The president and publisher of the Idaho Statesman will step down Dec. 1 to take a job overseeing the communications department at Idaho Power.
“I had a great opportunity to go to another company, and it lets me stay in Idaho long term, which is what my family and I want,” said Debra Leithauser, who is married and has two school-age children. “We came to Boise and just fell in love with the area. Staying here became a top priority for us.”
McClatchy, the Sacramento, California, company that owns the Statesman, said it has launched a search for her successor.
“Deb’s not only been our leader in Boise, she’s also been a thought leader at McClatchy,” said Mark Zieman, McClatchy’s vice president of operations. “We wish her all the best in her new role.”
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Leithauser joined the Statesman in October 2015. She hired Rhonda Prast as executive editor after Vicki Gowler retired last year, and she promoted Logan Osterman to advertising director. “I feel good knowing that the department heads I’m leaving are such excellent leaders who are ready to take the Statesman forward,” she said.
She was recently promoted to also be the regional publisher of the Tri-City Herald in Washington state.
Leithauser also launched Together Treasure Valley, a partnership of 20 businesses, to fund community-betterment projects such as park benches, public-library materials, public-arts projects and more. The companies, along with matching funds they received, have invested more than $500,000 in the Valley.
She began her journalism career at the Orlando Sentinel and spent nearly 10 years at The Washington Post, where she edited the Sunday Magazine and several other sections during her tenure. She became editor-in-chief of the McClatchy-Tribune News Service, a joint venture of the McClatchy and Tribune companies, in 2012.
Her first job as president and publisher was at the Centre Daily Times, another McClatchy-owned media company, in State College, Pennsylvania. She worked there two years before coming to the Statesman.
McClatchy, like other media companies, is struggling with falling advertising revenue and print circulation. But Leithauser said that was not a factor in her departure.
“There’s not a company out there that hasn’t faced disruption from technology or from just change,” she said. “This was really about my family and staying in Idaho.”
She said she will continue to support the Statesman and to urge people in the Treasure Valley to support it, too.
“I am so proud of this paper and how every day it goes out to report on stories this community needs, and does so in a fair way,” she said. “And I see great things ahead.”
McClatchy’s newsrooms and advertising staffs have made digital readership and advertising their priorities. As print has declined, this strategy has boosted digital readership: The company reported a record 89 million unique visitors in September, up 23 percent from a year earlier. Digital-only ad sales rose 8 percent in the latest quarter from a year earlier.
Leithauser is the third publisher since McClatchy acquired the Statesman in 2006. The first, Mi-Ai Parrish, was promoted in 2011 to publisher of McClatchy’s Kansas City Star and is now president and publisher of the Arizona Republic, owned by Gannett Co. Inc. The second, Mike Jung, left in 2015 to become publisher of News-Press in Fort Myers, Florida. He is now president of The Commercial Appeal in Memphis and the Jackson Sun in Jackson, Tennessee, also Gannett newspapers.
At Idaho Power, Leithauser said, she will oversee a team of about 25 people handling internal and external communications. She succeeds Bill Shawver, who retired. She will report to Jeffrey Malmen, senior vice president of public affairs.