When the Inter American Press Association stages its annual assembly in Salt Lake City Oct. 9-13, the 300 editors, publishers and owners from 22 countries will be looking for two things: good ideas and a good time.
Deseret News publisher Wm. James Mortimer hopes to supply them with a bit of both. As the official host of social activities for the conference, Mortimer has tapped everyone from the Tabernacle Choir to Robert Redford for help. And he thinks the visitors will be going home humming our tune.When the conference generates overheated discussions, Mortimer plans to cool things down with a trip to Snowbird and an outdoor barbecue. When the editors get antsy, he'll soon have them waltzing at a dinner/dance.
But then even Mortimer's personality has a hint of social director in it. Working in a profession that produces dozens of sour, dour publishers, Mortimer has an upbeat, almost jolly style. People do a double take. Is the world really in that great shape?
"Well," smiles the publisher, "I've always felt that a publisher should be an image builder in the community rather than spending all his time scowling over reports. I have a responsibility to make the Deseret News visible. And I try to keep positive, keep looking forward."
Along with his jaunty personality, Mortimer also has a reputation for making swift, unemotional decisions. When his ax falls, it's been known to fall hard. Some even view him as the classic iron fist in the velvet glove. The image both surprises and amuses the man.
"I'm not afraid of making decisions," he says. "I never hide. But when I have to make a hard-nosed choice I don't want to make it in a disagreeable way."
Over the years, Mortimer has left an interesting paper trail. He delivered the Deseret News as a boy and quickly decided to become a journalist himself. He edited Student Life at Utah State University, studied journalism at Columbia, then turned down a position at Newsweek Magazine to come back to Utah and quietly slide into a position as Deseret News business editor.
In 1959 a management position opened at the Deseret News Press. Mortimer was told it would be a worthwhile and enjoyable three-year diversion for him.
Half right. It was enjoyable, but the diversion spanned 27 years. Along the way he took the helm of Deseret Book. ("I feel I've worked in every company with the word `Deseret' in the title except Deseret Industries," he says today.)
In 1985 Mortimer finally returned to the Deseret News, this time as publisher.
"And it's been the best thing that's ever happened to me," he says. "There's nothing more exciting than being involved in daily newspaper work."
Even after the million headaches and hassles brought on by irate readers and reporters?
He doesn't hesitate a beat. "Yes," he says.