Scott Peterson, managing editor of the Watertown Daily Times and Daily Jefferson County Union and former group editor for Hometown News Group, announced Monday that he plans to retire as of Sept. 30, after 3 1/2 years with Adams Publishing Group.
Peterson, who will turn 65 in October, has spent 42 years in journalism, 44 years if you count years freelancing during college.
He took over as managing editor of the Watertown Daily Times in April of 2019, succeeding Tom Schultz, who held the position for decades. About a year later, Peterson was also named group editor to oversee the 28-staff members in the editorial operations of not only the Daily Times, but the Daily Jefferson County Union and the Hometown weeklies in the Madison area, including the Sun Prairie Star, Waunakee Tribune, Lodi Enterprise-Poynette Press, Herald Independent & McFarland Thistle, Lake Mills Leader, Cambridge News-Deerfield Independent, Milton Courier and The (Waterloo-Marshall) Courier.
In a restructuring in June, Peterson became managing editor for both the Daily Times and Daily Union.
APG-Southern Wisconsin, which is based in Janesville, is conducting a nationwide search to find a new managing editor for both papers and expects to hire someone this fall. More will be announced on this as plans are finalized, according to Jim Ferolie, who is executive editor for all of APG-Southern Wisconsin and will take over Peterson’s duties during the transition.
“I am blessed enough to spend my whole career doing something I love,” Peterson said. “When I notified APG officials early last month that I would be retiring, I felt fortunate I could retire on my own terms, but saddened that I will miss a lot about this field, the community and the great people I have worked with during this time.”
Peterson came to APG after 29 years with Journal Communications, most of it based in Waukesha County and overseeing suburban news coverage. At the pinnacle, Peterson’s Waukesha-based newsroom was staffed with 44 people and produced 19 publications (with their accompanying websites) a week, and three monthly magazines plus other quarterly publications. Most were suburban weeklies covering all or part of four counties in metro-Milwaukee; Metroparent magazine and the Wisconsin State Farmer were also under his purview.
Over his career, the publications under his oversight earned more than 1,200 national, state and regional awards, including three crystal Eppy’s on the national level and one state newspaper of the year trophy.
“There is nothing more gratifying for an editor than to see talented people succeed. There were so many outstanding journalists who worked for me, and I experience a vicarious thrill seeing them honored for doing great work in this profession. It’s one of the best parts of the job,” he said.
After freelancing with the Wauwatosa Post and the Milwaukee Sentinel, and interning at the Ozaukee Press, Peterson’s first job after graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 1980 was as a reporter for the twice-weekly Lake Country Reporter in Hartland. In 1982, publisher Edward “Jim” McLoone promoted him to editor of the Hartford Times-Press. A few years later, McLoone named Peterson editor of the Lake Country Reporter and then managing editor of all of his papers, including the recently started Oconomowoc Focus.
In 1990, McLoone sold his Waukesha County papers to the employee-owned Journal Communications, which shortly thereafter built a 150,000-square-foot plant in Hartland for the newspapers and their printing operation. Those papers were later grouped with the former Community Newspapers, which Journal had also purchased, and the operations were moved to Waukesha, soon after Peterson was put in charge of those editorial operations by Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Editor Marty Kaiser and the late Steve Lyles, who was publisher of the suburban papers.
In April 2016, Gannett purchased what had become Journal Media Group and decided to consolidate the suburban papers and make them sections of the Journal Sentinel. The Waukesha operations were closed and Peterson and the staff were merged into the Journal Sentinel newsroom. He took a voluntary buyout in 2019, just weeks before taking his new post in Watertown, and shortly after Jim Clifford sold the Daily Times to APG.
“I will always be grateful to APG for taking the chance and hiring a man in his 60s. It was the first I had applied for since 1980. That opened the door for me to reinvent myself and spend some of the happier days of my late career running a daily news operation,” Peterson said.
During his tenure, the Daily Times moved from its longtime offices on Main Street to make way for what is becoming the Bentzin Family Town Square. The new office on South First Street overlooks the Rock River. That move was significant, but behind the scenes there were numerous staffing, software and design changes, as the paper became part of the larger APG operations and was feeling the pressures of an industry that was rapidly consolidating.
“I love our charming offices, but I will never forget when our new CFO came to talk to us about the budget for the first time, and our toilets and all of our plumbing suddenly backed up. Our sewer lateral had somehow broken and we had to take emergency measures to have a plumber and excavator put in a new line. Meanwhile, we all had to find public restrooms several times a day for more than a week,” Peterson recalled.
While he was there, the Daily Times covered not only the building of the Town Square, but the library expansion and remodeling, the tenure of the city’s first woman mayor, an officer-involved shooting, the Concord tornado, among many other stories.
“The story that undoubtedly overshadowed them all was the pandemic. Nothing in my career could have prepared me or any of my staff for how disruptive, long-lasting, divisive and life-threatening COVID-19 would be,” Peterson said. “And we were required by company policy to work in the office, provided we were not sick or in quarantine, every day of that pandemic. Everything changed almost overnight. Offices closed. Meetings moved online. It was the most amazing transformation I have ever witnessed.”
Peterson also penned his award-winning Scott Free column, continuing almost 40 years of writing it, dating back to his Times-Press days, about 2,000 columns. APG’s president for Southern Wisconsin, Orestes Baez, said he would agree to have Peterson continue his column, but will leave its ultimate fate in the hands of the new editor.
In retirement, Peterson plans to spend more time with Nancy, his wife of 40 years, an award-winning artist who retired two years ago after spending much of career working as an educational paraprofessional, and most of that time running a grade-school library. They have two married children and two grandchildren, who will also get more attention from them both in the future.
They plan to travel more and are working with a breeder to obtain a golden retriever puppy in the near future. He hopes to find time for golf, too. He is president of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association Foundation, and plans to remain in that role after he retires.
Peterson, who has attended Watertown Rotary meetings all during his tenure in the city, will now reconnect with Lake Country Rotary, after a long leave of absence. He remains active in his church, as well. He is a past president of the Lake Country club and former senior warden (president) of his church.
“The Watertown Rotary Club is filled with some outstanding people who care deeply about this community and each other. It felt like home from the moment I began attending. What a dedicated group of people who truly put service above self,” he said.
Peterson said he would be remiss in not thanking the dedicated staff of the Daily Times, the Daily Union, Hometown and APG. The same is true for Schultz, Clifford and so many others who supported him in Watertown and over his entire career.
The first half of his career was all about growth and starting newspapers and magazines, and adding sections, Peterson said, and the second half has been about the challenges of the industry with fewer people and resources to do them with.
“Putting out a newspaper everyday is an amazing challenge. And you can’t do it without hardworking, conscientious staff. The newspaper industry is fighting tremendous headwinds, but the one thing that has remained constant are the people, who endure pressures everyday, and who put their personal lives aside day in and day out to serve our readers, to deliver the news to their door, their phone, their computer. The public does not know how passionate they are about what they do. It’s often a thankless job, and I can’t thank them enough for that effort,” Peterson said. “These people are like family to me, and, without a doubt, I will miss working with them every day, as we produces the paper and online products. They are my comrades, my brothers and sisters. I wish them well.
“Newspapers have been so good to me and I will always love them and the people who work for them,” Peterson said.