STERLING – A familiar face is ascending the ladder at Shaw Media.
John Rung will take the reins of Sauk Valley Media’s parent company, which publishes close to 100 print and digital publications in Illinois and Iowa.
He replaces Thomas D. “Tom” Shaw, 69, of Dixon, who announced last month that he would be retiring in May. Shaw will remain on the company’s board.
The Shaw Media Board of Directors named Rung CEO on Thursday at the company’s annual meeting. He is the first nonfamily member to hold that role at the third-oldest continuously owned and operated family newspaper company in the nation.
The company now known as Shaw Media was founded in Dixon in 1851 by Benjamin Flower Shaw.
Rung, 54, had been president of Shaw Media since 2013. Before that, he was the company’s chief operating officer. He has been with the company 20 years and has served in a variety of management roles, including publisher of the Northwest Herald in Crystal Lake.
“The difference between being the CEO and what I’ve been doing the past few years is a much higher level of communication with the Board of Directors, the trust and with the Shaw family,” Rung said in an interview in his office at the Northwest Herald. “I will also be more responsible for acquisitions, investments and diversification.”
The change won’t affect readers of the company’s print and digital publications, although Rung said he planned to invest more in the company’s news-gathering efforts.
“I’ve been in charge of operations for several years now, and this transition has been in process for the past 3 years,” Rung said. “Vice President J. Tom Shaw oversees our suburban operations, and Jim Ringness is the general manager of the Northwest Herald.”
“As Tom has been transferring his responsibilities to me, I have been delegating more authority to J. Tom and Jim. This has been a well-thought-out transition, and I credit Tom Shaw for that foresight.”
Rung is the right person to lead the growing company, Tom Shaw said.
“John Rung is a smart, hardworking, person who enjoys a strong moral compass,” he said in a statement. “Those traits, along with his exceptional industry knowledge and experience, as well as his record of success within Shaw Media, makes him someone that our Board of Directors, the Shaw family owners, and most importantly, the employees of Shaw Media can trust to lead the company.”
Rung has learned some key business skills from Shaw over the years, he said.
“First off, I can say with complete sincerity that Tom is the most decent and thoughtful person I have ever known,” Rung said. “As a younger man, I was extremely aggressive and did not hesitate to take action. I’ve learned from Tom that patience and consideration are extremely valuable traits.
“I think about the recent situation with United Airlines. If the CEO of United had a more basic initial response – something along the lines of, ‘We are concerned and we are investigating’ – he would have given the company some time to better understand the public’s outcry over the situation,” Rung said.
“His knee-jerk, defensive reaction wound up having very negative consequences for his company. A few years ago, that’s probably what I would have done. Because of Tom’s mentorship, I think I’m in a better position for a more appropriate response to a crisis.”
Shaw Media has about 550 employees at newspapers, magazines and other publications in northern Illinois and Iowa. Its daily newspaper holdings include Sauk Valley Media, which is the Daily Gazette in Sterling and the Telegraph in Dixon, the Ogle County Newspapers and its publications in Oregon, Polo, Mount Morris and Forreston; the Bureau County Republican in Princeton; and the Prairie Advocate in Carroll County.
Like print and digital media companies around the globe, Shaw Media faces challenges as the power of traditional media outlets continues to evolve in the digital era.
“As you can imagine, we spend a great deal of time discussing that topic,” Rung said. “We have a plan that we call ‘Four Corners.’ We see our print and digital newspaper products becoming increasingly focused on local issues.
“We are aggressively pursuing strategic acquisitions, and we are launching new product lines that mesh well with our community newspapers. A perfect example of that would be Pro Football Weekly, a product that has seen revenue and audience increase for
3 consecutive years.”
Rung, who lives in Johnsburg with his wife Rachel and three children, said the printed newspaper won’t disappear anytime soon.
“I don’t see the printed newspaper dying, but it will continue to evolve,” he said. “Newspapers have to be more focused and we have to provide more depth on important issues. We might not be first with a story, but we can be best.
“That is a difficult objective when you consider how classified ads have migrated away from newspapers, combined with the struggles retailers are facing. We have to become more valuable to our readers at the same time our ad revenue is decreasing. That is not an easy task, but it’s exciting, and it’s what I’ve signed on for, so bring it on.”
Outside of the office, Rung is an amateur triathlete who competes in three or four triathlons a season, down from about 15 a season at his peak. He’s an avid sports fan – particularly football and the Chicago Bears.
He also enjoys reading (mostly history) and music (from the late 1970s to 1990s, including the Offspring, Foo Fighters, Green Day, Cheap Trick, Pearl Jam and others).