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'Noble experiment' succeeds too well.

Twelve years after employees bought the newspaper, we're going to sell it.

We newspaper people are a funny lot.

We were the high schoolers who ranked making money at the bottom on those career-interest surveys. We said we preferred the opportunity to be independent. We wanted work that was satisfying and expressive and wouldn't it be great if it had some lasting effect?

So when Henry Slane offered us an opportunity 12 years ago to become owners of The Journal Star, we figured we'd passed through the gates of newspaper heaven.

Yes, we'd grown up enough to appreciate making money. But the appeal of employee ownership was never so much the gold at the end of the rainbow as all of those wonderful colors we would paint along the way.

Our money and our leadership would remain in Peoria. We could be cussedly independent.

We wouldn't have to run our expressiveness through any corporate hierarchy. And in this small-big town to which the newspaper has contributed mightily, we hoped the effects would be lasting.

It didn't work out as planned. Another sale of the newspaper, this time to an outside group, is being explored.

No one intended this, least of all board chair Henry Slane. A plaque posted at our front door in 1983 says Slane and his family decided to sell their newspaper to its employees in order to keep it out of "the hands of large communications conglomerates."

We failed, not because we did our jobs poorly, but in spite of the fact that we did them well, and that's a little hard to take today. The value of The Journal Star increased more rapidly than those who designed the buy-out imagined. As a result, employees retired and cashed in their stock earlier than anyone had predicted.

We cannot earn enough money to keep that up; we've reached the point where we can no longer afford ourselves.

And so what publisher John McConnell has called our "noble experiment" is coming to an end. There's not a newspaper man nor woman here who is happy about that.

Gripes about the hours and salaries and editors and lack of space notwithstanding, most of us love our work. Most of us love this paper. Most of us love this community. And the past 12 years, most of us have taken enormous satisfaction in being home-grown and home-owned. We are losing one of the principles upon which many of us have based our careers.

Bigger change for us than for readers

But let's be fully truthful here: Outsider ownership will represent a bigger change for us than it will for our readers.

With the right buyer, the effects may well be positive: economies of scale, more resources, new ideas, input from talented people whose names none of us yet know. Change can be exhilarating.

No matter who owns it, The Journal Star will remain a strong presence in Peoria.

Newspaper people are a funny lot. We'll keep doing our jobs as well as we can because we like what we do and we believe in the importance of it.

One more thing: Our readers should not underestimate the say they will have in the kind of newspaper The Journal Star becomes.

They should demand a local focus in news and editorial content. Insist on a newspaper that raises hell from time to time. Get involved in their community. Learn about issues. Recognize the newspaper as an informed citizen's most valuable tool.

And keep reading.

NCEW member Barbara Mantz Drake, editorial page editor for The Journal Star in Peoria, Ill., is deputy editor of The Masthead. This article was adapted from an editorial that appeared in The Journal Star.
COPYRIGHT 1996 National Conference of Editorial Writers
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Letter From Peoria; newspaper publishing
Author:Drake, Barbara Mantz
Publication:The Masthead
Date:Mar 22, 1996
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