One familiar face at the Illinois Press Association is retiring and another will succeed him.
IPA Board of Directors Chairman Don Bricker today announced that Sam Fisher is retiring as the organization’s president and CEO, effective Sept. 1. Fisher has been the IPA’s leader since 2017.
Bricker also announced that the IPA Board has voted to appoint Donald M. Craven, longtime legal adviser to IPA membership, to be the next president and CEO. Craven has provided legal counsel to members of the IPA and Illinois Press Foundation for nearly four decades. He was interim president and CEO of the IPA from 2009 to 2010, and again in 2017 until Fisher was named to the position.
“I look forward to leading the great staff at the Association and Foundation,” Craven said. “The staff is a relatively small group, much smaller than in the past, but to call them talented is an understatement. They know their jobs, they know the membership, and they know (and like) each other.
“Having the opportunity to help them help the IPA is an honor. We have the task of preserving where we are and what we have, while at the same time working to further expand existing programs such as Capitol News Illinois and Public Notice Illinois. We will continue to have the same fights in the General Assembly on legislation impacting the press and public notices, and we will hopefully continue our success under the dome.”
Craven currently operates a general practice law firm with a concentration in media and government law in Springfield. He has been with the firm since 1986, when he joined his father, former Illinois Appellate Court Justice James C. Craven.
Fisher had informed the IPA Board at the time of his hiring in 2017 of his intention to retire at the end of 2020.
“Given the events of the past year with the pandemic, I decided to wait to retire until this year,” Fisher said. “I had advised the IPA Board’s Executive Committee this spring of my intent to retire in August.”
Bricker said of Fisher, “After almost 45 years in the newspaper business, Sam is certainly moving to a well-deserved retirement. However, I’m sorry this day has come. As a member, board member, board chairman and CEO, there are few people who can match the contributions Sam has made throughout the years to the IPA and the Illinois newspaper industry.
“But we are fortunate to have someone with Don’s skills and experience step into the role at this very challenging time. Our businesses face challenges from every direction. Don has been a key advocate for the IPA and its members for decades and will bring that experience with him every day as he works with members and the Illinois legislature to keep the Illinois news and information landscape vital and thriving.”
Fisher said he is excited that Craven will be his successor.
“Nobody has more experience with our industry and knows the challenges that we face than Don,” Fisher said. “I’ve known Don for years, as he provided me wise counsel when I was a publisher that kept me out of harm’s way. He has provided me the same sage advice and direction during the past four years. He taught me the ways of Springfield, and that is a key prerequisite of the position.”
Craven has counseled members, executive directors and board members of the Illinois Press Association, Illinois Broadcasters Association, and Illinois News Broadcasters Association on legal and legislative activities. He has testified before committees of the Illinois General Assembly on media issues, and is the author of the Illinois chapter of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press’ Open Government Guide publication.
“The friendships and professional relationships forged during that time are near and dear to me,” Craven said. “I look forward to IPA gatherings as much for the opportunity to renew those friendships as any other reason.”
Craven noted Fisher’s many contributions to the IPA over many years.
“It is important to me that I thank Sam Fisher for his service to the IPA,” Craven said, “not just over the last several years while he was leading the Association, but for the many, many years of service before that as a board member, board chairman, and prior to all that, just an active and participating member of the Association.
“Sam and I share a trait — some would say more than one — and that is a passion of the newspaper industry and for newspaper people. So, Sam, as you prepare to ‘ride your pony into the sunset’ — a phrase I have heard more than once — know that we will still be calling you for your continued participation in this industry we both feel passionate about.
“I look forward to continuing and expanding my role with the IPA/IPF and our members. I encourage you to keep those calls and emails coming.”
Craven’s hiring was also lauded by Illinois Press Foundation Board President Jerry Reppert.
"The selection of Don Craven to lead the Association is an outstanding choice,” Reppert said. “No one is more qualified to hold the post. Much of his career has been devoted to the newspaper industry. As Foundation president, I look forward to working closely with Don.”
He also had kind words for Fisher.
"Sam's leadership of the IPA was marked by one of the most challenging times in the history of the organization, but he was up to the task,” Reppert said. “COVID, and all of the issues it brought with daily operations, could never have been expected. On a positive note, that state government coverage news service Capitol News Illinois will always be much to his credit as the best program the Foundation has ever sponsored. And, the hiring of Jeff Rogers to lead CNI was remarkable.
“Sam also did an excellent job with government relations and kept membership well informed. There are many facets to being IPA president, and Sam has checked all the right boxes."
The IPA was founded in 1865 as an organization for Illinois publishers. It has evolved into one of the largest state newspaper associations in the country representing more than 400 daily and weekly newspapers.