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 Writer's Desk 

June 21, 2005
Vol. 3, No. 9



Tara Harris So what does a publisher do?

By Sr. Rita Larivee, NCR publisher

As some of you may know, I was appointed publisher a few months ago following Tom Fox's decision to step down from this role to pursue other things, including continuing service to NCR. It was a great pleasure working beside Tom Fox for the last eight years as associate publisher and an even greater honor to have been mentored by Tom, who is widely respected in the field of faith- and justice-based journalism.

Interestingly, a couple of questions surfaced a number of times shortly after my appointment as publisher; they were: "Congratulations on being appointed publisher, but what exactly do you do?" "If there is an editor, why does NCR need a publisher?"

So I thought I'd make an attempt at providing a response. This may not be true in all instances of publishing, but it's the way we try to handle things at NCR.

Tom Roberts is the editor of NCR, and he and I together are entrusted with the day to day carrying out of the paper's mission. Ultimately, the NCR board of directors has the responsibility for the welfare of the organization, but they serve as a policy board leaving the particulars for managing the newsweekly to us. But as with most publications, much is needed before anything ever appears in print.

Tom Roberts is responsible for what is printed on the pages of the NCR newsweekly. He assumes the responsibility for ensuring that what we publish is accurate and meets the highest standards of journalism. The NCR newsweekly is independent and has always protected its freedom to publish with neither secular nor church oversight. We stand firm on our founding mission to report for all members of the church, not catering to any one group or groups. My role is to ensure that Tom Roberts has the resources to do his job and that he is unencumbered by outside forces. I assume the responsibility for ensuring that the sacred space for independent journalism at NCR is protected.

Yet, we don't do this in a vacuum. We live in an age where influence and the temptation for influence ought not to be taken lightly. As the old saying goes, money is neither good nor bad, but it wields a great deal of power. The same can be said of social status and other influences that might bring with them expectations of privileged treatment. An editor must keep such influences at bay, and a publisher is key to protecting the editorial staff's independence. That's why one of my prime roles is to make sure the paper has the resources to maintain journalistic quality and independence.

As with all human institutions, news organizations work within the boundaries of the human strengths and weaknesses of those who fill the ranks, and NCR is no exception. All organizations need a check-and-balance system to discern the proper path through times of difficulty and tremendous pressure. Those moments come in journalism in discerning the issues of the day and the challenges inherent in reporting difficult stories. The editor and publisher are in constant dialogue about such issues. We each bring our own experiences to the discussions and provide questions for each other for reflection and possible insights into how to approach the often complex and sometimes thorny subjects we write about.

NCR has a deep belief in community as foundation to bringing about the best of who we are as a human family, and that belief is reflected in a healthy way in how work is approached at NCR.

Independent journalism earns its credibility from responsible reporting and accountability. It is not about personal agendas or soapbox oratory. It flourishes in an atmosphere that encourages, providing others with as much information as possible.

At NCR, we often say that we do not wear our religion on our sleeve, but we do hold ourselves accountable to the gospel message that the spirit moves within the community and that much is revealed if conversations are allowed and encouraged within the larger society, as well as the church. We believe in the need for a platform where the conversations are uninhibited by those hoping to control the outcome. This is our mission, this is what we are about at NCR, and this is the prime responsibility of the publisher -- to secure the platform, to open the accessways and to seek the resources for ensuring the best of independent journalism for future generations.

Publisher and editor are partners in a dance. We listen to the rhythms of the church, society and the world, and we move according to the demands of the stories in those communities. Without the team, the NCR mission would be impossible. It's a collaborative effort that affirms the need for conversation not only in our pages, but in our day to day work as well.

So what does a publisher do? Many things. Along with a great staff, I oversee four other publications, advertising, fundraising, Web site development, marketing and new product development, circulation and fulfillment, customer service, and all business operations as well as strategic planning. There is never a boring day. But most simply, my job is to walk beside the editor and every other member of the staff and, together with our readers and supporters, journey to a better world and a healthier church.

Rita Larivee, a Sister of St. Anne, is NCR publisher. She can be reached at rlarivee@ncronline.org.

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