News about the news business is depressing, especially when you spent 56 of your 70 years as an active contributor.
My career began in 1957, as a freshman at Amherst High School, writing about Falcon sports for the Amherst Advocate. That continued while attending UW-Stevens Point until June 17, 1964, when I was hired by the Post-Crescent as a writer in the New London bureau.
Those are the last dates embossed in my mind as to the twist and turns of a great learning experience as an insider covering news, events and lives of a telephone book of people.
The best experience was community journalism which was the hallmark for the Post-Crescent when I joined it.
The unwritten mission to print the name of every person in a community at least three times every year was set by managing editor (John Riedl) in the 1920s, according to Dwight “Spud” Spaulding, a veteran newsman, working at the New London Press in 1964. Spud’s career included the P-C and ventures as far flung as Chicago and Houston.
Unlike Spaulding, a gadfly in the newspaper industry, my 42-year professional career was with the Post-Crescent.
Job evaluations when I started in New London included the number of datelines – name of the community – that appeared in the paper daily. Nearly all of the 10 to 12 stories – some no more than two paragraphs – would make the paper daily. It was community journalism at its highest and the hallmark of most small and medium sized daily newspapers.
It is the lifeblood of weekly newspapers, too.
The newspaper business is changing and fading. Many fingers are pointed at the Internet and 24 x 7 news channels as the cause.
My autopsy is death by suicide, greatly enhanced by the big chain newspapers who began buying smaller papers and venturing into the shopper and weekly paper market – two areas foreign to the people in striped suits and with MBA degrees making decisions.
The family-owned Post-Crescent went public and was sold to Gillett Communications Aug. 1, 1984. Gillett was more interested in the television holdings and four months later sold the newspaper to Thomson News.
Trade publications pilloried Thomson, claiming it viewed newspaper holdings as “cash boxes” with little concern about the news or employees.
This proved not to be the case. Thomson did make some changes but retained management and policy and did not mess with a money making machine.
Gannett, the largest newspaper chain, took over in 2000 and brought a “one size fits all” philosophy ignoring that most small daily newspapers were successful because they filled the niche of local readers.
USA Today may be the worst thing to happen to the newspaper industry as Gannett invested millions from its other media operations in search of a formula to get out of “red ink” it lost developing it.
USA Today was developed as a national newspaper to appeal to commuters and provide a wide view of the news. It relied greatly on display, graphics, color and feature stories. It became a standard for judging papers, especially in the Gannett chain.
Less emphasis was given to local coverage and the number of local datelines and stories slowly disappeared. Consolidation of services for circulation, finance and advertising frustrated customers and readers seeking help.
Gannett’s control – that began in Green Bay and Wausau – of Wisconsin papers after buying the Post-Crescent grew to dominate dailies from Lake Michigan to the Wisconsin River north of Fond du Lac.
Complaints by readers in the new areas were similar; their paper no longer was focused on local news or community journalism.
“My” is commonly used when talking about newspapers because they become part of their lives over many years of reading them.
The Journal Company’s venture into weekly and shoppers was not seamless.
A problem with today’s news industry is bringing in new people, usually not familiar with the area, in charge of making critical decisions. It affects circulation and zoning of areas to ensure a reader gets the news they want.
Time for the good news as seen by the End Stool as a possible turning point in community journalism.
The Motley Fool in a blurb Dec. 3 announced:
Journal Community Publishing Group, Inc., today announced the sale of its publications and websites in northern Wisconsin to Green Bay-based Multi-Media Channels, LLC (Brown County Publishing).
Included in the sale were buyer’s guide publications and corresponding web-sites serving Waupaca, Marathon and Wood counties, Waupaca, New London, Clintonville, Stevens Point and Rhinelander. Included are Waupaca County Post East and West and Silent Sports magazine.
East editor Tim Beimal seemed surprised by my, “Congratulations, you are going to like your new owners. They understand the weekly newspaper business,” as he approached the End Stool last Tuesday.
I quickly explained that the new owners were schooled in community journalism and managing weekly papers and shoppers. I told him of several people who had been involved with Brown County Publishing.
One of those being, Dave Hutchison who began his career at Post Corp shortly after I did. His assignment was to build a group of weekly papers and shoppers in the West Allis/Milwaukee area into a viable business.
Years later Dave was hired by Frank Wood as managing editor/editor on the Green Bay News Chronicle.
“Frank said I was hired and to name what I wanted to do, reminding me the job of publisher was filled,” Hutchison said.
Wood built his fortune on a successful publishing career of shoppers, weekly papers and publishing in Brown County. In addition, he was a college professor, teaching humanities at St. Norbert College and a supporter of the college.
Wood invested much of his assets in the Chronicle competing for readership in the Green Bay area with Gannett, owner of the Press-Gazette. In 1976, Wood bought a share of the Green Bay News, a newspaper launched four years earlier by typographers who were on strike against the Press-Gazette. He merged the paper with his weekly and called it the News-Chronicle.
Gannett bought the News-Chronicle 2004 and ended the paper in 2005.
Wood was named to the Wisconsin Newspaper Hall of Fame in 2002.
“He was a good man, with high standards and good to his word,” Hutchison said. “I am excited about the future of the weekly newspaper in the area.”
The Wood family, new owners of the County Post, have an enviable pedigree building on “Community News.”