Ann Caulkins, The Charlotte Observer’s president and publisher, is stepping down after 12 years and will be succeeded by Rodney Mahone, a longtime media executive from Georgia, company officials announced Wednesday.
Mahone, 51, begins in Charlotte June 4.
He will lead the Observer, which is owned by Sacramento-based McClatchy, and serve as publisher for four sister news properties in South Carolina: The (Rock Hill) Herald, The Beaufort Gazette, The (Hilton Head) Island Packet and The State.
The new position expands on the traditional role of the Observer's president and publisher. McClatchy's strategy for advertising and news calls for more collaboration across its 30 markets nationwide.
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"We are able to compete so much better than we were some years ago," Mahone said in an interview Wednesday.
Mahone's selection and Caulkins' departure were announced Wednesday afternoon to Observer employees during a meeting.
Mahone will be the Observer’s first African-American publisher. He is married and has two children.
Mahone joins the Observer from Columbus, Ga., where he is regional president and publisher for the McClatchy-owned Columbus Ledger-Enquirer and The (Macon) Telegraph.
McClatchy's Carolinas region Publisher Sara Glines called Mahone a strong and creative leader.
“He is also a catalyst, someone who has thoughtfully combined his entrepreneurial vision, energy and deep commitment to our communities to launch new initiatives and collaborations that have brought together diverse stakeholders and improved lives,” Glines said in a news release.
Mahone has been with McClatchy and predecessor companies for 28 years, building his career in the Ledger-Enquirer advertising division. He has devoted much of his time to local service organizations, including the Boys and Girls Club of Columbus, the United Way and the New Birth Outreach Church.
Under Mahone’s leadership, the Ledger-Enquirer earned national recognition by Editor and Publisher magazine as one of “10 Newspapers That Do It Right.” That recognition came for the Ledger-Enquirer’s launch of “Together Columbus,” a two-year public-private partnership that saw $344,000 invested in the community.
Mahone and Caulkins say they are friends and have worked together for a number of years.
“I will have big shoes to fill with Ann Caulkins’ departure," Mahone said in a news release. "Her leadership and vision have been a beacon to me and all of my colleagues from across McClatchy.”
Caulkins, 56, the Observer’s first female publisher, has been with McClatchy and its predecessor companies for nearly 35 years. Before moving to Charlotte in 2006, she was publisher of The State in Columbia.
“We are so grateful for Ann’s thoughtful and energetic leadership over the past three decades at McClatchy,” Glines said. In Charlotte, Caulkins has been at the helm of the Observer since it was sold to McClatchy by Knight Ridder Inc. in a $4.5 billion deal that included 32 newspapers and news websites.
She succeeded Peter Ridder as publisher in 2006. Caulkins led the Observer through deep expense cuts during the recession while sustaining growth in local news readership and new advertising ventures.
Under Caulkins’ leadership, the Observer sold its former headquarters building on Stonewall and Tryon streets and moved to new offices in the NASCAR Plaza on Caldwell Street in 2016. In the community, Caulkins has focused attention on needs of low-income families. She established the Charlotte Observer Summer Camp fund, which has raised more than $1.5 million to send low-income children to camp.
A graduate of Baylor University, Caulkins began her career in newspapers at the Waco Tribune-Herald selling subscriptions door to door.
Before being named publisher at The State in 2002, she worked at The Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader. In 2012, Caulkins was honored by Queens University of Charlotte as Charlotte BusinessWoman of the Year.
On Wednesday, Caulkins spoke of starting her "next chapter," which is open-ended for now. She said she gave notice to company officials privately April 3 and her last day at the Observer is April 27.
The decision, she said, is bittersweet.
"It's just been an incredible 12 years."
Caulkins plans to take a break and spend time with her husband, Kelley Anderson, and teenage sons Miller and Porter.
"I would like to stay in Charlotte and figure out what that next chapter is," Caulkins said.
The Charlotte Observer was founded in 1886. It is one of 30 media companies operated by McClatchy in 14 states.