As reported on Jim Rowen’s blog and by Rich Kirchen in the Business Journal, Journal Sentinel columnist Eugene Kane leaves the column-writing gig but stays at the newspaper in the latest downsizing. Kane has had one or another kind of column at the paper going all the way back to the mid-1980s (his current one started 18 years ago).
I asked Kane what the transition would be like for someone who has strong, and widely disseminated, opinions returning to the role of straight reporting. Would sources challenge him or his objectivity based on opinions he might have expressed on issues, such as school choice?
“I don’t really envision that happening,” he tells me. “People will know what I wrote” – but should also understand that it was his job to have opinions as a columnist.
“If they had real problems with it, they could take it to my editor. Then it’s not my fight, it’s the editor’s fight.”
The new assignment has him focusing on Milwaukee Public Schools as an education reporter. It beefs up the paper’s education coverage again; Kane says he understands he’s joining the team, not displacing anyone.
As one who entered the news business back about when Ronald Reagan became president, Kane says he’s been mulling over his future for the last year while watching the continued upheaval at newspapers. “I’ve been in the business 31 years, and I’ve seen what was happening throughout the country,” he says.
Kane “wavered back and forth” over whether to take a buyout. In the end, though, he decided to be “proactive” instead of taking a buyout and risk “sitting around getting paid for a year…This is not a city for a black guy to sit around hoping for someone to hire him.”
I told him his column would be missed, and Kane replied with the wry, self-deprecation that has been his trademark: “It would be ridiculous if nobody missed it – that would be a sad commentary on what I spent 18 years on.”
But having settled on the decision to move on, he says, “I’m feeling good about it. People who read it will remember it, and I’m fine with that.”
Kane is upbeat. “Change is good,” he says. “I don’t have any problems with change.”
Keeping him also maintains diversity at the newspaper. “I’m still going to be there, and I’m going to be writing about black children” in the schools, he observes.
That’s no small point. As Journal-isms columnist Richard Prince notes, the recurring waves of layoffs nationwide has been taking a harsh toll on newsroom diversity.
Among others leaving in the current round of buyouts, blogger Rowen mentions columnist and reporter Laurel Walker, from the Waukesha edition of the paper, and Larry Sandler*, City Hall reporter and transportation writer. Sandler tweets that his plan “to explore new horizons in writing & research.”
And in Madison, Capital Newspapers, the company that owns the Wisconsin State Journal has cut back a total of 26 positions, four of them in the State Journal newsroom.
Meanwhile, a couple of other notes on the media here and there…
New Chapter: It was widely circulated news that Kalmbach Publishing in Waukesha had put its magazine The Writer up for sale in July, but the late-August acquisition agreement with Boston-area publisher Madavor Media got a quieter reception.
An “enthusiast” publisher like Kalmbach, Madavor titles cover subjects ranging from jazz to volleyball to gluten-free living. No word yet on whether the new owners plan to keep operations in Wisconsin (though that would seem unlikely) or retain any current personnel.
Meanwhile, Kalmbach is consolidating operations in other ways, with a move underway of its biggest-circulation title, Discover magazine, to Waukesha from New York City.
Citizen Kane Redux: No, not Eugene. Charles Foster.
In the September issue of Harper’s, David Sirota examines new owners who step in to buy struggling newspapers and go on to exert their influence in how the publications cover – and don’t cover – contentious issues, political and otherwise. (The link above goes to a Sirota blog post; the story is behind a pay wall – Harper’s standard operating procedure.)
And here in Wisconsin we’ve been worried about journalists who sign recall petitions?
*This post has been updated. The original version had Larry's Sandler's last name wrong on the first reference.
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