ATLANTA – Thirty years ago, the newspaper industry was just beginning to feel the first ripples of what would become a massive wave of change brought on by the internet.
That same year – 1993 – Robin Rhodes was stepping up from a staff position at the Georgia Press Association to take the organization’s helm as executive director. Thanks to her leadership, newspaper executives across the state made the transition to the digital world smoothly instead of fighting it.
“The internet has made a huge difference in the way newspapers are produced,” said Rhodes, who will retire as the GPA’s full-time leader this fall. “We’ve had to move the legal [notices] online. That was a huge accomplishment.
“The members realized that had to be done or they would lose that business. We were probably one of the first states to have 100% participation.”
Rhodes was a natural fit for the GPA when she joined the association in 1986. She had been working for a company that hosted trade shows, including the Atlanta Home Show, where she sold booths to real-estate vendors.
Rhodes got a phone call from then-GPA Executive Director Kathy Berry asking if she’d be interested in handling arrangements for the association’s annual convention.
“Going to the GPA involved pretty much the same thing,” Rhodes said.
When Berry left the association in 1993, Rhodes applied for and landed the job as her successor.
Along with adapting to the internet era, Rhodes said a major challenge of her tenure in office has been coping with large corporations buying up local newspapers.
“They’re from out of state. They don’t care about the community,” she said. “It’s not the same presence as local ownership.”
One of the executive director’s key roles is representing the newspaper industry’s interests with state government leaders. That involves wearing out a lot of shoe leather in the hallways of the Gold Dome during annual General Assembly sessions.
“Robin Rhodes has more connections than Georgia has pine trees,” said Alan NeSmith, regional publisher of The Northeast Georgian in Cornelia and past president of the GPA. “Her relationships with influential leaders and hardworking newspaper people across the state has been the bedrock of our beloved association.”
Rhodes said Atlanta-based Troutman Peppers Strategies and its principal, Ragen Marsh, have been highly effective representing the GPA at the state Capitol. She also gave a shout-out to the various executives at member newspapers.
“Their relationships with local legislators has been tremendous,” she said.
GPA’s strong working relationship with Georgia decision makers paid off this year when the General Assembly passed and Gov. Brian Kemp signed legislation allowing newspapers to raise their rates for legal notices. House Bill 254 cleared the legislature with just one “no” vote.
“[Newspapers] hadn’t had an increase in 27 years,” Rhodes said. “It was time.”
Kemp had parting words of praise for Rhodes in congratulating her on her retirement.
“For decades, her leadership has helped bring awareness of important developments to communities all across our state,” the governor said. “She has played an essential role in informing Georgians of what’s going on, both locally and statewide.”
Rhodes credited Capitol Beat News Service, which the GPA launched nearly four years ago, with contributing to that mission of informing Georgians about the latest happenings in state government.
“The small newspapers don’t have the opportunity to have somebody at the Capitol,” she said. “That was a void across our state. You ask any newspaper out there, and it has a lifeline to the Capitol.”
Rhodes isn’t stepping away from the GPA completely. She plans to spend the next two years in a part-time capacity,
“I’ll be giving up the day to day and working with Ragen and the [GPA] board, which is a great opportunity for me,” she said. “It keeps me involved.”