After a long career devoted to documenting – and shaping – North Country life, John Johnson Jr. is far from calling it quits. But he is stepping down from daily oversight at the Watertown Daily Times and its parent company, Johnson Newspapers, helping to make way for a new generation of family leadership.
The Johnson name has ruled a big portion of the North Country news business for three generations. And a fourth era in family leadership is about to begin. John Johnson Jr. is stepping down from his roles as CEO of Johnson Newspapers, and editor and co-publisher of the Watertown Daily Times. His son – also named John Johnson – will take over as CEO of the parent company and co-publisher of the Times.
From his book-lined office, wearing his signature bow tie and suspenders, the elder Johnson said it was time to give the company an injection of new energy.
“Any business, any enterprise, needs continued renewal,” he said. “The best progress is made in atmospheres of creative change and creative tension. And I think my wife and I are blessed that our son is here, who can join with his uncle, Harold, to continue the tradition that we've had.”
Harold Johnson, John Johnson Jr.'s brother, is the other co-publisher of the Times. Harold's son, Alec, is about to become a director of the company.
John Johnson Jr. began working for his father's media company when he was 14. As he approaches his 70th birthday, he said he'll continue to be involved with the company as board chairman, and he'll begin writing editorials.
Johnson said he's wanted to serve the community, both in his role at the newspaper company, and his work with other community organizations.
“You don't have a successful life if all you do is take,” he said. “And we have always felt here – and I'm sure will continue to feel – that the most important thing that anybody can stand for is a better place for people to live.”
Times Managing Editor Bob Gorman, who also recently announced his upcoming retirement, said Johnson's fingerprints are “on everything” in the region.
“Up here, John has just been a tireless advocate for the north country,” he said. “Chuck Schumer said it best – he said, 'I talk to him all the time and he never asks for anything for himself, it's always something for the north country. Either it's for Alcoa, or something about the power dam up in Massena. It's about our hospitals, from the small ones that are in the rural communities, to Samaritan here. It's talking about water levels, it's one thing after another.'”
Gorman said in an era of media consolidation, north country residents are lucky to still have locally-owned newspapers.
“I think the community's blessed, really, to have a family that knows the north country. This is what they care about, and this is where they've made their commitment, and the next generation has made that commitment as well.”
Gorman will retire from the newspaper in mid-June, and will become chief executive officer of United Way of Northern New York. John Johnson Jr.'s retirement takes effect today.