Beyond the headlines

Longtime T-R publisher retires after 33 years

The myriad of aspects which figure into producing a daily newspaper require steady and resourceful hands at the helm. Since 1985, Mike Schlesinger has served as publisher of the Times-Republican, expanding the periodical into a daily newspaper, overseeing the installation of new, cutting edge presses, building up the state’s commercial printing industry and volunteering his time for civic causes in the community. He is the seventh publisher in the 162-year history of the newspaper. Soon, he will close the book on the 33-year-long story of his career as a newspaper publisher. The public is welcome to attend his retirement party from 2 to 4 p.m. Friday at the Fisher Community Center. His final day on the job will be June 30.

In the beginning

Schlesinger, a native of Fort Dodge, forayed into the newspaper business at the age of 11, when he obtained a paper route. Standing on street corners selling the afternoon edition of the Fort Dodge Messenger gave him an early appreciation for journalism.

“I remember when I was in seventh grade the year that John F. Kennedy was shot. We were sitting in seventh grade math and I just got back from lunch. School let out, and everybody went home, but I went down to the newspaper and a special edition was coming off the press,” Schlesinger recalled. “I was given X number of copies and went out in front of the courthouse in Fort Dodge selling that special edition — I think for a dime. I remember cars just stopped in the middle of the street; people didn’t bother parking, they got out, give me a dollar or whatever they had, to read about the president and that was probably the earliest memory in my newspaper career. I remember people crying and reading the paper, and the complete silence, kind of an eerie moment, but I remember that very vividly.”

After graduating from high school in 1969, Schlesinger decided to pursue a career in education, setting his sights on becoming a teacher. He attended Iowa Central Community College in Fort Dodge for two years, earning an Associate of Arts degree, before transferring to Mankato State College (now Minnesota State University, Mankato). He wed Julie Fletcher in 1971, and the pair resided in student housing, sustaining themselves on Dinty Moore beef stew during those lean newlywed days. During his time at Mankato State, Schlesinger worked for the school newspaper as its advertising director.

“When I graduated from college, I had job offers to work in newspapers and for teaching, but I wanted to teach, so I accepted a job teaching in the Red Oak school system,” he said.

In Red Oak, he taught seventh and tenth grade English and also served as an athletics coach and directed school plays and musicals. Schlesinger earned a master’s degree in English from Northwest Missouri State University in 1977.

“My wife really wanted to stay home with our son, Andy, so I decided that I was going to switch careers to make that possible. Lo and behold, there was a job opening at our hometown newspaper, Fort Dodge, in advertising and so I interviewed and took the job,” Schlesinger said.

In June 1977, Schlesinger began working as an advertising salesman for the Fort Dodge Messenger. In October 1978, he was promoted to assistant advertising manager. Larry Bushman, retired publisher of The Messenger, was a keen observer of Schlesinger’s work ethic and professionalism.

“Advertising was Mike’s strong suit. He always had a new and improved advertising idea for his staff. Mike also had a nose for news, always suggesting news leads and editorial ideas to the news department. He was a great manager of staff,” Bushman said.

Schlesinger reflected upon his years with the Messenger: “My boss, Jay Smith, who was the advertising director, later became the publisher, and then I had the opportunity to move into his position. That gave me some really good opportunities being a department head. We were able to do a lot of different things that really helped me in this job (here in Marshalltown) too, because in 1983, we actually converted the Fort Dodge paper from an afternoon newspaper that was Monday-Friday afternoon and Saturday mornings, to a seven day daily and I was able to participate in that transition and play a role in that.”

After Ogden Newspapers, Inc., the parent company of The Messenger, acquired the Times-Republican from the Norris family in August 1985, Bushman recommended Schlesinger for the position of publisher.

“He had done an extremely fine job as our advertising manager, so when we purchased the Marshalltown paper, I recommended him to our corporate office,” Bushman said.

Arriving in Marshalltown

Schlesinger became publisher of the Times-Republican in September 1985, relocating his young family to Marshalltown. Son Andy was in fourth grade, and daughter Sara was in kindergarten. Julie worked as a literacy intervention tutor for the Marshalltown Community School District.

In October 1985, 5 T-R purchased the PennySaver. Two years later, the publication started offering commercial printing services as a way of diversifying its revenue and installed new presses.

“Thirty-three years ago when I came, we essentially printed our newspaper and that was it,” Schlesinger said. “Then we started printing advertising flyers, and silhouette shooting targets — sent to law enforcement offices all over the country. We did that for a long time, and then we actually started printing other people’s newspapers and today we print 65 newspapers in 28 counties. In the old days, people had to actually bring you their pages and then they waited while you printed, which now we have all these pages coming in electronically … But our core job here is our daily newspaper — that’s why we’re here.”

Reflecting upon his tenure at the T-R, Schlesinger said he is most proud of transforming the periodical from a six-day-a-week into a daily newspaper, beginning in 1995.

“I’m very proud of the fact that we were able to add a Sunday edition to the offering. There’s something to be said about being able to put out a newspaper every day,” he said.

In addition to his duties at the T-R, Schlesinger serves as publisher of several area weekly newspapers, including The Tama News-Herald, Toledo Chronicle, Traer Star-Clipper, Dysart Reporter, Tama County Shopper, Gladbrook Northern Sun-Print and the Reinbeck Courier.

In 2011, he earned the Master-Editor Publisher award from the Iowa Newspaper Association. Susan Patterson Plank, who serves as executive director of the INA, said, “The T-R has enjoyed a lot of technical achievements and advancements over the years under his leadership, and he had always worked on expanding and implementing new and creative ways to keep the business thriving. He’s been very dedicated to making sure the newspaper has stayed strong in its community, and I think that’s extremely admirable.”

Schlesinger has been actively involved in various clubs and organizations, and served on several boards, including the Marshalltown Chamber of Commerce, the Chamber Ambassadors, Elmwood Country Club, MCC Foundation, MMSC Hospital Board of Trustees, MEDIC, Trinity Lutheran Church, Imagine 2011, Vision Marshalltown, Marshall County Crime Stoppers, Iowa Newspaper Association and the National Newspaper Association. He was a founding member of the Mega-10 committee (Marshalltown Economic Growth Association). He is a co-founder of the local Not in Our Town anti-bullying campaign. He is also a past president of the Marshalltown Rotary Club, and received its Kenneth Brintnall Memorial Award — its highest honor — in 2015.

Son Andy Schlesinger, wife Dawn, and their two children, Owen, 13, and Anna, 10, live in Marion. Andy is a CPA and works for Rockwell Collins. Daughter Sara Whittaker, and her husband Erik, live in Iowa City. She is a journalism teacher at West High School in Iowa City.

On May 7, Abigail Pelzer assumed duties as publisher of the T-R, with Schlesinger working closely with her in-house to aid in the transition of leadership. Pelzer is an award-winning journalist who is the former managing editor of the Newton Daily News. Previously, she served as managing editor of the Times-Republican for five years.

In retirement, Schlesinger most looks forward to spending time with his grandchildren, as well as traveling. He is an avid golfer and reader. He and Julie plan to continue to reside in Marshalltown. He will stay actively engaged in the community.

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Contact Sara Jordan-Heintz at 641-753-6611 or sjordan@timesrepublican.com