Steve Falk, publisher of The Press Democrat and CEO of Sonoma Media Investments, was named newspaper executive of the year Friday by the California Press Foundation.
The annual honor goes to a top executive of a newspaper that has made an impact in the community, state and nation through its exceptional journalism. Falk will be recognized during the foundation’s annual winter meeting on Dec. 4.
Falk was named the 56th recipient of the award by previous winners of the Justus F. Craemer Newspaper Executive of the Year, said Joe Wirt, administrator for the foundation, part of the charitable division of the California News Publishers Association.
The selection recognizes eight years of achievements at Sonoma Media Investments, the Santa Rosa media group that acquired The Press Democrat and its sister publications in 2012 from Halifax Media Group of Daytona, Florida.
Under Falk’s leadership, the daily newspaper has won dozens of state journalism awards for local news, sports and business coverage. In 2018, The Press Democrat received the most coveted award in journalism, winning a Pulitzer Prize for its reporting on the 2017 wildfires.
“I can’t take any credit for the great journalism. I don’t write the words. I only write the checks,” Falk, 66, said in an interview.
The newspaper executive said he was humbled by the recognition after a career that began as a paperboy in his hometown of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Years later, he was part of the USA Today newspaper launch team in New York and served as publisher of the San Francisco Chronicle.
As a locally owned company connected to its community, Sonoma Media Investments partnered with Redwood Credit Union and state Sen. Mike McGuire to raise $32 million for victims of the devastating 2017 wildfires.
Last year, Sonoma Media Investments paid off the remainder of $15 million in debt and equity funding used to buy the company, which also publishes the Petaluma Argus-Courier, Sonoma Index-Tribune, North Bay Business Journal, Sonoma and Spirited magazines, Sonoma County Gazette and La Prensa Sonoma.
Wirt said Falk was chosen for the state award for “the recent body of work that he’s done on behalf of all of you at the newspaper” and across the local media company.
The key to success the last eight years, Falk said, was ensuring quality journalism stayed at the forefront of Sonoma Media’s operations.
“I learned a long time ago you cannot save your way to prosperity in this business,” Falk said. “We have proven to the world you can be a privately held, local media company and produce journalism of distinction and still make a profit.”