CEO/Executive Director Earl J. Wilkinson celebrates 30 years at INMA

By Dawn McMullan

INMA

Dallas, Texas, United States

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I’ve known Earl longer than any of you. And, as I realised watching the video of well wishes his INMA family made to honour this milestone, some of you have known Earl a very long time. The old photos dug up during this project make me wonder: Was he 12 when he started here?

Almost. Earl and I met in the summer of 1987. I was 20 and an intern. He was 21, the business editor of The Tyler Morning Telegraph, and a college student. Because, Earl. Back then he was just as intense, just as smart, just as funny, just as passionate about media. But he had hair and old-school East Texas glasses. Thankfully, INMA’s retired European Division Manager Inge Van Gaal introduced him to European style during her time with us. We are all grateful.

A young Earl J. Wilkinson, before he upgraded his glasses (both on his face and in his hand).
A young Earl J. Wilkinson, before he upgraded his glasses (both on his face and in his hand).

The plan was to celebrate Earl’s milestone — and INMA’s 90th year — in Paris this past April at our annual World Congress of News Media. But COVID had other plans.

Earl’s actual INMA anniversary is July 1. On that date in 1990, he started at INMA’s Washington, D.C., offices. He had my job back then as he was in charge of content, such that it was three decades ago. In the middle of a pandemic and taking care of this organisation and the global media industry, we missed that actual milestone date. So today, we honour Earl with gifts, well wishes, and virtual toasts from all over the world. 

Here is a sampling of the well wishes in a 35-minute video gifted to Earl (the video above is a shorter photo version of his years with INMA) — which came with many raised glasses of bourbon, Belgium beer, wine, one fake glass of champagne, a red solo cup of Olympia beer, German schnaps from an INMA shot glass, and a margarita from Arizona:

INMA President Damian Eales, global head of transformation at News Corp: “Your contribution to this organisation has been unmatched. You embody INMA, indeed you are the backbone that binds us, you are the beating heart whose rhythm we resonate, you are the conscience that ensures we are never complacent. You have been in this for the long haul, demonstrating both resilience and reinvention. You’ve demonstrated the wisdom of the ages and the energy of youth.”

Earl with members of INMA's International Board of Directors.
Earl with members of INMA's International Board of Directors.

Ross McPherson, executive chairman of McPherson Media in Australia: “Fantastic contribution to INMA and our companies and our understanding of what’s happening in the world.” 

Shaun Higgins of The Spokesman-Review in the United States: “When we first met and started working together about 30 years ago, INMA felt privileged to have a seat at any table involving the future of the American newspaper industry, let alone media. Then we went through a period where people wanted to deny us a seat at that table. And then 30 years later, we find that INMA is the table and you’re sitting at the head of it.” Remarkable? Not really: “You brought more drive more energy, more intelligence, and frankly more vision to this organisation and to the industry than anyone else I can think of.” 

Joe Frederickson, Earl J. Wilkinson, Shaun Higgins.
Joe Frederickson, Earl J. Wilkinson, Shaun Higgins.

Joe Frederickson, retired from The Press-Enterprise in the United States: “For the last 30 years, tens of thousands of executives and practitioners all of the world have learned and benefitted from your unfailing vision, your futuristic outlook, and your clarity of thought. And over that time, your unswerving dedication to the organisation and its members all have always been at the forefront of everything you do.” 

Ed Efchak of North Jersey Media Group in the United States: “In a media world that’s upside down, you’ve managed to keep INMA right side up for a long, long time.” 

Suzi Watford, executive vice president of marketing and membership at The Wall Street Journal in the United States: “Your enthusiasm and energy for our industry is hugely motivating and you are a joy to be around.” 

Grzegorz Piechota, Robert Whitehead, Suzi Watford, Earl J. Wilkinson, and Mark Challinor acting up at Reuters.
Grzegorz Piechota, Robert Whitehead, Suzi Watford, Earl J. Wilkinson, and Mark Challinor acting up at Reuters.

Inge Van Gaal, former INMA European division manager in Belgium: “[INMA] opened the world. It made us see that things that are very, very close are different … sometimes very far away are quite the same. So it brought us an open view to many things.” 

Thomas Mattsson, senior advisor at Bonnier News Group in Sweden: “You’ve made INMA WINMA.” 

Olivier Bonsart of Ouest-France: “You’ve been such a disruptor.” 

Pam Siddall, co-president of  Advance Local in the United States: “It’s just been amazing to watch you lead the team, especially this year with COVID. Super proud of what you’ve done and what INMA’s accomplished.” 

Earl J. Wikinson with staff after a Global Media Awards dinner at World Congress.
Earl J. Wikinson with staff after a Global Media Awards dinner at World Congress.

Sanjay Gupta, editor-in-chief and CEO of Jagran Prakashan in India: “You’ve seen the transformation of the newsroom coming from print only to now nearly digital.” 

Espen Egil Hansen, former director of new media concepts at Schibsted in Norway: “Being a part of INMA is not only about achieving by working hard together. It’s also about friendship. And you, my dear Earl, are such a big part of that.” 

Chris Janz, chief digital and publishing officer at Nine in Australia: “We may not be the same industry as we were in 1990, but your contribution to our sustainable future has never been more important.” 

Debby Krenek, publisher of Newsday Media Group in the United States: “You have helped our businesses become so much stronger for everything that you’ve done.” 

Many wished to see him soon again — in person. Some questioned if Earl was old enough to be here for 30 years. Sadly, I can confirm he is.

One thing I realised recently is I don’t know what the “J” stands for in Earl J. Wilkinson. Maybe I once did. But Robert Whitehead, INMA’s digital platforms guru and director of McPherson Media Group, solved that mystery in his congratulatory message for Earl: “Juggernaut.” 

Of course. And skål, my friend.

About Dawn McMullan

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