As publisher of The Buffalo News, Stanford E. Lipsey – well, Stan – likes to know what’s going on in his newspaper. That includes the right to review the next day’s editorials before they are published. He didn’t see this one.
Lipsey – that is, Stan – has been the publisher of this newspaper since 1980, the year Ronald Reagan was elected president. He is 85 years old, plays tennis, leads big public projects and cares passionately about Buffalo. But for the occasional mention of Omaha, Neb., where he met Warren E. Buffett, you would think he grew up on the shores of Lake Erie.
In an industry where publishers come and go, Lipsey’s run here has been remarkable. Not only did he prevail in a classic newspaper war with the old Courier-Express, but he kept The News profitable and relevant when, first the Internet, and then the Great Recession shook the foundations of an old and noble industry.
Other newspapers went out of business. Some are only publishing only on certain days of the week. The Buffalo News remains. It is, necessarily, a different newspaper than it was in the 20th century as it adapts to fast-changing habits and demographics, but in the end, it remains what it was: the go-to source for information in Western New York.
All of that is well and good, of course, but it is not just his joyful work as publisher that prompts us to write. Excellent business leaders call it a day every day, and they don’t all merit special attention.
What makes Lipsey worthy of notice is his influence on the entire newspaper industry at a critical moment in its existence – Buffett recently bought more newspapers because Lipsey showed how they can still be relevant – and, more important to the people of Western New York, his unshakable belief that Buffalo can be better than it is. And not just belief, but belief translated into action.
He is leading the charge to salvage the historically significant Richardson Towers complex, previously a crumbling part of Buffalo’s remarkable trove of architectural treasures. He played a key role in the restoration of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Darwin Martin House. He had a backstage influence in the decision to build a new airport terminal in Buffalo, a consequence of which was the arrival of low-cost carriers like Southwest Airlines and JetBlue.
Lipsey pushed for other business leaders to be similarly engaged in the betterment of Buffalo and didn’t mind criticizing those who abandoned the city for the suburbs. He has been a champion for the city and, with his continuing roles on The News editorial page and the Richardson project, he will continue to be.
Lipsey remains the publisher of The News for another nine days, so there is neither need nor wisdom in commenting on the challenges of working for a man single-mindedly devoted to excellence, especially at a time when economic forces are battering the industry he loves. But that’s the job of a leader and he never shied away from it. Indeed, he reveled in it.
On the editorial board, we dealt more closely with Lipsey than most people in the newspaper or in the community, and what we knew was this: If he had an idea, a comment, a point of view, we would hear it. Clearly.
For those who don’t know, newspaper editorial boards are complete and unfettered democracies until the publisher says otherwise. Publishers, including Lipsey, hold responsibility for the entire newspaper, including its standards and ideals, and they retain the right to the final word. For all that, though, it was rare for him to pull rank. Like his boss, Buffett, Lipsey let people do what they do best.
For that reason, among many others, the board and, we suspect, much of Western New York will miss the influence that was brought to Buffalo and its newspaper by Lipsey.
That is to say, Stan.