Julie I. Walda, publisher of the Fort Wayne, Ind., Journal Gazette, has entered a dimension rarely seen by her newspaper peers: a bank boardroom.
Ms. Walda, who holds several other directorships in the city, was appointed on Jan. 23 to the board of Fort Wayne National Corp., and its lead subsidiary, Fort Wayne National Bank.
Directors like Ms. Walda are a rarity at least partly because banks, which value privacy, are often leery of appointing publishers whose newspapers make their money by disseminating information, industry observers said.
Moreover, there's some bad blood between the two industries, given that news coverage often focuses on bank problems or portrays bankers as hitting consumers with exorbitant fees.
"There's usually not much love lost between the banks and the press," said Chris Hargrove, president of Professional Bank Services Inc.
But Ms. Walda, a 13-year veteran of the paper who replaced her father as publisher earlier this month, shrugged off suggestions that there is a conflict between working for the fourth estate and working for banks.
"I can separate my two roles," Ms. Walda said in an interview. "I make it very clear to companies I serve that I don't" influence news coverage.
"I never direct them to do a story or not do a story," Ms. Walda said.
Indeed, Ms. Walda said reporters might be reluctant to write favorable stories about the bank with her on the board.
In fact, appointing a newspaper publisher is not the same as calling upon a reporter or editor. While there are exceptions, most publishers maintain a Chinese wall between the business end of a newspaper and the editorial content.
George N. Gill, the retired president and publisher of The Courier- Journal, Louisville, Ky., serves on the board of Bank One Kentucky, and was a director of its predecessor bank. He served on the bank board while he was working at the state's largest newspaper. Like Ms. Walda, he said he was able to compartmentalize his two roles.
"I had two heads," said Mr. Gill, who ran the newspaper from 1986 to 1993. "I didn't have a problem."
But it isn't always easy, said Roberta Wagner, former head of the Director Resource Group. During the 1990s, a troubled Connecticut thrift brought a publisher on board, and the publisher had to recuse herself from some newspaper activities and be careful not to share privileged information.
The thrift, which Ms. Wagner declined to identify, subsequently failed.
"It was a sensitive situation," Ms. Wagner said.
Mr. Gill "brings a community perspective to the board," said Malcolm B. Chancey, chairman of Bank One, Kentucky.
James Johnston, chairman and chief executive of $3.2 billion-asset Fort Wayne National, credited Ms. Walda with similar attributes, in part because of her participation in other civic organizations.