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:

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