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story.lead_photo.caption Joseph Steinmetz (right), University of Arkansas chancellor, chats with Nat Lea, CEO of WEHCO Media, Inc. and incoming president of the Arkansas Press Association, Friday during the Arkansas Press Association SuperConvention at the DoubleTree Suites by Hilton in Bentonville. - Photo by Ben Goff

BENTONVILLE -- Nat Lea, chief executive officer and president for WEHCO Media, Inc., has been named president of the Arkansas Press Association.

Photo by Stephen B. Thornton
Nat Lea, chief executive officer and president for WEHCO Media, Inc., has been named president of the Arkansas Press Association.

He will officially start as president today, beginning a one-year term, replacing Rusty Fraser, owner and publisher of the Stone County Leader.

The Arkansas Press Association, founded in 1873, is a business organization that represents the interests of newspapers in Arkansas. According to its website, the organization has 125 newspapers as members. There are also more than 150 associate members, including suppliers, manufacturers and educators.

Lea, 49, became chief executive officer of WEHCO Media, Inc. in May, assuming the role previously held by board Chairman Walter E. Hussman Jr. Hussman is publisher of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette newspaper and is chairman of the 10-member WEHCO board. Lea has been WEHCO Media president since January 2014.

WEHCO Media owns the Democrat-Gazette and operates other newspapers in Arkansas, Tennessee, Texas and Missouri.

Lea began work with WEHCO in 2002. He worked in the video division and then, after about a year, he became general manager of WEHCO's Pine Bluff cable operation.

He was general manager of the El Dorado News-Times for two years. In December 2006, he became general manager in Hot Springs.

Lea, a native of Minter City, Miss., earned a bachelor's degree in business administration from the University of Georgia. He worked for seven years in banking in Atlanta. While in Atlanta, he went to night school and earned a master's degree in business administration from Georgia State University.

At the Arkansas Press Association convention in Bentonville on Friday, Lea told about 75 attendees that the new model for newspapers includes more customization of online news and advertising.

"Truly it's about finding new revenue streams to support the journalism that is vital to our democracy," Lea said.

Rather than the traditional focus on delivering a single product to many people, Lea said the business is moving toward "a targeted model online where we put customized news and advertising one-to-one."

Newspapers remain important "even as this additional transition takes place," Lea said, adding that the state of Arkansas newspapers is "challenged."

Lea later told the Democrat-Gazette that such challenges relate to national trends of "multiple years" of declining advertising revenue as well as slight decreases in circulation. He said that while many Arkansas newspapers generally avoid major declines seen elsewhere, "those are factors and influences that we don't escape entirely." He added that circumstances vary for newspapers in the state.

At the press association's luncheon, Lea said online readership for newspaper websites is increasing. He said the website for the Democrat-Gazette saw page views increase to 12.8 million in May compared with 7.8 million for the same month last year.

"It is vital to our readers that they have a fair representation of the events of the day," Lea said. "Too many times today we're seeing biased reports, news reports from cable TV channels and niche websites."

The group on Friday also honored several newspapers with awards.

Lee Dunlap with the Harrison Daily Times and Harry Beshoner with the Paris Express received Golden 50 Service Awards. The awards honor those with at least 50 years of newspaper industry experience.

Bob Qualls with Lyon College won the Journalism Educator of the Year Award.

Gerald Jordan with the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville received the Distinguished Service Award, an honor that goes to a person who has made a significant contribution to the newspaper industry.

Doug Thompson, a reporter and editor with the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, won the Freedom of Information Award. The award refers to the state's public disclosure law and goes to a person who has worked to defend the Arkansas FOIA.

Metro on 06/25/2016

Print Headline: WEHCO chief new press body president

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  • Foghorn
    June 26, 2016 at 6:26 p.m.

    "It is vital to our readers that they have a fair representation of the events of the day," Lea said. Rich. Too bad Hussman doesn't buy in. The ARDG has no intention of providing fair representation. What a farce.

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