Buenger recognized by industry peers as ‘Master Editor-Publisher’
For years, Northwest Iowa Publishing Publisher Paula Buenger has served newspaper readers in the region, and her 20-plus years of service were rewarded in front of her family and co-workers Friday evening.
One of the most prestigious awards presented to professionals in Iowa’s journalism industry, the Master Editor-Publisher award, was presented to Buenger, publisher of the Dickinson County News, Spencer Daily Reporter and Storm Lake Pilot-Tribune. She received the award during Friday evening’s awards ceremony at the Iowa Newspaper Association annual meeting in Des Moines with her peers and many members of her staff looking on.
“I am humbled by the honor, which is selected by past winners of the award,” Buenger said. “To be recognized with this highest of awards from the Iowa Newspaper Foundation is quite a thrill.
“More than anything, I feel blessed. Blessed to have such an amazing, supportive family. Blessed to work for people who lead with their heart and who believe in and support high quality journalism. And blessed to have such a strong, talented team of coworkers who I am proud to represent.”
Buenger’s emotions got the better of her as she realized she was the honoree being described by the night's emcee. As she made her way to the front of the room to receive her plaque, she caught her family coming toward her from the back of the room. Their presence was a surprise.
"I’ve never run across anyone with the same dedication and loyalty to her trade," Kari Vander Woude, Northwest Iowa Publishing financial officer and Storm Lake Pilot-Tribune general manager, said. “Paula is certainly deserving of this award.”
Earlier at the annual meeting, trade show and convention, she was honored as the outgoing president of the Iowa Newspaper Foundation.
“It would be hard to find someone in the state who has a more well-rounded background in the newspaper industry,” Russ Mitchell, editor of the Dickinson County News, said. “Her newspapers in Spirit Lake, Storm Lake and Spencer have thrived because of her leadership. I can’t think of a more deserving person for the Master Editor-Publisher award.”
Buenger, who graduated from Spencer High School, has worked in the journalism industry since completing her post-secondary education in 1985 at Central College in Pella. She was a staff reporter at the Orange City Democrat in Iowa and sports editor at the Albert Lea Tribune in Minnesota before returning home to Spencer and taking a reporter’s position at the Daily Reporter in 1990. After two years, she was promoted to the editor position for the Spirit Lake Beacon before taking a six-year break to stay at home as a mom and part-time ISU Extension staffer. In 1999, she returned to the Daily Reporter as editor. Three years later, she was promoted to publisher of the Daily Reporter and, in 2003, she accepted the group publisher position for the three Northwest Iowa Publishing products under Rust Publications NWIA, LLC.
"With her background in the journalism side of the business, Paula has always stressed quality, ethics and creativity in the newspapers she manages. All of us who have worked with her over the years have been guided and encouraged to become better at what we do," Dana Larsen, editor of the Storm Lake Pilot-Tribune, said. "Everyone has an opportunity to contribute ideas under her watch, and with quarterly meetings dedicated to emerging technology, she is helping to lead print news in new directions without compromising traditional ideals and responsibilities."
In addition to her professional activities, she has also taken on many volunteer positions at the state and local levels, including the Iowa Newspaper Foundation.
"I have known Paula for more than 10 years and have served with her on the Iowa Newspaper Association board and have seen her leadership at the state newspaper level though the INA," Dave Stanley, general manager at the Dickinson County News and regional advertising director for Rust papers said. "It has also been my recent privilege to now be directly working with Paula and the rest of the Rust Publishing newspaper team members here in northwest Iowa."
Buenger has also volunteered to help the Spencer Family YMCA, Parker Historical Society, Clay County Visitor’s Bureau, Spencer Ambassadors, Spencer Citizen of the Year Committee, Clay County Cattlemen and has been both a livestock and photography judge and sponsor during the Clay County Fair.
"Paula deals with a lot of numbers, but she has always stayed true to her roots in journalism," Mitchell said. "She insists on fairness, accuracy and hard work. She’s taken on a leadership role in the Iowa Newspaper Foundation and people around the state have come to admire her principled approach."
Larsen said Buenger's leadership is evident in the industry both locally and at the state level.
"She’s been a rock in a business that is often volatile, and I can’t think of anyone more deserving of the Master Editor-Publisher honor," he said.
Buenger says strong, factual community journalism is more important now than ever.
"The media has been under attack, and as a vital part of the checks and balances powers outlined in the Constitution, we have to continue to keep our heads down, our shoulders to the grindstone, and give our readers the facts that are vital in helping them make informed decisions," she said.