Todd Sears is coming back home to Nebraska as the new president and publisher of the Omaha World-Herald.
Wednesday’s announcement is historic for the state’s largest newspaper: Sears becomes just the seventh publisher in The World-Herald’s history, dating to 1889.
Sears, who grew up in Crete, graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and started his career in Lincoln, said he’s thrilled to lead a newspaper that’s been a part of his life since he was a child. He called it a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
“I know what good work goes on here — and I know it doesn’t just happen,” he said. “I knew that when I was younger, and I know it now. So to be part of it, it’s just a very special feeling.”
He officially starts Nov. 6.
Sears, 49, has most recently served as president and publisher at the State Journal-Register in Springfield, Illinois. Previously, he worked at two East Coast newspapers within BH Media Group, the Berkshire Hathaway subsidiary that also owns The World-Herald.
He had served as vice president of advertising and revenue development at the Richmond Times-Dispatch and as director of advertising at the Press of Atlantic City.
In that capacity, he worked under the leadership of Terry Kroeger, who stepped down in June as chairman and chief executive officer of BH Media. Kroeger also served as World-Herald publisher.
Sears’ hiring comes at a time of transition for The World-Herald. Not only is revenue shifting in the newspaper industry as consumers read news online, The World-Herald’s management structure also has changed.
Berkshire Hathaway, while retaining ownership of its BH Media newspapers, hired Lee Enterprises in June to manage those newspapers and digital operations.
Julie Bechtel, executive vice president of BH Media Group, introduced Sears to World-Herald employees at the newspaper’s downtown Omaha offices, in the Hitchcock Room, named after the newspaper’s founding publisher, Gilbert M. Hitchcock.
Bechtel said she had been looking to hire someone with a passion for journalism and the news business, someone who is driven to excellence but is kind, and someone who is hardworking but has strong family values.
She approached Sears, whom she first knew from his work in Beatrice when Bechtel worked in Lincoln. More recently, she was publisher at the Bloomington, Illinois, newspaper while Sears was in Springfield.
“He works extremely hard and is focused on results,” Bechtel said in a statement. “I know our team will enjoy working with Todd to meet our goals.”
Sears’ wife, Brenna, is from Fremont. They have two boys, Joey, who is 19, and Jackson, 15.
Sears, in an interview, said newspapers are as important now as they’ve ever been. He said that as the industry transforms, he wants the staff to work as a team to figure out new ways to connect, engage and inspire its readers and advertisers.
“Omaha is a fantastic market. It’s a growing market. What can we do to make people want us even more, to connect with us, to make it feel like it’s their newspaper?”
Asked about some anxiety among the staff over the management change, Sears said nobody likes ambiguity. But he said he worked with Lee for 20 years, and he called it a good company with good people.
“Today is a first step in terms of trying to take some of that anxiety away,” he said.
Earlier this month, The World-Herald’s newsroom voted to form a union. Asked about that, Sears said, “Every single person here is important.”
“There’s a lot of great people here,” he said. “You can tell just by reading that they’re passionate, they’re dedicated and they love what they do. To me, that’s the most important thing.”
Speaking to his place in the Omaha community as publisher, Sears said that The World-Herald is known as a good community partner and that he wants to expand on that.
Sears said he sees a place for the publisher to listen to the community’s needs and “do what we can to help our neighbors,” whether that be continuing to support causes, sit on local boards or get his hands dirty to help.
As he spoke to the staff, Sears played off the buzz of Nebraska’s new tourism motto, “Nebraska: Honestly, it’s not for everyone.”
“That’s definitely not me. I’m all in on Nebraska, born and raised.”