Becky Clark. Photo by Halie Wilson
Becky Clark. Photo by Halie Wilson

The California Press Foundation of the California Newspaper Publishers Association announced last week that Becky Clark, publisher of the Idyllwild Town Crier, has been chosen to receive its Justus F. Craemer Newspaper Executive of the Year award, the organization’s most prestigious honor. The award recognizes the achievement of newspaper executives who have influenced and impacted the newspaper industry and their community as a result of their journalistic efforts.

CNPA comprises more than 700 newspapers in California, including the Los Angeles Times, the San Diego Union Tribune, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Sacramento Bee and virtually all other daily and weekly papers throughout the state. The Cal Press newsletter observes that the mission of the foundation “is to be the guardian of the history and traditions of California journalism, to recognize and honor contemporary achievements, to assure the future of California journalism through encouragement of education, and to provide a social and educational forum for its members.”

The announcement by the selection committee came as a complete surprise to Clark, who at the time was chairing a meeting of the Cal Press Board of Directors during the quarterly meeting of the CNPA in Sacramento. “I was stunned,” she said later. “For a small paper in a little town in the mountains . . . I never dreamed of this.” Clark did not even know she had been nominated for the award, which will be presented at Cal Press’s 137th-annual Winter Meeting in San Francisco on Dec. 5.

What means most to her, Clark said, is that the award cites her efforts to bring open government to her community. “Clark encountered several obstacles in trying to cover the local water districts and fire districts that dot the region the Town Crier serves. Chief among the obstacles was the longstanding culture of contempt for public scrutiny held by many of the ‘good ol’ boys’ who served on the various boards,” Cal Press’ current newsletter recounts. The article notes that Clark obtained information about local special districts unaccustomed to public scrutiny, and that she organized Brown Act and California Public Records Act workshops, inviting members of the local boards and community to attend and ask questions of lawyers conducting the training. “Clark was able to transform the culture of how many of these public entities did business as well as what residents expected from their local officials,” the article states.

Much of the credit goes to the local agencies themselves, Clark says. She particularly notes that the Pine Cove Water District, an early adversary when it came to open government, eventually embraced the concept and has received an open government award from the California Special Districts Association.

“Clark and the Town Crier have undertaken dozens of battles over the years to better inform readers and positively affect the community in which she lives,” the citation went on. “She has also had a profound impact on business in Idyllwild. Like many publishers, she strongly supported the local Chamber of Commerce and served many years on its board. She continued to support its efforts even when several Chamber members sought to push the Town Crier out of the Chamber and start a competing publication.”

The article further noted that, when the local Chamber folded, the Town Crier took over its phone number and assumed operation of the town’s Visitor Center, which it cited as an example of her “unwavering commitment to serve Idyllwild and businesses in the surrounding area.”

Past winners of this award throughout nearly the last a half century include executives from the Riverside Press-Enterprise, the Orange County Register, the Los Angeles Daily News, the San Francisco Examiner, the San Jose Mercury News and the Sacramento Bee.