Jack Ronald · 2013
As a young man, Jack Ronald swore he’d never be a newspaperman, even though it was in his genes.
In the years since that misguided decision, Jack has become editor and publisher of The Commercial Review, a small daily in Portland, Ind., that his parents acquired, and an advocate of press freedom both at home and in the emerging democracies in Eastern Europe and Central and Southeast Asia.
Jack has achieved wide acclaim for lecturing in foreign universities and mentoring journalists in 11 different countries, from Belarus to Afghanistan, from Kazakhstan to Burma. He was deported on arrival in one country because of his work with independent newspapers in another former Soviet nation.
“Jack Ronald’s midlife crisis has been to become a journalistic Johnny Appleseed,” says Andrew Lippman, former chief of the Associated Press’s Indianapolis bureau.
“I was born into a newspaper family and have long suspected that journalism is a genetic factor in the Jack clan,” Jack says. “My brother Steve was a deputy managing editor of The Minneapolis Star-Tribune before his retirement, my sister Louise is a business reporter for The Palladium Item at Richmond, Ind., and my sister Linda worked for The Commercial Review in Portland while in college.”
Jack had an early start in journalism. His parents launched a weekly newspaper, The Graphic, in Portland on his first birthday on Nov. 17, 1949.
Early newspaper memories include proof reading pages of The Dunkirk (Ind.) News and Sun with his father when he was about 12, delivering the daily for years, and working in circulation and production, Jack recalls.
In his young adulthood, Jack and his wife, Connie, lived for a couple of years in Indianapolis, where he drifted back into journalism. He worked in Indianapolis for alternative, entertainment and community newspapers. The work seldom paid but Jack says he found the work enjoyable and he liked the feedback.
“In 1974, there was an opening at The Commercial Review. My wife, Connie, and I decided to give it a shot,” Jack says. “We planned to stay in Portland two years. That was more than 38 years ago.”
After returning to Portland, Jack gradually advanced to editor and publisher, and as a community leader known for his support of cultural, philanthropic and educational organizations. Under his leadership, the newspaper has not been shy in reporting controversial news.
He has been an active member of the Indiana Associated Press Managing Editors and the Hoosier State Press Associations. Jack and his staff have won numerous reporting and editorial awards, including Jack winning Ball State University’s Indiana Journalism Award.
In addition to mentoring younger members of the newspaper staff, Jack has taught journalism at Earlham College as an adjunct professor. Earlham is his alma mater. He majored in English.
Jack has found time to write fiction, publish poetry, exhibit his photography and write a handbook for Central Asian newspapers managers.
“It’s hard not to be overwhelmed by all he does,” says Craig Klugman, editor of the The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette.
Jack’s latest project was a trip to Myanmar (also known as Burma) in 2012, where he conducted a four-week training project on election coverage. Upon his return, he covered a historic visit by Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi to Indiana for a newspaper in Yangon.
Jack is pleased about his work there and happy to note that Myanmar has been easing its control of news unlike some of the other countries he has visited.
The genesis of Jack’s international travels to help advance the cause of press freedom occurred in 1997 as he was approaching his 50th birthday. He applied for a Fulbright grant that sent him to Moldova, a small country that was once a part of the Soviet Union. (Fulbright programs are sponsored by the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. They are designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries.)
In January 1998, Jack, his wife, Connie, and their 11-year-old daughter headed for Moldova, where they stayed for six months. He taught for two days a week at the university there. That gave Jack time to work with the Independent Journalism Center, counseling editors and publishers of regional newspapers that were striving to become truly independent from government and political parties.
What impact, if any, has Jack’s work abroad had?
“It’s next to impossible to measure the effectiveness of work like that,” Jack says. “Changes in government, fragile economies and violence can lead to sudden reversals.
“In Moldova, where my work began, there has been steady, incremental progress in the face of incredible economic challenges. In the nations of Central Asia the results are much more mixed. Individuals who have participated in training and consultation have been both exiled and assassinated.
“In countries like Belarus, a dictator is still firmly in place, journalists work in a climate where courage is second nature and paranoia is endemic. Yet in Myanmar, which is changing rapidly for the better, there is an insatiable hunger for journalism and training.
“The short answer is that there is no short answer. Generalizations are dangerous and usually misleading.”
Except for the Fulbright grant for his first trip “these things have been done pretty much on my unused vacation time,” Jack says.
While he has no plans at present to work again abroad, he indicates he likely would venture forth should an opportunity arise. Meanwhile, he remains busy at home.
How does a publisher find the time to do what he does in Portland and internationally? His reply:
“I don’t play golf.”
By Ernest A. Wilkinson, State Editor, The Indianapolis Star (retired)