Julie Inskeep · 2008
By Craig Klugman
On May 4, 2003, Julie Inskeep gathered at her home in Fort Wayne the key editors of her family’s newspaper so they could hear from her the news that would affect the future of the paper. What led to this meeting were the steps she and her brother Steve had taken to continue publishing the Journal Gazette. And as much as any other accomplishment, what she did is why she is being inducted into the Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame.
Her father, Richard Inskeep, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1991, attended the meeting. What he was watching, with approval, was his daughter’s (and his son’s) continuation of the family efforts to make sure Fort Wayne had two newspapers. The lifework of the Inskeep family—a newspaper that was now the dominant paper in northeast Indiana—would carry on.
Between Dick’s induction and Julie’s, the landscape of American newspapers has significantly changed: competition, technology, an unrelenting news cycle, and huge shifts in demographics—all have put intense pressure on people who own and run newspapers. Julie faced those changes while preserving the past, ensuring a level of resources, and preparing the paper for a high-tech future.
Indeed, she was nominated for induction into the Hall of Fame “for helping preserve a two-newspaper town, for carrying on a tradition of local ownership, for maintaining a local voice, for preserving local newspaper history, for a commitment to journalism nationally and ally, and for keeping strong a tradition that goes back three generations in her family (and 140 years in Fort Wayne).”
For years, the Journal Gazette was the second newspaper in Fort Wayne. The News-Sentinel was clearly the paper of clout. The papers were published under a joint operating agreement (JOA) that gave all the power to the family that owned the News-Sentinel. But because the economics of American newspapers clearly favored morning papers such as the Journal Gazette, the Inskeeps were determined to get a better deal.
In 1980 a new owner of the News-Sentinel, the famous Knight Ridder newspaper company, arrived and, after some long negotiations, gave the Journal Gazette a much better financial arrangement. But equally important, the Inskeeps’ determination kept Fort Wayne a two-newspaper town.
Twenty-three years later, with all the editors in attendance at her house, Julie Inskeep announced a similar decision regarding the future of the JOA, only with dramatically different financial implications. The first paragraph of a news story that appeared in her newspaper Tuesday, May 6, 2003, reports some of what Julie did: “The Journal Gazette Co. and Knight Ridder Inc. on Monday announced a 30-year extension to an agreement under which the newspaper companies’ local business units operate.”
Producing two newspapers owned separately but published together under one roof can be inefficient and fraught with management problems. The incentives are all in favor of ending a JOA or not starting one. In spite of all that, Julie Inskeep wanted to preserve the local ownership and local voice in a two-newspaper town. So she, with her brother Steve, began renegotiating the JOA contract a year before the announcement at her home.The negotiated contract has several new provisions, but the key point is that now the only thing standing in the way of a two-newspaper town in Fort Wayne is the success or failure of the newspapers themselves.
The second and third paragraphs of the newspaper story say a lot about the Inskeep family commitment: “The amended Joint Operating Agreement increases Knight Ridder’s ownership stake from 55 percent to 75 percent in the agency known as Fort Wayne Newspapers. The agreement also ensures that the Journal Gazette will remain locally owned and that its executives and managers control its newspaper and online content. The Journal Gazette’s ownership stake in Fort Wayne Newspapers goes from 45 percent to 25 percent The Inskeeps gave up twenty points of their revenue percentage—from 45 to 25 percent to ensure local ownership and local control of their newspaper.
Any biography of the inductee would be remiss if it didn’t mention her commitment to local journalism. She has encouraged the paper to remain locally focused and has in fact pushed the newspaper’s “Perspective” pages to shift to almost entirely local editorials. Although not a trained journalist, she knows good journalism and, in particular, good local journalism. She has pushed the newsroom and the business side of the operation to continue covering (and promoting) local coverage. She was an enthusiastic supporter of the paper’s convergence efforts with a television station in Fort Wayne. Almost every improvement to the paper since she became publisher in 1997 has had a local focus.
Julie has been active nationally for the industry. She has served on the board of the Newspaper Association of America, is on the board of the Associated Press (she went on the board when one had to be elected by other publishers), is a past president of the Hoosier State Press Association, and is on the board of the Inland Press Association. She has been active on every group she serves, heading committees and serving on task forces.
She persuaded a local author, Scott Bushnell, to write a book about the history of the Journal Gazette in an effort to preserve its piece of history. The Indiana University Press published the book, Hard News, Heartfelt Opinions: A History of The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, in 2007.
But before Julie did all that, she was a social worker, with two degrees in the subject from Indiana University (BA 1972, MSW 1974). After she earned her master’s degree, she worked for a year in Bloomington as a geriatric social worker, then spent two years as a nephrology social worker—working with people who had kidney diseases
at Lutheran Hospital in Fort Wayne. She became the hospital’s director of social services in 1977. She left the job in 1983 to raise her family. (She has two children, Laura Walda, twenty-five, and Kirk Walda, twenty-four. Laura, who graduated from IU in 2004, is in the third year of a four-year IU program in which she earns a law degree and a master’s degree in public policy. Kirk, a 2006 IU graduate, works in consumer marketing for Procter & Gamble in Cincinnati. Both were elected to Phi Beta Kappa while at IU.)
Julie started at the Journal Gazette in 1984 as a member of the editorial board. Six years later, her children now in school, she began working as assistant publisher. Her dad retired in 1997, and she became publisher (and chairman of the board of Fort Wayne Newspapers). She is a member of the editorial board. Over the years, she has also been on many community boards—working on committees, helping raise money, getting other people to serve, and serving as president of the boards (and, in one notable case, as temporary chief executive of one not-for-profit while she was also publisher of the paper). She has been on the boards of the Fort Wayne Community Foundation, United Way of Allen County, Community Partnerships Inc. (past president of all three), Neighborhood Health Clinic (past president and interim CEO), Fort Wayne National Bank, National City Indiana, Parkview Hospital, Lutheran Hospital, Three Rivers Neighborhood Health Services, Crossroads Children’s Home, Lutheran Hospital Foundation, American Cancer Society, and SCAN (Stop Child Abuse & Neglect). Julie is now on the boards of Invent Tomorrow, the YMCA (also co-chair of a capital fund drive to build a YMCA on the southeast side of town), and the Allen County Courthouse Preservation Trust.
It is the newspaper that undergirds everything she does in the community where she was born and raised. She is
proud of her staff and the paper, and she checks the Web site every day, even when she’s out of the country.
This is from the final paragraphs of Hard News, Heartfelt Opinions: “The Journal Gazette has been the Inskeep family’s lifework for more than a half-century, yet never before have the challenges been so unremitting. . . . But the Journal Gazette has survived greater threats. Born in the dark days of the Civil War, the Journal Gazette has printed the news through social upheaval, depressions, mergers, boycotts, lawsuits, politically motivated owners, and nasty competition to become the dominant newspaper in northeast Indiana. And there it stands but does not rest.