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After 37 years working at the Daily Journal in Kankakee, the past seven as managing editor, Mike Frey retired late last year. But Frey will continue to write editorials for the newspaper, among other tasks. " I can do the things I enjoy doing, and not do the things I don’t enjoy as much – the bureaucratic stuff, the paper-pushing," he said.

 

Frey retires as managing editor in Kankakee, continues uplifting projects

By CHRISTOPHER HEIMERMAN
For the Illinois Press Association

KANKAKEE – Mike Frey’s career as the watchdog of Kankakee has come to a close. His career as a champion of the smallish city he’s called home for half a century will go on indefinitely.

Frey, 56, is retiring after 37 years at the Daily Journal, where he started as a sports writer in April 1982. But he’ll keep writing the editorials and, come February, he’ll again be emceeing the I-KAN Regional Spelling Bee – the passion project he’s helped organize and see through for many years.

“It’s a win-win-win situation,” Frey said of the bee. “It’s a feel-good night, and you need some of those every so often in this business. I look forward to it every year, and I admit I’ll miss it. But at least in the short term, I won’t have to miss it at all.”
Frey rose to the rank of sports editor before moving to news side in 1999. He took the helm as managing editor in 2012.

MistyKnisleyNow he’ll hand the reins to his successor, 41-year-old Misty Knisely (left). And he’ll do so gladly.

“By noon the first day she was here, I said, ‘She’s going to be good,’ ” Frey said.

A true journalist’s manager, Frey said Knisely’s approach to leadership will make the transition a smooth one.

“She has a demeanor that I think is helpful,” he said. “There’s no question who’s boss around here, but she’s not Atilla the Hun. She’s collaborating in her approach, she uses the buy-in philosophy.”

“I try to work with people the way I want to be worked with,” Knisely added.

In addition to the managing editor transition, senior reporter Lee Provost, 56, has become community editor, Business

Editor Chris Breach, 59, took over as associate editor, and photographer Tiffany Blanchette, 29, rose to the rank of photo editor.

Knisely was managing editor of the Pharos-Tribune in Logansport, Indiana, from January 2013 to August 2016, and after that she got a look at the other side of the news cycle as manager of marketing and communications with the Greater Kokomo Economic Development Alliance.

Why return to the newspaper industry, with its challenge of monetizing digital revenue and widespread consolidation of operations?

“I figured out I belong in a newsroom,” Knisely said. “I’m a firm believer that if you put out a good product, the readers and the advertisers will come.”

First things first, though, she had to bring certain aspects of the Daily Journal newsroom into the 21st century. She quickly unraveled its hornet’s nest of an email system.

“I’d get 82 emails in an hour in some cases, and she’s cleaned that up,” Frey said. “She’s figured out things around here in a very short amount of time, things I haven’t figured out here yet and that I don’t know I ever would.”

What he’s figured out over the years, and what’s irreplaceable, is his relationship with the community. Frey and his parents, Richard and Nichola Frey, moved to Kankakee when he was just 6. They still live in town and have been an encouraging force all his life. “They have had a great influence in my life,” he said. “Being raised by decent people makes all the difference, and I’ve had that advantage.”

Frey got his degree at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, and after a brief stint at the Amarillo Globe-News in Texas, he came home. He and his wife, Cindy, married 36 years ago, and they have two children, Angela, 35, and Robert, 23, two grandchildren, Kaya, 17, and Olivia, 12, and a grand-Chihuahua named Bo.

“I like Bo, but I don’t want Bo to know that,” Frey said in his gravelly but affable tone.

Over the years, Frey has coached his literal kids and those of his proverbial extended family throughout the community, so it only makes sense that he’s pursuing his substitute teacher certificate.

He also plans to take a crack at doing some writing of his own volition, but as he figures out what exactly is next, over the next six months he’ll keep writing editorials and working passion projects such as the bee and the Citizen of the Year spread – among other tasks, if he’s needed.

“I can go out and cover ballgames,” Frey said. “I can be a jack of all trades and a master of none. I can do the things I enjoy doing, and not do the things I don’t enjoy as much – the bureaucratic stuff, the paper-pushing. I leave that to Misty now. I think she’s overjoyed by that.”

As significant court cases have played out, when controversy has reared its ugly head at City Hall, the Daily Journal has been there.

“It’s been a joyous career, but it’s a demanding job,” Frey said.

So he’s eager to stop and savor the sweet stuff, like a bee to roses.

“These are hard, tough jobs,” he said. “Whatever you’re doing in life, you’d better have fun doing it. When the opportunity to have fun, to do those light-hearted things, do those people features, and do uplifting public relations, I’d seize that every time. Helped keep me sane, frankly.”

It’s helped him keep his feet firmly on the ground, alongside those of the rest of the community he loves.

“You talk about bedrock Midwestern values, we have people who are firmly on the ground. Common sense is in great supply around here,” Frey said. “We’re a working-class community. We have people who work hard, pay their bills, and with what little disposable income they have in many cases, they do us the extreme pleasure and honor of subscribing to our newspaper.”

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