MUNSTER | The longtime executive editor of The Times Media Co., who has had a national impact on public records access and community news coverage, is retiring after a 50-year career in journalism.
William "Bill" Nangle has been called an consummate newsman, an editor's editor and a legend.
He began his career as a freelancer looking to earn money for college and ended up as a decorated editor-in-chief who helped reform Indiana's open records laws, pioneered zoned community news editions and launched initiatives that include the OneRegion leadership council and the "Calumet Kids" health screening program.
He started out clacking on a typewriter and racing to the nearest payphone to call in breaking news, and ended up as an early adopter of new technology who helped build nwi.com into the second most visited newspaper website in the state.
He grappled with the Ku Klux Klan, organized crime and countless deadlines. During his tenure, The Times has been involved with and reported on as many as 40 public officials going to jail.
The Indiana Journalism Hall of Famer informed staff Monday he would retire May 31 after 44 years with The Times as a result of declining health and for no other reason.
"He is a legend," said Fort Wayne Journal Gazette editor Craig Klugman. "He's known statewide and appreciated statewide."
Nangle will continue to write a weekly column for The Times. Publisher Chris White invited him to stay on part-time in a community relations role.
"He is truly one of the best editors in the country," White said. "His work at The Times and in Northwest Indiana is well-known across the country, and it set an example for all us to follow."
Nangle led The Times to win the Hoosier State Press Association's Blue Ribbon daily newspaper of the year award seven times. He was a champion of the public's right to know, said Stephen Key, executive director of the Hoosier State Press Association.
In 1989, he pushed for a new state law that reversed a court decision that allowed county coroners to withhold records from the public. About a decade later, he organized "The State of Secrecy" project, where Indiana’s largest newspapers collaborated to test whether public officials in all 92 counties followed the state's public records law. They often did not.
Then-Gov. Frank O'Bannon responded by creating a full-time position for a state public access counselor. Last year, the New Jersey Public Interest Research Group named Indiana the most transparent state in the nation.
"He's been a stalwart in the battle to maintain the public's right to know," Key said.
Nangle started his career in his hometown of Wabash, Ind., working as a correspondent for the Marion Leader-Tribune after a cigar-chomping editor said he would give him a chance. He later worked as an editor in Kokomo, Franklin, and Bristol, Va. at a time when editors could yell "stop the presses!"
He joined the then-Hammond Times in 1970, and helped build it into Northwest Indiana's leading media company. When Nangle started, the then-Gary Post-Tribune had a daily circulation of around 87,000 while The Times had a circulation of about 50,000. Today, The Times has a daily circulation of more than 86,000, compared to the Post-Tribune's 32,571 circulation.
"I have been privileged to serve as an editor at The Times with the ability to inform, educate and entertain the people of Northwest Indiana," Nangle said. "Over the years, I've worked with many outstanding journalists who have helped make The Times what it is today."
As Northwest Indiana's population shifted away from the larger northern cities, Nangle put a focus on community journalism. The Times published as many as nine zoned editions in Lake and Porter counties and neighboring Illinois in what was later emulated nationally as the "Munster model."
Nangle set an example on how to cover what people are actually interested in and talking about, said Bob Zaltsberg, editor of The Bloomington Herald-Times.
"He is one of those guys who has come to define journalism in Indiana for the last couple of decades," Zaltsberg said. "One way was with his commitment to community journalism. He said many times that he tried to outweekly the weeklies with community news. The second way was with his commitment to really strong enterprise reporting."
His legacy is felt in newsrooms across the country, said Fort Wayne Journal Gazette editorial writer Tim Harmon, who served as Nangle's managing editor in the 1990s.
"He had a sense for news and a single-minded devotion to news that made everyone else around him a better journalist as well," Harmon said.
Nangle racked up a long list of accolades during his career, including Ball State University's Indiana Journalism Award and the Sagamore of the Wabash, which is Indiana's highest honor. He's responsible for decades of journalism that made a difference, such as stories that resulted in more federal money for policing after Gary was named the murder capital of the United States.
But he is proudest of just getting a newspaper to press every day.
"It's a daily miracle," he said. "Think about how many sources make it into the paper. It's an orchestra coming together."