Volunteerism part of lifetime game plan for news executive

Debbie Anselm

As a young girl growing up in Valparaiso, Indiana, Debbie Anselm would wonder why her mother hired a babysitter and left the house to do volunteer work.

Judie Shurr, who was the first female in her family to graduate from college, would explain to her children the importance of “giving back to the community that gives us so much, and saying how lucky we were and how important it was that we work on behalf of others,” Ms. Anselm recalled.

The example formed a lifetime game plan for Ms. Anselm, 61, whose community influence has been felt locally in organizations ranging from the Quad Cities Chamber of Commerce to the Quad Cities Community Foundation, United Way of the Quad Cities, and Junior Achievement of the Heartland, to name just a few.

A longtime media executive who took the helm in October as executive director of the Iowa Newspaper Association (INA), Ms. Anselm also learned from her mother – a business teacher who retired at 76 as the oldest teacher in the state of Indiana – to skillfully blend civic and professional responsibilities.

As one of more than two dozen family members who followed her mother as a student at Indiana University, Ms. Anselm also took her mother’s example as a member of Tri Kappa, an Indiana sorority whose purpose is to promote charity, culture and education.

“I was so involved in the community I was raised in, I never thought I would leave that community,” she said. “When I came here, I wasn’t sure if I would be here for two years or 10. But I made a commitment that I was going to try to make a difference where I could and I was going to put action behind my words.”

Such a commitment is impossible without the support of her family, she says. Her husband, Scott, “has been my partner in absolutely, absolutely everything.” And her children, Alissa, in her final year at Palmer College of Chiropractic; Zach, a Ball State University graduate who works in logistics in Indianapolis; and Emma, a senior at Assumption High School, appreciate and understand her community and professional work.

In her previous position with Davenport-based Lee Enterprises as president of the Iowa SBU, Ms. Anselm was recognized for her professional achievements in leading digital transformation efforts and revenue growth in a business unit of six publications across Iowa, including the Quad-City Times and Dispatch Argus.

As executive director of the Des Moines-based INA, Ms. Anselm now advocates on behalf of 241 newspapers in Iowa.

In nominating her for the Women of Influence award, Quad Cities River Bandits owner Dave Heller said: “In this new position, she shares her passion for local journalism, community service and workplace integrity on an even broader platform. She is already making strides advocating for open records and championing the principles of transparency, accountability and democracy.”

Ms. Anselm said when the INA position became available, “it was at this pivotal moment in my career where I had been reflecting on what’s next. I want to make an impact, and how can I do that?”

“It really is about finding sustainable paths for newspapers going forward … it’s about reinventing and revitalizing the industry as a whole. The conversation isn’t so much about the platform … it’s more about the content, the purpose, and the role.”

It’s also critical, she said, to show the path forward for young people, “for the next generation who want to be reporters. We let other people tell our story – newspapers’ story – for far too long. It’s time for us to tell ours.”

She is maintaining dual residences – one in Des Moines and her family’s home in Bettendorf. Part of her new responsibilities, she said, is traveling throughout the state to visit newspaper executives on their own turf. Much of her time in the state capital will be spent with legislative matters important to the media industry.

“There is some important public policy work underway that I want to be a part of, and that’s everything from journalism preservation acts, reporter shield laws, open records legislation, and then what opportunities are there going forward,” she said.

This profile was originally published in the QCBJ’s 2024 Women of Influence publication. The QCBJ is excited to introduce this new awards program to the Quad Cities. Our inaugural class of Women of Influence are an inspiring group of trailblazers, role models and leaders in their workplaces and in their communities. They have overcome adversity, taken chances and committed themselves to making the Quad Cities community a better place for all of us to live, work and play.  

The QCBJ will present the 2024 Women of Influence awards on Thursday, May 23, from 5:30-8 p.m., at the Quad Cities Waterfront Convention Center in Bettendorf. Tickets are still available to the event, which includes networking, dinner and remarks from the winners, by visiting quadcitiesbusiness.com.

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