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It takes guts to install a newspaper press these days

Jay Smith
Dean Musser Jr. | The Journal Gazette
Press operators load paper onto the new press. A full roll weighs more than a ton.

It takes guts to install a newspaper press these days. After all, aren't printing presses the dinosaurs of today's digital age? No one reads newspapers any more, according to the conventional wisdom, so why invest $35 million in a state-of-the-art press facility?

Maybe it's because people do read newspapers. Maybe it's because people do care about remaining or, in some cases, becoming informed citizens. Maybe it's because merchants and service providers know newspapers attract the audience most likely to shop at their stores or purchase their services.

And maybe, just maybe, it's because the publishers of Fort Wayne's newspapers, The Journal Gazette and The News-Sentinel, know the predicted demise of the printed newspaper is dead wrong.

For much as a child might ask, “Where do babies come from?” an equally innocent questioner might ask, “Where does news come from?” Unless Fort Wayne is different from every other U.S. city with which I am familiar, the answer is “the newspaper.” Newspapers understand what it takes to reflect the life of a community, day in and day out. Count all the other journalists in Fort Wayne and it's a safe bet the staffers of the two hometown newspapers outnumber them by a wide margin. That's because newspapers take seriously their commitment to understand and reflect the communities they serve.

This is the bond that ties a newspaper to its community. Each needs the other. If you believe in your city, then you believe in your newspaper. It's clear to me that with this new plant, the publishers of Fort Wayne's two newspapers believe in you.

Which brings us back to the bold decision to plunk down all that money for a new printing press.

Yes, more and more people are getting their news and information online, something the operators of The Journal Gazette and The News-Sentinel understand and have wisely addressed with first-rate Web sites. A high percentage of those same people still crave a print edition, however, and an even greater percentage want onlya printed newspaper.

The wonderful news for newspapers is that the total of these two audiences -- print and online -- today exceeds the print-only audience of just a few years ago. So much for the “conventional wisdom” that newspapers have one foot in the grave.

It's evidence that newspapers, now more than ever, are wanted and used for the essential news and advertising they contain. It's the inspiration that drives this week's opening of the new downtown 46,000-square-foot press complex.

Julie Inskeep, publisher of The Journal Gazette, is a friend and a colleague. Julie and I are on the board of The Associated Press and we have served on the board of the Newspaper Association of America, our industry's trade group. Julie is a Hoosier through and through, something she never lets this native Buckeye and Ohio State University graduate forget.

If Julie is the personification of all the men and women at Fort Wayne's two newspapers (and I'm willing to bet she is), you who read and reside in Fort Wayne are very lucky, indeed.

For you have newspapers that understand they must earn your trust and confidence each day. They recognize that they better provide the information you need, that it better be right and that they need to be a place where all form of opinion is aired openly and fully. And they better do all of this in the medium you prefer. That means online and, most especially, print.

The startup of a new press is a big deal. It's more than a critical piece of equipment to a newspaper. It's a symbol that we live in a society that still, and I hope always will, cares about the free and open flow of information.

The presses to be replaced have lasted nearly 50 years. They have served you well. Just think of how much Fort Wayne history they have recorded!

May the new presses go even longer than another half-century. As they come to life each day and publish tens of thousands of copies, they will continue to reflect the life and vibrancy of your community. A newspaper and its city are inextricably bound. They share a name -- Fort Wayne -- but they also share a future.

Jay Smith, a former reporter and editor, is president of Cox Newspapers Inc., a newspaper group that includes papers in Atlanta, Austin, Texas, and Dayton, and is past chairman of the board of the Newspaper Association of America. He wrote this for The Journal Gazette.