By: Lucia Moses and Joe Strupp
In a year that has seen the death of its longtime publisher and the pending loss of its afternoon newspaper, The Indianapolis Star/News took another hit this week as veteran editor Frank Caperton announced his retirement.
Caperton, 62, served in a top editorial post at the newspapers for 15 years, first as managing editor of the News, starting in 1984, then as executive editor of the combined staff, starting in 1995.
“He leaves some pretty big shoes to fill,” says Star/News president and publisher Dale Duncan, who took over the publishing post in January. “He’s got some incredibly broad newsroom management experience. He has been through the wars and provided a steady hand.”
Duncan says he posted the job internally and will conduct a nationwide search to replace Caperton, who agreed to stay through the end of the year.
Caperton’s announcement comes just two weeks after Duncan told the staff that the afternoon News would cease publication as of Oct. 1; seven months after the death of Star/News publisher Eugene S. Pulliam, who had led the operation since 1975; and after corporate parent Central Newspapers Inc. moved to Phoenix from Indianapolis in January 1998.
Caperton says neither the change in publisher nor the loss of the afternoon paper had any impact on his decision. He says he simply wanted to concentrate on other things, such as his volunteer work with the Boy Scouts and his local church.
“I also need to work on my tennis game,” Caperton says, with a laugh. “I have been planning to retire for a while, and I have been able to do it a little earlier than I thought. I’ve enjoyed being an editor and reporter and want to do other things.”
Caperton, who is married with two grown children, started his news career as a reporter at The Richmond (Va.) News-Leader, and eventually held reporting or editing positions at The Miami Herald, the St. Petersburg Times, and the Tampa Tribune. He also served as executive editor at The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk before moving to Indianapolis in 1984.
“I have deep feelings about the profession,” he says. “But I am exhilarated at the chance to do something else.”
Some staffers say the announcement was expected. Marc Allan, president of the Communications Workers of America/Newspaper Guild local representing Star/News employees, recalls that, at the last contract negotiations six years ago, Caperton said he wouldn’t be there for the next round of talks, set for October 2000.
Caperton oversaw the merger of the Star and News staffs and reorganized the newsroom earlier this year. Prior to the merger, he sought to raise the profile of the News, adding investigative coverage, changing the layout, and creating zoned editions, staffers say.
“He made the News a better paper,” veteran staffer John Flora says. “He sharpened us up.”
Caperton is known for his direct, blunt management style, which made him popular with some but disliked by others. Staffers have a chance to speak up about his successor: Duncan has asked them to suggest qualities they’d like their future boss to have.
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