The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is a daily morning broadsheet printed in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where it is the primary newspaper. It is also the largest newspaper in the state of Wisconsin, where it is widely distributed. It is currently owned by the Gannett Company.
The Journal Sentinel was first printed on Sunday, April 2, 1995, following the consolidation of operations between the afternoon The Milwaukee Journal and the morning Milwaukee Sentinel, which had been owned by the same company, Journal Communications, for more than 30 years. The new Journal Sentinel then became a seven-day morning paper.
In early 2003, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel began printing operations at its new printing facility in West Milwaukee. In September 2006, the Journal Sentinel announced it had "signed a five-year agreement to print the national edition of USA Today for distribution in the northern and western suburbs of Chicago and the eastern half of Wisconsin".
The legacies of both papers are acknowledged on the editorial pages today, with the names of the Sentinel's Solomon Juneau and the Journal's Lucius Nieman and Harry J. Grant listed below their respective newspapers' flags. The merged paper's volume and edition numbers follow those of the Journal.
The Milwaukee Sentinel was founded in response to disparaging statements made about the east side of town by Byron Kilbourn's westside partisan newspaper, the Milwaukee Advertiser, during the city's "bridge wars", a period when the two sides of town fought for dominance. The founder of Milwaukee, Solomon Juneau, provided the starting funds for editor John O'Rourke, a former office assistant at the Advertiser, to start the paper. It was first published as a four-page weekly on June 27, 1837. A deathly ill O'Rourke struggled to help the paper to find its feet before he died six months later of tuberculosis at the age of 24.
On Juneau's request, O'Rourke's associate, Harrison Reed, remained to take over the Sentinel's operations on behalf of Democratic Party politician James Duane Doty. Reed continued the struggle to keep the paper ahead of its debts, often printing pleas to his advertisers and subscribers to pay their bills any way they could. Meanwhile, the establishment of the Whig party in the territory thrust the Sentinel into partisan politics. In 1840 Reed was assaulted by individuals whom the Sentinel charged were hired by Democratic Governor Henry Dodge. When Doty backed William Henry Harrison, the Sentinel endorsed Harrison for president in the 1840 election.
In financial straits, Reed lost control of the paper in 1841 when Democrats foreclosed on the Sentinel's mortgaged debt and took over its editorial page. Only after the Democrats' successful election of Dodge for Congress was Reed able to regain control of the paper. The next year he sold the Sentinel to Elisha Starr, an editor who had founded a new Whig paper in response to the Sentinel's Democratic lapse. Reed later became a "carpetbag" governor of Florida during Reconstruction.
Starr guarded the Sentinel's position as the sole Whig organ in Milwaukee. Heavily in debt, he secured the partnership of David M. Keeler, who paid off the paper's creditors. Keeler took on partner John S. Fillmore (nephew of U.S. president Millard Fillmore) and succeeded in ousting Starr, who kept publishing his own version of the Sentinel. Keeler and Fillmore trumped his efforts by turning their Sentinel into a daily on December 9, 1844, while still publishing a weekly edition. The paper finally began to prosper and establish itself as a major political force in the nascent state of Wisconsin. Having accomplished his goal of establishing the first daily paper in the territory, Keeler retired two months later, but not before opening a public reading room of the nation's newspapers, the origin of Milwaukee's public library system. Fillmore employed a succession of editors, including Jason Downer, later a Wisconsin Supreme Court justice, and Increase A. Lapham, a Midwestern naturalist who later helped establish the National Weather Service.
After running through six editors in eight years, Fillmore sought a more stable editorial foundation and went east to confer with Thurlow Weed, editor of the Albany Evening Journal and powerful Whig political boss of New York. Weed recommended his associate editor and protégé, Rufus King. King was a native of New York City, a graduate of West Point, a brevet lieutenant, the son of the president of Columbia College and the grandson of U.S. Constitution signer Rufus King. In June 1845 King came to Milwaukee and became the Sentinel's editor three months later. King was lionized by the community. It was his suggestion that made the Sentinel the first paper in the Midwest to employ newsboys to boost street sales.
Due largely to King's connections to the East, the quality of the Sentinel greatly improved. He declared the Sentinel an antislavery paper and also supported temperance legislation. King invested his own money in the paper, purchasing the first power press in the Midwest. Two years later the first telegraph message wired to Wisconsin was received in the Sentinel office.
The paper provided thorough coverage of Wisconsin's constitutional convention, held in Madison in 1846. When the adopted constitution fell short of Whig expectations, the Sentinel was instrumental in encouraging its rejection by territorial voters on April 6, 1847. The Sentinel launched a German-language paper, Der Volksfreund, to bring the city's large population of German immigrants to the Whig cause. Gen. King himself was a delegate to Wisconsin's second constitutional convention. He was also appointed head of the Milwaukee militia and sat on the University of Wisconsin's board of regents, as well as being the first superintendent of Milwaukee public schools. In the wake of the Panic of 1857 King sold the paper to T.D. Jermain and H.H. Brightman, but remained editor, covering the state legislative sessions of 1859–1861 himself.
In 1848, the Sentinel praised the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, a treaty that ended the Mexican–American War, commenting: "Peace upon almost any terms will be joyfully welcomed by the American People. They have long since tired of the war."
After the enactment of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850, King joined Wisconsin Freeman editor Sherman M. Booth in calling for its repeal, and in 1854 denounced the Kansas–Nebraska Act. The Sentinel provided extended coverage of runaway slave Joshua Glover's liberation from a Milwaukee jail on March 11, 1854. After the birth of the Republican party in Ripon, Wisconsin, King helped promote and organize the state party at the founding convention held at the Madison Capitol on July 13. King's Sentinel supported William H. Seward for the Republican presidential nomination in 1860, but rallied around Abraham Lincoln when he emerged as the nominee. Circulation rose with the looming Civil War and the paper expanded to a nine-column sheet with the start of 1861. In 1862 the Sentinel bought Booth's abolitionist newspaper, the Wisconsin Free Democrat, and published it for two months before folding and sending its subscribers the Weekly Sentinel.
Soon after his inauguration, President Lincoln appointed Rufus King minister to the Papal States. As he prepared to sail to Europe, the Civil War broke out. He took a leave of absence and was appointed a brigadier general. Later, he helped form and lead the Union Army's Iron Brigade.
The Sentinel prospered during the Civil War, sometimes printing five editions of the paper in a day. Though much of the war news was copied from Chicago papers, the Sentinel did dispatch a war correspondent for over half a year. The war also resulted in a shortage of skilled printers, so in 1863 the Sentinel began hiring and training "female compositors" to typeset the paper, albeit in another building away from the men. This resulted in members of the Milwaukee Typographical Union leaving their jobs, but the war had already depleted their ranks to such a degree that the union later temporarily disbanded. Frustrated by the lack of skilled help, editor C. Latham Sholes tried building a typesetting machine, but failed. After becoming comptroller for the city a few years later, he invented the modern typewriter. After the war ended circulation fell off and the number of editions was kept to a minimum.
In 1870 sole proprietor Horace Brightman sold the Sentinel to Alexander M. Thomson and other former owners of the Janesville Gazette. Thomson had co-edited Booth's abolitionist Free Democrat before the war and while editing the Gazette during the war he had entered politics as a Republican, rising to the position of state assembly speaker. Thomson played a key role in securing the legislature's choice of Matthew H. Carpenter as U.S. Senator. Running the Sentinel, Thomson changed the size of the paper twice while diminishing the paper's local focus in favor of telegraphed national news. He also began publishing a Sunday edition.
A supporter of the Liberal Republicans, who opposed President Ulysses S. Grant, Thomson was ousted from the paper after Carpenter's former law partner Newton S. Murphey bought the Sentinel in 1874 with other pro-Grant Republicans, including Carpenter, who had failed to be re-elected. After Murphey loaned Carpenter $20,000 to also become a stakeholder in the paper, Carpenter hired A. C. Botkin as editor, formerly of the Chicago Times, to replace Thomson. The Sentinel was soon perceived as Carpenter's "personal mouthpiece" and an organ of the state Republican central committee. After committee chairman Elisha W. Keyes blocked Carpenter from becoming a delegate to the national Republican convention in 1876, the paper began running fierce editorials denouncing Keyes. The Sentinel later endorsed Carpenter over Keyes as senator in the 1878 election.
Disappointed in the paper's weak defense of unregulated corporations, a new group of stalwart Republicans purchased the old Democratic Milwaukee News in 1880 and resurrected it as the Republican and News. Horace Rublee, a former editor of the Wisconsin State Journal and who had been the chairman of the state Republican party, was hired as editor-in-chief. Failing to put the Sentinel out of business, the Republicans bought the paper outright and issued it as the Republican-Sentinel. The next year the word Republican was dropped, but the paper remained a major force in the state's Republican party. This troubled managing editor Lucius W. Nieman, who had covered the state capitol for the Sentinel and had seen the control the powerful monied interests had over state government. When a Democrat was elected to Congress from a die-hard Republican county, the Sentinel's editor refused to print the fact. This led Nieman to resign and join the fledgling Milwaukee Journal. The Journal first received acclaim when Nieman's coverage of a deadly hotel fire revealed it to be a firetrap, but the Sentinel defended the hotel's management, which included a Sentinel stockholder. The Milwaukee Journal became the paper's primary competition for the next eleven decades.
Historian Frederick Jackson Turner was the Sentinel's Madison correspondent for a year, beginning in April 1884, while he finished his senior year at the University of Wisconsin. He covered various aspects of life in Madison, from campus news to the state legislature. He delivered the scoop that university regent and state political boss Elisha W. Keyes wished to remove university president John Bascom for political reasons and it was Turner's reports that resulted in a backlash of support for the president. Bascom had earlier offered Turner a position teaching elocution at the university that he turned down in favor of working for the Sentinel for nine more months. He left the paper after Republicans appointed him as the transcribing clerk to Wisconsin's state senate before later going on to teach history.
In 1892–1893 the Sentinel moved temporarily from its home on Mason Street so that the old building could be torn down and a new, state-of-the-art structure could be erected in its place.
With the dawning of the Progressive Era during the 1890s the Sentinel began to moderate its views, often echoing calls for political reform. After the Panic of 1893 a private utility monopoly run by stalwart Republican party bosses Charles F. Pfister and Henry C. Payne, The Milwaukee Electric Railway and Light Company (TMER&L), revoked commuter passes and raised utility rates during the depression. The Sentinel joined in the chorus of indignation that resounded from Milwaukee and beyond, particularly during 1899 when Pfister and Payne succeeded, by means of bribery, to push through a 35-year contract with the city. On December 29 Pfister and Payne sued the Sentinel for libel, to which the paper replied that it had fallen prey to "probably the most formidable and influential combination of selfish interests ever found in the city of Milwaukee."
Charles F. Pfister was heir to a fortune built from his father's tannery company and he directed many valuable holdings, including banks, railroads, insurance companies, heavy industries, pinelands and mines, plus the lavish Pfister Hotel. He developed funds as well as strategy for the state's stalwart Republican machine, having made governors and senators.
Rather than going to trial and having his business practices revealed, Pfister bought the Sentinel outright on February 18, 1901, paying an immense sum to buy up a majority of its stock. After the death of his publisher, Lansing Warren, that summer Pfister assumed publishing duties, immersing himself in the paper's operations and directing political coverage. Owning the Sentinel expanded his conservative influence from the convention backrooms to the pages of the largest daily paper in Wisconsin. The Sentinel immediately opposed the newly elected Governor La Follette. During La Follete's successful re-election campaign in 1902, Pfister's political power was diminished after it had been revealed that he had secretly purchased the editorial pages of some 300 of the state's newspapers. The Sentinel continued to denounce La Follette for over twenty years, whether it be for his reforms or his stand against U.S. participation in World War I. In 1905 Pfister was indicted in a rendering company bribery scandal by Milwaukee district attorney (and future Wisconsin governor) Francis McGovern, but was acquitted for lack of testimony.
Pfister sold the paper to the William Randolph Hearst's newspaper syndicate on June 1, 1924.
A majority stake was purchased by the Hearst Corporation in 1924. Operations of the Sentinel were joined to Hearst's papers, the afternoon Wisconsin News and the morning Milwaukee Telegram; the latter being merged with the Sentinel as the Milwaukee Sentinel & Telegram. The Wisconsin News entered into a lease arrangement with the School of Engineering for radio station WSOE on November 15, 1927. The lease was for a minimum of three years. To reflect the new arrangement, the Wisconsin News changed the call letters of WSOE to WISN on January 23, 1928. The station was sold to the Wisconsin News in November 1930. Hearst's associate Paul Block acquired Pfister's remaining stake of the Sentinel in 1929. The News closed in 1939, being consolidated with the Sentinel as a single morning paper. In 1955 Hearst purchased television station WTVW and changed the call letters to WISN-TV.
Hearst operated the Sentinel until 1962 when, following a long and costly strike, it abruptly announced the closing of the paper. Although Hearst claimed that the paper had lost money for years, television was directly affecting Hearst's evening papers in New York City and Chicago, forcing the company to drive income from the Sentinel to finance the other papers. The Journal Company, concerned about the loss of an important voice (and facing questions about its own dominance of the Milwaukee media market), agreed to buy the Sentinel name, subscription lists, and any "good will" associated with the name. The News-Sentinel building at Plankinton and Michigan was torn down; the presses were shipped to Hearst's San Francisco papers, and Sentinel operations moved to Journal Square, with Hearst retaining WISN radio and television (WISN-TV remains part of Hearst, while WISN Radio is owned by iHeartMedia). Following the paper's sale to The Journal Company, the Sunday edition of the Sentinel was absorbed by the Journal.
The Journal was started in 1882, in competition with four other English-language, four German- and two Polish-language dailies. Its first editor was Lucius Nieman, who wanted to steer the paper away from the political biases and yellow journalism common at the time. Nieman was an innovative and crusading editor. The Pulitzer Prize for Public Service was awarded to The Milwaukee Journal in 1919 "for its strong campaign for Americanism in a constituency where foreign elements made such a policy hazardous from a business point of view".
The Journal followed the Sentinel into broadcasting. The Journal purchased radio station WKAF in 1927, changing its call letters to WTMJ. It later launched an FM station, W9XAO, in 1940; it was later called W55M, WMFM, WTMJ-FM, WKTI-FM, WLWK-FM, and, now, WKTI. WTMJ-TV, Milwaukee's first television station, went on the air in 1947.
Nieman's successor, Harry J. Grant, introduced an employee stock purchase plan in 1937 and, as a result, 98% of Journal stock was held by its employees. A small bloc of Journal stock was given to Harvard College, and funded the Nieman Fellowship program for promising journalists.
Competing with two raucous Hearst papers filled with gossip, features and comic strips, Harry Grant took a more sober approach to news presentation, emphasizing local news. During his years as editor and publisher, the Journal received several Pulitzers and other awards from its peers; it was under Grant that the Journal gained a reputation as a leading voice of moderate midwestern liberalism. During the 1950s, the Journal was outspoken in its opposition to Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy and his search for communist influence in government, which perhaps inflated the Journal's reputation for liberalism.
At its circulation peak in the early 1960s, the Journal sold about 400,000 copies daily and 600,000 on Sunday. The Journal was a Monday-through-Saturday afternoon broadsheet, containing its distinctive Green Sheet, also publishing Sunday mornings. Though circulation had declined from its peak, it still held a rare position for an afternoon paper, dominating its market up until 1995, when the Journal and Sentinel were consolidated.
As of mid-2012, the Journal Sentinel had the 31st-largest circulation among all major U.S. newspapers, with circulation of 207,000 for the daily edition and just under 338,000 for the Sunday edition.
On April 8, 2016, decades of local ownership for both papers ended when Journal Media Group was acquired by the Gannett Company. Gannett owns most of the daily newspapers in the central and eastern parts of Wisconsin (eleven in all), including the Green Bay Press-Gazette and Appleton's The Post-Crescent. The Journal Sentinel has been integrated into the company's "USA Today Network Wisconsin". The Journal Sentinel also collaborates with the Press-Gazette for Packers coverage, and adapted to Gannett standards, including newspaper layout, website and apps, in August 2016.
In the spring of 2018, the Journal Sentinel press facility began to print all of Gannett's state papers (it already printed The Sheboygan Press and USA Today) replacing the company's Appleton facility. By 2021, it was reported that about 90% of Journal Sentinel subscriptions were for its print edition despite a years-long push to increase the number of digital subscribers.
The Milwaukee Journal and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel have received eight Pulitzer Prizes:
In 1919, The Milwaukee Journal won the award for public service because of its stand against Germany in World War I.
In 1934, cartoonist Ross A. Lewis won for his cartoon on labor-industry violence, "Sure, I'll Work for Both Sides".
In 1953, business desk reporter Austin C. Wehrwein won for international reporting with the series of stories "Canada's New Century."
In 1966, the series "Pollution: The Spreading Menace" garnered the award for public service.
In 1977, Margo Huston became the first female staff member of The Milwaukee Journal to win a Pulitzer Prize. She won the award in the category of best general reporting for a series of articles on the elderly and the process of aging.
In 2008, local government reporter David Umhoefer was awarded the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Local Reporting for his investigation of the Milwaukee County pension system.
In 2010, reporter Raquel Rutledge was awarded the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for local reporting for her investigations and stories on abuses in a state-run child care system.
In 2011, Mark Johnson, Kathleen Gallagher, Gary Porter, Lou Saldivar, and Alison Sherwood were awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting for their "lucid examination of an epic effort to use genetic technology to save a 4-year-old boy imperiled by a mysterious disease, told with words, graphics, videos and other images."
In 1965 the paper's women's section won the Penney-Missouri Award for General Excellence.
In 2008, Google published the newspaper's archives as part of an initiative to digitize historical newspapers. Though the initiative ended in 2011, the archives remain accessible. The Milwaukee digitization used microfilm that had been scanned for ProQuest's database. At the Journal Sentinel's request, the Milwaukee Public Library loaned decades of missing microfilm volumes to complete the digitization. When Google's project ended, the newspaper began the process of creating its own archive via its relationship with Newsbank.
Newsbank unsuccessfully attempted to sell Journal Sentinel digital archive access to the Milwaukee Public Library, which could not afford their asking price. The Library already subscribed to Newsbank's obituary and recent Journal Sentinel articles, as well as other proprietary databases with annual subscriptions costing less than $100,000. In May 2014, Newsbank suggested several purchase options, one of which was $1.5 million, which would have consumed nearly all of the library's $1.7 million materials budget. The newspaper changed ownership to Gannett in April and by August had requested that Google remove free public access to the archives, leaving a gap in coverage. Google Newspapers access was restored in December 2017, but digital access continued to be sporadic over the next several years.