Sunday, July 26, 2009

Boise Statesman reprises its 145 year history

The Boise (Idaho) Statesman turned 145 on Sunday, July 26, 2009.

It's the daily newspaper I grew up reading in the late 1940s and early '50s. My father worked there as a classified ad manager after turning The Ontario Argus-Observer over to my mother in 1957.

Reporting the news in a growing Idaho city must have been a challenge many times over the years following 1864 when James Reynolds started printing the Tri-Weekly Statesman out of alog ccabin on Main Street, delivering news of the Civil War to the minors.

Long-time publisher Calvin Cobb bought the paper in 1988 and installed his son-in-law Joseph Perrault as editor.

The history published by the paper this Sunday in July notes that "Cobb brought the Idaho Statesman into the 20th century by advocating objective reporting. He signed the paper up with the Associated Press and became active in the organization nationally, eventually serving as president....

"After Cobb's death in 1928, his daughter Margaret Cobb Ailshie committed to follow his editorial policy. A socialite in Boise and Chicago, Ailshie loved the arts and advanced them in the Statesman by hiring her friend and confidant Betty Penson Ward as society editor....

"And the newspaper continued its efforts to support the growth of the community economically and intellectually. Ailshie through the newspaper advanced nearly all the money to build Bronco Stadium for then Boise Junior College. And the paper encouraged the businesses that were driving Boise's growth, including Boise-Cascade, Morrison-Knudsen, J.R. Simplot and Albertsons.

"But the 1950s also marked a troubling moment in the history of Boise and the Idaho Statesman. The newspaper's coverage of the so-called "Boys of Boise" scandal began with its Nov. 2, 1955, headline, "Three Boise Men Admit Sex Charges." Many prominent and powerful men in the community were prosecuted for homosexual activities and the Statesman's coverage was later criticized for contributing to the hysteria that ruined people's lives."

When Ailshie diedin 1959, the paper's general manager James L. Brown took over, then sold the newspaper to a Michigan-based chain, Federated Publications, in 1963.

That resulted in some changes in editorial philosophy, according to today's historical account:

" 'When we came in, the paper had become a very conservative organ in the community,' said Gene Dorsey, the first editor under Federated. 'I wanted the newspaper to not be as oriented toward conservative philosophy, to be more independent in supporting candidates for local, state and national office.'

"When the Statesman backed Frank Church for re-election, Democrats were shocked with the shift, Dorsey said.

"He also increased the size of the news staff and brought in new blood.

" 'It became a better paper under Gene,' said Ben Cross, then professor of journalism at the University of Idaho and now retired in Moscow."

For the full account of the newspaper's history carried in the July 16 issue of the Statesman, try pasting the following link into your browser:

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Small New Hampshire chain closes – 120 fired

When Harvey Hill shut down his community newspaper chain headquartered in Claremont, New Hampshire on Friday, July 10, the shock waves traveled at least 40 miles south where Howard Weiss-Tisman of the Brattleboro Reformer reported widespread concerns:

“The closing of the Eagle Times is affecting approximately 120 employees, the towns that did business with the paper and fans of journalism who are worried about the future of newspapers in America,” he said in leading his report.
The firings also set off alarms at the state Capital. Weiss-Tisman also reported that the state “sent a Department of Labor rapid response team to the Eagle Publications office in Claremont to help the workers there who lost their jobs when the company abruptly announced it would be closing Thursday.”

This chain was local and independent, thus may have been publishing the kinds of community connected newspapers that are supposed to survive in this Internet dominated environment. From a distance, this blogger can’t know what really happened.

But Weiss-Tisman and a writer for the Concord Monitor noted that the reporters who worked for the paper were devastated. And community minded residents were disappointed.

The Brattleboro report added:
“ ‘They were trying hard to make the change to have more news on the Internet, but I guess it was not enough to keep it from closing,’ said (Jim) Mullen, municipal manager for the town of Bellows Falls which was served by the chain. ‘People depend on their local newspaper to get information on town government and the question is, if newspapers go away, how will people find about their government.’

“ ‘It's always sad when a newspaper shuts down its presses,’ said Marianne Salcetti, a journalism professor at Keene State College. "The death of any newspaper leaves a gaping hole. Newspapers are the soul of any community.’

“Hill purchased the company in 1995 and the paper was one the few remaining independent newspapers in the region.”

The report quoted one employee of the papers who said Hill had been pumping his own money into the business and employees knew it was in trouble.

But they had not anticipated the news that arrived at their work stations by email on Friday, announcing their immediate termination.

More than 50 years ago this blogger’s father struggled to keep his newspaper relevant to the town of Ontario, Oregon, and for the near term he clearly succeeded. Every day he made a decision as to how much money to plow back into the effort and how much to spend on his family.

We never suffered when he decided for the paper, which according to the column, posted below and written in October 1953, was the way the decision often went.

For more, try pasting this link into your browser:

Spending ‘generously’ on pictures and staff

The Argus Observes

By Don Lynch

From The Ontario-Argus Observer issue of Oct. 5, 1953

This is one of the most overworked weeks in the year. In addition to being national pharmacy week and national fire prevention week it is national newspaper week.
This week is used each year to remind readers of the importance of public service performed by newspapers and also to remind newspapermen themselves of their responsibilities.

Here is part of a “Journalistic Creed,” voicing ideals that really are taken seriously by virtually all newspapermen (Ed.’s note, and newspaper women who reported for my father, often in key roles but obviously were unconsciously overlooked by him with some frequency):

“I believe that the public journal is a public trust; that all connected with it are, to the full measure of their responsibility, trustees for the public; that acceptance of lesser service than the public service is betrayal of this trust.

“I believe that clear thinking and clear statement, accuracy and fairness, are fundamental to good journalism.

“I believe that a journalist should write only what he holds in his heart to be true.

“I believe that suppression of news, for any consideration other than the welfare of society, is indefensible.

“I believe that no one should write as a journalist what he would not say as a gentleman, that bribery by one’s own pocketbooks is as much to be avoided as bribery the pocketbook of another; that individual responsibility may not be escaped by pleading another’s instructions or another’s dividends.

“I believe that advertising, news and editorial columns should alike serve the best interest of readers; that a single standard of helpful truth and cleanness should prevail for all; that the supreme test of good journalism is the measure of its public service.”

The application of these ideals is more evident in the reporting of national and international news in the daily newspapers; but they do apply in much the same ways to the reporting of community news in a small town newspaper like the Argus-Observer.
I remember little violations of some of these principles that have been painfully embarrassing to me although they have probably gone unnoticed by mores readers. For instance:

Once when we had a new reporter writing the “In Other Days” column of notes from the files of former years, he picked up and retold some embarrassing crime stories long forgotten about local citizens who had since led exemplary lives.
On another occasion an eager reporter was publishing the lurid details of divorce complaints, which should be reported only in barest facts.

These were cruel, pointless stories. The person who had made a mistake and reformed should be granted the balm of public forgetfulness. Divorce items should only report the brief facts, so that the community knows the changing status of the individuals. No good is performed by broadcasting the miserable circumstances.

We spend far more time than readers might imagine just trying to handle the news with understanding and fairness for the individuals involved and at the same time with first consideration for the public interest.

Much of the responsibility of good country journalism likes in a willingness to spend generously of time and effort and money to give the public the best newspaper that can be had from the income available.

Perhaps the most difficult thing in newspaper management lies in establishing the balance tha provides the best paper possible and still retains a safe if modest margin of profit.

For instance, the Argus-Observer probably runs more pictures than any other non-daily newspaper in the Snake River Valley and more local pictures than many small dailies. This costs us the equivalent of half of one employees’ salary, quite a sizeable addition to profit if it were not spent.

But we spend generously for pictures in the belief that it makes a more interesting newspaper.

We get more than enough free handout material to fill the columns of the paper, stuff from government departments, various pressure groups and many manufacturers seeking free publicity.

Instead of using it we choose to use the community news from some 39 local reporters scattered throughout the county. They are modestly paid at best, but the total amount paid them in a year is a sizeable sum. However their report is the “meat” of the Argus-Observer which would be doing a miserable job if it ignored those communities.

We spend more than many papers for reporter time to cover the top government and public news, too, with the conviction that the product is worth the cost.
We spend freely for advertising helps (art) and services for the use of our advertisers and try to give as much attention as possible to the careful preparation of their copy.

Most important of all, everyone of the staff works hard and conscientiously.

I’m proud of our people, of their devotion to the newspaper and of the job they do.