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100 years of The Ottawa Herald
Ottawa Herald History

100 years of The Ottawa Herald: 'Everybody's Newspaper' -- Nov. 16, 1996

By JOHN D. MONTGOMERY
The Ottawa Herald editor and publisher, 1995-1999

It was November 1896, and William McKinley had just been elected president.

The Ottawa High School football squad had just defeated Emporia 28-0. A "good" six-room house and barn went for $900, and eggs were 18 cents a dozen.

Ottawa's population was 8,000 to 9,000, near as anyone could figure, and Franklin County's citizens numbered almost 26,000.

"No city of its size in Kansas has as many new buildings in the course of erection as has Ottawa." So reported The Evening Herald, first published as a daily paper Nov. 18, 100 years ago.

Joseph L. Bristow, who later was elected U.S. senator, and Henry J. Allen, who would become publisher of the Wichita Beacon, Kansas governor and then U.S. senator himself, bought the weekly Herald and turned it into a daily that year. The Herald has been published continually as a daily ever since.

"After a thorough canvass of the field we are convinced that there is room in Ottawa for a live daily newspaper, such as The Evening Herald contemplates," Bristow wrote in that first issue. "Our ambition shall be to furnish a clean and interesting daily record of the events of this city, to commend its many worthy enterprises, and to assist in all things, which will, in our judgment, contribute to its welfare."

The first issue went to nearly every home in Ottawa, north and south of the river. It was four pages in a six-column format, published every day except Sunday.

The newspaper reported that it would be distributed free "until canvassers have the opportunity to learn whether you desire to subscribe." The subscription price: 10 cents a week.

Subsequent issues revealed a clever marketing plan for the young daily. Five dollars in gold was to be awarded to the person securing the most subscribers by Jan. 1, 1897.

The content of the new daily 100 years ago was not much different than it is today. It included wire news, local stories, society news and sports. It compiled news from area towns, including some that no longer exist: Norwood, Appanoose, Union, Greenwood.

Republican in politics, The Evening Herald was given life by two men who were among the most distinguished journalists and politicians of their time.

"A good, sagacious news reporter runs away from the man who wants to be interviewed and pursues the man who doesn't want to be," Bristow opined.

Like most newspapers of its day, The Evening Herald was outspoken on politics, sometimes only in subtle ways: "Notwithstanding the large populist majority in this county, it may be a surprise to our neighbors to learn that Franklin County sends fewer people of insane to the asylum than any other county of its size in the state."

Although opinion was not as clearly labeled then as it is now, The Evening Herald sought a certain fairness and balance in news coverage: "The Herald is an independent, nonpartisan paper when it comes to gathering news. It wants to be everybody's newspaper."

And the newspaper was not shy about praising its community: "No county in the state and no city, takes better care of its poor than Ottawa does. In fact, we have a number of poor who couldn't be persuaded to leave Ottawa, even if they could secure employment elsewhere, so fond have they become of this beautiful and charitable city," The Evening Herald reported in one of those first issues.

Bristow and Allen also owned the Salina Journal, and Bristow later left Ottawa under the direction of his partner and went to publish the Salina paper. In 1907, they severed the partnership, and Allen took full control of The Herald and Bristow, the Journal.

Allen quickly sold the Ottawa daily to Ralph A. Harris, a 36-year-old assistant postmaster, Franklin County farmer and banker. Allen then bought the Wichita Beacon and moved on.

Parting Ottawa early in January 1907, Allen said of Harris: "His business capacity, industry and wide acquaintanceship will guarantee to the paper even a wider business success than it has had."

Harris wrote that The Herald would continue to advocate Republican politics but that its political affiliation would "place no check upon its independence to speak for what it believes to be right, and against what it believes to be wrong."

He also pledged to use The Herald for "promoting the things that are good for the community."

He said The Herald held "an enviable place among the newspapers of the state. Few Kansas newspapers have so complete and modern an equipment and none, it is believed, enjoy a more general support or fill a larger place in the communities in which they are published. With its extensive local news service, its daily Associated Press franchise, its elaborate plant for the execution of printing, the Herald represents in a credible way the spirit of Ottawa's pride and progressive enterprise ... The new management hopes to maintain these conditions by continuation of good service ... and a good deal of rustling around."

The Herald was the first newspaper acquired by the Harris family, which eventually built a chain of daily papers and other media properties across the Midwest. Descendants of Ralph Harris remain majority stockholders in The Herald to this day.

The Evening Herald was not the first daily newspaper published in Ottawa; that honor belongs to The Republican, which went daily in 1879. It competed with The Herald until Harris bought The Republican in 1915 and consolidated it with The Herald.

Harris raised his two sons, John P. and Sidney F., in the newspaper business. The Harrises acquired their second newspaper, the Chanute Tribune, in 1927, and J.P. Harris became editor there. When Ralph Harris died in 1930, Sidney took over the reins at Ottawa.

Even as the Harris chain grew with the purchases of The Hutchinson News, The Hawk Eye at Burlington, Iowa, and the Salina Journal, Sidney remained editor and publisher of The Herald until his death in 1955. The Harris Group today also includes the Garden City Telegram, Hays Daily News and Parsons Sun, four weekly shopper publications and a Salina advertising agency and marketing firm.

Upon Sid Harris' death, W.G. Snedaker became publisher of The Herald. Snedaker retired in 1961, and Robert B. Wellington became editor and publisher. Wellington retired in 1987, and Jim Hitch was named editor and publisher.

Hitch became editor and publisher at Hays late in 1995, and John D. Montgomery succeeded him at The Herald.

"The Evening Herald, which begins its life this afternoon, is not the result of any sudden impulse. It is not started as an experiment. After a thorough canvass of the field we are convinced that there is room in Ottawa for a live daily newspaper, such as The Evening Herald contemplates. Our ambition shall be to furnish a clean and interesting daily record of the events of this city, to commend its many worthy enterprises, and to assist in all things, which will, in our judgment, contribute to its welfare."

The Evening Herald, November 18, 1896