Kaitor Kay, writing for WANE, reports that the Fort Wayne News Sentinel is down to one employee, conservative columnist Kevin Leininger. Retention of Leininger apparently (or at least arguably) fulfills the News Sentinel’s obligations under a joint operating agreement with the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette originally signed in 1950. Under that agreement (per Wikipedia anyway), “each newspaper is separately managed and has separate editorial staffs, but Fort Wayne Newspapers provides advertising sales, circulation, and printing services used by both newspapers.” The agreement seems to have been updated about a year ago when the News-Sentinel stopped distributing a print edition and moved to digital only except that some print content was included with distribution of the Journal Gazette. In a statement released at the time, Mike Christman, the publisher, said, “the News-Sentinel will now have the ability to reach a wider range of audiences in Fort Wayne, while focusing exclusively on creating great, engaging content.” Maintaining its commitment to the unique character and voice of The News-Sentinel was a priority, Christman said. The updated agreement runs through 2075.
Less than a year later, however, the News-Sentinel abruptly laid off everyone but Leininger. The employees were called into a meeting and told that they were being let go. Per the WANE story:
Tom Davis, a current reporter and former sports editor for the newspaper, was one of the employees let go. He said they were called into a meeting for the announcement, adding that they “had no idea this was coming.”
. . .
The general manager at Fort Wayne Newspapers, Pete Van Baalen, would only confirm personnel changes, but did say the News-Sentinel would maintain their online presence, and its page inside the Journal Gazette.
I can’t pretend any deep familiarity with the Fort Wayne news market, but it came on my radar when I started blogging 13+ years ago. It was a decent size metro area with two substantial newspapers, and neither of them were part of the Gannett hive organism. That seemed like a throwback. I had a notion that the competition between the two papers made each of them better. And, again, I’m speculating, but the blog activity in the area was different and better than what I saw elsewhere. Pound-for-pound, the Fort Wayne blogosphere punched way above its weight. In my mind, that was related to the newspaper activity. I don’t know that one caused the other, but I had a general notion that whatever was in the water that made Fort Wayne a two newspaper town in an era when that had long stopped being the norm was also producing more blogs.
The blogs came and went, seemingly long ago. The News-Sentinel is going to live a shadow existence. (I’m envisioning Leininger as the Ancient Mariner aboard some kind of ghost ship). Hopefully, the Journal Gazette will be able to continue its good work and the News-Sentinel employees who lost their jobs will bounce back quickly. I continue to believe that, for newspapers to remain strong, they have to put local reporters on local beats. Certainly that’s more expensive than opinion columns, wire services, and classified ads, but if you don’t have boots on the ground as a local presence, you’re dispensable. All that other stuff, I can get from almost anyplace else in the world, but the local reporting is valuable to the community and difficult to replace. Which does not, of course, mean that non-local owners will give a damn. Local ownership probably wouldn’t be a bad idea either.