If you haven’t seen it yet, I urge you to read Daniel Golden’s ProPublica feature about working in Western Massachusetts at the Springfield Daily News in the early years of his career. ProPublica allows republication, so we posted it Tuesday at What Works. Golden, who later worked at The Boston Globe and The Wall Street Journal, is now a Boston-based reporter and editor for ProPublica, which is a well-known investigative news project.
What few people know is that the Springfield Republican, as the paper was once known (and is again), at one time was considered the finest newspaper in the region and better than its moribund brethren in Boston. Louis M. Lyons, in his 1971 authorized history of The Boston Globe, “Newspaper Story,” writes that Republican publisher Samuel Bowles was brought in to oversee the revitalization of the Boston Traveller in 1857, but that those efforts came to naught. Lyons explains:
[T]he project was undercapitalized, and Bowles’s thorny independence did not mix with Boston banking. In four months he returned to Springfield to make his provincial paper the most distinguished journal in New England. The Traveller slid back into being just another struggling Boston newspaper.
In 1905, the Massachusetts legislature considered a bill to require that the makers of patent medicines list their ingredients. The newspapers of that day gave the bill no coverage, Lyons writes, because they were highly dependent on advertising from all kinds of charlatans selling quack cures. Nationally, the patent medicine makers bought $40 million in advertising every year, and Massachusetts papers were threatened with the cancellation of those ads if the bill were to pass. Not surprisingly, the legislation went down to defeat, with only one paper in the state covered the issue: the Springfield Republican.
When Golden was working in Springfield, the city was served by the afternoon Daily News and the Morning Union, both of which were eventually acquired by the Newhouse chain. Eventually they were merged into one paper. Golden writes that the paper was eventually renamed The Republican, but it struck me as odd that the name had been lost in the first place. According to this Wikipedia article, the Sunday paper had retained the Republican name — which goes back to the paper’s Abolitionist origins — and the entire enterprise was renamed The Republican in 2003.
As Golden notes, The Republican — still a Newhouse paper — has shrunk considerably over the past two generations. But it has a lively and expanding website, MassLive, that covers statewide news and has been expanding over the past year.