Two Fort Wayne print publications are thriving in the digital age

If you think newsprint is dying, look no further than the newly launched Fort Wayne Ink Spot and established El Mexicano News.

Both publications have a predominantly minority readership and are challenging the notion that print is dead with captive, engaged audiences who share news they read with papers in hand.

To understand the success of these publications, you have to look to the past.

Fort Wayne Ink Spot is the spiritual heir to the now defunct Frost Illustrated, which had a nearly 50-year run in the community as Fort Wayne's first African-American newspaper. The publication was devoted to covering the local minority community, and when it ceased publication in 2017, it left a void in local news.

That void is what publisher and entrepreneur John Dortch saw as an opportunity. 

“I thought there was a need for another minority newspaper, but I thought it should be different,” Dortch says. “I wanted to focus more on stories because we remember stories.”

Ink Spot features up-and-coming talent like Christiana Danielle, who was on NBC's "The Voice."

To tell engaging, inspiring stories about Fort Wayne's African-American community, in particular, Dortch turned to writer and photojournalist William Bryant Rozier to be the publication's managing editor.

Rozier has been published in several local and national publications, including the former Frost Illustrated and the national Ebony Magazine. So he already had the connections and skills to hit the ground running with Ink Spot. He and Dortch have been managing the publication together ever since, working remote or from Dortch's office at the Penta Minority Entrepreneurial Center at 2513 S. Calhoun St.

The Penta Minority Entrepreneurial Center offers office space to minority-owned business.

The Penta building is home to several minority-owned businesses, meaning many of Ink Spot's stories are in the making only doors away. Rozier and his team of freelance writers focus on topics like wellness, finance, education, employment, and entrepreneurship in Ink Spot. He and Dortch identified these coverage areas early on as part of Dortch's desire to tell more positive stories about minority communities in northeast Indiana.

“So much has been written about black males that isn’t positive," Dortch says in Ink Spot's first publication. "A lot of young black males are doing great things in the areas of entrepreneurship, making good grades. Why can’t we identify those that do?”

Along with highlighting people who are doing great things, Dortch says Ink Spot is also focused on telling stories in engaging ways.

Rozier describes Ink Spot's friendly, lively tone as “personal” and intimate. He lives on the southeast side of town and is plugged into that community, so, in a way, he’s talking to and reporting on his neighbors. 

“It’s an opportunity to tell stories no one else has access to," Rozier says. “These are the stories of people I’ve (long) known.”

Asking critical questions that matter to the Southeast community is part of Ink Spot's work.

The paper, which is published biweekly, is delivered on a subscription basis as well to newsstands throughout the city. Since it launched in March, Dortch says it has gained 400 subscribers, and it continues to reach readers in other ways, too.

Looking to the future, Bryant is hoping to do more with Ink Spot's social media accounts and continue utilizing his photography and filmmaking skills to produce videos and other web content for the publication.

But while innovating in the digital age is important, the print product also plays a critical role.

For instance, after every publication, Dortch delivers a stack of papers to people at the jail, the local women’s shelter, and other nonprofits like SCAN in northeast Indiana, where readers who might not have access to the internet can find it. Many are calling it the "most positive paper they've ever seen," Dortch says.

"One of the women at the shelter wanted to see me one day after we delivered the papers, and she said, 'You know, I was depressed up in my room one day, and I came down and saw the paper in the lobby, and after reading the paper, I said I'm going to change my life. I'm going to turn things around,'" Dortch says.

In an age where mainstream media is often accused of vying for pageviews, shock value, and social media comments, Ink Spot has found a way to break the mold of traditional journalism in an inspiring way, and its uplifting approach keeps its readers anxious for the next issue.

“It’s been a lot of work, but I get refreshed when I hear that people can’t wait to read the paper,” Rozier says.

Ink Spot is not alone in its unique approach to journalism. Another Fort Wayne editor and publisher Fernando Zapari is on a similar mission to educate and inform the northeast Indiana Hispanic community with El Mexicano News.

El Mexicano News prints stories in Spanish.

Zapari is a Mexican-American immigrant and businessman who introduced the newspaper 24 years ago. He says the mission hasn’t changed over the past few decades, even though news technology has. 

El Mexicano News is released on the first Friday of the month with a total circulation of about 8,000 regionwide. The publication has a print presence, a website, and a social media following. But Zapari says the paper's print form, in particular, is a boon to business rather than a burden.

“The difference between us and (digital-only publications) is we cater to a specific group of people,” he says.

For example, it’s not uncommon for his readers to consume the paper front to back and share it with others.

In this way, the paper serves as a public service to northeast Indiana's Hispanic community. Zapari says it's a way to keep the group's varied and rich culture alive and pass it on to the next generation. He and his wife even deliver the paper to cities as far away as Ligonier every month to reach the broader Hispanic population beyond Fort Wayne's borders, too.

He calls the paper a living and breathing American artifact.

“It’s important to celebrate the traditions of America," he says. "That’s what America looks like."

Read more articles by Lauren Caggiano.

Lauren Caggiano is a Fort Wayne-based writer. A 2007 graduate of the University of Dayton, she returned to Northeast Indiana to pursue a career. In the past 12 years she has worked in journalism, public relations, marketing, and digital media. She currently writes for several local, regional, and national publications.