Leahy left legacy through practice of community journalism
By Gene Kemmeter
Peter Leahy, one of the founders of the Portage County Gazette and its publisher from its creation in July 1999 to its sale in March 2017, died Saturday, May 12, 2018, at his home on Lake Owen in Cable. He was 76.
Peter was a Stevens Point native and was born into a newspaper family. He was a member of one of the families that owned the Stevens Point Journal and was proud of his ancestors. When he began working at the newspaper, it was on the production and maintenance sides of operations rather than writing.
He supported the ideal of community journalism, which the Journal practiced, locally-oriented news coverage that focused on news and people in the community, reporting on local governments, upcoming events, school sports, deaths, births, crimes and community life. The newspaper included state, national or world news, but the emphasis was on local news.
He knew about the community because he was involved with community groups. He was a past president of Stevens Point Barbershoppers, the Northern Gateway Chorus, and a member of the Stevens Point Curling Club. He was on the parish council and an active member of St. Stephen’s Parish, later serving an active role at St. Ann Parish in Cable.
When the Journal was sold to the Thomson Corp. in 1997, Peter was among a group of former owners and employees, and community members who investigated the possibility of starting a local weekly newspaper to report on local news and events because they knew the corporate approach of one-size-fits-all was detrimental to community journalism.
He was instrumental in the creation of Gazette Publishing Inc. and the Portage County Gazette and was the key person in the production end of the newspaper. While others were versed on the journalistic end, Pete knew the ins and outs of production, and handling the aspects of printing, mailing and distribution.
He helped form a close-knit group that worked to continue a Portage County and American tradition of a free press. He wanted to be sure that residents of Stevens Point and Portage County would continue to have news about the community they lived and grew up in rather than some distant locality.
Then, time began to catch up with the Gazette’s founding members as health issues and death curtailed participation. Pete cut back and settled into his cottage at Cable where he had spent summers since his youth. Eventually, Gazette Publishing sold the newspaper so others could take up the practice of community journalism.
Death may have taken Pete away from his community, but he certainly had an impact on it through the newspaper. Many subscribers and readers often refer to the Gazette as “our newspaper.” The newspaper may have been privately owned, but the community felt they have ownership in it also, a community newspaper.