Longtime Journal-World leader, GM Ralph Gage, dies

Mar 1, 2022

Ralph Gage, who for decades served as the day-in-day-out leader of Lawrence’s largest media company, has died.

Gage, who died of natural causes Jan. 29, 2022, had worked since 1969 for The World Company, which was the parent company of the Journal-World until the newspaper’s sale in 2016. While he worked in a variety of roles, he was known by many as the general manager of the company, making him an architect and executor of the business strategies of the company owned by the Simons family of Lawrence.

“It was a huge loss for Lawrence,” said Dolph C. Simons Jr., the former editor and publisher of the Journal-World and chairman of The World Company. “In a sense, he kind of worked behind the scenes. A lot of people in Lawrence (Kansas) may not have known how talented and how good Ralph Gage was.”

During his tenure, Gage, 80, helped oversee the transformation of The World Company from one that primarily was a Lawrence media entity to a firm that owned media properties in multiple states, operated a software firm that moved news from print to online and grew Lawrence’s cable television company into one of the region’s first broadband internet operators.

“He helped make us look pretty good,” Simons said. “It is hard for me to prioritize what he meant to us. He really was a superior newspaper man. He could have worked for and been an asset to any newspaper of any size anywhere.”

Gage’s roots in the business were as a newspaper journalist. A native of Ottawa who graduated from the University of Kansas’ journalism school in 1964, he had worked as an editor at the Salina Journal and a member of the newsroom staff of the Metro-East Journal in East St. Louis before joining the Journal-World in 1969.

“He loved the innovation that he was able to help bring to journalism in this community, but at heart, he was a reporter,” said his daughter, Susan Gage. “Anybody who ever met him got a sense of that because he was relentlessly curious and asked a million questions.”

He also had the characteristics of a fine editor and manager, Simons said.

“He was a taskmaster,” Simons said. “He expected people to do their particular responsibilities in a particular way, and he would let you know if you hadn’t done it in the right way.”

Current Journal-World Editor and Publisher Chad Lawhorn said Gage took very seriously upholding the standards of professionalism at the Journal-World.

“Ralph was in the sometimes complicated and unenviable position of holding us all accountable,” Lawhorn said. “But what was simple to understand is that he cared greatly about journalism and was proud of the people who practiced it well. He used his talents and tenacity to help build a great organization that the community still benefits from today.”

As a reporter, Gage was part of the team that covered the 1970 burning of the Kansas Union and the civil unrest on campus. Gage worked as a reporter, managing editor and assistant to the publisher before being named general manager for the Journal-World and The World Company in 1981. He served in that role through 2004 when he became chief operating officer for the company. He retired in 2013 but continued to serve as a member of the board of directors for The World Company.

Gage was inducted into the Kansas Newspaper Hall of Fame in 2016. At that time, he told the Journal-World that he was particularly proud of the efforts to bring together the newsrooms of the Journal-World and 6News, a cable news channel that previously served Lawrence and was founded by The World Company. The “converged newsroom” attracted national attention from The New York Times and drew media executives from across the country to tour the operations.

During that time period, The World Company also was developing new technology for the burgeoning internet news industry. That included the creation of Django, a web-based interface that went on to help power major websites including Instagram, Mozilla, Nextdoor and others. Journal-World web developers created Django, which led to Gage overseeing a new software development company that created the Ellington content management system, which was being used by about 300 different publishing companies when The World Company sold it in 2012.

Gage also oversaw the growth of one of The World Company’s most significant enterprises, Sunflower Broadband. The brainchild of Simons Jr. in the late 1960s, Sunflower was the company that first brought cable television to Lawrence and the surrounding area. During Gage’s tenure, the company expanded into delivering telephone and high-speed internet service throughout the area. The company grew into one of the country’s leading independently owned broadband companies until it was sold for $165 million to Knology in 2010. The broadband system continues to operate today in Lawrence under the Midco brand.

Gage told the Journal-World when he was inducted into the Kansas Newspaper Hall of Fame that he enjoyed his long career in the management of media companies, but he said serving the community by providing high-quality news and information was among the most important and gratifying roles he had played.
“I just enjoyed reporting and writing and meeting people,” Gage told the Journal-World in 2016. “When I landed here, I had the opportunity to get into the management side, and then ultimately into corporate management. One thing led to another, and 43 years flew by. Writing and reporting, though, are still the most fun, I think.”

Susan Gage said she, her mother, Martha, and brother, Paul, are still determining details of a future “memorial service and party” to honor Ralph.

Editor's Note: Upon hearing word of Gage’s passing, NNA Director of Public Policy Tonda Rush, who was a reporter for the Journal-World from 1974-77, shared this memory. "He was my last editor. He stood by me once when I was covering a possible terrorist attack, and the publisher wanted to pull me from the beat and put one of the guys in. I got the story and I never forgot that he gave me the choice instead of making the decision for me."