JOURNALISM IN UTAH
Utah's Mormon settlers brought with them a tradition of newspaper publishing.
The first periodical for church members, the monthly Evening and the
Morning Star, appeared in Independence, Missouri, only seventeen months
after the official organization of the Mormon Church, and other publications
followed wherever members located. Utah was no exception. A 1984 checklist
lists more than 900 newspapers published in Utah to that date, ten of them
in foreign languages and two in Braille.
Brigham Young began efforts to secure a printing press and type even before
he reached the Salt Lake Valley in 1847. Equipment arrived in 1849, and
editor Willard Richards, not coincidentally a counselor to Brigham Young,
produced the first number of the weekly Deseret News, Utah's first
newspaper, on 15 June 1850. The News also distributed the state's
first daily paper, The Pony Dispatch, a single sheet inaugurated
with the coming of the Pony Express in 1862.
Editors of the territory's second paper, which appeared in 1858, intended
it to serve Utah's non-Mormon minority, particularly the soldiers at Camp
Floyd. Kirk Anderson's Valley Tan, a weekly, took its name from a
term applied first to leather made in the territory, and later to any item
of home manufacture, including moonshine liquor. Less than a year later,
Mormons founded The Mountaineer, a weekly claiming to be independent
but devoting much space to answering the jibes of the Valley Tan.
Thus, journalistic battle lines between Utah's Mormons and non-Mormons were
drawn early. Disaffected Mormons joined the fray, criticizing some church
practices and policies but defending others. The Union Vedette, published
weekly, then daily, at Camp Douglas from 1864 to 1867, succeeded the
Valley Tan. The Utah Magazine, started as a monthly in
1868 by dissident Mormons, metamorphosed into the weekly Mormon Tribune
in 1870 and then the Salt Lake Tribune in 1871. The Salt Lake
Daily Herald caught the slings of the Tribune and fired back,
enabling the Deseret News to maintain a general position of lofty
The Daily Salt Lake Democrat assailed the Tribune for Republicanism,
the Deseret News for Mormonism, and, according to the Tribune,
advised that "the Herald editor should be taken out on the desert
and kicked to death by a band of wild asses." This invective was typical
of the times. Although not all editors made name-calling their stock in
trade, most had political preferences, and their opinions often embellished
news reports as well as editorials.
The Utah papers were representative of American frontier journalism in other
ways, as well. While an enterprising printer might start a paper with a
relatively small capital investment, keeping it going in the face of isolation
and competition proved more challenging. Publishers constantly pleaded with
subscribers to pay their bills and often had to accept payment in produce
or services. Most papers had brief lives, even when their owners operated
related businesses like job printing plants or shops selling books and office
supplies to subsidize them. Small staffs, sometimes consisting of only one
or two persons, led to a reliance on exchange publications, from which editors
borrowed large numbers of items. Or they might use preprinted pages supplied
by syndicates for the inside or outside of their normal four-page publications.
Editors' unabashed allegiance to parties or factions and the resultant battles
in print occasionally led to physical violence, in Utah as elsewhere. Ogden
provides examples. Legh Freeman, who had come to Utah with the railroad
after publishing papers at railhead towns from Nebraska to Wyoming, founded
the Ogden Freeman in 1875 and immediately began making enemies. A
fight with postmaster Neal J. Sharp, whom Freeman had accused of using postal
funds for a personal trip to Washington, resulted in fines for both men.
Freeman called the incident "the most cowardly brutal assassination
ever known on the streets of Ogden" and threatened to sue Sharp for
attempted murder. The Deseret News reported in 1884 that A.R. Heyward
struck Ogden Daily Herald editor Leo Haefeli in the face after an
item in that paper referred to Heyward as "Heydude." Charles Hemenway,
also of the Herald, wrote his memoirs in 1886 while serving a jail
sentence for libel, claiming that his enemies attempted to assault him both
at his place of residence and on the public highways.
Ogden, while it became a population center with the building of the railroad,
did not produce Utah's first paper outside Salt Lake City. That honor went
to Spring Lake Villa, a small Utah County community near Spanish Fork, where
Joseph E. Johnson, who later published several horticultural periodicals
in Washington County, started Farms Oracle in 1863. It survived for
about eighteen months.
Other special-interest publications, like Keep-A-Pitchinin, published
in Salt Lake City from 1867 to 1871 and devoted to "cents, sense, scents,
and nonsense," and another Salt Lake paper, the Rocky Mountain Christian
Advocate, published from 1876 to 1878 with a focus on Methodism and
mining, soon came on the scene. Even handwritten papers circulated locally
in limited numbers. Lula Louisa Greene Richards, the founding editor of
the Woman's Exponent, started her journalistic career by recruiting
young friends and relatives to help her produce the "Smithfield Sunday
School Gazette," distributed in 1869 to those who would "come
to Sabbath School, keep order and pay attention."
Still, the most common journalistic effort in Utah was the weekly or semi-weekly
community newspaper. Some communities, like Ogden and Provo, started out
with dailies, but such efforts usually proved overly ambitious. Brigham
Young sent T.B.H. Stenhouse to Ogden in 1869 with the Salt Lake Telegraph
and Commercial Advertiser, but Stenhouse moved back to Salt Lake after
three months, and the Ogden Junction, a semi-weekly, replaced it
in 1870. Provo's present Daily Herald traces its ancestry to the
Provo Daily Times, which began in 1873 as a daily but soon retreated
to tri-weekly and then, renamed the Utah County Advertiser, to semi-weekly
Alta had the Daily Independent for a few months in 1873. Its editor,
W.H. Kenner, later wrote in Heber's Wasatch Wave, "It is a great
thing to run a newspaper. . . I remember having a paper up in the summits
of the Wasatch range at Alta . . . and the people became so attached to
it, I couldn't raise enough money to lift the attachment. It is probably
One of Utah's early women editors started the Uintah Pappoose in
Vernal in 1891. Kate Jean O'Melia Blake moved there as matron of the Indian
school at Whiterocks in 1885, met and married Amos Quincy Boan, bought a
mail order press for $300 and began publication, expressing the hope that
the Pappoose would grow up to be a "heap big chief me."
A year later, bachelor James Barker bought the paper and, objecting to jokes
about his papoose, renamed it the Vernal Express, the name it still
The distinction between newspapers and magazines was less clear cut in the
nineteenth century than it is today. The content and appearance of both
could be similar. E. W. Tullidge in his History of Salt Lake City
claimed the title of Utah's first magazine for Peep O'Day, a literary
paper he and E.L.T. Harrison edited for the Twentieth Ward in 1864. He attributed
its demise to paper shortages.
Other magazines followed, often commenting on current events as well as
publishing literary efforts and articles on science and art. Tullidge helped
found the Utah Magazine, predecessor of the Salt Lake Tribune,
in 1868 and the Western Galaxy in 1888. The Woman's Exponent,
begun in 1872, evolved into the Relief Society Magazine, one of several
magazines published by the Mormon Church. Magazines often addressed specialized
audiences, as titles like Utah Farmer, Baptist Mountaineer,
and Utah Oddfellow indicate.
Publishers of contemporary Utah magazines also most often aimed them at
specialized interests. Salt Lake City had Roots Digest for genealogists,
the Salt Lake Times with legal information, and Utah Cattleman,
among others. The monthly Utah Holiday started out in 1971 as a guide
to leisure activities for visitors and residents but soon began to run in-depth
interpretive and investigative articles. Partners Publishing inaugurated
Salt Lake City in 1989 as a slick bi-monthly patterned after city magazines
in larger metropolitan areas. St. George Magazine treated people
and places of southern Utah. This People served as a lifestyle magazine
Utah's broadcast media also played an important part in Utah's journalism
history. The nation's infant radio industry burgeoned during the 1920s,
and commercial radio came to Utah in 1922 when the Deseret News received
a license from the U.S. Department of Commerce to operate a 500-watt station
with the call letters KZN. H.C. "Flash" Wilson built a one-room
studio atop the News building and began broadcasting news, sports,
weather, and music. Earl J. Glade, later a Salt Lake City mayor, came to
the station as a young man, changed its call letters to KSL and, with his
wife and one engineer, began to mold it into a major station.
Only four days after KZN began broadcasting, the Salt Lake Telegram's
station went on the air from a Salt Lake City house, with opera, news, and
bedtime stories. Starting as KDL, it became KDYL and went on to success
under the direction of Sidney Fox.
By 1950, eighteen commercial radio stations were operating in Utah, all
but three affiliated with national or regional networks. News and public
affairs programming played a major role on most of them. When television
arrived, it took over radio's traditional content, and radio turned to specialized
music and talk formats. The opening of the FM band made possible the proliferation
of independent stations playing music aimed at narrowly defined audiences.
Broadcasting and Cable Market Place for 1992 listed 90 AM and FM
radio stations in Utah, including fifteen non-commercial stations affiliated
in most cases with school districts. Few stations maintained their own news
By 1992 Utah had eleven television stations, three of them educational.
Cable systems blanketed the state, and owners of backyard satellite dishes
picked up additional channels. KSL, a pioneer in teletext, offered many
pages of text each day; it could be received on computers as well as on
television sets. However, news staffs that had grown at Salt Lake's major
stations during the 1970s were cut back as the 1990s approached, and local
documentary and magazine-type programming faced an uncertain future. Broadcast
journalism should continue, but perhaps in a more limited form.
Thus, as Utah's journalistic institutions moved through the twentieth century,
they reflected national trends. Daily newspapers perished or consolidated,
and both dailies and weeklies affiliated with publishing groups. While Salt
Lake dailies remained in private ownership, others did not. Provo's Daily
Herald joined the Scripps League, a group of forty-eight papers, and
Logan's Herald-Journal became part of the Pioneer Newspapers Group,
a smaller chain, and Sandusky Newspapers of Ohio bought Ogden's Standard
Examiner. The Daily Spectrum of St. George, Utah's first new
daily in seventy years, belonged to the Thomson Newspapers Group, along
with 166 other dailies. Many of the state's weeklies also belonged to groups.
Others handled printing or distribution jointly, as did Salt Lake's dailies
under a joint operating agreement in effect since 1952.
Both print and broadcast media relied extensively on computerized systems
that reinforced audience perceptions of their distance and impersonality.
Newspapers attempted to combat this by instituting open-forum columns or
commentary by media critics, or by sponsorship of community events such
as sports competitions. Radio stations offered call-in shows. Television
news directors looked for newscast anchors who projected warmth and involvement.
All catered to the American appetite for quick news, colorful and easily
Also, all faced intense competition for audience and advertisers. The proliferation
of broadcast choices lessened the number of listeners or viewers for each.
Mailed advertising packages, throwaway shopping guides, and free weeklies
promising total market coverage threatened daily and weekly newspapers.
Journalism competed with an increasing array of other options for Americans'
Still, the best of Utah's contemporary journalists worked successfully toward
the same ends envisioned by their predecessors since 1850--to inform and
entertain, to exert a civilizing influence, to speak as the conscience of
the community, and to raise the level of local culture.
See: J. Cecil Alter, Early Utah Journalism (1938); Robert P. Holley,
Utah's Newspapers--Traces of Her Past (1984). Histories of the
Deseret News by Wendell J. Ashton and the Salt Lake Tribune by
O.N. Malmquist also provide general historical information.
Sherilyn Cox Bennion