While most of this publication is dedicated to the people and events that shaped and directed The Galveston County Daily News during its long history, it’s appropriate to spend a little time on the leaders of the future. To that end, The Daily News posed five questions to Lissa Walls.
She is the daughter of Carmage and Martha Ann Walls, whose leadership shaped the modern Daily News, and sole proprietor of the newspaper.
Walls has been in the newspaper business since 1980. She began her career as a reporter for the Rosenberg (Texas) Herald Coaster, owned by Hartman Newspapers, and became chief operating officer of Southern Newspapers in 1985. She was elected CEO in March 2014. She has served on the boards of the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association Foundation, Mutual Insurance Company and Trinity University and is a past vice chairwoman of The Associated Press.
She was born in Guntersville, Ala., and moved to the Houston area with her family in 1973. She is a 1980 graduate of Trinity University in San Antonio and lives in Houston.
Q: You were born into a newspaper family. Did you pursue it as a career because it was the family business or for other reasons?
A: I never entertained any other career or profession. My parents were true partners, both actively engaged in a business that doesn’t get left at the office after 5 p.m. It’s part of your life, almost as if Southern were another child with a seat at the table. I saw how exciting and challenging it was. My parents did interesting things, went to interesting places, had interesting friends. I saw how much fun they were having.
I wanted that and it has been that for me.
I still find this business exciting, challenging and fun.
Q: In the context of the newspaper and the company’s other publications and operations there, what’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of Galveston County?
A: Well, it’s a couple of things. Each community is unique, but there are some that are more unique than others. Galveston County is very unique, and it’s just a wonderful place to work as a journalist or to own and publish a newspaper. Southern has always expected high quality journalism from its papers, and The Daily News has always set the standard of quality for the other newspapers.
Q: We’ve had a decade or two of gloom and doom about the future of printed newspapers. What’s your best professional estimate about the future of newspapers like The Daily News?
A: I can only speak about newspapers in small and medium-sized communities, but I think that if you have a small or medium-sized newspaper in a community with a stable or growing economy, you have a very good future. There’s an if, though, and it’s a very big if — If you commit the resources to produce high-quality, accurate, engaging, relevant content that fulfills a need in that community.
I think every community has a need for that kind of content, and I don’t think it can be fulfilled in any other way. It can’t be done with social media, and it can’t be done on a digital platform alone.
The product may change in the future. We may package that content differently, but it comes back to quality content that is relevant to the community. If you are producing that, then yes, this is a good business to be in. Certainly, there’s a place for digital publications, but print is still the primary medium and will be for some years to come.
Q: What is most important to you about community newspapers? I’d like you to consider your answer from three perspectives, if you would: the journalism, the business and the community partner, or corporate citizen, maybe is a better description.
A: It’s an interesting question, but I don’t think you can separate any one from the others. What you have there is three legs of a stool, each essential to supporting the others.
You can’t have a strong community newspaper if you’re not doing all three of those things well.
If it’s not a strong business, it can’t pay its employees a competitive wage or offer good benefits, so it can’t hire the best people. It can’t invest in the equipment, technology and the facilities you need to do the job.
If you’re not producing good journalism, you’re not going to attract the readers and the advertisers you need to have a strong business.
Being part of the community — being a very active part of the community, in my mind — is just as essential.
Q: When you think back over your time with The Daily News, what are the three or four most memorable stories, just the first that come to mind?
A: Hurricane Ike. I’ll just say that three times. Honestly, there have been a lot of stories that have been important to the community, but in my career there hasn’t been anything as important as how the paper covered that hurricane from the beginning until now, because we still feel the effects.
I’ve always been proud of The Daily News and the people who worked so hard during, and served the community so well during that time. There have always been other challenges, and we have not always gotten it right, but we got it right that time, and I’m very proud of that.