Cheesed Off: Locals Respond to Death of Green Bay Daily

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(AP) Roger Miller clutched Friday’s editions of The Green Bay News-Chronicle as he plugged money into a parking meter outside Al’s Hamburgers. He couldn’t believe the front page banner headline: “N-C going out of business.”

“I am shocked,” said Miller, of Suamico, Wis. “I just found out. We are down to one paper. I think it’s bad. I’ll miss it.”

News of the paper’s closure, though, was something many expected after it was bought nearly a year ago by Gannett Co., the nation’s largest newspaper group and owner of the rival Green Bay Press-Gazette.

Gannett plans to close the paper Friday, saying it’s lost too much money for too many years.

“It’s got to be a relief to some people. I am relieved,” News-Chronicle Editor Tom Brooker said. “It’s been a death by a thousand cuts over all these years. It has been a tremendous challenge.”

As he talked from his office housed in a converted convent downtown, funeral bells tolled at a cathedral across the street, a fitting sound for a paper about to die, too.

“There is always some laughter at a funeral,” News Editor Ray Barrington said, smiling. “You can’t say we didn’t try.”

The News-Chronicle started in 1972 by Press-Gazette workers on strike. Frank Wood bought it four years later and kept it going with money made from other ventures in his publishing empire, convinced that having two newspaper voices and choices was healthy for the community.

Wood repeatedly complained Gannett was trying to drive him out of town, and the News-Chronicle published a 10-part series in 1989 about its battle with the Press-Gazette.

To the surprise of many, the 76-year-old maverick publisher sold the daily newspaper and 33 other publications to Gannett last July for an undisclosed price.

Gannett had won, it seemed.

At Al’s Hamburgers, a downtown institution since 1934, the crowd Friday was sad to see the News-Chronicle go, but the paper wasn’t the main topic of the morning chatter. That billing went to the capture of a man in Green Bay wanted for shooting a deputy on the Menominee Indian Reservation.

Everybody knew the News-Chronicle was going to die, said owner Steve Rank, the restaurant founder’s grandson. “Gannett was going to get them eventually. Everybody knew that.”

Friday’s editions of both newspapers rested on the counter. The Press-Gazette ran a story about the News-Chronicle’s closing on the bottom of its local page.

“Why would they want to keep something that was competing against them all these years?” Mike Funk asked.

Regular News-Chronicle readers, Funk and Rank said they liked its “accurate short stories.” For years it was the only morning newspaper in town, and they said the fact it was locally owned for most of its life was a big plus.

Terri Hollister predicted people would miss its local flavor.

She sipped coffee and riffled through the tabloid, stopping at page 10 and pointing to Lyle Lahey’s editorial cartoon. “This is what made the newspaper every day,” she said. “You looked forward to it.”

This day’s cartoon was about national politics — the embattled nomination of John Bolton to be United Nations ambassador.

Kerry Carmody routinely advertised in both newspapers for his business, DNK Window and Siding. The little paper served as a check on the Press-Gazette, he said. Now he worries advertising rates might increase.

The News-Chronicle gave 24-year-old reporter Anna Krejci her first journalism job a year ago. She feels the community is losing a way to express itself. “It’s been a unique welcome to the profession,” she said.

Brooker, who started his career with the News-Chronicle in 1976, then left for a few years and returned in 1994, said three business factors worked against his paper in recent times:

? The Press-Gazette, with its circulation of 56,675 daily and 83,175 Sundays, became a morning newspaper. “We lost a lot of subscribers when we had to share the same news cycle,” he said.

? The state enacted its do-not-call list for telemarketing, ending the paper’s best chance to get subscribers to renew. In just the last year, circulation fell from 7,200 weekdays to about 5,000, Brooker said.

? More franchise businesses meant fewer local advertisers.

Of the newspaper’s 31 full-time workers, 24 were offered comparable jobs at other Gannett operations in the Green Bay area, Brooker and Barrington among them.

The News-Chronicle’s dream was to survive and become a model across the country for the revival of two newspapers in a community, Brooker said.

“It would have been a revolution in journalism,” he said.

Brooker said the paper’s final 64-page edition will cover that day’s news and be a tribute to the News-Chronicle, featuring some of its best photos over the years and Lahey’s favorite editorial cartoons. It will mention Wood’s battle against Gannett, but not much.

The editor already thought about the last front page headline.

“I can envision, ‘It’s been a great ride!'” Brooker said. “It really has been.”

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