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JOURNALISM IN UTAH

By Sherilyn Cox Bennion

Newsboys, 1907

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 non-involvement.

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 publication.

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 there yet."

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 carries.

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 for Mormons.

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 staffs.

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 digested.

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' leisure time.

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.