Jack E. Howey · 1998
When Jack Howey was a fledgling journalism student at Indiana University in the late 1940s, the headiness of studying the work of great newspaper editors might have compelled him – just once or twice – to peek ahead a few years and imagine how he would be remembered after a long, active and successful career as a journalist.
What would the headline on his professional life be?
How about: “Former publisher leaves behind indelible mark on local journalism.”
Nah, that’s fantasy. Too storybook.
Except in Jack Howey’s case, that is exactly the headline that his local newspaper, the Peru Tribune, used in 1996 over a story about his career – in its 75th anniversary edition, no less.
The headline, which came four years after Howey had retired from a 41-yearcareer in journalism, must have had special meaning to him because it was printed in the newspaper that he served as managing editor for 13 years and as publisher for three years – and in a town that has been his adopted home since 1966.
When Howey went to Peru in ’66, he already had a full resume: Air Force duty after graduation from Hobart High in 1943; a degree in journalism from I.U. in 1951; a few months as a copy editor and wire editor at the Journal-Gazette in Fort Wayne; nearly five years as the News-Dispatch’s city hall reporter in Michigan City, his birthplace; and 10 years as News-Dispatch city editor.
Howey says he “fully expected to make the N-D a career” until there came an offer of the managing editor’s job in Peru. He accepted, he says, bribing his wife, Mary Lou, to move by promising her a four-bedroom house to accommodate three growing children.
A month after the Howeys arrived in Peru, the new managing editor encountered one of the biggest stories of his career – a North Central Association accreditation report that called Peru High School a “chamber of horrors.” The report recommended that a new high school be promptly built. That set Howey and the Tribune staff into motion on at least two fronts:
o The Tribune fought North Central for the right to publish, verbatim, the accreditation report for the community to digest. The Tribune won.
o The Tribune editorially supported the construction of a new school when that wasn’t a popular idea with more than a few in town.
“What followed [the North Central report],” Howey reminded his readers in a 1991column, “was an acrimonious controversy over whether a new high school should be built or the old one remodeled. It took more than two years, some law suits, many hearings and some threats against the personal safety of those supporting construction of a new high school before the fine building we have now was built for considerably more money than it would have cost with out the delays.”
Howey’s Tribune went to the mat for a principle again in 1968 when the Peru Dental Association pushed to have fluoride added to the city’s water supply. Howey recalls: “This was during a period when fluoridating water supplies was seen [by some] as a Communist plot that would poison the populace and remove the paint from their autos.” The news people and the dentists prevailed.
A decade or so later, Howey worked closely with Richard Cardwell – then general counsel of the Hoosier State Press Association and now Howey’s fellow Hall of Fame member (Cardwell was inducted in 1982) – to win adoption of Indiana’s open meetings and open records laws. Howey was a long-time member of HSPA’s freedom of information committee and also is past president of the Indiana Associated Press Managing Editors group and was a six-year member of the national APME board.
“When the two of us served together on the national Board of Directors of the Associated Press Managing Editors Association,” retired South Bend Tribune managing editor Jack Powers (whom Howey now joins in the Hall of Fame) writes, “virtually all the directors from other states were so impressed by Jack Howey’s dedication and intellect that they either wondered aloud why he remained on a smaller newspaper or made book on what big outfit would grab him…. Indiana can be proud of the fact that he could have gone anywhere with great success, but chose to stay here.”
In 1979, after 13 years as Tribune managing editor, it was time for a professional move for Howey. But, fortunately he would say, the move meant he and his family could stay in Peru. That was the year that Nixon Newspapers Inc. – Peru’s parent company – tapped Howey to be its editorial director.
In that new job, Howey became adviser to editors – many of them young in the business – in not just Peru, but in Wabash, Frankfort, Michigan City, Brazil and a half-dozen weeklies in towns with wonderful names such as Winamac (Ind.) and Watseka (Ill.).
He also advised Nixon Newspapers leaders. In 1981, Howey told the board of Nixon Enterprises Inc., “… To be believed [a newspaper] must insist upon the highest levels of ethical conduct from its top management down through all levels of employees who deal directly with its content, whether it be news or advertising.”
Howey held the editorial director’s job for 10 years – a decade in which Nixon Newspapers grew to include papers such as New Castle and Connersville. In 1989, he was asked to take the publisher’s position in Peru.
As publisher, Howey wrote a weekly page-one column, The Center Ring – a name derived from Peru’s fame as a circus town. “I got a lot of response from the community on [the column]. I found it very satisfying.”
Once, Howey used his column to take what could not have been for him a happy look back at his profession – and at our society:
“The newspaper business has taken some hits in the last 25 years.
“For one thing, many advertisers who used to run their ads in the newspaper now use pre-printed inserts, which have a negative effect on the number of pages the newspaper prints.
“The local retail community struggles because local people take their money out of town to shop, which has a negative effect on the volume of local advertising, which in turn has a negative effect on the number of pages the newspaper prints.
“A distressingly large number of people have come to believe they get all the news they need from television, thus don’t buy newspapers with the frequency they once did, and another distressingly large number of people can’t read well enough to be attracted to any kind of print medium.”
After he retired in 1992 – “It was time to call it quits” – Howey went back to his journalistic and collegiate roots, and for a year he was the J. Stewart Riley Professor at I.U.’s School of Journalism in Bloomington, teaching courses in editing and management.
I.U. was, after all, where he was editor of the Indiana Daily Student, where he carried the title Ernie Pyle Scholar, where he was president of I.U.’s Sigma Delta Chi chapter and where he was on the Student Foundation committee that planned the first Little 500 bike race.
“I got an excellent education there,” Howey told the Tribune in 1996, “… and I feel an obligation to return something to them.”
Actually, Howey had been giving back to I.U. ever since he left it in 1951. He was founder and first president of the I.U. Journalism Alumni Association; he was a 10-year member and 9-year president of the I.U. Board of Publications; and he continues as a member of the Board of Advisers at I.U.-Kokomo, the I.U.-K Miami County Advisory Council and of the I.U. Public Affairs Council.
All of which suggests another headline about Howey: “I.U. journalism alum leaves behind indelible mark on alma mater.”
Nah, just fantasy. Too storybook.