Occasionally, job candidates ask me what is it about Fort Wayne that would make them want to come here. I'll tell you my answer later. It is pertinent to the discussion.
I realized, with pride and surprise, that 22 of the 46 front pages in today's 150th anniversary section were on my watch. And as I flipped through the 22, I remembered every single one of them. I was in the newsroom for all but one.
But the anniversary section is not about me. If it's about anybody, it's about the Inskeeps, the third generation of the family who have controlled the paper for half of its existence, though I don't think it's even about them. The anniversary section is about a city, about news and about a newspaper. So, to appropriate and modify a Hollywood phrase, enough about me. Let's talk about my newspaper.
"News is only the first rough draft of history."
– Alan Barth, 1943, as reported by Slate
The sesquicentennial of The Journal Gazette comes at a pivotal time for newspapers, which is not an original observation. The Web, the proliferation of news channels, email newsletters and even more competition in print, not to mention the Great Recession, have wrecked our complacency born of centuries of newspaper dominance.
That is not altogether a bad thing. As we slog, tiptoe or dance through the changing news world, if you're at all interested in the world around you, you should be excited by what's happening. Today, the news is written in 140-character bursts (Twitter) and often reported in real time. News consumers have many first drafts to choose from.
My friend Tim Harmon, executive editor of the South Bend Tribune, gave me this observation: In the 24-7 news cycle, the Web means that newspapers are back in the game. We can flex our local reporting muscle.
How that is working out is anyone's guess.
"The newspaper journalists like to believe the worst; they can sell more papers that way, as one of them told me himself; for even upstanding and respectable people dearly love to read ill of others."
– Margaret Atwood,
A lot of people make a living criticizing the press, and while we often deserve the criticism, some of it consists of killing the wounded on the battlefield. There is an air of superiority and condescension about much of the criticism, often made weeks or months after the story. People ask why didn't the newspapers or the media catch this or that fact, or why didn't they take the time to put the story in context, whatever that means. Any fast-breaking story, like the recent bombings in Boston, unfolds over days. The initial coverage is by its nature fast and superficial.
Almost everyone, except some press critics, understands that and even accepts it (or, perhaps, even wants the news that way). Almost everyone also knows, and then decries, the idea that violence sells newspapers. The Boston bombings sold an extra 20 percent of our single-copy sales.
Well, violence may sell. But what those sales figures tell me is that when it counts – when it really counts – people will buy newspapers.
"If you don't read the newspaper, you're uninformed. If you read the newspaper, you're mis-informed."
– Mark Twain
I wonder what life was like in the newsroom before I got here, when big stories broke. What happened when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor (Page 15 of the anniversary edition)? I can hear the teletypes, smell the cigarette and cigar smoke, feel the tension as deadline was upon the staff. How many staff members were young men knowing that their lives had been forever changed?
The 1950 story about the indictment of the mayor of Fort Wayne and his police chief, among several others (Page 17), offers an example of how our world has changed.
Today, the courts reporter would have phoned in something for the website. The basic facts of the story would have been widely reported before the paper came out. The same was true about Boston, and still people wanted something palpable in their hands.
"Every time a newspaper dies, even a bad one, the country moves a little closer to authoritarianism…"
– Richard Kluger, author and ex-journalist
Nearly half of the 22 stories that happened while I was here were local stories. That's really quite a few, for in the last three decades, some horrifying stories played out nationally: shuttle explosions, school massacres, terrorist attacks, the attacks avenged.
Take your choice: Fort Wayne is blessed or cursed with many local stories that find their way into special sesquicentennial editions. (We in the business call them good stories. We mean that the stories have a sense of drama and conflict, or worse, and the challenge is to write them well.)
And here's when I get back to the opening paragraph of this essay. What do I tell people when they ask me why they should consider moving to Fort Wayne? I preface it by saying they should talk with young people in the newsroom if they want a sense of the social life in Fort Wayne.
But professionally? I can speak to that, and the answer for why you'd want to move here and start or continue a journalism career is this: Fort Wayne has a competitive news environment. And most of all, it's a good news town.
"All I know is what I read in the papers."
– Will Rogers
- Gallery offers a sampling of historic front pages.