‘Giving back philosophy’ of retired Scripps CEO Boehne

Rich Boehne

Rich Boehne

– By Julie Kemble Borths

Life is pretty simple from Rich Boehne’s perspective.

It’s about things like chopping wood, hanging out with his family and doing the right thing.

At the same time, he’s involved in one complicated thing after another: chairman of the board for media powerhouse E.W. Scripps; chairman of the Northern Kentucky University Board of Regents as the school searched for a new president and continues to deal with state budget issues; and advocate for free speech and an active press, demonstrated with his leadership as incoming vice chairman of the Associated Press.

“I’ve always had a ‘giving back’ philosophy,” Boehne said. “I grew up in a Southern Baptist family where it was always: What’s mine is yours … and if much has been given, much is expected.”

Boehne, who until last year was also CEO and president at Scripps, said his life has not slowed down, but he continues to find balance between working and creating a life that’s about giving.

That commitment to giving brought him to the attention of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation of Southwest Ohio, said executive director Melissa Newman.

“As past chair of the JDRF One Walk/Kings Island, Boehne’s leadership led to one of the most successful corporate walk fundraising efforts in the chapter’s history,” she said.

This month, JDRF will honor him as its 2018 Cincinnatian of the Year, recognizing his impact on JDRF and the community.

A Kentuckian, Boehne said, “The river isn’t that wide.” He has always looked at Cincinnati as his hometown because it’s bigger than the borders would indicate. “There’s a diversity here that’s beneficial,” he said. “It’s a little bit South and a little bit North. And the money flows … It doesn’t respect state lines.”

“There’s a diversity [in Cincinnati] that’s beneficial,” he said. “It’s a little bit South and a little bit North. And the money flows … It doesn’t respect state lines.” – Rich Boehne

Boehne led Scripps through one change after another in the media landscape, understanding the responsibility to stockholders as he energetically defended the responsibility media outlets have to their communities.

It is that community commitment that energizes Boehne – and his belief in others that propelled him as a leader.

“He believes people are fully capable of making good decisions, given adequate information and the right opportunities,” said Liz Carter, Scripps Howard Foundation CEO and president. “He asks really good questions that challenge people around him [to] dig deeper and see issues in a different light.”

That perspective also informs his work as a board member at the Freestore Foodbank, according to Kurt Reiber, the organization’s president and CEO. He noted that Boehne is “a servant leader, and he brings a caring, compassionate presence to everything he is involved in and has made our community a better place to live, work and raise a family.”

Boehne and his wife, Lisa, raised their two sons in Greater Cincinnati, all of them drawn not only to the urban core – where they now live – but also to the 240 acres the family owns in Morning View, Kentucky. There, among the wooded areas, the organic fields and the wildlife, Boehne chops wood and gains a sense of accomplishment that’s hard to find in his other work.

“There’s a beginning, middle and an end,” Boehne said of the pleasure he takes in his farm chores. But he doesn’t avoid tough challenges that seem to require different answers every day. For example, he has given a lot of thought – with his involvement in the media as well as nonprofits – to how to communicate in a different media landscape.

“It’s actually a fabulous time in human history to tell your story straight to the community” with so many social media outlets, Boehne said. “It used to be that if you were a nonprofit or a business owner with a new product, you had to come on your hands and knees to try to get a story in the local newspaper. And if they didn’t do a story, no one knew about you.”

Now, Boehne said, social media can carry the message – but the segmentation of that audience will continue to evolve. “You have to figure out who’s the audience and then build your audience,” Boehne said, suggesting that tools like podcasts are particularly useful for nonprofit organizations.

Storytelling, the basis of his work from the days he served as a reporter and editor, will always have power, he said. And it’s an important role for today’s journalists as well, no matter what they cover.

“I’m a lunatic free-speech advocate,” Boehne said. “But we (the media) have to demonstrate our value every day.”

“I’m a lunatic free-speech advocate. But we (the media) have to demonstrate our value every day.” – Rich Boehne

With so much competition and so much information, Boehne looks for the future of journalism to be more about going deeper, asking questions and analyzing answers. There’s no need, with the internet, for the kind of reporting that just states what government spending is, or the location of the next council meeting.

Being able to ask questions as citizens, as part of the media and in other fields as well, requires engaged citizens, Boehne said. And for that to happen, he said, a population needs to be healthy, which is why he supports JDRF with its commitment to defeating a chronic disease. 

Citizen engagement also requires more people who are able to enter “the window to the American Dream,” which is how he refers to his alma mater, Northern Kentucky University. 

“Rich … has demonstrated that hard work, determination, integrity and a constant quest for truth pay off,” said interim NKU President Gerard St. Amand. Boehne’s support and leadership, particularly as a first-generation college graduate, has helped create a university “fiercely focused on providing life-changing educational opportunities for all of our students.”

“Genetically and spiritually, I’ve always been in the public service business,” Boehne said. “I’ve always believed you could make the world a better place.”


On a personal note…

Home: Newport

Family: Wife, Lisa, a former journalist who now focuses on rehabbing houses; sons Luke and Jack; two grandchildren.

A good day: Chopping wood on the farm, followed by supper with the whole family.

Travel: There are too many wonderful places to go to repeat any trips, Boehne said. The Boehnes’ last journey took them to Vietnam and Cambodia. Next, they look forward to hiking in Norway.

What he’s reading: Anything by Kentucky writer Wendell Berry; what Boehne calls the “trilogy of understanding the last election”: “Hillbilly Elegy,” “Deer Hunting with Jesus” and “White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America.” Also, son Jake’s children’s book “Two Long Ears.”

What he’s listening to: Lots of podcasts, mostly analyzing the news, as well as Americana music like that of Old Crow Medicine Show and the Avett Brothers.

Quote he lives by: More than one thing can be true at the same time. And that can be hard for people to grasp.

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