End of the Wolfe Media Empire

Suzanne Goldsmith
Dispatch Publisher John F. Wolfe, photographed in February 2006

The sale of the Dispatch Broadcast Group’s TV and radio stations, including WBNS-TV and WBNS AM and FM, to TEGNA, Inc., of Tysons, Virginia, brings to a close the long story of the Wolfe family’s outsized role in bringing the news—news the family often also shaped—to Central Ohio readers, listeners and viewers.

That story began to end in 2015, when the family sold the Columbus Dispatch, one of the nation’s last family-owned big-city daily newspapers, along with the Dispatch Magazine Group—which includes Columbus Monthly, Columbus CEO, Columbus Parent and Columbus Alive—to the New York-based GateHouse Media. The Wolfe family had owned the Dispatch for 110 years.

Columbus Monthly has been covering the Wolfes and their local influence since our magazine’s founding more than four decades ago. In our January 2016 cover story, “Power Shift”, Dave Ghose, who's now editor of Columbus Monthly, wrote, “The Wolfes have remained a constant at or near the top of the Columbus power structure for more than a century. … Always, they were in the middle of the action, brokering deals, anointing political leaders, donating millions to charity—and doing it all in their trademark quiet (some say secretive) way.”

When Dispatch publisher John F. Wolfe, who with Les Wexner founded the Columbus Partnership, died later the same year, editor Eric Lyttle wrote that “John F. Wolfe wasn’t anyone. He very well might have been, as his longtime friend and attorney John Zeiger told him just a week before his death, ‘the finest citizen this city’s ever had.’ ” (“Life After John F. Wolfe,” Sept. 2016).

By contrast, when John F’s predecessor as publisher of the Dispatch, John Walton Wolfe, died in 1994, Ray Paprocki, who’s now publisher of Columbus Monthly, reviewed his legacy in a cover story, “Death of a Titan”: “For nearly two decades J.W. Wolfe did what he wanted to do as the city’s Titan among Titans. Aside from all the good he did, and it was considerable, what distinguished Wolfe was his love of power and control. … He could be vindictive and unrelenting; when his fist crashed down, the Richter-scale impact sent shock waves across the city.”

And in an April 1986 feature, “Inside the Wolfe Empire,” Paprocki, wrote this: “But it’s more than just wealth that gives the Wolfes their power and their mystique. It’s their reputation for secrecy, for hard-nosed, back-room dealing, for political kingmaking, for refusing to conform to some of the conventions of ‘polite’ society.”

Here are links to some of the stories we’ve published about this influential family through the years. 

1986: "Inside the Wolfe Empire"

1994: “Death of a Titan”

2000: "Power 2000" ("Who runs this city? Try three guys named Wexner, Wolfe and McFerson")

2005: "Power 2005" ("These days, Wexner and Wolfe disagree so rarely that they often seem to function as a single megapower.")

2010: "Power 2010"

2016: "Power in Columbus Shifting in a Post-Coleman, Post-Wolfe World"

2016: "Life After John F. Wolfe"


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