Cape Gazette co-founder to gear down

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Good afternoon all,

One of the pivotal figures in Delaware newspaper history plans to slow down a bit.

In his typical low-key style, Dennis Forney announced that he will become publisher emeritus of the Cape Gazette, the twice-a-week newspaper published out of Lewes-Rehoboth.

The success of the Cape Gazette has rarely been reported or honored. That was fine with the owners, although statewide recognition is long overdue.

Forney, who co-founded the coastal Delaware newspaper with Editor Trish Vernon, announced changes on the “masthead”with sales manager Chris Rausch and Vernon taking on addedresponsibilities.

Forney confirmed he remains a co-owner of the Cape Gazette along with Vernon and will remain involved in the business.

Forney noted that the Cape Gazette was founded in 1993 with $50,000 borrowed from family.

Prior to the Cape Gazette, Forney and Vernon had been the publisher and editor respectively of The Whale, a well-loved and solidly profitable newspaper owned by Dover-based Independent Newspapers Inc., a small chain with properties in Delaware, Florida and Arizona.

Forney was known around INI for his management skills, knowledge of the Cape region, and for wearing sandals, something you do not see in the more buttoned-up world of publishers.

At the time of the Cape Gazette’s founding, I was an employee of the Whale’s parent,as editor of the Delaware Business Review. The move came as a shock at the time, but the reason for the new paper was crystal clear.

Earlier, INI management took a look at the growth in Coastal Sussex and decided that the Whale should become a daily newspaper.

Sadly, it was a snap decision that appeared to be done with little research made worse by a shoestring promotional budget.

Vernon and Forney took The Whale formula and rode the continuing wave of growth. Forney also brought along from The Whale his popular Barefootin’ column that covers people and trends in the Cape Region.

The Cape Gazetteretained the low-key editorial approach of The Whale,riding a fine line between offering a pro or anti-growth stance for Coastal Sussex. It always maintained a line between news and opinion.

The Gazette covered the waterfront with solid coverage of government affairs, along with business openings, sports and all the little things that make community papers successful.

It was not long until The Whale folded.

Cape Gazette’scirculation grew to 22,000, with 7,000 mail copies – many going to the Washington, D.C area. That number is impressive, especially when you consider that the News Journal’snon-Sunday circulation has fallen below 45,000

Vernon and Forney stuck to their coastal roots and did not attempt to expand beyond Coastal Sussex or sell out.

In the early 2000s, chains were willing to pay big bucks for media properties in fast-growing areas and the temptation must have been great.

The Cape Gazetteowners chose to stick aroundand were able to ride out the downturn that changed the business forever.

Without a heavy debt load or ill-timed expansions,the Cape Gazette was able to continue to offer solid coverage of Coastal Sussex and maintain strong relationships with advertisers.

By contrast, chains in Delaware and elsewhereslashed jobs. It leftadvertisers coping with revolving door management trying to find its way to the nearest Wawa, high staff turnover and composition people located hundreds or thousands of miles away.

The Cape Gazette, like all newspapers, faces big challenges. The digital wave continues,and one wonders how long, the Cape Gazette can keep much of is content outside a subscription paywall.

But Coastal Sussex is a little different and with I’m willing to bet that as long as the Cape Gazette maintains its ties to the community, the newspaper-digital site will be around after the chain gang departs.

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