The News-Sentinel traces its origins to 1833, when The Sentinel was established as a weekly paper. The Sentinel was owned for a year and half in 1878-79 by Fort Wayne native William Rockhill Nelson who went on to found and make his fortune with The Kansas City Star. In 1918, The Sentinel merged with another local paper, The Fort Wayne Daily News, to form The News-Sentinel.
The Foellinger years
In 1932, Helene Foellinger joined her father's newspaper, The Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, as a reporter, feature writer and – after convincing her father of the need – the newspaper's first women's editor. She was a new college graduate, but she studied mathematics, not journalism. In 1935, her father named her to the board of directors, expecting her to advance into his shoes when he retired – but in October 1936, he died unexpectedly. She became the youngest publisher of a major daily newspaper in the United States, as well as one of the few females in that position. She was up to the challenge, though, increasing circulation about 20% – from 56,700 to 67,800 – in just five years.
Ernest "Ernie" Williams, a reporter early in Helene Foellinger's reign, became editor, and a number of talented reporters from The News-Sentinel went on to positions on newspapers in larger cities and in broadcast journalism.
In 1950, Foellinger formed a joint operating agreement with the rival morning newspaper, The Journal Gazette. Each newspaper is separately managed and has separate editorial staffs, but Fort Wayne Newspapers provides advertising sales, circulation, and printing services used by both newspapers, and in 1958, built a new printing plant with offices for both newspapers. On the strength of The News-Sentinel, they ended up with a 55% share of Fort Wayne Newspapers, and Foellinger served as president.
In 1983, the The News-Sentinel was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for "its courageous and resourceful coverage of a devastating flood in March 1982". It was also honoured in 1992 as the Blue Ribbon Newspaper of the Year by the Hoosier State Press Association.
Helene Foellinger was 70, and there was no family member poised to take over The News-Sentinel, in 1980, when she sold News Publishing, along with the 55% share of Fort Wayne Newspapers, to Knight-Ridder in 1980.
In the 1980s, The News-Sentinel was still the dominant newspaper in Fort Wayne, with daily circulation in excess of 60,000, compared to about 10,000 less for The Journal Gazette. Moreover, their circulation was (and is) largely concentrated in Fort Wayne, making it especially attractive to city merchants. Circulation for large daily newspapers, particularly evening newspapers, has dropped in recent years. Today, The News-Sentinel has a daily circulation of 31,213 while The Journal Gazette has used its Sunday edition to build daily circulation to 73,058.
In 2003, a 30-year extension to the joint operating agreement was inked. At that point, Knight Ridder boosted its ownership from 55% to 75%, at a cost of $42 million.
Fort Wayne Newspapers is spending $34.8 million to upgrade their printing presses, just west of the current plant at 600 W. Main Street.
Purchase by Ogden Newspapers
On March 14, 2006, McClatchy announced that it would sell 12 of the Knight Ridder newspapers, including The News-Sentinel, that are in markets not growing rapidly. Current and former News-Sentinel staffers disagreed on the significance.
Mary Jacobus, publisher of The News-Sentinel, joined The Boston Globe on January 2006 as president and general manager. During her four-year tenure, newsroom employment dropped 29%. Like The News-Sentinel, The Boston Globe was experiencing tough times, with 8% losses in daily and Sunday circulation in the prior year.
McClatchy reached an agreement to sell The News-Sentinel to Ogden Newspapers Inc. of West Virginia. Michael J. Christman, who was publishing two newspapers in Parkersburg, West Virginia was named the new publisher. The closing took place on June 27, 2006, simultaneously with the completion of McClatchy's acquisition of Knight Ridder. Ogden Newspapers is privately owned by members of the Nutting family.