The Golden Age of Newspapering

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Editor’s note: Jim Sterling recently retired from the Missouri School of Journalism, prior to which he was a community newspaper publisher for several decades. A short story about Jim’s career is featured in the July-August 2017 issue of Missouri Press News, which can be found here.

By Jim Sterling

1985 MPA President

Some of us would call it the Golden Age of Newspapering.

I was in the community newspaper industry, or in school learning how to be part of it, from the early 1960s until 1999.

When I entered the field, most of the newspapers were printed on heavy metal letter presses. Some printed on single sheets of newsprint, while others printed off of rolls. When I left, just about everyone was printing on web offset.

I wasn’t gone long, when I got the opportunity to come back to my old school at Mizzou and teach community journalism and newspaper management at the School of Journalism. I would do that for 17 years before stepping back after graduation this Spring and opting out after more than half a century of living on deadline.

My years as a newspaper writer, photographer, ad salesman, page and ad designer, editor, sports editor and at times a slightly overaged printer’s devil – spanned a great era. In that time I had fun, I made some money, won some awards, been shot at and even made some great, great friends.

I started when offset was beginning and instead of 8 or 16 page newspapers, we always ran 20 or 30 or more. I learned in small shops with Louie Bowman at King City, and Porter and Sally Fisher at New London. I learned from Bill Bray at Missouri Press where I was replaced as ad manager by a young guy named Ed Steele. Jac and Rheba Zimmerman took me under their wings when they bought my hometown paper at Bolivar. Earlier, I had spent most of 1967 working with Wayne Freeman at Union and learning a lot from watching our Franklin County neighbor put out the Missourian at Washington. I learned a great deal from the Miller family at Washington, got help from J. W. Brown at Harrisonville, the Whites at Clinton, the Watters at Marshfield, Dale Freeman, Marty Eddlemon and Doyle Hilton at Springfield and Ken Meuser at Monett. All were great friends and mentors, as were all the others over the years in MPA.

As time moved ahead, I started attending NNA meetings and soon had friends from coast to coast in the newspaper industry. And then I met others when I was selling newspaper properties coast to coast and in Canada with Bob Bolitho.

Our paper at Bolivar got to be pretty good and we won some awards, even beating Washington and Wally Vernon’s Eldon Advertiser once in a while. I watched people’s kids grow up and watched their kids grow up and join their businesses. I’ve had fun watching my own kids grow up and watching grandchildren bless my life.

I won a few awards myself. Some were for my career in the newspaper industry. Others were from MU and Southwest Baptist, my two schools for higher education. I never thought I was so good, as I was just lucky to be in the right places at the right times, and have some good friends helping me along the way. And hopefully I have helped some others find their way too. I was involved in ownership with newspapers in Bolivar, Fair Play, Buffalo, Stockton, El Dorado Springs and the Springfield Business Journal.

It was a wonderful time to be in the business. We never dreamed there would be an internet, much less pictures on a screen and no wires. Dick Tracy had a two-way wrist radio when I was kid. I’ve got a pocket phone now with more power than the computers on the first flight to the moon.

There will be some good times ahead. But my wish is that we could roll back the clock for a short time to let everyone enjoy the fun and friends involved with community newspapering the way I have over the past 55 years.

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