When Joyce McCullough was told she would be the recipient of the 2019 Ray Carlsen Distinguished Service Award, her first reaction was, wait, me?
“I was really surprised,” she said from her office in LaSalle, Illinois. “There are so many people I know at Inland who do much more than I do.”
Inside Inland that is strictly one woman’s opinion.
“Any time you ask her to do something, she is always there, always ready to help. Joyce has given to Inland again and again,” said Executive Director Tom Slaughter.
McCullough was honored with the Ray Carlsen Distinguished Service Award on Monday, Oct. 7, in Chicago during the inaugural meeting of America's Newspapers.
Named after the former executive director who retired in 2009, Inland Press Association's Distinguished Service Award criteria state it is intended for “members who have distinguished themselves in service to the association and its affiliated foundation, who have been exemplary in service to their communities and their companies, and who deserve the recognition of their peers and colleagues.”
McCullough is a current director on Inland’s Association board, and a former director for the Inland Press Foundation. While she has served on several board committees, she is most widely associated, along with Marc Wilson, as a champion of the Inland Fellows Program, which pairs management-track newspaper employees with mentors from Inland papers with an aim towards cultivating a new and diverse generation of newspaper leaders.
“It’s great being able to deal with young people,” McCullough said. “I love their enthusiasm. Just seeing them talk to each other and listening to their conversations — you realize they are talking about things we were talking about 30 years ago.”
McCullough herself has been a mentor to Fellows, including Kristen Czaban, who was promoted from managing editor to publisher of The Sheridan (Wyoming) Press while she was in the program.
“My previous publisher was a good cheerleader for me, but it’s been great to have as my Fellows mentor Joyce McCullough,” Czaban said last year in an Inlander interview. “Having someone outside your organization is just invaluable. For instance, we had some (human resources) issues early in the year, and she helped me through that.”
The Fellows Program, McCullough said, is important for the industry in general because “we want people in our organizations and heading our organizations to reflect the community” in all their diversity.
McCullough was speaking from the offices of Miller Group Media’s radio station in LaSalle, Illinois, because in late August Shaw Media bought the family’s flagship newspaper, the NewsTribune as well as its weekly AgriNews publications.
It was the first time since 1969 she had not been involved in the NewsTribune. McCullough joined the Miller family-owned newspaper as an accountant that year, and was promoted to general manager of the newspaper in 1993. She became its publisher in 2002. The next year she added the role of general manager of the radio stations. In 2011 she was promoted to president of newspaper and broadcast operations.
When McCullough joined the NewsTribune, the Miller family owners were members of Inland, but more involved with what was then called the American Newspaper Publishers Association and is now the News Media Alliance.
“At some point at one Inland meeting, Ray Carlsen approached and said he’d like to get the newspaper more involved with the association,” McCullough said. “It’s the best thing we ever did. Inland really served us well as a small, independent newspaper.”
The NewsTribune, she says, took advantage of all Inland had to offer, from its research services to its newspaper-focused conferences on human resources and family owners to its webinars—and, especially, its networking opportunities.
“The great thing about Inland is being able to call somebody or talk to somebody at a conference and find out what they are doing in a community similar to ours, but not a competitor,” she said.
Inland is only going to get better with the merger with the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association, McCullough says.
“I am so happy they are merging,” she said. “I hate to use the phrase a ‘win-win,’ because everybody says it, but it’s true. It’s going to be good. It just gives you more people to compare notes with and to learn from.”