With more than 200 newspapers represented in Missouri Press’ membership from every corner of the state, it is important that not only are different sizes of newspapers represented in the Association’s leadership but also the different communities they represent.
Missouri Press Association had four new members join the Board of Directors for 2022, including Marion Jordon, The Kansas City Globe; Lucas Presson, Southeast Missourian; Bryan Chester, Columbia Missourian; and Tim Schmidt, Montgomery Standard.
Directors are elected each year during the business meeting held as part of the Association’s annual convention and trade show. Nominations to serve on the board are accepted until July 1 and are then reviewed by a nominating committee for consideration by the entire MPA membership.
A southeast Missouri native, Lucas Presson didn’t always aspire to be a member of the fourth estate. In fact, until his junior year in college (and into a second semester of organic chemistry), he had planned to go to pharmacy school.
“I had taken several speech communication courses and enjoyed it,” Presson said. “I decided to finish a degree in communication studies, with a minor in chemistry, which basically serves as an interesting ice breaker story now.”
After college, Presson earned his MBA from Southeast Missouri State University. The combination of communication and business has been a great asset during his first decade-plus in media.
Presson reached out to the Rust family, publishers of the Southeast Missourian, about opportunities at his hometown newspaper. Hired as a reporter in the newsroom, in four years he worked his way up to editorial page coordinator/editor then to assistant managing editor.
In 2015, he was named general manager of rustmedia, the company’s full-service advertising agency, and for the last five he has been assistant publisher of the Missourian.
Presson said he likes the work he does because it gives him a “license to be curious” since few entities are more tied to the community than newspapers. “And there’s something special about local journalism. We care deeply about the communities we serve,” he said.
In particular, the digital transformation of local journalism has been exciting for Presson, who said the Missourian has grown digital subscriptions by 386% since March 2018. The company has been a participant in the Google News Initiative and Facebook Journalism Project, and it continues to look at new ways to grow digitally, from types of content to delivery methods (newsletters and text alerts) to overhauling its online platform, which it plans to launch to the industry later this year.
“Our culture is one of testing and not being afraid to fail,” Presson said. “Back in 2013, I pitched an idea for a best in high school sports awards show called the Semoball Awards. It would be a first-class experience similar to the ESPYs or NFL Honors with a celebrity speaker, great food and highly produced experience. Our company leadership embraced the idea, and today it’s one of our marquee events.”
Between rising distribution costs and declining pre-print advertising, Presson said the industry is facing challenges that were made worse when COVID-19 wiped out a big chunk of advertising dollars. In turn, that led to a drop in frequency for the Southeast Missourian from six days a week to three.
“We still produce an e-edition six days a week, which is key to our digital transition,” Presson said. “We embrace innovation around here. So, while print newspapers are core to our business, there’s so much more. We’re not simply in the newspapering business. We’re in the news disseminating business. It takes many forms these days.”
A challenge in the last year has been recruiting.
“We don’t know if it’s a short-term issue,” he said. “But it’s been especially challenging in news and circulation, especially finding drivers. We know, however, that other industries are having similar challenges.”
Helping the newspaper industry meet those challenges and more is why Presson decided to volunteer for the MPA Board.
“It’s a great opportunity to learn from other media leaders across the state, stay engaged at a state level and represent Southeast Missouri,” Presson said. “Hopefully I bring a perspective to the board that helps spur ideas, both for individual properties and our Association.
“More specifically, reader revenue is something at the top of my mind. It’s something more media companies will need to focus on, specifically digitally, to thrive going forward,” he added.
If you ever meet Presson at an Association event and want to pick his brain about journalism’s digital transition but don’t know enough about organic chemistry to break the ice, consider using America’s pastime instead.
Presson said he is a big baseball fan and played in high school. Going back even further into his childhood, however, he has a long history of tickling the ivories.
“I also play piano. Started when I was 3,” he said. “In fact, I taught in my parent’s studio through college. These days I play for my church band, which is something I really enjoy.”