Mary E. Junck, the CEO of newspaper publisher Lee Enterprises Inc., was named chairman of The Associated Press board of directors Thursday.
Junck is replacing William Dean Singleton of MediaNews Group, who had been AP chairman since 2007. She said one of her top priorities will be the search for a new chief executive to replace Tom Curley, who announced Monday that he plans to retire this year after almost nine years leading AP.
As chairman, Junck will help steer the AP's efforts to boost revenue, in part by further expanding the cooperative's video, Internet and mobile services. She will take over as chairman in April, after the AP's annual meeting.
"Making good, smart bets on the digital future is the direction we'll keep going," she said in an interview. "Tom has built a terrific foundation. The other thing he has done is work collaboratively in our industry. I see that going forward as well."
The AP, founded in 1846, is the largest independent source of news and information in the world. The not-for-profit organization, owned by newspapers in the U.S., said it expects revenue for 2011 to be down slightly from a year earlier, when it was $631 million.
Revenue has declined in recent years largely because of lower fees from newspapers and broadcasters, a large number of which have struggled because of the slow economy and a shift by advertisers to less-expensive alternatives online.
Junck, 64, has been an AP director since 2004 and became vice chairman in 2008. She will be the first woman to head the board.
Junck began her newspaper career 40 years ago, when she joined the Charlotte (N.C.) Observer as a marketing research manager. Since then, she has worked for and managed some of the country's biggest daily newspapers.
She was publisher of the St. Paul Pioneer Press in Minnesota from 1990 to 1992. She later served as an executive vice president with Times Mirror Co. and oversaw Newsday, the Baltimore Sun and the Hartford (Conn.) Courant. She also served as publisher of the Sun.
Junck joined Lee in 1999 as executive vice president and chief operating officer. She became CEO in 2001. The company owns the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and nearly 50 other newspapers. In her current job, she helped orchestrate Lee's $1.46 billion purchase of Pulitzer Inc. in 2005, which included the Post-Dispatch.
She is now leading Lee through a prepackaged bankruptcy as it restructures about $1 billion in debt. Earlier this week, a U.S. bankruptcy judge approved Lee's debt refinancing plan, which will allow it to exit the process next Monday.
Singleton is chairman of MediaNews Group, which was among the newspaper publishers hardest hit by the industry slump. MediaNews' parent company, Affiliated Media Inc., filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in January 2010 and relinquished control to a group of lenders as part of the reorganization. Singleton stepped down as CEO of MediaNews last year.
Singleton said in a statement that the industry "has long been the beneficiary of Mary's deep understanding of the challenges facing all media companies in the digital age."
"She is a strong advocate for AP, for the value of original newsgathering and for everything AP stands for. She'll be an outstanding chairman."
Curley plans to stay on as AP's chief executive until his successor is in place.