President and publisher of the State Journal-Register
By Scott Faingold
When Clarissa Williams took over as president and publisher of the State Journal-Register at the beginning of this year, it was the culmination of a lifetime in the newspaper business.
Raised in southern Kentucky (“People can tell I’m not from Illinois as soon as I speak,” she admits), Williams knew that she wanted to work in newspapers since the age of 15. After contributing stories to her school paper, she began working as a stringer at the local daily and continued to do so at various papers through college. After graduation, she found a job in the advertising department for the Corbin Times-Tribune in her native Corbin, Ky., where she worked briefly before starting her own monthly publication, Neighbor to Neighbor in Williamsburg, Kentucky. She found having her own publication very rewarding but missed the ongoing deadline pressures of working at a daily.
At the same time, Williams began teaching journalism to schoolchildren and was eventually asked by then-Governor Paul E. Patton to host a seminar for the Kentucky School Age Childcare Coalition, teaching kids how to produce a newspaper as a form of after-school childcare.
Hungering for full-time daily newspaper work, Williams and her family moved to Clinton, Tennessee, near Knoxville, where she did a stint as ad manager at the Courier News for the next few years before moving back to Kentucky to become advertising director at the Richmond Register, where she soon also took over circulation duties. “We had significant profits and circulation growth and just a complete turnaround to the point where I was offered my first publisher’s position.”
That position, at the Mt. Vernon Register-News, was Williams’ first publishing job in Illinois and she remained there for a few years before cycling through a variety of shorter-term publishing positions in Florida and Kentucky.
In 2012, Williams joined Journal-Register owners GateHouse Media in Delaware, where she was responsible for all of the newspapers in the state before moving to Springfield in January to take over the SJ-R. “I was extremely excited to be back in Illinois,” she says, “especially knowing that I would be in Springfield.” While employed in Mt. Vernon, Williams had become familiar with the Springfield standard-bearer and liked what she saw. “The State Journal-Register was always the newspaper that had the sentinel stance,” she recalls. “They were always looking out for the readers, not just in Springfield but throughout the state. It gave me a really great admiration for the paper because they were always taking leaps and moving things forward.
“One of the things that drives me personally is my faith,” Williams continues. “I am a Christian, so I try to find ways to give back, and the State Journal-Register helps me to do that.” She goes on to cite the Friend-in-Deed and First Citizen programs as ways the paper allows her to contribute to the community. “On the other hand, as a journalist, you can help things to move down the road and bring a light to different issues.”
Williams is enjoying her time at the Journal-Register so far. “Things are looking up,” she says. In addition to new editor and Illinois native Angie Muhs, the paper has recently added a pair of positions in advertising, and is currently looking at rebuilding its marketing department as well as beefing up the newsroom. She also proudly and rightfully trumpets the SJ-R’s recent win for General Excellence at the Illinois Press Association awards. “I think it is just fantastic,” she says. “I haven’t been in a lot of communities where you immediately find that people have this real admiration for the newspaper. People here just feel a real ownership to the paper and I really value that.”