Scott M. Bushnell. Hard News, Heartfelt Opinions: A History of the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2007. xii + 197 pp. $19.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-253-34920-0.
Reviewed by David Bulla
Published on Jhistory (November, 2008)
Commissioned by Donna Harrington-Lueker
The Fort Wayne Gazette: From Politics to Professionalism
Fort Wayne, Indiana, may be the perfect place to examine how a newspaper developed over nearly a century and a half. A city of churches, schools, and restaurants, it is moderately conservative politically and has been since the days the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette was first published during the Civil War. It is neither a big city nor a small town. At the same time, it cannot be called a small city or a large town either. Rather, it is a medium-sized city in the middle of America, in the nation’s nineteenth state, with a sizable middle-class population.
Muncie, located sixty miles south of Fort Wayne, has been studied exhaustively by sociologists as the ideal American city. In several ways, though, Fort Wayne affords a better view of the ordinary American city--it is not quite a metropolis, nor is it a village. It is in the middle. Thus, it is worthwhile for a historian to take a look at one of its indispensable institution’s, a newspaper that has lasted for fourteen decades and one that is more like the typical American newspaper than the big-city papers on the East Coast. Yet, Fort Wayne is also not typical, at least in the twenty-first century, because it is one of the few cities of any size left in the nation that still has both a morning and an afternoon newspaper.
The story that Scott M. Bushnell’s Hard News, Heartfelt Opinions narrates is that of a newspaper that embodies the progression from political newspaper in the 1860s to professional information vehicle in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. When the Journal Gazette started as the Daily Gazette in 1863, it was the third largest paper in Fort Wayne, trailing the Sentinel and Dawson’s Daily Times and Union. At that time, the Daily Gazette was the only Republican newspaper in a majority Democratic county, and its success in an era of political newspapers depended largely on the fortunes of the party and its leader, Abraham Lincoln. Isaac Jenkinson and David W. Jones started the Daily Gazette almost entirely to improve the political fortunes of Republicans in northeast Indiana. Interestingly enough, as was the custom in the nineteenth century, many Democrats in Allen County bought the Daily Gazette to see what Republican journalists were saying about Democrats. Of course, this did not stop the Sentinel and Dawson’s from ranting against Republican policies with vitriol. Especially targeted were emancipation, conscription, and the limiting of civil liberties by the Lincoln administration. In effect, Jenkinson, who wrote the editorials, became a mouthpiece for the administration and touted loyalty, countering the antiadministration rhetoric of the two Democratic newspapers.
A minor weakness in this section is that Bushnell does not provide more biographical depth to founder Jones, a printer who came to Indiana from North Carolina. Most Southerners who migrated to Indiana in the nineteenth century tended to be Democrats, except for Quakers. One wonders how Jones became a Republican. Was he a Quaker? Did he have some sort of revelation about the evils of slavery?
Bushnell does get the main theme of the early Gazette right, though. For most newspapers in the towns and small cities in the hinterlands of the United States in the nineteenth century, it was a struggle to survive. Yet the Gazette somehow held on. From there, the author shows the evolution of what would become a mid-sized newspaper, from partisan journal to commercial enterprise. As is often the case in American journalism, two papers eventually merged to form a more formidable company. The Gazette and Journal, which started in 1868, joined forces in 1899, and later, in 1950, in what would have surely been ironic to Jones and Thomas Tigar, both the Journal Gazette and the Sentinel began to share the same building, including their mechanical equipment. That is the same joint operating agreement that exists today.
What the author does best is narrate the stories of the various innovations and leaders that played major roles in the development of the paper(s). For example, David Keil, the associate editor of the Gazette in the 1870s and 1880s, established the Fort Wayne Newspaper Union in 1877, whereby he began selling preprinted sheets to smaller, more rural newspapers in a practice that was called syndication. Another innovation was the hiring in the mid-1870s of Fort Wayne’s first female journalist, Carrie M. Shoaff, who wrote from New York City about interesting New Yorkers and former Fort Wayne residents who visited that city.
Another important editor in the history of the newspaper was Nathan R. Leonard, a scientist and a one-time president of the University of Iowa. Leonard and his son, Frank M. Leonard, who took control of the paper in 1887, emphasized enterprising reporting and a stable financial basis. It is also worth noting that famed journalist William Rockhill Nelson edited the Sentinel in the 1880s before moving to Kansas City to run the Star. In the twentieth century, the Journal-Gazette (as it was then known) produced sports writer Ford Frick, who would eventually become president of the National League and then commissioner of Major League Baseball.
Nor was the paper immune to controversy. In October 1941, Charles Lindbergh gave one of his American First speeches in Fort Wayne that criticized President Franklin D. Roosevelt for his anti-Nazi policies. The Journal-Gazette and Sentinel had very different analyses of his speech. On the one hand, the former noted that Lindbergh did not disavow his anti-Semitic statements of the past. On the other hand, the Sentinel anticipated an end to freedom of speech for men like Lindbergh who spoke against the president as he had in Fort Wayne.
Four decades later, Fort Wayne found itself in the national spotlight when civil rights leader Vernon Jordan, president of the Urban League, was shot and wounded in a hotel parking lot in the city in 1980. The investigation that followed eventually produced the gunman, a white supremacist named Joseph Paul Franklin. Franklin later said he shot Jordan because the Urban League director had been driven around Fort Wayne by a white woman.
What happened to the Journal Gazette in the twenty-first century? As Bushnell notes in the epilogue, the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette and News-Sentinel were sold by parent McClatchy (which had obtained the two papers from Knight-Ridder) in 2006 to Ogden Newspapers of West Virginia, a smaller privately held family company. Somehow, Fort Wayne’s newspaper scene remains a two-newspaper town, with the Journal Gazette operating as a morning paper serving more than 75,000 readers (and more than 125,000 on Sundays) and the News-Sentinel (which won a Pulitzer Prize in 1983 for its coverage of a devastating 1982 flood) functioning as an afternoon paper with less than half as many readers. Bushnell says this keeps Fort Wayne’s diverse newspaper environment in place, but while the two papers have different audiences and different political perspectives on the editorial page, they do not operate on a equal footing.
What is more important is how the newspaper industry in Fort Wayne will fare in the twenty-first-century news media environment. These are tumultuous economic times, and Fort Wayne’s newspapers are not immune to the cost-cutting measures due to decreased readership, falling advertising revenue, and rising transportation costs. Yet the paper is relatively healthy in financial terms and is building a thirty-five million dollar printing plant across West Main Street from its current location. As Bushnell shows throughout this study, the Journal Gazette has survived several close calls with its own mortality. The current joint operating agreement with the News-Sentinel will require a renewal in 2050. Nobody knows what the news media environment will be like in the United States in four decades. However, the Fort Wayne newspapers will likely provide information about the city better than any other news operation. Hyper-localism will serve as the standard for newspapers in the nation’s mid-sized cities at mid-century.
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David Bulla. Review of Bushnell, Scott M., Hard News, Heartfelt Opinions: A History of the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette.
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