ledger to work at the Franklin paper.
Whether reporting, editing or managing staff, Key was a bulldog on details, Herron said.
“When writing, his research was nearly flawless and his writing was precise,” he said. “When he was editing and managing staff, he expected everyone to produce the same quality he expected of himself.”
Herron described Key as a man of commitments and with a great passion for journalism and its role in a republican form of government.
“Freedom of the press is a passion with Steve, not mainly because of his love of newspapering, but because of his love for our country,” Herron said. “He knows his work is not about making things ‘right’ for newspapers, but about making things ‘right’ for the citizens of Indiana.”
Like Herron, Stamps has been a mentor and friend to Key.
“Steve was on the HSPA staff when I arrived in 1996, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed working with him since then,” Stamps said. “I couldn’t be happier for him and HSPA that he is succeeding me.”
Key said he appreciates the foundation Stamps has laid for the association.
“I feel extremely fortunate in this situation at HSPA because David has built what I think is an excellent team of individuals who work extremely hard to help newspapers be successful, which will make my transition easier,” Key said. “On the other hand, I feel the pressure of maintaining a level of success that David has set for the association.”
“The bar is high and hopefully I can continue to clear it.”
Key is committed to developing more ways for HSPA to serve members, Hurd said.
“I am confident in the years to come Steve will be successful in implementing his ideas,” Hurd said. “His success will only help continue to make HSPA an industry leader for press associations.”