End of an era: Silverton’s oldest newspaper closes after 142 years

September 2022 Posted in History & Culture, News

By Stephen Floyd

When The Silverton Appeal was established in 1880, the city was barely older than the paper’s founder, 25-year-old Henry Guild.

The Appeal outlasted numerous competitors during its early decades and survived two world wars, the Great Depression, the rise and fall of the Soviet Union, and the advent of the internet.

But Silverton’s first and longest-running newspaper is being discontinued as of Sept. 14 as owner Gannett Co. re-prioritizes its print publications in light of what a spokesperson called their “on-going digital transformation.”

“We recently made the difficult decision to suspend the publication of select weekly print publications including The Stayton Mail and Silverton Appeal-Tribune,” said Michael Kane, senior vice president of strategic initiatives and operations.

This closes the final chapter of a 142-year legacy that has evoked mixed feelings in local residents, who said they are sad to lose a Silverton institution but also feel like The Appeal lost its community focus long ago under Gannett.

“Sadly, [The Appeal] has become a wraith of its former self,” said Gus Frederick, local author and historian. “The gradual lack of local news, replaced by blatant reprints from The Statesman [Journal] was almost a slap in the face to those that remembered the ‘Good Old Days’ of real local reporting.”

The frontier of news

The Silverton Appeal was founded after Guild cut his teeth on newspapers elsewhere in Oregon and the Midwest in the late 1800s. Author George Stanley Turnbull called Guild a “journalistic pioneer” in his 1939 book History of Oregon Newspapers, and described Guild’s early years from an interview Guild gave to journalist Fred Lockley in 1923.

“I set type, kicked the jobber, ran off the papers, set up jobs, wrote to locals, and did anything and everything else there is to be done in a country plant,” said Guild of his early years as a newsman.

Guild bought his first newspaper company, The Canyon City Times, in 1877 at age 22, left journalism briefly in 1878 to join the Bannock War, then sold The Times later that year and purchased The Hillsborough Independent, where he had worked just two years prior. In 1880, he sold The Independent back to its previous owner and moved to Silverton, founding The Appeal.

Homer’s hometown paper

While in Silverton, Guild struck up a close friendship with now-famous political cartoonist Homer Davenport, who at the time was regarded as a charming layabout with a passion for drawing, according to Turnbull. Guild said people “couldn’t help liking Homer,” and shared an anecdote about once becoming the cartoonist’s subject.

“One day he came in and drew a most excellent cartoon of me and presented it to me with his compliments,” said Guild. “Like most of the other Silverton people I set little or no value on Homer’s cartoons, so I did not save it.”

Davenport, who published some of his early cartoons in The Appeal, said in his 1910 autobiography The Country Boy that Guild “was the best editor The Silverton Appeal ever had,” and possessed a shrewd dedication to the publication. Davenport said The Appeal’s biggest competition at the time did not come from other newspapers but public announcements nailed to a covered bridge in town, and these notices threatened to scoop Guild’s weekly paper.

“Saturday nights, before The Appeal appeared on the streets, [Guild would] go out and quietly tear down some of the big headlines that the bridge had and The Appeal didn’t, and in that way The Appeal finally got ahead,” said Davenport.

Employees of the Silverton Appeal-Tribune operate a linotype machine, a staple of print journalism from its invention in the late 1800s through the 1970s. The photo was taken by June Drake, circa 1920.

Employees of the Silverton Appeal-Tribune operate a linotype machine, a staple of print journalism from its invention in the late 1800s through the 1970s. The photo was taken by June Drake, circa 1920.

Dawn of The Appeal-Tribune

Guild led the paper until 1890, when he sold it to partner Lou Adams and Editor Fred Warnock. After changing hands a few more times, The Appeal was sold to John Hoblitt in 1915, whose wife Flora Hoblitt worked in various positions and eventually as editor. The Silverton Country Historical Society (SCHS) said Flora Hoblitt  “excelled in languages and the classics” and was “known for her fairness and accuracy in her writing.”

While owned by the Hoblitts, The Appeal would merge with The Tribune, founded in 1913 in Mount Angel, becoming The Silverton Appeal-Tribune in 1931. This name would remain for the following 91 years.

After John Hoblitt died in 1946, Flora Hoblitt promoted her son, Mahlon Hoblitt, to co-editor. By 1957, while celebrating her 80th birthday, the paper declared Flora “Dean of Valley Newspaper Women” and described her as a dedicated worker who “seldom missed a day’s work” and had no plans to retire.

Flora died in 1958 at the age of 81, never having left the news industry. Mahlon continued as editor until 1960.

Centennial and purchase by Gannett

In 1964, The Appeal-Tribune was sold to Editor Joe Davis, described as a passionate reporter who “lived out a vast collection of journalistic endeavors,” according to his 2010 obituary. He was also actively involved in the community and was recognized by the Silverton Chamber of Commerce with a Lifetime Achievement award and Citizen of the Year award.

Joe Davis and wife Joan Davis would own The Appeal-Tribune through its centennial in 1980, and eventually sold the paper to Bill and Mary Ann Woodall in 1984. Bill Woodall said he expected to make few changes, as the paper was successful enough to have a line of readers waiting for a copy each week, though he did want to emphasize more editorial content.

At the time, the Woodalls were owners of The Stayton Mail, which they purchased from longtime owners Frank and Trude Crow in 1982. The purchase included parent company North Santiam Publishing, Inc., which oversaw The Mail, Mt. Angel News, and now The Appeal-Tribune.

But the newspapers struggled and in 1989 the Woodalls sold North Santiam Publishing, Inc. back to the Crows while it was $1.5 million in debt. The Crows were unable to satisfy these obligations and the publishing group declared bankruptcy in 1990, eventually being sold to The Statesman Journal.

Gannett had owned The Statesman Journal since 1973, and now added The Appeal-Tribune to its sizable portfolio of newspapers, which included USA Today.

Corporate decline

The Appeal-Tribune continued to operate locally and in 1997 Paula Mabry was hired as publisher. But by 2003 Gannett was emphasizing “convergence” and corporate decision-making lead to a staff foreboding that the paper would reflect less and less of the local community.

“When Gannett bought it, the standard M.O. that they had established eventually took hold, as has happened to so many other traditional small-town weeklies,” said Frederick.

Former Silverton Mayor Ken Hector agreed that, under Gannett’s management, the quality of The Appeal-Tribune eventually “went to hell in a handbasket.”

“To me, the loss began then because I don’t know the last time I fully looked through an Appeal,” said Hector. “Half of it is stuff out of Eugene.”

This shift was not lost on Mabry or her co-workers, and in 2004 she left to form Mt. Angel Publishing, Inc. (owner of Our Town). She was joined by Appeal-Tribune Circulation Manager Deede Williams, Production Coordinator Dixie McCartney, Advertising Manager Jim Kinghorn, Office Manager Carolyn Berg, Print Shop Manager Jerry Roberts and The Stayton Mail Ad Manager Sharon Frichtl. Their goal was to restore the community focus of news in Silverton and Stayton, and both Hector and Frederick said the difference has been dramatic.

Our Town does fill that void nicely,” said Frederick. “At least in regards to basic community news. No ‘hard-hitting/true crime’ stuff, but that is OK by me.”

“Thank God for Our Town,” said Hector. “It’s the kind of paper a weekly should be.”

By 2009, Appeal-Tribune operations, including printing and reporting, had moved to The Statesman Journal offices in Salem. Though the paper continued publishing weekly and could be found in local newsstands and on driveways, it no longer had dedicated reporters and eventually contained very little local news.

“If you surveyed Silverton, the response rate from people who even know it exists or still read it will hardly register,” said Hector. “Really, it had become to me just an advertiser.”

Fond recollections

The former mayor said, during the paper’s heyday, Silverton city officials had a good relationship with reporters, remarking that Davis ran the paper well, as well as Editor John Doran, who led The Appeal-Tribune from 2005-2007. He said news in The Appeal-Tribune tended to stick to the facts rather than opinion, and even if a reporter wasn’t soft on an issue they were at least fair.

“You’re foolish if you’re at odds with any newspaper, whether it’s The Appeal, Our Town, The Statesman,” said Hector. “If you’re transparent and you’re honest and you’re willing to answer sometimes tough questions, it serves you well in the long run.”

Frederick said The Appeal-Tribune had a personal impact on him and his eventual career in multimedia. He said, during high school, he worked on page layout for Davis, and was hired during the summer as a photo lab technician.

The Appeal was a great initial learning experience,” said Frederick. “And while everything I do nowadays (video, photography, publishing) is digital, the analog background I lived through not only exposed those principles in graphic detail, it also makes me greatly appreciate these new modern whiz-bang tools we have today!”

Frederick felt so inspired by his experience that, in 1987, he and friend Rick Ernst published The Silvertongue Apple-Peal, a spoof newspaper poking fun at local institutions in the style of MAD Magazine and National Lampoon. The paper was published every April 1 using then-state-of-the-art publishing software, but even with a yearly print cycle Frederick said his small staff became burned out and the spoof paper was discontinued after five years.

But The Apple-Peal made a surprise comeback in 2012, this time being published every other year and coinciding with major elections. Frederick admitted his political views “drift towards port,” but neither liberals nor conservatives are spared in this new iteration, with the 2022 issue expected to come out soon.

Frederick said the passing of The Appeal-Tribune is the passing of a historical record that served as the community’s “memory banks.” He said Silverton is fortunate to have large print and microfilm archives kept by SCHS and the Silverton Library, preserving “a great running small town story, authored by its citizens.”

Hector said the loss of The Appeal-Tribune, is “not a story with a happy ending,” but that he still sees a market and a need for small-town news in Silverton.

“As long as it’s financially sustainable, I hope we have somebody like Our Town to stick around and report local stuff,” he said.

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