Monday, May 30, 2011

Independent Newspaper Legend Frank Wood, RIP

This past Friday, May 27, Frank Wood passed away at the age of 82. He was a professor and small business owner, but most significant was his decades of work as a publisher of a string of local newspapers in Wisconsin and Illinois.

For all of you publishing exec-wannabes (like me), it is useful to know that Wood became smitten with newspaper publishing when he served in the Allied occupying armies in Germany after World War II. In the early 1960s, he and his wife bought their first newspaper, the Denmark Press. They eventually bought or started more, until they had a string of them, most of them modestly profitable, along with a successful printing operation.

But it was the Green Bay News-Chronicle that defines his legacy for many of us. The morning paper started as a strike paper by employees of the much-larger Green Bay Press-Gazette. When Wood bought the fledgling paper, he brought in additional talent, including my mother and the man who eventually became my stepfather. (I can remember my mother working into the evenings to help oversee the production of the little daily paper.) The Chronicle grew into a scrappy independent voice in the Green Bay area, almost always losing money but subsidized by the profits made elsewhere in the Wood family publishing company.

Eventually, the losses at the paper became unsustainable, and when the Gazette switched from afternoon to morning distribution, that was the death knell for the Chronicle, which went into a circulation tailspin. Eventually Wood sold the paper and most of his company to Gannett, which owned the Gazette and against which Wood had fought bravely for decades. The story of that war was the subject of Richard McCord's 1996 book The Chain Gang.

The above cartoon was created by Lyle Lahey, my stepfather and for about 25 years the daily editorial cartoonist for the News-Chronicle.

More info at the Green Bay Press Gazette obituary.
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