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FWR turns 10

On our 10th anniversary, we look at some of our most popular cover stories, year by year

By Michael Summers

michael_summers@fortwaynereader.com

Fort Wayne Reader

2014-02-11


The first issue of The Fort Wayne Reader hit the stands during the first week of January 2004. That makes us 10 years old as of last month, and to mark the occasion, we took a look through our meticulously kept distribution records to find the most popular issue for each year we’ve been around.

We’ve had a lot of ups and downs during our run so far, but we’ve been lucky in that pick-up over all has remained very strong. Whatever the fortunes of the paper, The Fort Wayne Reader at least gets read, and for that we’re grateful and give a heartfelt thanks to our loyal picker-uppers.

It’s probably safe to assume that why a particular issue gets picked up has a lot to do with what’s on the cover, so for this retrospective we focused on the feature story for that particular issue. Maybe it was something else that made people pick the issue up — in a few cases, we’re betting it was — but once again, we’re going on the assumption that the cover story struck a chord.

But why a particular story earned a pick-up? If we knew that formula for sure, we’d patent it and sell it. Some of the stories below weren’t even our favorites. Some of the issues made “most popular” by an incredibly narrow margin. Whatever the reason, in some cases, they make an interesting “snapshot of the times.” In other cases… well, we just don’t know. But it was fun revisiting all of them.


2004: “TV Takeover”

We had some unusual feature stories during FWR’s first year, but issue #10 in May of 2004 — the cover was an article entitled “TV Takeover” — was the first “biggie” for us, and followed a rule that seems pretty self-evident: cover a big local story that no one else seems to be covering.

In this case, it was the purchase of Fort Wayne’s NBC affiliate WISE 33 by Granite Broadcasting. Granite already owned the ABC affiliate WPTA Channel 21, and sold that station to a company called Malara Broadcasting. Granite’s press release stated the company would provide advertising sales, promotion, administrative services and programming to both WPTA and WISE 33.

The arrangement seemed to play fast and loose with a few FCC regulations. Malara Broadcasting was essentially a shell company set up by former CBS honcho Tony Malara; Granite would be, in effect, the owner of two of the top four TV stations in the Fort Wayne area, something that violates FCC rules. Granite and Malara’s joint management agreement was a ploy many companies used to skirt these rules (they had a similar arrangement in Duluth Minnesota).

One of our favorite quotes came from Dr Mark Cooper, then the Director of Research on Media Ownership for the Consumer Federation of America. “They’re going to hold the note, and they’re going to operate the station, but the other guy owns it,” he told us. “AT & T did that for years in their cable businesses to let the FCC approve all their mergers. They just make this stuff up so that they can break the law.”

The FCC did approve the merger, and the purchase went forward about 10 months later. It‘s not quite true to say no one but us was covering it in 2004 — Sylvia Smith had an article about it which came out just as FWR #10 was heading to the printer — but with two of local TV stations involved in the deal and a joint operating agreement in place between one of those stations and Fort Wayne Newspapers, coverage was pretty scarce. So FWR #10 got us a lot of attention, which was just what we needed at the time.

2005: “Land Grab”

In September of 2005, FWR #37 featured the story of Diana Kruse and her 11-acre farm on Rothman Road. A year earlier, the City of Fort Wayne told her it needed 1/3 of an acre of the front of her property to put in a sewer and water line for a new housing development going up nearby. Kruse wasn’t interested in selling, and thus began a lengthy back-and-forth, with Kruse claiming intimidation and harassment by the city, and the city claiming obstruction and unreasonable behavior on Kruse’s part.

The story also touched on the situation with Belmont Liquors, which was then negotiating with the city for its property on the corner of Harrison and Jefferson — property that would become Harrison Square.

The popularity of this issue is easy to explain. In the summer of 2005, eminent domain was pretty hot news, with the Supreme Court delivering a controversial 5 – 4 ruling that backed forced sales of property for private economic development. Critics on both ends of the political spectrum argued that local governments were becoming increasingly aggressive in acquiring land for redevelopment.

So, a local take on a hot topic. At the time, Fort Wayne had an active community of political blogs; our story got several kind mentions on a few of those, which probably helped fuel readership. And judging from the pick-up of this issue and the many responses we got, it was the last time conservatives and liberals ever agreed on anything.

2006: “Five Bands You Should Know”

By a nose, 2006’s most picked up issue was #58. FWR’s music columnist at the time, the great Sean Smith, profiled five new up and coming local bands — Chinese Express; sub-surface; Graves of the Endless Fall; Saints Never Surrender; and The Orange Opera. A few of them would go on to perform for Live On Stage, which we started in 2006.

We moved many a copy of this issue, and heard from many a music fan who appreciated the coverage. We also got quite a few “you suck” e-mails from those who felt they were neglected.

How many of those bands are still with us? We’re not really sure. We think The Orange Opera is still around, or at least we’re positive that mastermind Kevin Hambrick has some new music project up his sleeve. We want to say members of rap group sub-surface moved out of town. And we recall the members of Chinese Express as being especially young; maybe they went off to college or something. The others probably transmogrified into other bands or moved on to other projects. That’s the nature of local bands. While they were here, we had us a real good time.

2007: “Inside the Mind of Matt Kelty”

We can’t say for certain that Matt Kelty cost the GOP the mayor’s office in 2007, but we know one thing for sure — Matt Kelty was very, very good for the Fort Wayne Reader.

We first covered Kelty in February 2007, shortly after the architect announced his intention to seek the Republican nomination for mayor. At the time, local Republicans already had a candidate for mayor in Allen County Commissioner Nelson Peters. In fact, it was widely assumed that Peters was our next mayor; a close associate of Graham Richard, liked and trusted by government officials of both parties, Peters seemed a shoe-in.

But Kelty’s grassroots campaigning and conservative populist message struck a chord, and local Republicans voted Kelty their candidate for mayor in the primaries. In a way, the event seemed a precursor for what we’d see played out among Republicans on the national stage several years later, where a new candidate with a more doctrinaire conservative message upsets a more established incumbent.

To make a long story short, Kelty was indicted in August 2007 on seven felony charges and two misdemeanors stemming from claims that he had not reported campaign contributions. Election turn out was very low, and Tom Henry won the mayor’s office with 60% of the vote.

Kelty graced the cover of FWR four times in 2007, and we could not keep those issues on the racks. Had we charged for the paper, we would have made… well, at least a few hundred after expenses.

2008: “Oscar the Grouch”

Matt Kelty was almost responsible once again for the most popular issue of 2008. A story on “The Kelty Faithful” that ran shortly before his trial flew off the racks (the trial never happened; Kelty plead guilty to false informing and two counts of filing a fraudulent campaign report).

Another strong contender for 2008 was our story on Phil Marx and his blog My HUD House, chronicling his conflict with drug dealers in his neighborhood.

And then there was our profile on Harvey Cocks’ long career on stage.

But as popular as those issues were, in the end they were beaten by a giant turtle. FWR #113 featured the legend of Oscar, the Beast of ‘Busco, a monstrous turtle that (allegedly) lurked in the depths of Fulk’s Lake and brought Whitley County to national attention back in 1948 and ’49.

Though it happened well over a century ago, the story is an enduring one. Churubusco still calls its summer festival “Turtle Days,” after all. We talked to filmmaker Terry Doran, whose documentary The Hunt for Oscar (1994) is one of the definitive sources on the subject. Doran told us that several years ago, he was talking to his daughter’s class about writing and making films, and they were unimpressed until he mentioned The Hunt for Oscar. “Their eyes just lit up,” he said. “They all wanted to know about that turtle.”

Our own take on the Oscar story ran over five years ago, and we still get e-mails about it. The appeal of this one hardly needs an explanation. Who doesn’t love a lake monster story? Of course, we like to think that part of the issue’s popularity was the cover, an image of a giant rampaging turtle threatening the courthouse, but maybe that’s just us.

2009: “Renaissance Pointe Redux.”

Sometimes, the appeal of a particular issue is easy to assess. Other times… not so much. Case in point: FWR #130, with a cover story entitled “Renaissance Pointe Redux.”

The article was a follow-up to a story we had done on the Renaissance Pointe project back in 2007. To recap, Renaissance Pointe was a public/private redevelopment plan to reintroduce “urban living” to Fort Wayne, but with all the conveniences of modern life. Bounded by Hanna Street, Creighton Avenue, Anthony Boulevard, and Pontiac Street, the Renaissance Pointe area called for nearly 400 new homes, the rehabilitation of more than 100 existing homes, a greenway trail, and improved infrastructure. The City of Fort Wayne partnered with Mansur Real Estate Services, Inc. on the new development, with Lancia Homes, Delagrange Homes and Ideal Builders coming on as builders.

The plan was modeled on Fall Creek Place in Indianapolis. There, developers and city government partnered to turn one of the most depressed, dilapidated sections of the city into a mixed-income residential community. The project was a huge success there, and hopes were high that they could achieve the same results in Fort Wayne.

For various reasons, it didn’t happen. As we wrote in “Renaissance Pointe Redux,” “…while improvements in the area and the City’s continuing commitment to the project are admirable, Renaissance Pointe in 2009 is not shaping up to be the ‘bobo’ enclave that it was originally envisioned as being. That might be because a wide range of urban housing stock wasn’t all Renaissance Pointe has to compete against.” The area looks great, but the homes just didn’t sell, and the 2009 article looked at what those involved in Renaissance Pointe’s development and promotion were doing to salvage the project.

It was an interesting article (well, we thought so), but we couldn’t tell you why, of the 24 issues we put out in 2009, more people picked up that one than any other. Not by a lot, but still… To compound our mystification, we simply didn’t hear from a lot of readers on this one.

2010: “Whatever happened to…”

2010 was an election year. Quite a few Republicans threw their hats in the primary ring, hoping to defeat incumbent Mark Souder. Then, after winning in the primaries, the Congressman resigned in the wake of an affair. The open seat lead to a caucus, Marlin Stutzman emerged the winner, pitting him against Democratic candidate Tom Hayhurst, a former member of Fort Wayne City Council…

We covered a lot of that. And we also covered a lot of other cool stuff, like Kelly Lynch’s ambitious Headwaters Junction project, and Dan Wire of Friends of the River, just to name a couple.

But the winner for most picked up issue of 2010 goes to FWR #149 and its cover story “Whatever Happened to…” For that issue, we decided to take a look at five feature stories we’ve covered that just seemed to fizzle out or disappear. As we wrote at the time, “We’re not talking about the candidates that ran and didn’t win, the businesses that closed up, or the bands that never got around to making an album. We’re talking about the non-starters, the big ideas that looked like they could have been something more, but then just didn’t seem to go anywhere. They coulda been contenders, but their biggest moment was a cover story in the Fort Wayne Reader.”

The five stories we chose were Kimberly Pontious’ idea for a high-speed rail between Fort Wayne and Indianapolis (FWR #26); Allen County Recorder John McGauley’s Skyline Challenge contest (FWR #36); our own Fort Wayne Reader presents Live on Stage TV show (FWR #63); the “Room for Dreams” branding initiative (FWR #70); and Republican candidate Rachel Grubb (FWR #139), one of those Republican hopefuls contending for Souder’s seat.

Once again, were not sure why more people picked this one up than the other issues we did that year, though (once again) the margin between this and the other really big issues in 2010 wasn’t that wide. But maybe a clue can be found in an e-mail we got from a reader, who said he had been wondering about the status of the “Room For Dreams” initiative, and found our follow-up to be very helpful. “I wish more of our local media would check back on stories instead of just letting them drop.”

2011: “Rock n’ Roll Stories from Fort Wayne’s Past”

In FWR #167, we ran an article called “Rock n’ Roll Stories From Fort Wayne’s Past.” The issue was hotter than tickets for a Van Halen show at the Memorial Coliseum circa 1984. Well, probably not that hot — and certainly not as lucrative — but still, a lot of people picked this one up.

Inside, we talked about Doc West’s efforts to get Genesis to play Fort Wayne in the early 80s via a “hunger strike,” a stunt that earned him national attention and an interview on MTV (though no Genesis gig). We talked about appearances by The Who and The Rolling Stones (sperately, of course) in Fort Wayne back in the mid 60s. We talked about the “Aerosmith 44” from 1978, and the glory days of the Percussion Center, where Neil Peart, drummer for Canuck math-rock godfathers Rush, had his drums customized at the store’s manufacturing wing.

We still get emails about this one. Apparently, the story brought back a lot of memories for people, including our current Political Animal columnist Jim Sack, who claims he was in one of the bands opening for The Who at The Swinging Gate club in November, 1967. But we have yet to get our hands on that photo of Keith Richards and Mick Jagger on the Anne Cologne show.

2012: “Get Lugar”

You can’t say we haven’t done well with politics. Our most picked-up issue of 2012 — by a very, very narrow margin — was FWR #193 featuring the cover story “Get Lugar.” The article was about the efforts of Hoosiers For A Conservative Senate, a “TEA Party” organization co-founded by Warsaw resident Monica Boyer, to oust long-serving Indiana Senator Dick Lugar.

The story wasn’t even necessarily a local one, but apparently it struck a chord among readers. We got a handful of cranky e-mails, some lambasting us for our suggestion that Lugar’s conservative credentials were actually pretty good, others lambasting us for giving “free publicity” to whack jobs intent on “sabotaging the Republican party.”

We all know what happened — Lugar was defeated by Richard Mourdock in the primaries, and then Mourdock’s bumbling campaign lead to his defeat by Joe Donnelly.

So, Republicans went from having a “sure thing” in the Senate to having… a Democrat. When we followed up with Monica Boyer almost a year later, in FWR #212, she claimed she had no regrets. “Would we have liked to taken the seat? Yes. But I think with Joe Donnelly we came out better than Dick Lugar. Our mission was accomplished: we retired Dick Lugar. That was our one and only goal.”

We’re not sure how many Republicans would celebrate with her.

2013: “Not Her Bag”

Vera Bradley is a home-grown business with an astounding international success story. So yes, hooray for the home team, and all due respect and proper praise.

But long-running FWR columnist Gloria Diaz doesn’t get the appeal of Vera Bradley, and never did. In FWR #225, Diaz ventured into Vera Bradley’s massive annual outlet sale to try to figure out why the company’s products were so popular, and wrote about it in an article called “Not Her Bag.”

Perhaps many readers agreed with her point of view. Perhaps many readers simply wanted to enjoy the thrill of self-righteous indignation at having their taste questioned. Perhaps many readers just got a kick out of snark directed at a much-loved institution. Whatever the reason, the pick up on this issue was huge.

And what did Vera Bradley think? We don’t know. We’re sure they cried all the way to the bank.


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