Inducted into the Wisconsin Newspaper Hall of Fame in 2005
As owner and publisher of The (Abbotsford) Tribune-Phonograph, (Edgar) Record-Review and The (Medford) Star News, J.A. O’Leary was a leader in bringing the American newspaper industry into the computer age. He had a vision for the future of technology in newspapers and worked tirelessly throughout his career sharing his knowledge.
At the time of his death, O’Leary had been in the newspaper business for more than 40 years. He was best known for reaching out for new ideas to streamline processes in the weekly newspaper business. In 1980, he was able to see what was to come and embraced it for the newspaper industry.
O’Leary had first-hand experience with two major revolutions in the weekly field — the switch from letterpress to offset printing, and the change to electronic text editing and management systems.
O’Leary also led a third revolution — the adaptation of microcomputer systems to bundle everything from typesetting and accounting to subscription and mailing lists. The result was ready access to centralized information and lower costs.
O’Leary found himself at the forefront of electronic development. One of the first publishers in the state to install an electronic news and classified ad system as well as extensive program and systems development, O’Leary was ahead of the curve in weekly publishing.
In conjunction with the electronic revolution in weekly newspapers, O’Leary accurately predicted centralized production, with computers transmitting ads and news to central plants. “The future is in electronics,” O’Leary said in a 1980 Star News article. “Obviously. the publisher better keep looking to see what electronics can do for him, because that’s the name of the game.” The Medford paper was one of the first weeklies in Wisconsin to go online with a website in 1995.
He successfully adapted electronic technologies generally reserved for big daily papers to small-paper needs. Through his research and insight, O’Leary knew that if news input for most papers could be simplified via terminals — in addition to doing accounting, mailing and other jobs with the same system — then it would get to the point that smaller newspapers could afford the same benefits. Until his death, O’Leary spread his technological know-how to newspapers across the state of Wisconsin.