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Northwestern California Newspapers - Setting The Scene

  1. Who were the editors of the 1850s newspapers in California?
  2. Who were some of the editors of the local papers?
  3. What did these newspapers look like?
  4. How did northwestern California newspapers get their news and what technological changes "revolutionized" the business?
  5. What was the political orientation of different newspapers?
  6. Where could you go in 1908 to read newspapers in Crescent City?

Who were the editors of the 1850s newspapers in California?

Walker, Franklin. 1939. San Francisco's Literary Frontier, Knopf, New York.

"Though most of the creative writers during the fifties came from the ranks of newspapermen, by no means all of the newspapermen were creative writers. The demand for papers antedated the demand for literature, and many of the editors were opportunists seeking a break in politics or even dabbling in blackmail. The most legitimate sources of revenue for the dailies and weeklies were the war-chests of the political parties and the public funds, which supported at least one journal in each county with routine government advertising. With these revenues, advertisements came first, editorials second, and news third. Most of the papers were one-man journals, the editor dividing his time between composing fiery leading articles and condensing the month-old news that arrived by steamer...." (p. 20)

"Though the newspaper editors did not establish a uniformly high reputation for honesty, learning, or originality, though the material they printed served chiefly to fill space or to further some personal end or prejudice, the great amount of publishing resulted in keeping the people in the habit of reading and in providing an outlet for any writing of merit that might appear. The men who were to contribute to the magazines or write the books of the sixties almost invariably did their apprentice work on the small-town or metropolitan newspapers." (p. 23)

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Who were some of the editors of the local papers?


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What did these newspapers look like?

Kennedy, Mike. 1972. "Larnin' Kritisized" Pacifica

"California newspapers of the mid-1800's are filled with the "feuds an' fussin's" of their volatile editors, which quite frequently led directly to a duel on the outskirts of town. And because the populace in the mining and lumbering back country was usually cut off from the mainstream of news, the editors in these smaller communities weren't averse to making up their own - with the resulting verbal broadsides and "art of repartee" being fondly appreciated by these pioneers."

"It may be necessary here to mention that the newspapers of the period were quite different than those of today. The pages were devoid of any cuts (illustrations) except perhaps in advertising. The headline as we know it today was still in its infancy; many stories didn't have any at all, just a line separating one story from another. If a headline was used it might have been set in the CAPITAL letters of the body type used, such as the type in which this story is set, or in bold face. The front page was filled with advertising, short stories, historical articles and, yes, poetry. Pages two, three and four were devoted to local items, exchanges from other newspapers, short stories and advertising. What might be considered "big news" may or may not be placed at the top of page two, and other news and other pieces of news were placed where they'd fit. And the style of writing was far more eloquent and descriptive than it is today, and no writer attempted to delete his own feelings, leanings or prejudices. Such was the case of the rival editors from across the bay when firing off their broadsides. Readers would have to carefully scan each column to find the retorts of each one. But as with any running battle, a reader would have to have got in at the initial shot and be up on his politics to catch the subtle inside remarks that popped up during each subsequent skirmish."

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How did northwestern California newspapers get their news and what technological changes "revolutionized" the business?
(Hint: the telegraph came to Humboldt County on November 20, 1873)

Martin. Steamer Day Was Mail Day.

"Eureka was a long way from civilization before the Northwestern Pacific Railroad came and for more than three-quarters of a century, "Steamer Day" was an even of great importance.

Back in the 1850's and 1860's the old Goliath, a rebuilt New York side-wheel towboat with the traditional walking-beam engine, the Ancon, Orizaba and Brother Jonathan, plodded back an [sic] forth between here and San Francisco, carrying passengers, freight and mail.

And of great importance to journalism, the ship's pursers always brought a big roll of San Francisco newspapers, to be clipped and reprinted in The Humboldt Times. In no other way was Humboldt able to keep abreast of world affairs until the telegraph line opened some years later." (p. 34)

Carey. Effects of the Pony Express...


Between 1860 and 1862, two communications innovations - the Pony Express and the transcontinental telegraph - made it possible for California newspaper editors to have faster, greater and more frequent access to news of the nation and of the world. During a period of great domestic unrest and anxiety that culminated in civil war, the Pony Express and the telegraph reduced the time lag between occurrence of events in the East and dissemination of news about those events in the West. The Pony Express lessened this interval of delay by days and even weeks; the telegraph cut it to hours.

The availability of more timely information spurred newspapers to use more hard news, make typographical innovations, and whetted competition. The advantages offered by the Pony Express included dependability, flexibility, speed (in comparison with the stage and steamer), and volume (in comparison with the telegraph.) The telegraph had the principal benefit of providing almost instantaneous communication with the East. Both information delivery systems had the disadvantage of being able to transmit limited amounts of information due to physical and economic factors. The telegraph also had the handicap of being greatly vulnerable to weather and vandalism." (p. 323)

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What was the political orientation of different newspapers?

Coy, Owen. 1929. The Humboldt Bay Region, 1850-1875. Los Angeles, California State Historical Association.

"Although the final opinion of a people can be determined only from their decision as expressed at the ballot box, nevertheless a study of the newspapers which they read and support is of much importance if it is desired to know their ideals and the motives impelling their decisions. The leading paper during this period (Civil War) was the Humboldt Times, established in September, 1854, as an independent weekly." (pp 299-300. He then goes on to talk about political stance of some of the papers.)

See also: Elliott and 1890 Business Directory

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Where could you go in 1908 to read newspapers in Crescent City?

Hughes, Ralph. A 1908 description of the Crescent City News library and reading room...

"When I was 14 [b.February 22, 1894], I went to work at the Childs Building, known earlier as the Darby Building. At that time, the Crescent City News was published there. There was a library and reading room, a billiard room a gymnasium, a dance hall, and lodge rooms under the same roof....

The news library and reading room was a pretty busy place. Anyone who subscribed to the Crescent City News was a member of the gymnasium or a lodge member and could take out books from the news library. And any number of people came into the reading room for the latest news in town.

This reading room contained six tables about 16 feet long that contained daily and weekly papers from all over the state, and a large assortment of magazines. The three big dailies were the San Francisco Examiner, the San Francisco Chronicle and the San Francisco Call. Nearer home were the Humboldt TimesStandard and the Eureka Herald. The weeklies were nearly all exchanges. Some of the magazines were Scientific AmericanLiterary DigestCosmopolitanHearstsSaturday Evening PostPopular MechanicsMcClures and many others.

One of my chores was to keep the reading room in order and to serve as part-time librarian. I had to open all magazines and papers when they arrived and put them in their proper places, and to discard papers that had been read to make room for later issues. I also had to put the papers in order at the end of the day when the readers were through with their quest for information.

We didn't have radio or TV then, and this center was the Mecca for a lot of people who wanted to know what was going on in the world." (pp 145-146)

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The Northwest California Newspapers Website is managed by Special Collections located in the Cal Poly Humboldt Library.