First printing press arrived in 1814
2012 will be remembered as year Hamilton lost its daily newspaper; publication based in city since 1879
Compiled by Jim Blount
This year, 2012, will be remembered as the end of the daily newspaper in Hamilton. True, there’s still a publication with Hamilton in its name and it publishes some stories about Hamilton and Hamiltonians. In 2011 its staff -- which produces several other newspapers -- moved to an office in eastern Liberty Township, near Butler County’s eastern border, closer to Mason than Hamilton. The paper hasn’t been printed in Hamilton for 20 years. It sold its 126-year-old former downtown office and production facility earlier this year.
For about 132 years -- from 1879 until 2012 -- one or more daily newspapers had some direct connection and a presence in Hamilton.
Until recent decades, the products were truly "Hometown Newspapers" -- mostly written, edited, printed and distributed by recognized and accessible local residents who knew the people, history, traditions and quirks of the city and surrounding area.
Newspapers in Hamilton go back almost 200 years to the weekly era when each letter in a story and a headline was a separate piece of type set by hand and used over and over. Editions were laboriously printed on small flatbed presses, fed one sheet of paper at a time.
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Hamilton’s first newspaper was a four-page weekly, The Hamilton Intelligencer, published June 22, 1814, two years after the start of the War of 1812 -- the U. S. vs. England -- and a little more than six months before it ended.
The publishers were identified as only as Colby, Bonnell & Co., but the press and type were owned by James McBride, a Hamilton pioneer and civic leader who was associated with or responsible for many local improvements. The Hamilton Intelligencer survived until March 29, 1816, and possibly longer under other names and owners. Its successors -- too numerous to list -- also were weeklies.
The Intelligencer’s "subscription rates were $2 in advance for one year; $2.50 if paid during the year; or $3 if paid after the year," said Alta Harvey Heiser in her book, Hamilton in the Making. "An extra charge of 50 cents was made for papers sent by post riders." That basic $2 rate would be equivalent to more than $25 today.
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For more than 62 years, most Hamilton weeklies had short lives. Profit wasn’t always a reason for starting a new publication, or buying control of an existing one. Political motives often prevailed. Their duration depended on the success or failure of a political group, an officeholder, a challenger or a cause. Few of those newspapers were examples of accurate, objective, unbiased journalism.
Some local weeklies served a specific audience. For example, an increasing flow of German immigrants led to introduction of the Schildwache and the National Zeitung, first published in the 1850s and 1860s.
Some of Hamilton’s leading citizens were identified as owner, publisher, editor or a combination of titles. A partial list in the weekly era included Taylor Webster, John Woods, Lewis D. Campbell, Oliver S. Witherby, Michael C. Ryan, Minor Millikin, John McElwee, Christian Benninghofen, John W. Erwin, Henry S. Earhart, Lou J. Beauchamp, John P. Bruck, and Ferdinand Van Derveer
William C. Howells -- father of literary giant William Dean Howells -- owned and edited the Hamilton Intelligencer, 1840-48.
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"Here we are!" announced the Hamilton Daily News Dec. 11, 1879, in introducing the first daily newspaper in the city (population about 15,000) and Butler County (49,000). Dominating the front page were summations of sermons preached in local churches the previous day. Later that week, on an inside page, the Daily News reported that 32-year-old Thomas Alva Edison had developed the first commercially practical incandescent electric light bulb.
Charles M. Campbell purchased the weekly Hamilton Telegraph and launched the Daily News five days later. Campbell -- who retained ownership until July 1, 1888 -- started daily publication on a cautious note. He printed only 800 copies, selling for a penny each.
Campbell stated his philosophy in the first edition: "The paper will be for the people and will be largely non-partisan. Let anybody write us on any interesting subject with due regard only to truth, and the contributor shall have a fair hearing."
The venture challenged the entrenched newspaper reading habits of Hamiltonians, who for several years had relied on weekly papers for local news and Cincinnati dailies for wider coverage. In 1879, passenger trains brought the following Queen City dailies to Hamilton: (1) Cincinnati Enquirer; (2) Cincinnati Commercial; (3) Cincinnati Gazette; (4) Cincinnati Times-Chronicle; and (5) Cincinnati Star.
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The Daily News was Hamilton’s only daily until 1883. For the next 50 years, the competition included several startups, mergers and acquisitions in this order:
1888 -- The Middletown Daily Signal was the first daily newspaper in that city. The Middletown Journal -- which began with the weekly Western Journal in 1857 -- debuted as a daily in 1890. The papers merged in 1928.
1898 -- The Hamilton Republican-News, introduced March 21, 1898, was a merger of the Daily News and the Daily Republican.
1907 -- The Hamilton Democrat-Sun merger started Aug. 12, 1907.
1908 -- The Hamilton Evening Journal was the successor to the Democrat-Sun in a name change. The newspaper became a member of the Associated Press Jan. 8, 1908, one of 18 charter members.
1933 -- "One Newspaper Now in Hamilton" proclaimed a Feb. 4, 1933, headline in the Cincinnati Times-Star. "Suspension of the Daily News, Hamilton’s oldest newspaper, and its merger with the Hamilton Evening Journal officially was announced today," the story said. The consolidation was a result of the Great Depression. "Financial difficulties resulted in a reorganization in 1929," the Cincinnati newspaper reported. "Continued difficulties followed, however, and the paper was placed in the hands of a receiver" until purchased in the summer of 1932 by local civic leaders. The merged paper was commonly known as The Hamilton Journal-News as of Feb. 6, 1933.
1952 -- A 55-year era ended Oct. 8, 1952, with the death of Homer Gard, a Hamilton newspaper giant since June 1, 1897, when he purchased a controlling interest in the Daily Democrat. Later he directed the Journal-News, whose ownership passed to his widow until her death in 1970.
1971 -- Harte-Hanks Newspapers -- one of more than 40 companies interested in acquiring the newspaper -- bought the Journal-News May 28, 1971, from executors of the estate of Mrs. Ethelyne Gard Gramm. Harte-Hanks, a Texas company, began operating the paper July 1, 1971.
1972 -- The Journal-News began Sunday publication Oct. 8, 1972. At the same time, it switched Saturday publication from noon to early morning while printing in the afternoon Monday-Friday.
1986 -- Garden State Newspapers Inc., based in Woodbury, N. J., acquired the Journal-News March 13, 1986, and assumed its direction in May.
1989 -- In a transaction involving several newspapers, the Thomson Newspapers chain, owner of the Middletown Journal, acquired the Journal-News from Garden State. Thomson had obtained the Middletown paper in 1978.
1992 -- Printing of the Journal-News moved from downtown Hamilton to a new plant on Ohio 4, near Liberty-Fairfield Road, in the northern part of Fairfield Twp. in April 1992.
2003 -- Cox moved printing of the Journal-News and its other area newspapers from Butler County Printing in Fairfield Twp. to a larger Cox printing complex near Franklin.
2011 -- In June and July 2011, reporters and others involved in producing the Hamilton Journal-News, in addition to other newspapers and services, moved from the Hamilton office on the northeast corner of Court Street and Journal Square to offices at 7320 Yankee Road in Liberty Twp.
2012 -- Cox announced May 24, 2012, it had sold the former offices and printing facilities of the Journal-News in downtown Hamilton. The buyer was identified as an Akron real estate development company that planned to convert it into a performance and educational arts center.
In recent years, the newspaper abandoned its focus on Hamilton, Fairfield and environs. Although still called the Hamilton Journal-News, local news and features yielded scarce, shrinking space to stories from Warren, Montgomery and Greene counties.
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Cox Media Group Ohio (CMG Ohio) calls itself "a fully integrated media company" offering "multimedia products and services," including 12 newspapers and their web sites, targeted print and digital products, and broadcast radio and TV stations."
Cox Ohio dailies, in addition to the Journal-News, are the Dayton Daily News, the Springfield News-Sun and the Middletown Journal. Weeklies are the Fairfield Echo, the Oxford Press, the Western Star (Lebanon) and the Pulse-Journal (eastern Butler County and western Warren County). Newspapers outside Ohio include the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Austin (Texas) American-Statesman and the Palm Beach (Fla.) Daily News.
James M. Cox -- founder of the media organization -- was born March 31, 1870, in Jacksonburg in Wayne Township. As a youth he lived there and in Middletown and attended high school at Amanda, south of Middletown. His early career included associations with several Butler County communities. At 15, while still in school, he became a printer's devil (apprentice) in the office of a Middletown weekly newspaper.
Later, while teaching in the area, Cox worked part time for the Middletown Weekly Signal. When it became a daily, he left teaching to become a full-time reporter for the Signal and a part-time correspondent for the Cincinnati Enquirer. In April 1892, when Cox was 22, he accepted a full-time position on the Enquirer staff in Cincinnati. Aug. 15, 1898, Cox purchased the Dayton Evening News. One week later, Aug. 22, 1898, it was renamed the Dayton Daily News.
His political career began in 1908 and included terms in the U. S. House of Representatives (1909-1913) and governor of Ohio (1913-1915 and 1917-1921) before becoming the Democratic Party’s 1920 presidential nominee. He lost the election to another Ohioan, Warren G. Harding, who, like Cox, was a newspaper publisher.
After that setback and completion of his fourth term as governor, Cox concentrated on expanding and managing his newspaper chain, and later added radio and television stations to the group. He died July 15, 1957.