History of Oregon Newspapers/The Portland Telegram

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The first number of the Portland Evening Telegram appeared on the afternoon of April 16, 1877, founded by H. L. Pittock, who had started the Morning Oregonian 16 years before; E. D. Crandall, and C. M. Elliott. Mr. Elliott was listed in the Portland city directories of 1877 and 1878 as a printer, and in the 1878 directory Mr. Crandall's name appears; he is listed as a reporter.

These three men, Henry E. Reed related in a reminiscent article in the 50th anniversary number of the Telegram, "appear to have run the paper for the first seven or eight months. 'Which of them was the editor, or whether or not there was an editor, have no knowledge,' said Reed (46). "In those early times an editor quite often did other things besides editing, such as soliciting ads and subscriptions, sweeping the office floor, and setting type when the printers filled up on beer."

A. C. McDonald, a San Francisco newspaper man, arrived in Portland late in the same year, and with Crandall and Elliott incorporated the Telegram Publishing Company. The name of Henry L. Pittock was not used in the company, but it was the common understanding that Mr. Pittock was the backer, since neither of the other three men had any money of his own. W. R. Struble became editor of the Telegram in January 1878. He was then about 22 years old. His salary was $20 a week—which may give an idea of newspaper salaries of the period.

After the death of Mr. McDonald, who was killed in an encounter with James K. Mercer, assistant editor of the Evening Bee, changes in the Telegram management were frequent. Mr. Reed gives the following personnel for the next few years:

1879-80—W. D. Palmer, publisher.

1881—T. F. Kane, manager.
1882—D. H. Stearns, manager of advertising department; H. M. Clinton, city editor.
1883—Mrs. C. A. Coburn, editor; H. M. Clinton, city editor. "'Pop' Gardner," Mr. Reed recalled, "went to the Telegram from the Northwest News in 1883, and I believe he was manager part of that year, and Mr. Stearns part of the year."
1884—Thomas ("Pop") Gardner, manager; Mrs. C. A. Coburn, editor; H. M. Clinton, city editor.
1885—H. M. Clinton, manager; Mrs. C. A. Coburn, editor.
1886—D. H. Stearns, manager; Mrs. C. A. Coburn, editor.
1887-88—F. A. Kenny, manager; Mrs. C. A. Coburn, editor.
1888-89—F. M. Sneed, manager; R. D. Cannon, editor.
1890-91—J. P. Tighe, manager; R. D. Cannon, editor.
1891-94—George H. Moffett, formerly of St. Paul, editor.
1894-98—Alfred Sorenson, city editor of the Oregonian since 1891, editor.
1898-99—Alfred D. Bowen, later founder of the Oregon Journal, editor.
1899-1906—Clifford J. Owen, editor.
1904-1905—Paul R. Kelty, managing editor.
1906-1914—John F. Carroll, editor.

Richard D. Cannon came to the Telegram from Santa Rosa, California, as editor in 1888, going to work October 2 of that year. He succeeded Mrs. Catharine A. Coburn, who moved over to the Oregonian as associate editor. Mr. Cannon, a native of Suisun, Cal., had been owner of the Santa Rosa Daily Republican and a neighbor of Luther Burbank, who even then was famous as a developer of new and useful things in orchard and garden.

Mr. Cannon found the paper paying very little attention to such departments as sports and society. He developed something of a sports page, which Harry B. Smith was to carry along much farther in the early 1900's. Up to the late 80's society and sports, more or less, took "the run of the paper" instead of being classified and segregated.

In the early 90's Mr. Cannon went to the Oregonian as a reporter. He soon left Oregon, not being well pleased with the damp climate. After a few years he was back in Salt Lake, as city editor of the Morning Herald.

From Salt Lake he went to San Francisco and worked on the Examiner in the early days of W. R. Hearst.

John F. Carroll, brought to the young Oregon Journal by C. S. Jackson as editor, signed up Mr. Cannon as city editor in 1904. He remained on the paper, much of the time as news editor or managing editor, for close to 10 years.

When Mr. Carroll went to the Telegram as editor, Mr. Cannon went with him as city editor.

In 1914 the paper was sold to John E. and L. R. Wheeler, and Mr. Carroll remained with them as editor until his death in 1917. Meanwhile Richard D. Cannon had been acting as managing editor, while the editorial writing was done, mostly, by David F. Morrison, Democrat, and N. J. (Joe) Levinson, Republican, formerly city editor of the Oregonian.

Under the ownership of the Wheelers, Paul Chamberlin was managing editor until called to the St. Louis Star in 1919. He was succeeded by Richard D. Cannon and W. T. Stott, formerly of the Chicago Tribune. Among their news editors were Herbert J. Campbell and William Raymond. Mr. Campbell was largely an Oregonian product, though he had had varied experience in Seattle, Baker, and other cities before going over to the Telegram. Mr. Raymond had broadened his experience in Seattle, San Francisco, and other Coast cities.

Managing editor during the last years of the Wheeler ownership was O. Clarke Leiter, former city editor of the Oregonian and publisher of the La Grande Evening Observer, and now professor of journalism in the University of Illinois.

The final regime of the Telegram (1927-31) was that of C. H. Brockhagen, former Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco newspaper man, former manager for Cornelius Vanderbilt tabloids. Mr. Brockhagen as publisher installed Lester F. Adams, Medford native, formerly of the San Francisco Chronicle, as managing editor.

Adams was clever, and he had a capable staff, until the financial pinch began to cut it down. City editors under him were Dean Collins, versatile journalist, and John W. Anderson, later capable managing editor of the Eugene News. Early reporters are noted elsewhere in this volume. (47).

An early editor of the Telegram was Mrs. Catharine Amanda Scott Coburn, younger sister of Harvey W. Scott. She directed the editorial page from 1883 to 1888, when she went over to the Oregonian, to spend a quarter of a century there as associate editor.

She went on the paper in that capacity in her 49th year, and remained in the position for nearly three years after the death of her brother. She died in Portland May 28, 1913.

Mrs. Coburn, like her sister, Abigail Scott Duniway, with whom she was for a time associated on the New Northwest, was a gifted writer. She was, in fact, longer active in the profession of journalism than her better known and more versatile sister. Her writing was smooth and pleasant. With her brother and the other men on the paper supplying the strength, sometimes the hardness, she added a graceful touch to the page. There is not space here to prove this by extensive quotation; but take, for instance, this excerpt from an editorial written for the Oregonian July 16, 1905, on the occasion of Joaquin Miller day at the Lewis and Clark fair as an example of what her style could be when the subject justified:

"The songs of a lyric poet," she wrote at the beginning of an editorial nearly a column long, "record the moments when his life, after hours or days of smoldering, breaks into clear flame. The long stretches of existence for all men are a moving slumber; the senses are dull; the passions sleep. But every man wakens now and then from the lethargy of the soul which we call 'routine'; the 'crowded hour of glorious life' comes flaming; for most of us it passes with no record but regret; the lyric poet makes it eternal in his song. He sings the history of his soul; and, if he is a real poet, his music is not always gay. There is abundant sunlight in Joaquin Miller's poetry, but there are also shadows.

'So life is but a day of weary fretting,
As a sickly babe for its mother gone;
And I fold my hands, only this regretting,
That I have writ no thought or thing, not one,
That lives, or earns a cross or cryptic stone!'

"Joaquin Miller wrote thus pensively many years ago, undervaluing his own work, for he has written many things that will live, those very lines not least surely, in all their despairing beauty. His lyrical gift is clear and true. Even in his boyhood Joaquin Miller sang for immortality—and to what listeners! Keats was scorned in England, Shelley was anathematized at Oxford; but think of a poet, a boy poet, with the oddities of genius, the divinity in him only half set free, twanging his lyre in Eugene fifty years ago. . ." (48).

The Telegram had a long and honorable record. It was handicapped in its earlier years by its relation to the powerful Oregonian. The public got the impression, not always borne out by the facts, that Telegram policies were dictated by its older sister publication. There was, no doubt, a feeling on the part of Telegram editors that it was not well to let the Telegram reverse the Oregonian in any important policy. Yet, on occasions when this was done, nothing happened. Harvey Scott, with all his personal strength, didn't seem to bother much when an editorial writer on his own paper disagreed with him and made the paper's stand appear inconsistent. (49). Editors and managing editors, generally, were clever, including such men as Paul R. Kelty, later editor of the Oregonian.

John F. Carroll was a crusading type of editor, and he had a free hand while Edgar Piper was editor of the Oregonian and later under the enterprising and public-spirited Wheelers, neither of whom really was a newspaper man but both of whom had a high sense of public responsibility and a keen desire to make their newspaper serve the public to the limit of its powers. One of their expensive adventures in the arena of journalistic ethics was their advocacy of prohibition in the old wet days. There were others. The afternoon field, too, was occupied by active competitors, and Portland business was not always good. The failure of the Wheeler regime on the Telegram can be classed as a major journalistic disaster in Portland.

The succeeding Brockhagen-Fleischhacker management never really found itself. The paper was bright and attractive, but the old tradition had been lost and before a new one could become crystallized the depression came on, with no financial angel in sight. The new owners, after all, were Californians and were not disposed to face Oregon losses such as those suffered, for instance, by the old Bulletin, the old News, and the Wheelers. The end came with the sale of the Telegram to the Portland News in May, 1931. Details of the business deal were a subject of litigation for years.

A Democratic paper started in 1878 that ran through for close to 30 years with several changes of ownership and one change of politics was the Chronicle, published Fridays by the White Printing Company. The change of politics, from Democratic to Republican, was made in 1896, when papers were changing both ways.

In his History of Portland, Harvey W. Scott listed (page 425) 15 newspapers started between 1880 and 1890 which failed to last long. A few, he said, reached two years of age. Following is his list:

Oregon Farmer, agricultural weekly, W. L. Eppinger, publisher.
Vox Populi, Paul M. Brennan (50).
Portland Sunday Chronicle, J. F. Atkinson.
Rising Sun, a spiritualist weekly, Mrs. L. L. Brown.
Pacific Overseer, weekly organ of A.O.U.W., C. A. Wheeler.
Christian Herald, Stanley & Wolverton.
Polaris, religious weekly, Rev. J. H. Acton.
Farmers' Gazette, W. E. Evans.
Oregon Siftings.
Portland Weekly Times, Cook & Shepard.
Avant Courier, Frank D. Smith.
Kane's Illustrated West, monthly, T. F. Kane.
Northern Pacific Union.
Oregon and Washington Farmer, S. A. Clarke.
Hesperian, R. A. Miller.

Two weeklies established in 1885 which had a fairly long "run," were the Portland Pacific Express, edited by the historian H. S. Lyman, which ran on into the 90's and in 1890 had a circulation of 2,000 at $1.75, (It was listed in Ayer's for that year as a Thursday family paper.) and the World, founded by A. Noltner as a Friday Democratic weekly. It was sold by Noltner in 1886, when he became collector of customs, a position held by his political opponent Harvey W. Scott a decade before. J. W. Young, the purchaser, sold the paper in 1887 to McCall & Newell. Newell & Willis were the owners the next year. In 1891 Noltner was back again at the helm, succeeded the next year by W. W. Copeland. The World used to run a column of mining news from Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and British Columbia properties. It was off the journalistic map by 1895, and the next year Albert Tozier was using the name for a hop publication. Noltner was a rather thorough-going Democrat, and when he was accused of receiving support for his paper form D. P. Thompson, of decidedly the opposite political faith, in his issue of January 22, 1886, he was emotionally upset and replied:


When S. B. Pettengill, editor of the Standard, states that the editor of the World has received any encouragement or financial assistance or promise of any, or has solicited the same, directly or indirectly, from Hon. D. P. Thompson, or any other Republican, or that the World is published in the interest of any Republican ring or clique, he utters a most malicious and cowardly falsehood, and gives additional evidence that he is the utterly worthless prevaricator and slanderer that his own writings have heretofore proven him to be, to my entire satisfaction. A. NOLTNER.

Noltner's paper was a sort of Christmas present to the Democracy, for its first number appeared on Christmas day, 1885. It started and for the most part was maintained as a six-column, eight-page paper. It advocated tariff reform, and opposed Chinese immigration, saying in its salutatory that the "presence of the Chinese in any large numbers has a deliterious [sic] effect on all classes of labor. We champion any lawful [his italics] means that will rid the Coast of the leprous heathen."

The World gives clues to a number of papers operating at that time. In this same first issue it is announced that the Drain Echo will be issued in a few days. Papers quoted are the Baker Sage Brush, the Pacific Journal, and the Adams Times.

Under Noltner the paper, like all of his, was heavily political, running regularly eight or nine columns of editorial, largely on political subjects. Out of 63 editorial items in the issue of March 19, 1886, only 20 were on non-political subjects. Nor could he keep his political sentiment entirely out of the news columns. Like a good many others of the editors of his time, he did this sort of thing—over the story of the Republican convention, run April 30, 1886, he used this not exactly unbiased headline:


The Ridiculous Platform Adopted to Catch Unwary Votes

After selling the World in 1891 to W. W. Copeland, Anthony Noltner bought the Dispatch, which was the old Examiner started by John Milliken in September 1889, under a new name. He continued the evening (except Sunday) daily conducted by Milliken and ran it until January 11, 1894, when he sold it to J. B. Fithian and Frank Morrison. The paper, like all of Noltner's, was Democratic. They suspended the daily and ran the weekly with indifferent success for several years, finally selling it back to Noltner. He continued the paper as a Thursday weekly, claiming, in 1900, a circulation of 1900. The old warrior was getting near the end of the journalistic trail. He died in Portland in 1907.