A Watertown native with a long family history in the newspaper industry was recently inducted into the South Dakota Newspaper Hall of Fame.
Mark Roby worked part-time as a sports reporter for the Watertown Public Opinion early in his career. But the paper played an important role in his life growing up with his father, Joseph (Joe) Roby, who was business manager for Public Opinion in the 1960s.
“I got my taste for the newspaper industry from dad,” Roby said. “But when I graduated in 1974, I had witnessed Watergate and all the president’s men, which was a pretty big moment in the history of journalism.”
Roby left the newspaper to work at a local radio station so he could have the weekends free for another passion – debating.
“I’ve been in debates for four straight years,” Roby said.
From part-time radio to college, Roby pinned his hopes on a degree in journalism. However, he could not afford to pass on the financial aid package offered to him by Drake University, which allowed him to complete his pre-law degree in voice communication.
“That extra $300 scholarship was a big deal at the time,” Roby said.
After graduating, Roby started working for IBM as a branch manager in the Quad Cities. One of his clients was Lee Enterprises, an American media company that currently provides news for 77 markets in the United States.
“I got to know the CEO of Lee Enterprises,” Roby said. “He recruited me to be their vice president of marketing and chief information officer. Then I had the good fortune to publish their journal in Muscatine, Iowa. And that’s really what I wanted to do and that’s how I got back into journalism after 15 years of absence.
Roby had the opportunity to return to Watertown in 2002 when United Communications Corp purchased Public Opinion from then-publisher and owner Steve Lowrie. Roby was appointed as the new editor of the newspaper.
“I never thought I would have the opportunity to come home, especially since there was only one newspaper in town. But sometimes things work out,” Roby said.
From the start of his career during the “golden age” of journalism to the dawn of the internet, Roby has seen many changes in the newspaper industry. He put his years of experience and knowledge to work when he served as president of the South Dakota Newspaper Association from 2008 to 2009.
“The South Dakota Newspaper Association advocates for open government on issues such as installing cameras in courtrooms and access to public records,” Roby said. “What is a public record is a description that belongs to local organizations. It works well until there is an issue and disagreement over what is believed to be a public document. The SDNA is working to standardize this definition across the state. »
One of the biggest changes Roby has witnessed in his role as a newspaper publisher over the years is that with the internet has come the freedom of the general public to share news and the speed with which information becomes available.
“The biggest change from a publishing perspective is that now everyone is a publisher. They print news on social media platforms. With social media, you miss the editing process. You miss someone working on the story while someone else edits it and asks the reporter questions,” he said.
According to Roby, local newspapers continue to have a healthy existence in South Dakota.
“The newspaper provides good local stories that you can’t find anywhere else,” Roby said. “Newspapers are the mirror of their communities and vice versa. But there is resistance to recognizing that there is a cost to good journalism.
The biggest challenge facing small newspapers in the state is the succession of newspaper owners who are aging and want to move on to the next generation, Roby said.
Another change in the news industry and social media has been the sharing of important life events like birth announcements and weddings. Roby said that because everything is posted on personal social media pages, the ability to share these important events with the community is limited to a very narrow niche of individuals on a friend’s list. And this portends a difficulty in finding valuable information about family heritage and events for future generations.
In 2017, Roby retired from his role as chairman and regional publisher of Dakota Media Group, which included the Watertown and Aberdeen newspapers.
Roby spends his retirement serving on several boards, including the board of the Prairie Lakes Healthcare System in Watertown. And years of debate practice in his youth continue to play a role as he serves on the South Dakota Select Judicial Elections Committee.
He is enjoying his retirement with his 42-year-old wife, Ronda, and visits from their three children and 10 grandchildren.
Roby spends all his free time reading news and current affairs. Staying informed of local, state and national news as a subscriber helps him continue to play an important role in his community.
“The question is, will subscribers support this local, professionally collected, edited and distributed news product? I think they will, because where would we be as a community without a newspaper?” says Roby .