The recent passing of Alberta’s Ruth Kelly is a case in point.
Kelly was the publisher’s publisher. And her commitment to the public she served went far beyond mere ink on paper and pixels on screens. As president and CEO of Venture Publishing, Ruth guided the evolution of two influential periodicals: Alberta Venture and Alberta Oil – both of which embodied all the principles of first-class periodicals.
But Ruth herself embodied what publishing really means: to make something public. And, perhaps more important, to do so in service of the public.
Ruth published with a flair and drive that made many of her peers pale in comparison. And still they admired her for it. She understood that content wasn’t merely textual, it was also experiential – and her various brands illustrated that great magazines are, above all, an experience, not merely a read.
She was both old school and new school in one passionate package. She was old school in that she did what good publishers do: get out of the office and into the community – as a builder and influencer. She was new school in that she produced top-quality products in their aesthetics and their content – in print and digital domains.
Ruth used her position as an influencer responsibly and constructively; to build and support communities, their interests and their progressive advancements. This was evident in her leadership roles on various community and national initiatives that come naturally to people with vision and commitment. People knew they could touch Ruth to support a good cause – and those causes invariably benefited from her leadership. Her community and industry roles – and the awards and recognition that come with such service – were as diverse as Ruth herself.
Good publishers understand they have a unique responsibility. They must cheerlead and promote. But they must also criticize constructively and objectively, with a view to the ends justifying the means. As public figures, they lead important dialogues and shape important narratives. Ruth did so with a balanced blend of vigour, integrity and compassion.
Edmonton was her stomping ground but her influence went beyond the capital. There was Ruth Kelly, the proud Albertan; a booster and advocate of the province and its people. She used her pages to tell our amazing stories in ways that validated and valourized how Albertans do what they do; she pointed to a future full of possibilities and declared: “That’s where we can go.”
For people inside the publishing world, Ruth was something of an icon. Publishing is a unique industry, full of colourful characters and diverse voices. She was in many ways the glue that held things together. Ruth supported industry activities financially but, more important, through personal service. She helped set provincial and national standards for publishing proficiencies and gave those around her hope that there might just be light at the end of publishing’s long, dark tunnel.
Ruth took a direct hand in shaping the narratives her periodicals carried; she carried the title of editor-in-chief as well as publisher. Balancing bylines and balance sheets is no mean feat but Ruth managed to effectively manage the delicate and often fragile walls between editorial integrity and commercial viability.
In an age when the public for the most part has lost sight of a publisher’s true value to society, people should pause and reflect on what our communities in particular and society in general might be like if people like Ruth Kelly don’t step up to make all our lives that much better.
Alberta has lost an important voice.
We’re all the poorer for her passing.
Bill Whitelaw is president and CEO at JuneWarren-Nickle’s Energy Group.
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