The Green Bay
News-Chronicle is printing one more obituary today - its own.
The News-Chronicle, dead at 32, survived by its sister and
stepsister newspapers. Remains on view in a red coin box near
you - at least for 24 hours. Private burial in the bottom of a
Such, of course, is the fate of all newspapers; it's a
disposable medium. That, to those who work in them, is part of
their charm. We may write something that is remembered, but
there's always a deadline the next day. We may botch something
royally, but like a baseball player making an error, we have a
chance to do something memorable the next day to make people
There's always the next issue. Until today.
Volume 33, No. 175 marks the end of the line for a
newspaper that was formed in strife and never seemed to lose
that background. It was never the newspaper it could have
been, but it was more than it had any right to be.
It started, of course, as
a strike gesture.
In the early 1970s, the great issue in newspapering was the
switch from traditional "hot metal" typecasting to
computerized phototypesetting. That meant fewer jobs - skilled
ones - and unions fought back. There were strikes around the
In Green Bay, the strike by the local of the International
Typographical Union in 1972 was typical. There were 42 workers
out on strike. In an attempt to bring in some money and
promote their cause, they started a newspaper.
Strike newspapers are nothing new. In Madison, the "Press
Connection" operated during a strike against Madison
Newspapers Inc. and was well-received. But most die quickly,
either because the strike ends or the money runs out.
And the only other attempt to start a new newspaper in
Wisconsin in recent years, "The Paper" in Oshkosh, had failed
despite good quality and the Miles Kimball money behind it.
But the Green Bay union gave it a try. On Nov. 13, 1972,
The Daily News made its appearance. Like the Press-Gazette, it
was a broadsheet, appeared in the afternoons, and was heavy on
wire copy (United Press International) with features the P-G
hadn't purchased (Dear Abby was there, then as now, as was the
The strikers had rounded up "anyone who could hold a pen,"
as one early reporter put it. Christian Heide was the first
editor. He left quickly, and others followed. Tom Brooker,
editor in 1976-77 and again today, said he couldn't remember
how many had come before him, but there were at least five.
(The current count is 10 or 11, depending on whether, like
Grover Cleveland, you count Brooker twice.)
The paper started at a small building on Thrush Street, but
added an office on Broadway in time for the first issue. There
was no press; the paper was printed at the Shawano Leader for
the first year before being moved in October 1973 to the
presses of Brown County Publishing in Denmark. With the move,
the Daily News switched to morning publication.
Nobody had really expected the paper to continue for that
long. One reason it stayed alive was the support of one of the
area's richest men, Victor McCormick. A couple of indications
of his clout in Green Bay: it was his name that graced the old
Vic Theater (now the Meyer) and space was found in his
Minahan-McCormick building for the paper's offices.
His biggest contribution, one year after the paper started,
was buying 80 percent of the stock of the newspaper and buying
a press in 1975, allowing the Daily News to be printed in
Green Bay (at the old Vocational School, now the Green Bay
School District headquarters).
Why? Nobody really knew. One report said he was angry at
the Press-Gazette for unflattering reporting of his personal
life, even though he had ties to the Minahan family ownership
of the paper at that time. He would provide the Daily News
with a slogan for its editorial page for many years: "Lead,
Follow or Get Out of the Way."
McCormick stayed active until 1976, when he was
hospitalized with a heart attack and his family sold his
THE WOOD ERA BEGINS
But along with the
continuing losses were coming new problems. The Press-Gazette
was suing because the Daily News had won the contract to print
official city notices. Then, the Daily News started a free
shopper, taking on the Brown County Chronicle of BCP and Frank
A. Wood. The costs were higher than the Daily News expected,
and even McCormick wasn't ready to subsidize that much. Wood,
meanwhile, was still owed money for the Daily News' use of its
presses, and was considering his own lawsuit. The solution was
a settlement. Wood and BCP bought 45 percent of the stock in
Metropolitan Newspaper Corp., with Minahan holding 45 percent
and the original stockholders the rest.
It didn't sit well with some of the original staff, who
felt having to sell the paper had shown they had lost their
battle. Wood, for his part, took a leave of absence from his
teaching duties at St. Norbert College and worked late into
the night to keep his new paper going.
The takeover brought two major changes. Wood folded his
Chronicle shopper into the daily, renaming the paper the
News-Chronicle. (Also coming along in the deal was the artwork
of a former WBAY-TV staffer who did cartoons for the
Chronicle: Lyle Lahey.)
And the paper switched to tabloid size, unusual outside of
big cities but easier to handle. For many readers, it was -
and remained to the end - a big selling point.
Wood moved printing back to Denmark. He also started to
grow a beard, saying he would not shave until the paper turned
a break-even month. It took 21 months and a 13-inch beard that
Santa would envy before there was a profit of $125.81, in
Another change came in 1982, when the News-Chronicle moved
into what would become its trademark building, a former
convent at 133 S. Monroe St. However, the printing (and copy
desks) were kept in Denmark until the paper's last year.
The losses continued, but seemed to be diminishing as the
newspaper got a foothold. The paper's peers were noticing; the
News-Chronicle started to win awards in the Wisconsin
Newspaper Association's annual contest for the quality of its
writing and photography.
And it showed on the bottom line. There were small profits
in 1984 and 1985. An article in Editor and Publisher, the
national newspaper trade magazine, in 1986 noted the
newspaper's new profitability and its willingness to take
HAPPY CATS, SCOWLING DUCKS
News-Chronicle seemed to have established itself as part of
Green Bay. It had cleared niches; coverage of local
government, high school sports, even bowling.
It even had its own mascot, a Lahey-drawn cat who appeared
in house advertising and on forms.
But one thing the paper didn't have was a large staff, and
that sometimes caused problems. Stories that needed a second
reading sometimes barely got a first.
The ultimate came in the late 1970s, shortly after the
paper got new computers. A sportswriter had rewritten a press
release about a meeting of the waterfowl preservation group
Ducks Unlimited. While practicing on the new equipment, he
typed in a paragraph as a joke for the editor who would read
If you can find a News-Chronicle staffer, he or she can
tell you the paragraph. Suffice to say it suggested the
group's only accomplishment had been "messing up the
landscape" with "a lot of (adjective deleted) duck
Instead of "delete," he hit "send."
Brooker said he got a call from Wood the next morning, and
the publisher ordered his editor to read the story. Aloud.
"And all they've accomplished is to mess up the ... oh, sweet
mother of God!" Brooker said.
"Exactly," Wood replied.
To this day, the issue remains the only one ever to sell
completely out. By 9 a.m.
The folks at Ducks Unlimited, bless them, were able to
laugh. The writer got a week's suspension (would have been
longer, but he was needed), and the paper managed to make duck
salad out of duck leavings.
Lahey, never missing a trick, had his cartoon ready: a
duck, in hipboots and a scowl, picketing the building which
carried the motto: "The News-Chronicle: The Friend of the
Which the folks at Ducks Unlimited commissioned for table
centerpieces at their next dinner.
There would be others.
A headline: "Homicide suspect napped here."
A thief being arraigned at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral.
The occasional wrong team winning in a headline.
None, of course, were funny at the time. Well, maybe the
one about the duck.
The News-Chronicle would
miss only one day of publication in its history. That took
place with the issue of Nov. 2, 1985, better known in Green
Bay as the day after the "Snow Bowl" game between the Packers
and Tampa Bay. An 18-inch windblown snowfall not only kept
game attendance down, it eventually closed Interstate 43 and
County R, keeping staff members from getting to Denmark to
print the paper.
On some other occasions, deliveries were delayed by power
failures or weather, but there was a paper printed. The latest
would come in the next-to-last week of the N-C's existence,
when a cable between Green Bay and the Gannett presses in
Appleton was accidentally cut, hampering both the
News-Chronicle and Press-Gazette.
ATTACK OF THE BIG BOYS
The story broke
in The News-Chronicle in early 1980: an outside entity was
interested in the Green Bay Press-Gazette. Enterprising
reporters were on hand at Austin Straubel International
Airport to greet representatives of the Gannett newspaper
group when they flew to Green Bay. Soon, it was confirmed:
Gannett would buy the P-G and its sister paper, the Wausau
The atmosphere had changed. Instead of fighting another
locally owned newspaper, the News-Chronicle's competition had
deep, deep pockets. And they weren't afraid to dip into them,
keeping staffing levels high and ad prices low. While the
News-Chronicle had been profitable in the mid-1980s, the
status soon changed. And Wood thought his competition wasn't
So in 1988, he called a friend, Richard McCord, who had
exposed unsavory practices by Gannett aimed against other
newspapers. McCord, reluctantly, came to Green Bay.
He worked quietly, with no hint to staff members below the
top levels of what he was doing. In his book, "The Chain
Gang," McCord would spent a lot of time describing his
loneliness as the hired-gun reporter.
But his report would be a shocker. Prior to Nov. 27, 1989,
ads trumpeted, "this newspaper will make the biggest
announcement in its history."
It was the first of a 10-part series, "It's Now or Never,"
that detailed the operations of the News-Chronicle and attacks
against it by Gannett. Photos showed the staff, arms folded in
determination. The title phrase ran as a banner across the
bottom of the front page for almost a year.
It worked - for a while. But it worked too well. The
undersized circulation staff couldn't keep up with demand, and
many of the subscriptions sold were not renewed for poor
Still, it had bought time. The paper went into the 1990s
under editor Ron Poppenhagen as a consistent award winner and
solid second voice.
As noted, "shoppers" - the
free papers that generally consist of nothing but advertising
- have played a key role in keeping the N-C alive. They've
gone under various names, but usually had one thing in common
- they gave a little extra value.
In the late 1980s, the News-Chronicle even turned a shopper
into its first "Sunday" paper. "News-Chronicle Sunday"
actually came out on Saturdays, and included breaking news and
sports that had been part of the Saturday daily (which was a
serious money-loser). The name was eventually switched to
"Weekend Edition," then back to the "Brown County Chronicle."
They carried a variety of unusual copy, including food tips
from a well-known area chef, Andy Mueller, and an outdoors
column by author Mitch Bent that often avoided the "my day of
hunting/fishing" style for looks at the politics of
In recent years, the shoppers were given new identities as
the "Community News" and "Journal Shopper" in De Pere. Those
publications were transformed in May into the "Community
Snapshots" publication distributed by the Press-Gazette.
THE 1990s: A NEW LOOK
In 1992, the
paper marked its 20th anniversary with a large special section
saluting the past and looking forward to the future. The
annual sections ran until last year, often with special
themes. (In 2002, for the 30th anniversary, "30 people who
care" were profiled.)
In the early 1990s, the paper changed its design several
times, with new headline styles, a switch putting sports on
the back page, and new nameplates.
By 1995, the presses in Denmark had been upgraded, and
color photography on the front became a regular feature. The
biggest change came in 1997, when Wood pledged new support for
the paper. A major redesign added daily color to the front.
New local columnists from the community gave the editorial
page a new zing. The staff was at its largest in years. The
paper was promoting itself more. A trade-off with WLUK-TV
brought its meterologist, John Chandik, to the printed page.
New sections were added, from real estate to employment.
Old sections were dressed up. The entertainment section,
which had gone by such names as "TGIF," "Bay Beat" and "Friday
to Friday," was relaunched as the colorful "Rave!"
And the paper added a new outlet: the Internet. Opened in
1996, greenbaynewschron.com became an immediate hit, due in
part to fortuitous timing. That year, the Green Bay Packers
made their first trip to the Super Bowl in 30 years, and what
had been planned as a weekly update quickly turned daily, to
the joy of online football fans.
The Web site was the first for a Green Bay newspaper, and
was often competitive with those covering the Packers in other
cities. Gradually, it became a full-service site with a
variety of features on health, employment and other areas.
In 1997, the paper finally dropped United Press
International, which was fading into oblivion, for the
Associated Press wire. The N-C had carried the New York Times
service for many years; it added the Los Angeles
Times-Washington Post wire and the Christian Science Monitor
news service. And in November 1998, the paper spent $180,000
on new editorial equipment, its first in 10 years.
But several outside forces consipired to end the hopes for
a resurgence. The price of newsprint, the paper newspapers are
printed on, skyrocketed. Staff members left and were not
SOME HISTORIC ISSUES
has printed three "extras" in its 32 years. All came after the
The first came on a date seared into the national memory:
Sept. 11, 2001. Staff members were quickly sent out to get
local reaction and find out what was being done against this
sudden threat. Copy editors grabbed everything they could off
the wire. By 3:30 p.m., a section, with the headline "Day of
terror," was being sold on the streets of Green Bay; it would
be included in the next day's regular paper (which had even
The third helped the News-Chronicle avoid a problem it had
in 2000. On that election night, like many other broadcast and
print outlets, the N-C struggled to keep up with the changing
returns in the Al Gore-George W. Bush presidential race.
Finally, at about 2 a.m., Florida seemed to have gone to the
Republicans, and the front page with the big headline "IT'S
BUSH" went to the press.
By the time everyone got home, the headline was, as a
former presidential press secretary used to say,
"inoperative." It wasn't until weeks later that the N-C and
everybody else learned that yes, it was Bush.
In 2004, under new management, the press time was less
flexible, and the N-C had to go with a headline showing the
race was undecided. But this time, a second edition was
printed in early afternoon showing that, indeed, the president
had kept his job. (It also provided more complete totals on
statewide and local races.)
The third extra came on July 23, 2004, and is part of the
It was clear that
something would have to happen. Soon after the events of 9-11,
the economy, already in a slump, was getting worse. Healthy
newspapers were cutting back. The News-Chronicle was not
More to the point, the paper was losing its lifeline. Brown
County Publishing had been able to keep the N-C going with
transfusions from its other areas, notably commercial
printing. But that market had changed. It was barely
profitable, and many of the long-time customers BCP had
cultivated with fast turnarounds, quality effort and a "do
everything we can" attitude were going solely on price.
In addition, the consolidation of businesses into larger
businesses, and the continuing growth of franchises and chain
stores were eating at both commercial printing and newspapers.
Why should a Wal-Mart advertise in every newspaper when all it
had to do was keep telling consumers on television that it had
the lowest prices?
And as the smaller of the two dailies, the News-Chronicle
was an extra buy. It couldn't offer group sales to big
regional and national chains. Car dealers found it useful, and
the Oneida Casino was a regular on the entertainment pages.
But fewer and fewer others followed.
Attempts were made to stem the tide. In 2002, the
News-Chronicle struck a deal with the Milwaukee Journal
Sentinel. The N-C would start a Sunday edition. It would be
available as part of the Sunday Journal Sentinel.
The move boosted circulation, despite complaints from some
subscribers that they did not want to pay more for the
Milwaukee paper. Eventually, the Journal Sentinel cut back its
circulation in Northeast Wisconsin, and the Sunday N-C became
as much of a stand-alone paper as an insert in the larger
In addition, a new publication was started. "This Week" was
to be an insert in all BCP paid publications, from Sturgeon
Bay to Denmark, handled by the News-Chronicle but pulling
stories from all of them.
But with the cutbacks, things got worse in the newsroom.
Staffers left for other jobs, and weren't replaced. The news
staff was down to 10, including two copy editors, a
photographer, features editor, news editor, reporter, two
sports reporters, weekend photographer/clerical person and
another clerical person. And that was all.
It was clear that something had to be done, or the
News-Chronicle was going to go, and maybe take all of Brown
County Publishing with it.
Some people thought the Sunday deal might lead the Journal
Sentinel to buy the News-Chronicle. That wasn't to happen.
What did happen was, as
one observer suggested, the Green Bay equivalent of President
Bush hiring Osama bin Laden for a Cabinet post.
In late July, staff members at all Brown County Publishing
sites were told to report to Green Bay for a 9:30 a.m. meeting
at the Holiday Inn City Centre. Rumors were flying. Not even
Brooker, an officer of the company, knew what was going on
until 36 hours before the announcement.
Crowded into a ballroom, they saw an emotional Frank Wood
and an unknown woman enter.
Wood, in his typical style, was blunt. "I've sold the whole
works to Gannett," he said.
There was nervous laughter. "I'm not joking," he
emphasized, to a gasp - and maybe a few boos.
Gradually, the woman - Gannett's Ellen Leifeld - and Wood
answered the questions. Everybody still had a job. All papers
were still operating, including the N-C. No pay change, no
title change. They were now on new insurance, but that would
be worked out.
And the News-Chronicle staff went back to work to put out
its extra - the first paper since 1974 not under the direction
of Frank Wood.
Wood had realized the problems with the company would leave
major issues for his heirs to sort out should he die. And in
Leifeld, he had found something he probably thought he never
would - a Gannett person who was willing to keep his newsprint
THE FINAL MONTHS
A casual observer
would have seen few changes a month after Gannett took over
The News-Chronicle. The staff was the same; in fact, an extra
copy editor was about to be hired to help meet new deadlines.
The printing was about to be moved to Gannett's
state-of-the-art Appleton facility, and there would be more
But some of the people were starting to leave. Distribution
was now being handled by the Press-Gazette. The deadline was
moved up on Saturday nights because of so many Sunday papers
being printed for other publications.
Gannett concentrated on the business end of the
acquisition, and left the News-Chronicle news and editorial
staffs alone to cover the busy election year and its
But it was clear advertising was getting thinner. The
paper's deficits were not shrinking, but growing. And in early
May, the decision was made. The blood had almost run out.
The announcement - nowhere near the suprise of the previous
year's sale - was made in the News-Chronicle's conference room
on May 26. All but six of the 35 or so staff members left were
offered jobs at nearby Gannett publications.
Some staff members - mostly in advertising - would leave
the next day. A few would stay to put out the final week's
papers. And on June 3 - today - they would put out one last
Green Bay News-Chronicle.