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Co-publishers to lead Advocate as third generation takes reins

By Gabe Semenza
Jan. 29, 2011 at 10:02 p.m.
Updated Jan. 28, 2011 at 7:29 p.m.

Stephen McHaney

FOR MORETo learn more about the history of the Victoria Advocate, visit www.VictoriaAdvocate.com/about.

For the first time in 31 years, the Victoria Advocate has a new publisher.

Well, two to be exact. The position, tweaked to accommodate two co-publishers, remains in the family.

John Roberts, the Advocate's publisher since 1980, stepped down officially on Thursday. In his place: Stephen McHaney and Dan Easton, the third generation from this family to run the company.

The announcement isn't sudden, at least to those who planned for it. For about five years, both men followed an Advocate management development plan - on-the-job training. They were groomed to one day operate the company in this or a similar capacity.

"They have the talent and the vision," Roberts said. "This is and will continue to be a family-run company. This is just the next step in our evolution."

The two new co-publishers, each 38, seem to get along, have different but complementary skills and carry with them the family's drive to embrace a digital future.

They are brothers-in-law who first met as teenage camp counselors. Both agree the company's top goal is to spur digital advancements throughout the organization.

While they have distinct roles as co-publishers, much of their work will overlap, they said.

McHaney is Roberts' nephew and the son of Kay McHaney, the newspaper's co-owner.

He has worked at the Advocate for 15 years. During that time, he served as a photographer, advertising chief and media director. Later, he was the company's chief financial officer.

"This is exciting and nerve-wracking all at the same time," Stephen McHaney said, likening the announcement and the preparation for it to the arrival of a baby. "We developed skills and experience to ensure we'd be capable in a role such as publisher. It's rare for a business to remain in the family for three generations, so it's an honor to continue that tradition."

Because of his experience, McHaney will focus on advertising, business analysis, accounting, customer service and human resources.

Easton's focus, meanwhile, will reside more so on the news, circulation, creative services and the digital side of the company.

Easton is the husband of Camille Easton, Kay McHaney's daughter and Stephen McHaney's sister. He is a former chemical engineer who transitioned into technology as a computer programmer.

Later, he became vice president of operations for an Austin software company.

Easton began work in 2005 as the Advocate's IT director. He oversaw web development and was later promoted to senior vice president of news and digital.

"I learned it's not all about technology. It's about audience and content," Easton said. "I'm excited, very excited. I've been working toward a position like this all my life."

Neither man predicts radical changes to the newspaper in the short term. Still, both agreed the rapid evolution of technology and the ways in which readers consume news will force related changes.

Kay McHaney said the two new leaders work well together and are presented with a great opportunity to display their talents.

"We've had our excitement in this business, and now I'm excited to see where they take us," she said.

Both the elder McHaney and Roberts will remain active in the community and in big-picture ideas for the newspaper, they said.

McHaney retains her title as secretary, treasurer and owner; Roberts will be the company's president, owner and chairman of its board of directors.

While he stepped down as publisher, Roberts will offer guidance to help the men during the transition, he said. He added this is not the first time co-publishers have run the company.

Roberts served as co-publisher with his late father, Morris Roberts, during the late 1970s.

Then - almost 31 years ago to the day - Roberts' late father made a similar announcement to the one shared by his son this week, according to newspaper archives.

Morris Roberts stepped down from his role as publisher in January 1980. He emphasized he wasn't retiring but that he'd maintain a less active role in the company's daily activities.

"I am transferring some of the heavier duties to younger hands," Morris Roberts said three decades ago.

John Roberts offered his own thoughts on the transition announced this week.

"It's a new world. It's not my or my father's newspaper anymore," Roberts said. "There'll be new and different challenges we don't even know about yet, but people will always want news. It makes me feel good that our newspaper is staying in the family."

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