HOME
          
LATEST STORY
Circa, the buzzed-about mobile news app, is running out of money
ABOUT                    SUBSCRIBE
Aug. 5, 2013, 11 a.m.

Summer Reading 2013: “The Southern Country Editor” by Thomas D. Clark (1948)

“Daily papers became serious competitors once decent roads were built and rural free delivery routes were established.”

Editor’s Note: The Nieman Foundation turns 75 years old this year, and our longevity has helped us to accumulate one of the most thorough collections of books about the last century of journalism. We at Nieman Lab are taking our annual late-summer break — expect limited posting between now and August 19 — but we thought we’d leave you readers with some interesting excerpts from our collection.

These books about journalism might be decades old, but in a lot of cases, they’re dealing with the same issues journalists are today: how to sustain a news organization, how to remain relevant, and how a vigorous press can help a democracy. This is Summer Reading 2013.

The Southern Country Editor by Thomas D. Clark

Google Books
Amazon

Thomas D. Clark’s 1948 book tells the story of how small weekly papers in the rural South adapted to a rapidly changing nation at the turn of the century, as new roads and big city dailies connected disparate, antagonistic parts of the country. Newspapers helped usher people through the chaos of Reconstruction; there were 182 country newspapers at the end of the Civil War, 499 three years later in 1868, and 1,827 by 1885. “By 1869 it was evident that the country editors were giving the common man a vital part in the rebirth of the region,” Clark writes.

In the style of an anthropological study, The Southern Country Editor is an apt successor to Clark’s first book, Pills, Petticoats, and Plows, a Southern social history. Our tattered first-edition copy comes with an inscription from the author to then-curator of the Nieman Foundation Louis Lyons and some useful perspective on how local newspapers have long had a strange relationship with their more cosmopolitan peers. This excerpt from the final chapter of the book, “And Still the Presses Roll,” illustrates how new infrastructure upended the news ecosystem by bringing daily papers to the rural south, forcing the weeklies to carve out their own niche of coverage in order to stay afloat. It’s something of an analog for the state of alt-weeklies in today’s media world, and perhaps a blueprint for a kind of healthy symbiosis among competing papers.

In recent years, more news syndicates have successfully invaded the rural market. Daily columnists boil their materials down to comprise a weekly summary of national affairs. Professional gossipers, popular psychologists, advisers of the lovelorn, and arbiters of etiquette all have discovered this rather profitable outlet for their wares…

Earlier editors felt that world and national news coverage lay within the province of the metropolitan press, and they refrained from printing it. They conceived their task to be that of garnering materials of interest from their own localities, and they remained steadfastly in this field. On the other hand, the daily made an effort to stay out of the weekly’s field by giving a broader and more impersonal coverage to its stories and editorials. On the surface, at least, most of the slanted material carried by the dailies appeared in their editorial or special columns.

Daily papers became serious competitors once decent roads were built and rural free delivery routes were established. When this situation developed there had to be a more clearly defined division of fields of interest between the two types of papers for the weekly to survive.

Though the city journal enlarged its patronage, the fact remained that large segments of the Southern population still had access to news only through the weekly paper. It was effective for publicizing local legal matters, giving the common man the satisfaction of seeing accounts of his social affairs in print and of supplying the county with a bulletin of events and public affairs. There was no way for a daily to compete in this field, and for this reason the two types of paper learned to exist together with fair success.

POSTED     Aug. 5, 2013, 11 a.m.
PART OF A SERIES     Summer Reading 2013
SHARE THIS STORY
   
Show comments  
Show tags
 
Join the 15,000 who get the freshest future-of-journalism news in our daily email.
Circa, the buzzed-about mobile news app, is running out of money
Its core ideas have always been compelling, but Circa has been unable to find an audience large enough to attract new investment.
Newsonomics: The Guardian is trying to swing Google’s pendulum back to publishers
With two major partnership moves, The Guardian’s Andrew Miller is trying to find a stronger position for premium publishers in a Google/Facebook-dominated world.
In earthquake-ravaged Nepal, the BBC is using messaging app Viber to share information and safety tips
The broadcaster is following up on an experiment using WhatsApp to provide updates on the fight against Ebola in West Africa.
What to read next
579
tweets
What USA Today Sports learned covering the Final Four on Periscope and Snapchat
These new platforms are optimized for realtime news on phones, but there are lots of questions for news organizations — from what content to share to how to measure their effectiveness.
473The State of the News Media 2015: Newspapers ↓, smartphones ↑
The annual omnibus report from Pew outlines a story of continued trends more than radical change.
410Journalists shouldn’t lose their rights in their move to private platforms
The shift to distributed content means concepts like fair use are increasingly in the hands of private companies — like SoundCloud.
These stories are our most popular on Twitter over the past 30 days.
See all our most recent pieces ➚
Encyclo is our encyclopedia of the future of news, chronicling the key players in journalism’s evolution.
Here are a few of the entries you’ll find in Encyclo.   Get the full Encyclo ➚
FiveThirtyEight
El Faro
Sacramento Press
Patch
Wikipedia
Instapaper
Hechinger Report
Media Consortium
Facebook
Kickstarter
Outside.in
MSNBC