Springfield loses a newspaper, 1919

Part of the Springfield News-Record’s front page on May 13, 1918 (Sangamon Valley Collection)

The News-Record, the last credible challenger to the Illinois State Journal and Illinois State Register in Springfield’s daily newspaper market, published its final edition on May 5, 1919. The closure was a good deal for everybody concerned … except maybe readers.

Owner J. David Stern (1886-1971) received $250,000 for the News-Record. The money gave him a leg up as Stern moved on to publishing ventures in New Jersey, Philadelphia and eventually New York City, where he owned the New York Post in the 1930s. Among other things, Stern is known for having been the first publisher to sign a collective bargaining agreement with members of a newspaper editorial staff (a move he later characterized as “a grave mistake”).

Although separately owned at the time, the Journal and Register joined forces to buy out Stern. The deal ensured that the two papers (and their eventual successor, The State Journal-Register) would dominate the Springfield newspaper business into the 21st century.

(While not the first Springfield newspaper, the Illinois State Journal was the longest-lived, beginning as the Sangamo Journal in November 1831. The Illinois State Register moved to Springfield from Vandalia in 1839. The Copley Press bought the Journal in 1928 and the Register in 1942, although they remained rivals until 1974, when Copley merged them into the SJ-R.)

In the late 19th century, the Journal and the Register were both morning newspapers. The Morning Monitor and the Daily Evening News were the older papers’ main competitors.

‘Capt.’ Thomas W.S. Kidd (findagrave.com)

The Monitor, founded by “Captain” Thomas Winfield Scott Kidd. was the most successful. Begun as a weekly in 1873, the Monitor went daily in 1877 and for several years sold more papers than the Journal and Register combined. The Monitor, the Journal said in Kidd’s obituary, was “newsy and bright and reflected in its columns the opinions of a man acquainted with men, possessing a keen insight into human nature and entertaining a kindly regard for his fellows.”

Kidd had expected his son Presco to inherit a successful newspaper, but Presco died at age 23 in 1888. Kidd’s wife  died in August 1898, and Captain Kidd closed the Monitor a month later.

In contrast to Kidd’s sole proprietorship of the Monitor, the Evening News went through a series of owners after its birth in 1885. For most of its existence, the News was a labor-oriented paper. The main exception was a period in the 1910s when the News became a mouthpiece for Springfield Gas & Electric, the private conglomerate that jousted with utility reformer Willis Spaulding over creation of Springfield’s municipal power plant.

Springfield Evening News business staff, 1906. From left, David Howells, head bookkeeper; Jesse Edmond, advertising manager; Bergen Montgomery, assistant advertising manager; Florence O’Crowley, stenographer; R.F. Butts, circulation manager; Norman Reinboth, classified advertising manager (courtesy State Journal-Register)

The Springfield Record was founded by a group of businessmen headed by former mayor Harry Devereux; his term at city hall ended in April 1907, six weeks before the Record first hit the street. According to Always My Friend (1981), a history of the State Journal-Register written by Andy Van Meter, the Record got much of its support from breweries and liquor interests, which were hoping to stave off Prohibition. Like the News, it was an evening paper.

J. David Stern, who already had a publishing track record in the East, saw a golden opportunity in the News and Record. “In Springfield, the morning papers had twice the circulation of the evening papers; in the rest of the country, the reverse was true,” Van Meter wrote.

J. David Stern, 1937 (New York Times)

Stern bought the News in November 1914 and the debt-ridden Record two months later (Van Meter says incorrectly that Stern waited until 1917 to acquire the Record).

The consolidated News-Record first went on sale Jan. 11, 1915. Stern moved aggressively, boosting the paper’s news hole, lowering its advertising rates and cutting its subscription price, Van Meter wrote.

“The Journal and Register responded with personal attacks, to which Stern’s slovenly dress, fondness for liquor and status as an outsider naturally lent themselves. Ironically, the opposition’s campaign backfired. The character assassinations only increased the reading public’s interest in (the News-Record).”

Making a pitch for city government business later in 1915, Stern listed the three papers’ audited circulations: 7,342 for the Register, 6,163 for the News-Record and 4,821 for the Journal. The News-Record, however, charged one-third less for advertising.

The competition was tough on all three papers, Van Meter wrote:

In the spring of 1919, as Stern told it, the managers of the old rival institutions agreed to offer him $100,000 “to get out of town.” … The Register took the lead in the negotiations. Three-way competition had slowly sapped the newspaper business of its profitability, (Register publisher Thomas) Rees argued, but if Stern refused to come to terms, the Register would move into the evening market and meet the News head-on. …

The Register carried out its threat, switching from morning to evening publication on May 1, 1919. As the carrot in its carrot-and-stick approach to Stern and the News-Record, however, the Journal/Register combine increased its buyout offer. Again according to Van Meter:

The stage was set for a bloody battle when Rees again approached Stern through an intermediary. This time he offered a quarter of a million dollars. Stern hesitated. A circulation war would last at least five years, with victory uncertain and no possibility of earning the small fortune now offered him. His wife urged him to accept the money, and in the end, he did.

Under terms of the buyout, the morning Journal took over the rural subscribers of both the Register and the News-Record — morning delivery was more timely for rural readers — while the now-evening Register kept its city readers and acquired the rest of the News-Record’s evening circulation.

“The clearing up of the newspaper situation in Springfield is in keeping with the spirit of the times and modern efficiency and concentration,” the newspapers said in coordinated statements. “The advertiser and reader both will be served more effectively and economically with only one newspaper in the morning field and one in the evening field.”

Original content copyright Sangamon County Historical Society. You are free to republish this content as long as credit is given to the Society. Learn how to support the Society. 

This entry was posted in Business, Communications, Journalism, Media, Prominent figures, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *