Ernest E. Williams · 1988
Ernest E. Williams, who retired as editor of the Fort Wayne, Indiana, News-Sentinel in 1982.
In response to a letter he received notifying him he was to be inducted into the Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame, Ernie said:
“I didn’t realize I was so damned old I was a candidate for the Journalism Hall of Fame.”
Ernie, you don’t have to be old to be honored.
Ernie has the distinct honor of once being described by the rival Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette as the most influential person in the affairs of the city of Fort Wayne even though he headed a department that produced no revenue, belonged to relatively few community organizations and isn’t particularly wealthy.
Being named most influential resulted from a Journal-Gazette study of power in Fort Wayne. It also determined that Ernie was the most powerful person in town for a variety of reasons, including:
The fact that his newspaper had the largest newspaper circulation in Fort Wayne, that he has been a visible and outspoken member of the news media since 1946 as a reporter, editorial writer and editor and he had a propensity for interjecting himself and his newspaper into community affairs more than other local media executives.
Perhaps there is another reason and it is based on the following comment he made as he approached retirement:
“As editor, I felt my first obligation was to guarantee the free flow of information to our readers to enable them to make the judgments essential to their playing an intelligent role in a free society.”
We could cite many more facts about Ernie, but his career is summed up succinctly by his friend, Joe Sheibley, assistant to the executive editor of the News-Sentinel who recently said:
“He was an editor of the old school, to use an over-used phrase. He constantly defended his readers’ right to know, insisted on being the newspaper of record in Fort Wayne by publishing news in a timely manner and never backed down from no one who have challenged those ideals.
“He was honest. He had a deep, sincere concern for each member of his staff as well as his readers. He often talked of correcting social injustices and improving the human condition as two of his most important objectives.
“He also was fair. He even went out of his way to prove that point. When his publisher, Helen Foellinger, was arrested for reckless driving, he published the story on Page One to prove that people couldn’t keep their names out of arrest reports because of who they were or who they know.
“As vice president of the Foellinger Foundation, Ernie has always been a driving force behind encouraging — successfully — the flow of millions and millions of dollars from the Foellinger Foundation to various journalism schools, journalism programs and journalism scholarships. That’s in addition to the many journalism students he has personally helped through jobs and advice.
“Although other owners and editors were at the helm of The News-Sentinel when the paper won the Pulitzer Prize in 1983, it was Ernie’s staff that won it. Ernie and I had interviewed and hired all of those who put forth the effort when the Great Flood of 1982 cried out for dedicated coverage.”
It was that coverage which won the paper the Pulitzer Prize.
As part of his efforts at keeping his readers informed about the affairs of their government, Ernie had a prominent part in persuading the Indiana General Assembly in adopting the state’s Open Door Law which requires government agencies at all levels in Indiana to conduct business in meetings open to the public.
And now Ernie, much of your life is an open record.