TPA Member Services Director Ed Sterling is retiring July 22 after 28 years of service to the Texas newspaper industry.
“His value to the industry cannot be measured and his absence will be glaringly obvious,” Executive Director Mike Hodges said. “We wish him the very best and hope that he fully realizes how much he is loved by all members of our association.”
Sterling was hired May 20, 1992, by Lyndell Williams, who was executive director at the time.
For Sterling, the title member services director has included many different duties over the years, including coordinating the annual statewide contest and editing TPA publications. His longest-lasting duties were writing the TPA-syndicated Capital Highlights column, published weekly in newspapers across the state, and helping lobby the Texas Legislature on behalf of Texas newspapers.
Initially, the Capital Highlights column carried Williams’ byline.
Williams “retyped it on his keyboard and formatted it into three columns” Sterling recalled. “We mailed and faxed it to subscribers in those days.”
Williams retired as executive director at the summer convention in 1998 and Mike Hodges took over the association.
Since that time, Sterling’s byline has appeared on the column and he has had full responsibility for researching and writing it.
Reading old bulletins and Messengers and studying attorney general opinions and open government handbooks, Sterling also fielded hotline calls from members seeking help with issues ranging from public notices and postal statements to lottery advertising and open records/open meetings. Many of these issues found their way into his second column, TPA Hotline, published monthly in the Texas Press Messenger.
Always noting that he is not an attorney, Sterling cited Texas statutes and helped members find proper advice from professionals when needed.
For many years, Sterling handled all of TPA’s publications, including the monthly Texas Press Messenger, convention brochures, the eBulletin, web news, the TPA calendar of events, In Memoriam and others.
Sterling recalls putting the Messenger together by “cutting and pasting” in the same way members prepared their newspapers for press.
“I ran my photo prints to a photo engraving company to get them half-toned for the Messenger and other publications,” Sterling said. “I could have operated a PMT machine and souped and printed my own black-and-white negatives if we had had a darkroom at the TPA office, but we didn’t.”
Back then, writing, editing and producing the Messenger included “taking it to and from printers, preparing it for mailing (USPS Form 3541) and taking mail sacks to USPS bulk center and going through that maze, producing annual statements of ownership, management and circulation,” Sterling said.
Publications work also entailed coordinating mailings to members. “We needed all the spare hands we could muster in the office to stuff envelopes for member mailings to go out on time,” Sterling said. “It seems like a bygone world, or a dream now.”
In 2005, Sterling and Wanda Cash edited the book “The News in Texas, Essays in honor of the 125th anniversary of the Texas Press Association.”
Sterling also coordinated the annual Texas Better Newspaper Contest for many years, which included writing and printing contest rules to be included in mailings, driving or shipping entries to other states for judging, bringing or shipping them back to the TPA office, producing the Winner’s Circle publication, scanning newspaper nameplates and getting plaques made and certificates printed for presentation at the annual summer convention.
He also assisted with the Texas Newspaper Directory, writing and editing copy, selling ads, proofing pages and working with publishing contractors. Working with Hodges when he was ad manager for TPA, Sterling helped proof the TexSCAN ads each week.
Other than the Capital Highlights column, Sterling is perhaps best known to TPA members for his role in planning and coordinating annual conventions, selling and organizing the Midwinter Trade Show and hiring speakers. He was visible at the conventions, greeting and visiting with members, and always recruiting volunteers for committees and contest judging.
While some of his original duties were taken over by other employees, Sterling continued to work on behalf of Texas newspapers in lobbying the Texas Legislature. He worked as a member of Texas Media, predecessor to the TPA Legislative Advisory Committee, in weekly bill-crunching sessions at the Texas Association of Broadcasters offices, at the TNDA offices or upstairs at the TPA headquarters on Fifth Street in Austin.
This work included “printing bills for LAC members to study at LAC meetings, highlighting and annotating bills to speed the process, speaking about each bill at LAC meetings, doing research and making calls to members for LAC chairs, going to the Capitol to file positions on bills and testify (a few times) and attend hearings and distribute position papers in person to lawmakers and their staff at their offices,” Sterling said.
During legislative sessions, Sterling continued to read every bill affecting newspapers and published his findings in the online Bill Watch section of the TPA website.
“Ed Sterling is the kind of fellow you want beside you in a political knife fight,” said Donnis Baggett, executive vice president of TPA. “He’s truly remarkable. He has identified more bad bills over the years than anyone I know. He has deep convictions about transparency and accountability in government, and he reads literally every bill filed in a legislative session. When the smoke cleared last session there were more 7,000 actual bills filed, not counting resolutions.
“Ed also reads the Texas Register when it comes out every Friday to see what kinds of changes the regulatory agencies are proposing. And he almost never misses anything. Most importantly, he’s a loyal, trusting, supportive friend and colleague, and I will truly miss working with him.”
A native of Austin, Sterling attended the University of North Texas in Denton in the 1970s before going into the Coast Guard. Following his service, he worked for several newspapers in Texas, including the Canyon News, where he first met Hodges. Sterling was in the editorial department there and Hodges was ad manager.
Sterling credits a co-worker at the Canyon News, Betty Nafzger, for teaching him how to operate a photo mechanical transfer machine (PMT).
He also worked for the Tulia Herald as publisher, worked on the copy desk of the Amarillo Globe-News and was publisher of the Alpine Avalanche.
Sterling and his wife Gayle, whom he met in college in Denton, relocated to Fort Worth to be closer to family, including children and grandchildren.