COMMENTARY: Newspaper’s History Revealed

RICH TRADITIONS PRESENT DAILY CHALLENGE, HIGH STANDARDS

Posted: November 9, 2009 at 5:47 a.m.

— Many towns on the American landscape can boast they’ve been blessed with a scrappy, locally focused newspaper that richly contributes to the life and personality of the community.

All four of the large cities along the Interstate 540 corridor surely fall among that group. The foundations for those positive newspaper legacies were built long before the current group of talented journalists serving them arrived on the scene. But those rich traditions present us with the daily challenge of living up to the high standards of community journalism set by our predecessors.

Springdale’s rich newspaper history is unique among its peers for its consistency. Oh, the paper serving Springdale has changed formats and delivery schedules and typefaces many times over the years. But something that has rarely changed for Springdale’s daily newspaper is the name on the door of the editor’s office. Between 1887 and 2003, only seven people held the job of editor.

The Springdale News was founded by John P. Stafford in May 1887. It started as a weekly with only 182 subscribers. Stafford was 18 years old at the time, but he remained in charge of the paper’s content until his death in 1933. His son, Edward, followed as editor. Fifteen years later, Edward, and his brother, Ellis, brought a partner into paper’s ownership group — R.R. “Bob” Sanders. Meanwhile, Edward continued in the role of editor until his death in 1957.

Bob Sanders then took the job. The next year, he and Maudine Farrish purchased the Stafford family’s interests in the paper. Maudine married Bob Sanders’ brother, T.C., and the paper became a family affair when another Sanders brother, Charles, joined the paper as general manager.

Bob Sanders continued as editor until he was forced to step down for health reasons in the mid 1960s. Charles and T.C. shared the editor’s responsibilities for a few years, and then appointed Jim Morriss to job.

Morriss had been working at the paper since he was 13 years old, melting down lead for the old linotype machines, sweeping out the press room and delivering papers. He eventually began carrying a camera with him on his daily rounds, providing photos to The News. In high school he covered football games and breaking news, and then worked part-time while in college. He eventually became a full-time reporter and then city editor.

After getting the top job in the newsroom, Morriss guided the staff for more than 30 years, covering the explosive growth that raised Northwest Arkansas into the national spotlight. He also oversaw a number of dramatic changes in the newspaper industry, including the conversion to computers for word processing, digital photography and the 24-news cycle with the advent on the World Wide Web.

By the time Jim retired in 2003 — after 54 years with the organization — The Springdale News, then called The Morning News, had gone to a 365-day production cycle, merged with its sister paper in Rogers, created and maintained a news Web site, and was producing four zoned editions in Springdale, Rogers, Bentonville and Fayetteville.

Last week, yet another era for Springdale’s newspaper began with the formation of a partnership with former competitors, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s Northwest Edition, the Northwest Arkansas Times and the Benton County Daily Record. Our goals for all of our local daily newspapers is to deliver the kind of newspaper that readers got from editors named Stafford, Sanders and Morriss — intensely local, focused on providing news that can’t be found anywhere. It won’t be difficult for us to find examples of how to do it right. The good news for us, and for our readers, is that our history shows us the way to our future.

Rusty Turner is the executive editor of Northwest Arkansas Newspapers LLC.