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Feb. 2, 2021, 1:53 p.m.

Thanks to the Internet Archive, the history of American newspapers is more searchable than ever

A stroll through the archives of Editor & Publisher shows an industry with moments of glory and shame — and evidence that not all of today’s problems are new.

My two intellectual loves are history and journalism — alternately, history and its first draft — and I’m always happy to see the two overlap. That’s the case with word that the Internet Archive has digitized nearly the entire back catalog of Editor & Publisher — for decades the bible of the newspaper industry — and made it searchable to all.

I may be one of the youngest journalists to have experienced E&P in its period of pre-Internet glory, when it was the best (and often only) place to find out about job openings at newspapers. I remember, as a cub reporter at The (Toledo) Blade in 1997, going in with a couple of coworkers for a shared subscription so we could see who was hiring. The Internet knocked E&P off its perch, offering free-or-cheap competition for both job listings and media gossip and giving it the fusty smell of yesterday’s media, though it’s shown some signs of life under new owner Mike Blinder.

It’s Blinder we have to thank for handing E&P’s archives over to the Internet Archive for digitizing:

When Blinder called Brewster Kahle of the Internet Archive and found out we had the microfilm for his back issues, he was very excited to find the microfilm was not only safe, but that the Internet Archive would digitize all of the issues at no cost to him. Blinder enthusiastically gave permission for the full 100-year history to be read and downloaded by anyone, anywhere — along with E&P’s International Yearbook and Market Guide. Going beyond the Internet Archive’s traditional lending system ensures it can be indexed by search engines and made maximally useful to readers and researchers.

“I just went nuts,” Blinder recalls of learning about the project earlier this year. “I read history all the time. The fact that content about this incredible industry was available to humanity was exceptionally exciting.”

So if you’re at all interested in the 20th-century history of the American newspaper business, you now have access to a robust new resource. To give you a taste, I spent an afternoon combing through the archives to pull out some of the century’s most interesting moments; check them out below.

(But before I release you to those clips, allow me a minute on my soapbox. Newspapers’ archives are an incredible storehouse of information about the history of our country. And too many of those archives are, as E&P’s were, left crumbling in some storage facility or hidden away on unindexed rolls of microfilm. If you work for a newspaper or magazine and your archives aren’t yet digitized and available online, do what Mike Blinder did and reach out to the Internet Archive, which can handle the process, often at no cost to you, and make sure the public will benefit from your newspaper’s work for years to come.)

February 15, 1936

Without the subject of this story, you wouldn’t be reading this website right now: Agnes Wahl Nieman, widow of Milwaukee Journal owner Lucius Nieman, leaves a portion of her estate to Harvard to “promote and elevate the standards of journalism in the United States and educate persons deemed especially qualified for journalism.”

December 26, 1925

French inventor Édouard Belin shows off his experimental “television” in cooperation with the New York World — though it’s more like a photograph transmission device, based on his earlier Bélinographe. The photo sent in tests? One of the Lumière brothers.

October 21, 1967 and November 11, 1967

Eight full years before the founding of the National Association of Black Journalists, a group of African-American journalists assembled under the name Black Perspective, “whose purpose is to improve the image of the Negro in American life.” Among those at the first meeting: Ed Bradley (later of 60 Minutes fame), Bob Maynard (future owner of the Oakland Tribune), Ernest Holsendorph (later a business writer for The New York Times), Claude Lewis (the first black columnist for a Philadelphia daily), and Melvin Miller, who is still running Boston’s Bay State Banner today, 54 years later.

By way of contrast, check the adjoining story: “Civil Rights Coverage Angers Editor,” in which the editor of the Dallas Times-Herald complains that some news outlets were too supportive of civil rights for his taste.

July 10, 1965

A new hire at The Washington Post named Benjamin Bradlee, who’d spent the previous four years running Newsweek’s Washington bureau.

August 26, 1933 and September 2, 1933

The birth of unions in journalism: 102 editorial employees of three Cleveland dailies — the Press, the News, and the Plain Dealer — vote to form the Cleveland Editorial Employees’ Association. The initiation fee: 50 cents. “Newspapermen like to call themselves liberal. They pretend to be radicals, communists, bolsheviks, but the fact is they like to have other people wear the badges. Radicalism and unionism are perfectly swell for the other fellow. Most newspapermen like to remain aloof.”

March 20, 1982

“Survival” was the “top priority” for the “embattled” New York Daily News even back in 1982, showing some things never change. But most noteworthy here is the first E&P appearance of “Donald Trump, a real estate developer, who has applied for a casino gambling license in New Jersey.”

January 16, 1971

A profile of 22-year-old Garry Trudeau, whose comic strip Doonesbury was just moving from the Yale Daily News to national syndication. His goal: to “‘generate’ enough income in six months to have six months a year free.”

June 16, 1973

An pre-syndication appearance from legendary Boston Globe columnist Ellen Goodman, who E&P misidentified as the paper’s “Home Furnishings Editor” in a piece on the debate over women in the newsroom. “Women are not in favor of giving men the junk. They’re in favor of junking the junk.”

October 1, 1955

E&P was the bible of the mainstream, overwhelmingly white daily newspaper business, but its coverage of black newspapers and black issues was spotty at best. Here’s a dispatch from the trial (“trial”) of the men who murdered Emmett Till in Mississippi. “The Negro press had a large table over on the right of the courtroom near an open window. The first day their table was small but next morning a larger table was substituted.”

June 13, 1942

Ernie Pyle — already one of the country’s most popular newspaper writers — leaves America for the battlefields of World War II, where he’d become a legend. He was killed by enemy fire at the Battle of Okinawa on April 18, 1945.

May 5, 1973

A brief E&P editorial notes (and attempts to parry) the complaint of Ms. Magazine editor Gloria Steinem that news stories use more descriptive language in describing women than men.

June 5, 1919

The military newspaper Stars and Stripes prepares to shut down as World War I comes to a close. Check out that staff: Harold Ross, who would go on to found The New Yorker, the famed drama critic Alexander Woollcott, and the artist C. Leroy Baldridge.

September 7, 1946

The New Yorker offers up John Hersey’s “Hiroshima” — which filled the entirety of its August 31, 1946 issue — for newspapers to publish. “The piece runs about 30,000 words and no cutting or condensing is to be permitted.”

July 14, 1962

“Hunter S. Thompson, formerly a free-lance travel writer in the U.S. and once a reporter for the Middletown (N.Y.) Daily Record, is syndicating articles from South America to several U.S. newspapers.”

January 11, 1913

The muckraker Ida Tarbell promotes the “importance of truth in the news.” “In our time there is much discussion of exposure, or of muck-raking, as it is called. Muck-raking consists in laying bare the practises, conditions, or policies existing in institutions or in groups of men…As long as men combine to do things secretly the reporters will have the task of exposing them. It is an unpleasant one, but if he is any good, he will not shirk it.”

April 25, 1981

One of the lower points in 20th-century American newspapering: the discovery that “Jimmy’s World,” a Pulitzer-winning story in The Washington Post by Janet Cooke, had been an invention. Jimmy, an eight-year-old heroin addict with “needle marks freckling the baby-smooth skin of his thin, brown arms,” didn’t exist. “The public faith in the press is minimal at the moment,” said Boston Globe editor Tom Winship. “When you add a trauma like this…you just add fuel to the fire. The crazies out to get the press are going to love it.” (A reminder that “you can’t trust the media” is an eternal phenomenon.)

August 24, 1963

Here’s another case of white Southern editors complaining about national coverage of the civil rights movement. Louis Lyons, then curator of the Nieman Foundation, correctly notes that “some large Southern papers had ‘ducked the issue'” and “defended the coverage in Northern papers as objective and comprehensive.”

James J. Kilpatrick — seen here complaining he didn’t get as much air time to discuss race relations as James Baldwin — was “one of the leading advocates of continued racial segregation during the Civil Rights Movement.” Around the time of this E&P story, he was writing that “the Negro race, as a race, is in fact an inferior race…Within the frame of reference of a Negroid civilization, a mud hut may be a masterpiece…what, pray, has he contributed to [Western civilization]? Putting aside conjecture, wishful thinking and a puerile jazz-worship, what has he in fact contributed to it?” Kirkpatrick remained a popular, nationally syndicated columnist until 2009. (A worthwhile example to consider in debates over “cancel culture.”)

June 10, 1967

This was the first substantial appearance in E&P of Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham, who had taken that position after the suicide of her husband Philip. In a speech given in Minnesota, Graham asks: “How can a modern, general newspaper talk to the dozen experts in town and not lose the other half-million subscribers? Or put it the other way around. How can we talk to the half-million subscribers and not insult the dozen experts? Does it matter? I think it does. Can it be done? I think it can.”

March 31, 1956

The first appearance of “the Rev. Martin Luther King, a Negro minister convicted of leading a bus boycott in Montgomery, Ala.” New Jersey publisher Wayne D. McMurray had raised funds from readers to pay King’s fines and court costs. King later wrote to McMurray: “Your spirit gives new hope to those of us who are forced by sectional necessity to stand under the batttering rams of segregation and discrimination. Our struggle here is not merely a struggle for Montgomery but it is really a struggle for the whole of America.” (McMurray is now the namesake of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Monmouth University.)

October 21, 1933

Within a few months, the Cleveland Editorial Employees’ Association changed its name to the somewhat more blunt Cleveland Newspaper Guild, and they wanted to take their model national. “The Cleveland Guild decided to act as a temporary clearing house for information leading to the integration of all the guilds until a permanent arrangement could be made.” That permanent arrangement was what would eventually become today’s NewsGuild.

December 30, 1950

The audience of E&P was, of course, people who worked at newspapers, which made it the prime place to pitch new syndicated columns, comics, and features. Here, less than three months after the strip’s debut, is an ad for Charles Schulz’s “Peanuts.” (“CLEVER, TYPICAL.”)

December 20, 1986

A profile of San Francisco Chronicle reporter Randy Shilts, who was almost alone in covering the earliest days of the AIDS crisis in mainstream media. (“Nobody else would do this job. But there is nothing I’d rather be doing.”) A few months after this story, his book And the Band Played On was released.

July 4, 1925

A report from the press gallery of the so-called Scopes monkey trial in Dayton, Tennessee. “The Chattanooga News has leased a house across from the courthouse which will be converted into a club for the visiting newspaper men.” Note the reporter fined $2 for “using profanity in a public place.”

July 25, 1931

It’s difficult to pinpoint the true start of television in America — there were years of experimental stations, with lifespans ranging from hours to years — but this story is as good as any. In 1931, radio’s Columbia Broadcasting System launched W2XAB, the experimental station that would eventually become WCBS, CBS’ flagship station in New York. W2XAB was the first American station to feature an actual weekly schedule of programming — the birth of appointment television! Note the headline: “Director Sees Time When News Events Will Be Broadcast.”

December 2, 1972

This was E&P’s first substantial mention of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s Watergate reporting, here honored with a $6,000 prize from the Drew Pearson Foundation. The award was “for excellence in investigatory reporting by a Washington correspondent”; The New York Times’ Neil Sheehan had won the first prize the year before for the Pentagon Papers. This piece also properly notes that Woodward and Bernstein weren’t working alone: The prize was also given to Barry Sussman (cq, “Bob” here is an error), who edited most of the Post’s Watergate stories (and was later editor of the Nieman Watchdog Project). Barry’s omission from All the President’s Men remains criminal.

Photo of the 1908 banquet of the American Newspaper Publishers Association by Geo. R. Lawrence Co. via the Library of Congress.

Joshua Benton is the senior writer and former director of Nieman Lab. You can reach him via email ( or Twitter DM (@jbenton).
POSTED     Feb. 2, 2021, 1:53 p.m.
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