Chesterton Tribune

50 years ago Tribune became community's daily newspaper

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First in a Series


Fifty years ago, on Monday, April 3, 1961, the Chesterton Tribune ended a 77-year tradition and began a new one which would endure into the 21st century.

Let that day’s headline speak for itself: “HERE IT IS! First daily issue of the Chesterton Tribune.”

It was a particularly newsy time to abandon the weekly format and go daily. In the first month, fed a steady wire diet by United Press International, the Trib would feature coverage of Adolph Eichmann’s trial in Israel, of a manned Soviet space flight, of the Bay of Pigs.

It was also, as it happens, a counterintuitive time to go daily and the Canright family’s venture would later earn the Trib an honorable mention in a Time magazine piece about the dying newspaper industry: how this little weekly in some Podunk town in Indiana went out on a limb and didn’t get it sawed off.

It’s funny, but then managing editor—current publisher—Warren H. Canright doesn’t remember the move either as a risky or a gutsy one. “I don’t know if we really thought about that,” he says. “One thing I remembered doing, I subscribed to about four or five papers that would be about the same size as the Tribune, for maybe six to eight weeks, looked at them, saw how they did it.”

Okay, but certainly Canright and his father, then publisher Warren R. Canright, had been mulling the move for some time, a couple of years at least, right? “Oh, I guess we got the idea a few months before we did it,” he says.

But five days a week, surely that was a solid part of the plan from the beginning. “My father and mother went on a trip and driving through Iowa there was this little daily paper about the size of ours. It was coming out six days a week and dad talked to ‘em and they asked ‘How often are you going to come out?’ Dad said ‘I’m not sure. I think we’re only going to come out Monday through Friday.’ And they said ‘That’s a good idea. We’re sorry we ever decided to have a paper on Saturday.’”

Still, if the decision to go daily appears in Canright’s recollection, half a century later, to have been made rather casually, it probably really wasn’t. Two rationale motivated the Canrights. The first was the publicly stated one and at the time it undoubtedly made every Westchester Township booster’s heart proud: a confidence in the bubbling economy of North Porter County, a desire not merely to ride the wave but to help propel it.

The second was the in-house one and may not have been widely known: oddly enough, the sheer work of getting out a weekly—culminating in a frenzy every Wednesday—had started to take its toll on the staff, to the point that daily publication almost seemed a smaller bite to chew.

Here’s how the Trib put it in a full-page announcement of the change-over in the March 23, 1961, edition: “Becoming a daily newspaper is another step by the Tribune to provide this community with a newspaper which is geared to the needs of a growing area. This is a big step for the Tribune and the community. . . . In becoming a daily newspaper at this time it is our hope that the paper can do its part in helping to stimulate an expanding economy in our local area.”

Here’s how Canright puts it now: “Our weekly paper had gotten really big. At least 16 pages and we had to print it in eight-page segments. So that meant we had to get a lot of stuff ready to print those early editions. It became harder and harder. It was about like publishing every day only coming out once a week. That really had a lot to do with it.”

The Change-over

Big chunks of the last three weekly editions were devoted to touting the change-over and preparing the readers. “We do not expect to publish a metropolitan daily,” Warren R. Canright wrote in an Editorially Speaking headlined “A big step forward,” “but we do expect to give you a paper devoted to local interests and always working for the locality where we all live and which we all love.”

Not a metropolitan daily but—beefed up by UPI—much more than a rural rag, with a metro’s seriousness of purpose: “last minute news bulletins, the latest in sports, the condition of the stock market, top notch Washington reporting, and activities at the state capitol.”

In addition, “All of the Tribune’s popular features will be read by our readers sometime during the week—Echoes of the Past, Ramblings, Hospital Notes, Births, Weather, School news and menus, 100 Years Ago in the Civil War.”

And the Trib made this pledge: each daily edition would be four, six, or eight pages in size, with at least 20 pages per week and at least 650 column inches of newshole more than the weekly edition had budgeted.

On the day itself, Monday, April 3, 1961, the Trib celebrated with a long—and surprisingly dry—front-page story on the paper’s publishing history, a bit heavy perhaps on technical detail: “New saws, router, scorcher, and shaver are in the department,” whatever those were and that means.

Inside, on the other hand, was where the action was, almost a party atmosphere with a host of paid ads congratulating the Trib—from Ericson Standard Service: “We’re daily too”—and the Trib’s own expressions of gratitude to the community for its support.

And in particular for the “scores of renewals and new subscriptions,” a little truth which concealed a bigger one, for as Canright recalls overall circulation actually dropped temporarily after some folks had trouble wrapping their minds around the whole thing.

Today managing editor Dave Canright describes a “chaos” in the newsroom in those early daily days, as his father and grandfather got their sea legs. His evidence for that assertion: a bunch of very short four-page papers, the implication being that, like college freshmen triple-spacing their term papers and widening the margins to two inches on every side, the Canrights’ new deadline had them scrambling like crazy. In fact, four-pagers were part of the plan and in each of the first three weeks of daily publication the Trib exceeded its minimum 20-page weekly commitment by fully eight pages.

There is some evidence of a strain, however. Editorially Speaking, a regular feature in the weekly, suddenly became a sporadic one in the daily and when it did appear it tended to be shorter in length and somewhat perfunctory in message. On Cuba, for instance: “Our concern is to have a free Cuba with the people governing themselves and with communism back home where they (sic) belong.”

Certainly the Canrights picked a fortuitous moment in history to make their move, as the Bay of Pigs fiasco filled scores of column inches. But it would take a week before the Trib could make the most of the daily format by running same-day coverage of a major event. The eight-column front-page headline on Monday, April 10, 1961: “Gov. visits harbor site this morning.”

However chaotic the newsroom may have been—and Dave Canright and his reporters are hardly strangers to chaos today—the Canrights did understand something profound about what they were doing and for whom they were doing it: “While a newspaper is a business operated for profit, it is also a community institution which depends for its success upon the active support of the citizens,” Warren R. Canright wrote. “In return a newspaper acts as the voice of the community and tries its very best to make the community a better place in which to live.”

Half a century later, the Trib staff likes to think that the bond between this newspaper and this community remains as strong as it was when, in the spring of 1961, the Canrights went out on a limb and thanks to their loyal readers didn’t get it sawed off.

Next: John Canright on quaintness; the paper boys (and girl).


Posted 4/5/2011