Rich newspaper history

For two centuries, Baltimore was a fiercely competitive market

October 18, 2005|By STEPHEN KIEHL | STEPHEN KIEHL,SUN REPORTER

Records are spotty, but it appears the first daily newspaper to be published in Baltimore made its debut in 1787 and went by the lofty name Palladium of Freedom. It lasted only a few weeks.

A handwritten note on one of the Palladium's first issues said, "The Publishers abdicated under Cover of the Night," according to Clarence S. Brigham's book History and Bibliography of American Newspapers: 1690-1820. There was no word on why such a speedy exit was needed.

But by the 1790s, there were several daily papers in Baltimore and the beginnings of a competitive newspaper market that thrived for two centuries. When The Sun began publishing in 1837, the city was home to seven other dailies.

Baltimore did not become a one-newspaper town until 1995, when The Evening Sun folded. Yesterday's announcement that a Baltimore Examiner will debut next spring means the city will once again see newspaper competition. (The Examiner, which will be a free tabloid, will be published Monday through Saturday.)

For years in Baltimore, newspaper competition was fierce, as the papers waged a battle for readers and exclusives. They also fought for staff. Five weeks after H.L. Mencken joined the staff of the Baltimore News, in 1906, he was lured to The Sun with a salary of $40 a week. He moved to the Evening Sun after its debut in 1910.

By the 1920s, a Baltimorean could buy three evening papers for a nickel - the Baltimore Post for 1 cent, and The Evening Sun and the Baltimore News for 2 cents each. Many families took all three, as well as the morning papers, such as The Sun and the American. The market was so crowded that one of the papers (not The Sun) printed on distinctive pink paper to set itself apart.

"We took all of them, and most people back before television did take at least two papers, morning and evening," said John H. Plunkett, 79, a former assistant managing editor of The Sun. "The newspaper was what authenticated whatever was going on in the world, and especially in the community."

In 1928, the News and the American, both owned by William Randolph Hearst, merged. The combined paper published as the News on weekdays and the American on Sundays. In 1934, Hearst bought the Baltimore Post, and merged that with the News, creating the News-Post.

Eventually, that paper became the News American. It was an evening paper and competed ferociously with the Evening Sun and the morning Sun for decades.

"When I came here, there were three active papers with three active staffs," said Ernest F. Imhoff, who joined The Evening Sun in 1963. "Each of the Sunpapers wanted to beat each other, and wanted to beat the News American. It was very exciting."

The News American published its last issue on May 27, 1986. It was still owned by the Hearst Corp., which had put it up for sale but couldn't find a suitable buyer. Many of its employees joined the Sunpapers. In 1992, The Evening Sun and morning Sun staffs were merged. The Evening Sun became largely a replica of the morning paper, and it was finally shuttered on Sept. 15, 1995. Its final banner headline read, "Good Night, Hon."

stephen.kiehl@baltsun.com

Sun researcher Shelia Jackson contributed to this article.

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