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A Brief History of Newspaper Publishing in Oregon
By Richard Heinzkill
University of Oregon Libraries
Newspapers usually do not appear in a state until there is a sufficient number of readers to make their appearance worthwhile. Such is the case in Oregon. Until the 1830s Oregon had only a few outposts, connected with the fur trade. In the 1830s Protestant and Catholic missionaries accompanied a few settlers who ventured into the territory. However, the settlement of Oregon began in earnest with the Great Migration overland from the east in 1843. By 1846 there were enough people in the Willamette Valley to form a provisional government. In 1849 Congress recognized the Oregon Territory and statehood was granted in 1859.
History of Early Newspapers
In 1844 the Oregon Lyceum was founded in Oregon City for the express purpose of providing the growing community with a newspaper. Shares were sold to finance the purchase of a press, type and paper. It took a while for the press to arrive from New York City, so it wasn't until February 5, 1846 that the first newspaper the Oregon Spectator, appeared. Two years later a second newspaper, the Free Press, also began in Oregon City. The state's third newspaper, Western Star, appeared in the nearby town of Milwaukie in 1850, moving to Portland the following year to compete with the Oregonian, which had begun there in December 1850. Still in operation today, the Oregonian is the older continuously published newspaper in the Far West and one of the few statewide newspapers in the country.
In March 1851 the Statesman started up in Oregon City, but soon moved to Corvallis and then again to Salem where it is still published.
By 1860 there were 13 newspapers in operation, of which two were dailies. Due to the expense of importing printing presses, many of Oregon's early papers were printed on a small handful of presses, some of which are still extant and treasured. As a publisher became prosperous enough to buy state-of-the-art equipment, the old press was sold and became again the start-up press of a new publication.
Although Oregon ended up on the side of the Union in the War Between the States, at the time there was much pro-Southern sentiment in the state, which was passionately reflected in several newspapers. The Republicans who were in control of the state government brought pressure to bear on the postal authorities to refuse to handle these "abusive and treasonable" papers through the mail, in effect putting them out of business. Some newspapers resorted to hand delivery, others changed their name and resumed publication until again forced to shut down - only to be quickly reborn again under yet another name in an attempt to fool the post office.
Oregon's early newspapers reflected the strong political positions commonly held by newspapers. One of the most noted of the outspoken publishers was Abigail Scott Duniway, a campaigner for women's rights. Duniway's brother, Harvey Scott, was editor of the Oregonian and promoted a conservative agenda. To publicize her opposition to Scott, Duniway started her own paper, the New Northwest, in 1871 and was instrumental in the 1912 passage of voting rights for Oregon women. Duniway was the first woman to register, and the first woman to cast a vote in an Oregon election, eight years before women gained the right to vote nationwide.
In 1880 Oregon had seven dailies, 58 weeklies, and eight published at other intervals for a total of 74 papers. By 1916 this figure had more than tripled, to 270 papers. During the Depression many papers folded until by 1940 there were only 125. However, the number of papers does not tell the whole story. Percentage of readers in relation to the population would be a better indicator of the health of the state's newspapers but those figures have not been compiled.
Records for the early days of the labor movement in Oregon are skimpy. One historian says the first labor group in the state was an organization of printers which formed in Portland in 1853; the second labor group also were printers who banded together to apply for membership in the National Typographical Union in 1862. From then on the record is strangely silent about printers' involvement in organized labor. The history of editorial staff and shop unions in the 20th century has yet to be written. However, several observations can be made: the unions were active, strikes were very few, and union strength today is almost nil.
One strike is especially notable because it was long, bitter, and in the end hastened the diminishing power of the newspaper unions in Portland. The strike began in November 1959 against the Oregonian and Oregon Journal. The National Labor Relations Board ruled the strike illegal in November 1963. By the following April the last two remaining unions quit and declared both plants open shops. By that time the strike was over. Having run over five years, it was the third longest newspaper strike in the United States. During this period, striking newspaper people put out a weekly, the Reporter, to compete with the Oregonian and Oregon Journal. Because the same company owned both these latter newspapers, many people supported the Reporter as healthy competition. Although the Reporter's circulation reached 78,000, it folded after having lasted almost five years. This challenge to local newspaper monopoly generated much national attention.
Running a newspaper, especially a small newspaper (of which Oregon has had a goodly number), has always been a precarious business. Some people succeed, some people do not. Some Oregon newspapers have had the same ownership for over 75 years. Others change ownership more often; an extreme example is the Dufur paper, which changed ownership 18 times in the 41 years of its existence.
In the past 25 years, the trend both locally and nationally has been for corporations to consolidate the publication of several newspapers. The sale of the Oregonian (Portland) to S.I. Newhouse in 1950 was a significant event in American journalism. Up until that time the Newhouse Group had concentrated on acquiring newspapers on the East Coast and several in the Midwest. The jump to the West Coast launched the Newhouse Group on a series of acquisitions throughout the country, until today they are one of the largest media owners in the United States. The trend toward ownership of many newspapers, despite the absentee owners' avowed commitment to local control, is a concern to many newspaper editors and social critics.
Other corporations owning newspapers in Oregon are the Ottaway Newspaper Group, Scripps-Ifft Newspapers, Inc., Eagle Newspapers, Lee Newspapers, and Capital Cities Communication, who own ten Oregon newspapers.
Special Groups of Readers
The history of non-English newspapers in Oregon is not well documented. There have been several published in their native language for immigrant populations. The earliest one is the German newspaper, Oregon Deutsche Zeitung, starting in Portland in 1868 and continuing under various names until 1917. The state's most famous German newspaper, St. Joseph Blatt, began as a parish newsletter in Portland in 1888, but soon moved to Mount Angel where it expanded and generated enough readership to continue up until July 1991.
As Portland has long been a major port for the Pacific Rim, it has had a substantial Asian population. In 1880 nearly one-quarter of Portland's population was Chinese; it is likely there was a Chinese newspaper but none has been located. Oregon News in Japanese had a long run - from 1904 until World War II.
The large Scandinavian influx was served by several Swedish newspapers, none of which lasted beyond World War II, and a Finnish newspaper, Lannen Suometar, coming out of Astoria from 1939 to 1951.
There has been an Italian newspaper in Portland almost continuously from 1912 through 1964, first La Tribuna Italiana, then Columbia Record.
Seasonal Hispanic migrant workers were sometimes served by supplements printed in Spanish and distributed with local newspapers or a Spanish-language page in the body of the paper. In recent years more Hispanic people have become year-round residents. Two statewide newspapers are published for them: one, El Hispanic News (Portland) is mostly in English, and Go Latino (Salem) is mostly in Spanish.
There were not many African-Americans in the state until work in the Portland shipyards during World War II attracted them to Portland, where the majority of the state's African-Americans still live. Most likely the first newspaper to concentrate on news of interest to the African-American community was the Northwest Clarion which started in 1946 and lasted into the early 1970s. Presently African-Americans have their choice of the Portland Observer (since 1970) and The Skanner (since 1975). Recently a Eugene publisher began a newspaper, Eugene Observer, for the African-American community there.
During the 1960s several alternative newspapers started up, especially in the Willamette Valley and the southern part of the state. Several of them, in somewhat altered guises, are still being published, e.g. Eugene Weekly (Eugene) and Willamette Valley Observer (Portland).
Awards and Professional Development
Oregon journalists won Pulitzer prizes in 1934, 1937, 1939, and 1957. They also participated in the Pulitzer Prize process by regularly being selected to serve on Pulitzer nominating committees.
Although several colleges and universities in Oregon have courses in journalism, the undergraduate and graduate program at the University of Oregon has dominated journalism education in the state. Established as a professional school in 1916, it is one of the oldest journalism schools in the country.
The Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association was founded in 1887. It soon eclipsed other similar organizations and became a dominant force in Oregon newspapers publishing. The ONPA is an assertive professional organization that has done much to lobby for some of the strongest freedom of information, shield and open meeting laws in the nation.
There is a long record of cooperation between the University of Oregon's journalism faculty and the Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association. Journalism faculty have spoken at their meetings, been inducted as honorary members, and served on the Board of Directors. For many years up until 1973, when ONPA moved to Portland, its executive offices were located in the same building as the School of Journalism.
Oregon newspaper personnel have also drawn attention to themselves nationally by regularly winning Nieman Fellowships for advanced study at Harvard.
Present Characteristics of Oregon Newspapers
Outside of the Portland metropolitan area, Oregon is basically a large state with only a few medium-sized cities and many small towns. This is reflected in the present publishing pattern of only 19 dailies, but ten semi-weeklies and 76 weeklies. Some newspapers are produced with almost completely computerized operations; others retain some mechanized or manual methods. A letterpress was used to print the Sherman County Journal until the owner of the one-man operation retired in late 1997. Over 20 Oregon newspapers are more than 100 years old.
In general, newspapers in Oregon reflect trends in newspaper publishing in the rest of the country. For instance, free distribution community newspapers have been started and continue to thrive. And in keeping with the new look of newspapers made popular by USA Today, many Oregon newspapers have recently been restyled.
Although this short history has focused on general newspapers, several religious newspapers have been and continue to be an important part of newspaper publishing in Oregon, including among others: St. Josephs Blatt, the Catholic Sentinel , and the Oregon Episcopal Churchman. Also there are several trade and industry newspapers issued for Oregon audiences, and several which aim at a national readership.
Writings about Oregon newspapers comprise a very short list. The following works account for nearly all of the titles eligible for such a list.
George Turnbull, who was acquainted with many of the pioneers of Oregon journalism, put together a fascinating compilation of stories about those who founded and ran Oregon newspapers from the beginning up until he wrote his History of Oregon Newspapers in 1938. Early Oregon newspapers have attracted the attention of several graduate students: Flora B. Ludington did a study of Oregon newspapers during the period 1846-1870 , Donald L. Guimary wrote about the Portland Reporter , Bonnie Wiley tells of the Oregonian's early years, Roy W. Adam portrayed Oregon politics and the "Oregon style" from 1855-1865 when Union and anti-Union feeling ran high in the state.
For many years newspapers provided an outlet for Oregonians wanting to have their poetry and essays in print. Several columnists and editorial writers were also regarded throughout the state as literary figures. Alfred Power's History of Oregon Literature details the newspapers' role in Oregon's early literature.
Newspapers themselves are a source of their history as told in commemorative editions issued usually on the occasion of the paper's anniversary. Some of these can be found cataloged in local libraries, but for the most part their existence is not known other than by browsing newspaper files. Otherwise few Oregon newspapers have a published history; notable exceptions are the histories of Oregon Spectator, East Oregonian (Pendleton) by Gordon Macnab, Register-Guard (Eugene) by Warren Price, Oregon Journal (Portland) by Marshall Dana, Oregonian (Portland) by Robert Notson, Reporter (Portland) by Allen Hoffard and the Wallowa County Chieftain (Enterprise) by Lloyd Coffman.
Oregon journalists have been the subject of several biographies, some of them done as graduate school projects. George Putnam was written by George Turnbull, Thomas Jefferson Dryer by Richard S. Cramer, Harvey Scott by Lee M. Nash, Sheldon Fr. Sackett by Joseph R. Sand, and E. Hofer by Rolf Swensen.
Coffman, Lloyd W. 5200 Thursdays in the Wallowas: A Centennial History of the Wallowa County Chieftain. Enterprise, OR: Wallowa County Chieftain, 1984.
Dana, Marshall. Newspaper Story: Fifty Years of the Oregon Journal, 1902-1952. Portland, OR: Oregon Journal, 1951.
Guimary, Donald Lee. The Decline and Death of the Portland Daily Reporter. Eugene, OR; University of Oregon, 1966.
Hoffard, Allen Edward. An Experiment in Publishing: The Portland Daily Reporter. S.l.: American University, 1964.
Keeney, Paula I. The Oregon Spectator: Pioneering Western Journalism, 1846-1855. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University, 1975.
Ludington, Flora Belle. The Newspapers of Oregon, 1846-1870. Eugene, OR: Koke-Tiffany Co., [1925?].
Macnab, Gordon. A Century of News and People in the East Oregonian, 1875-1975. Pendleton, OR: East Oregonian Publishing Co., 1975.
Nash, Lee. Refining a Frontier: The Cultural Interests and Activities of Harvey W. Scott. Eugene, OR: University of Oregon, 1961.
Notson, Robert C. Making the Day Begin: A Story of the Oregonian. Portland, OR: Oregonian Publishing Co., 1976.
Powers, Alfred. History of Oregon Literature. Portland, OR; Metropolitan Press, 1935.
Price, Warren. The Eugene Register-Guard: A Citizen of Its Community. Portland, OR: Binford & Mort, 1976.
Sand, Joseph Russell. Sheldon F. Sackett: Flamboyant Oregon Journalist. Eugene, OR: University of Oregon, 1971.
Swensen, Rolf Holen. "An Age of Reform and Improvements": The Life of Col. E. Hofer (1855-1934). Eugene, OR: University of Oregon, 1975.
Turnbull, George Stanley. History of Oregon Newspapers. Portland, OR: Binfords & Mort, 1939.
Turnbull, George Stanley. An Oregon Crusader. Portland, OR; Binfords & Mort, 1955.
Wiley, Bonnie. History of the Portland Oregonian, With Emphasis on Early Years. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University, Department of Journalism, 1965.
The Oregon Newspapers Index has been supported in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services through the Library Services and Technology Act, administered through the Oregon State Library, by the University of Oregon Libraries, and by several anonymous donors.