Printers ink in the blood: Kemmeters continue legacy in local media
By Taylor J. Hale
STEVENS POINT – The enduring reputation of the Portage County Gazette has set a benchmark in the county over the last 20 years. While the Gazette continues to forge its legacy in the journalism industry, many longtime readers will note one family’s dedication to the publication and hyper-local news.
Gene Kemmeter, born in Appleton, started in local journalism in 1965. He worked at the Stevens Point Journal while he attended UW Stevens Point (UWSP). After graduating in 1969, the talented young writer was drafted to serve in the army.
“It was three months after I graduated, I worked the summer at the Stevens Point Journal then headed off,” Kemmeter said.
After serving two years of military duty, Kemmeter was back on the beat, covering local stories and politics throughout the Stevens Point area. He sees the news as an “addiction” of sorts.
“You get printers ink mixed in your blood. It’s totally addictive,” Kemmeter joked.
By the 1990s, Kemmeter was a wire editor at the Stevens Point Journal and a well-known local journalist. The Thomson Corporation, based in Canada, purchased the paper in 1998, and Kemmeter began to notice a drastic change in management.
“I always felt that the Journal, as did many other people, emphasized local,” Kemmeter said. “Thomson came in, and they didn’t want us to cover as much local stuff as we had. They didn’t want us going to meetings at night, because they wanted us to use a time clock when we were working.”
Shortly after the Thomson buyout, Gannett acquired the Stevens Point Journal. Kemmeter, along with several of his peers at the publication, wanted to reclaim local news and decided to develop the Portage County Gazette in 1999, taking the name from a prominent area paper founded in the early 1900s.
The driven journalist noted that Bill Berry, George Rogers, Pete Leahy, Jim Schuh, and other media figures were instrumental in the Gazette’s formulation and launch.
“It was a group effort, I may have been the one who suggested it initially, but it was a group effort to do it all,” Gene explained. Kemmeter enlisted the help of his son, Mike, during the first year of the Gazette to work on graphics and as sports editor. Mike Kemmeter was an editor at the “UWSP Pointer” during his senior year and graduated the same year the Gazette kicked off. After Mike Kemmeter left to continue his journalism career at a different organization in 2002, his younger brother, John, took over the role.
“I really got started here in 2003,” said John Kemmeter, current sports editor. Mike and John are gifted writers with a zeal for sports. Both are UWSP graduates.
“When John was a kid, I got him into sports, because that was always something big for me when I was growing up,” Gene explained. “We used to give them Sports Illustrated magazines when they were kids, they read them religiously. John would be in the van, going through the magazines and making up lineups for teams.”
Kemmeter said that he proud of his sons for following his footsteps into the journalism industry. “I was very prideful to see them working and doing stories. You probably never give them enough vocal praise, but you enjoyed seeing and reading their stories,” he said.
Gene also notes his wife, Nancy, and daughter, Sarah’s assistance with the publication over the years. Kemmeter retired from the Gazette in 2010, after more than seven years of working alongside his son. Although the veteran writer is retired, he is still regularly published and is tightly connected to the publication.
John Kemmeter carries on his father’s legacy at the Gazette and hopes to see a bright and long future for the publication.