Former Sentinel Publisher Gary Mehl named to Kansas Newspaper Hall of Fame

William Snesrud
McPherson Sentinel
Former Sentinel publisher Gary Mehl has been named to the Kansas Press Association's Hall of Fame. Mehl will be inducted at a KPA convention or special event when it's safe for everyone to do so due to the coronavirus pandemic. [SUBMITTED].

It seems very few people work their entire careers with the same company anymore – but Gary Mehl did.

Gary Mehl is well known in the McPherson area for his long-time career with the McPherson Sentinel newspaper where he started in advertising and then finished a 45-year career with the newspaper that concluded in 2010 serving as both publisher of the Sentinel and regional manager for Gatehouse Media, the current owner of the Sentinel.

On June 12, Mehl received news that he was being recognized for his lifetime of work in the newspaper business by being named by the Kansas Press Association (KPA) as a 2020 honoree to the Kansas Newspaper Hall of Fame! Mehl will be officially inducted on August 14 during the KPA’s annual President’s Banquet in Newton.

While retired, Mehl has been keeping busy with his elected appointment as a McPherson City Commissioner as well as overseeing Countryside Gardens along East Northview.

We had the opportunity to throw some questions his way and had Mehl go over his life and career in the newspaper business as well as a chance to see what he sees as the future of small-town newspapers.

We asked Gary Mehl what brought him to McPherson and the work with the Sentinel?

According to Mehl, he was born in Macomb, Illinois where his father was stationed while in the Army.

“After my father was wounded in the war, we moved to McPherson where my dad went to work for NCRA,” noted Mehl. “I spent the rest of my life here and in 1965, a year after I graduated from McPherson High School, I began my career with the Sentinel as an advertising sales rep working with Harvey Nelson who was the ad manager at the time. It was $50 a week and to me that was a goldmine at the time since I was recently married and looking for a job that paid well.”

Take us down memory lane and talk about your career at the Sentinel?

“When I began working with the Sentinel, Ken Krehbiel was the owner/publisher of the paper,” explained Mehl. “When he died the paper was managed by Krehbiel’s wife Teddy and her attorney Bill Hopp. After her death, Hopp sold the paper to American Publishing which later became known as Liberty Group Publishing and then eventually they sold the Sentinel to Gatehouse Media out of New York and they still own the paper today.”

Mehl continued his walk down memory lane by adding, “I worked in advertising sales for twenty-five years before being named advertising manager, a position I held for ten years. Then in 2000 I was named publisher of the Sentinel, succeeding Tom Throne. Tom and I enjoyed much success working together.”

Throne is also a member of the Kansas Newspaper Hall of Fame.

Mehl also pointed out that when he retired in 2010, he was a regional manager for Gatehouse Media where he oversaw the Sentinel, plus six other community daily and weekly papers.

Mehl was asked what he saw as the biggest changes he saw in his years within the newspaper business?

With a short laugh, Mehl pointed out that when he started his career with the Sentinel, there was no such thing as computers, that everything was done with typewriters.

“When we obtained our first Mac computer the rest was history,” he continued saying. “But one of the biggest changes I experienced was when we went from hot type to offset printing. That hot type process was a hot, tedious and time-consuming process that we eventually replaced with the modern offset press and a much-improved photo-graphic process.”

When pressed on any other changes, Mehl added that the biggest major change came when he experienced the transfer of local ownership to corporate ownership.

“When that happened, the whole attitude of the newspaper changed. And if you ask my opinion, it was not for the better as we were then being managed by people who had never set foot in our newspaper and could care less about our people or our community.”

As we began to finish our conversation with Gary Mehl, we asked him about the Sentinel itself as well as most small-town newspapers.

What did he see changing both good and bad within the small-town newspaper, and what do he envision as the future for those same small-town newspapers?

Mehl began by explaining, “Toward the end of my career, the internet was becoming a source of free information to everyone who had a computer. Unfortunately, subscribers began to choose the free option and subscriptions began to slide, which in turn began a shrink in advertisers due to reduced readership and we were fighting hard just to survive.”

“While corporate ownership tried to compete with national websites and on-line content, I don’t think it turned out to be very effective. Then you had the corporate people also tightening their belts to the point that we lost staff and local resources needed to improve our product.”

As for the future of small-town newspapers, Mehl concluded his comments by adding, “I think the future is bright for those locally owned and managed newspapers. The internet has proven to be a less than reliable source of information which opens the door for strong. Local, credible newspaper ownership. It appears that corporate ownership simply drains the profits and the life out of the newspaper at the expense of the employees, subscribers, and content. I have always been a strong advocate for local ownership having experienced working in both the local and corporate newspaper environments.”

With that we left Mehl with one final question and that would be to ‘Tell us what, if anything, does he miss about being in the newspaper business’?

Mehl gave us that personable, hearty smile he is known for and told us that his answer was simple.

“I miss my employees more than anything,” he said. “They always gave me 110% and I will never forget that. I attribute any success that I may have had to their diligence, loyalty, and hard work.”

With that we say thank you to Gary Mehl for a 45-year career and job well done for not only the McPherson Sentinel newspaper, but for the community of McPherson itself.

If you see Gary Mehl along the street, in the store or maybe at church – be sure and let him know you are grateful for all he gave to our newspaper and community and remember to say CONGRATS to being named to the Kansas Newspaper Hall of Fame – a honor well-earned and well deserved.