The Merced Sun-Star has a new leader at its helm.
Valerie Bender on Friday was named president and publisher of the daily newspaper. Bender, 58, was previously the vice president of custom publications and community affairs at The Fresno Bee.
Bender takes over from Jason Cross, who left the paper earlier this month to accept a position with the Bay Area News Group.
A longtime newspaper reporter, editor and executive, Bender joined The McClatchy Co. in 1996 as a features editor at The Fresno Bee. She was promoted to assistant managing editor two years later.
Prior to joining McClatchy, Bender was the managing editor for The News Journal in Wilmington, Del.
Bender, who holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Florida, began her career as a reporter at The Virginian Pilot in Norfolk, Va.
The Houston native said her goals include making the Merced Sun-Star a partner in the community and covering issues that matter to readers.
“Your readers need to know that Merced Sun-Star is here to stay and issues that are important to readers are being tackled,” Bender said. “Nothing is more important to me than what I can do here. I’m really looking forward to delving into the community.”
Bender plans to move to Merced next week, saying she’s committed to becoming a strong presence in the community she serves. “The only way I can know this community is to be a part of it,” she said. “I can’t imagine being the publisher and not living in this city. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
With the steady growth of Merced, including UC Merced and many new businesses, Bender said the newspaper needs to be a part of the transition, especially as new people are drawn to Merced and it diversifies the readership.
“I want this newspaper to grow with the community it serves,” Bender said. “I think the Sun-Star serves its readers well, and I’m going to do my best to make this a thriving newspaper that serves readers both in print and digitally.”
Being involved with local events, listening to readers and providing greater news coverage are a few ways Bender wants to serve the community. “It’s not just about breaking news,” she said. “It’s also about covering issues important to the community. The more people see that, the more they respect the newspaper and are committed to it.”
Cheryl Dell, publisher and president of The Sacramento Bee, said the Merced Sun-Star has a very strong potential for growth and believes Bender is well-suited to lead the way.
“There are many exciting things happening in the Merced community,” Dell said. “I’ve watched Valerie for years in a variety of projects and everything she’s tackled has been successful. She understands how important the mission of the newspaper is in the community, the importance of public service and that it takes a good team to move forward.”
Bender is married and has a 24-year-old daughter named Lauren. When she’s not at the office, Bender said she enjoys reading and traveling.