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Home / Time Machine: National Newspaper Week
It’s unlikely you’ll ever see a Page 1 headline touting National Newspaper Week — which is no surprise.
National Newspaper Week began in October 1940 but didn’t catch fire with newspapers staffers. As a whole, they rarely toot their own horns, having more important stories to pursue.
This year’s National Newspaper Week — you likely missed it — was Oct. 3-9. Its focus: “Community Forum.”
Public good will
The idea for a week honoring newspapers began with H.R. Helsby, editor of the Olean, N.Y., Times Herald, who wrote of the incredible responsibility shouldered by a free press and how news gathering depends on the public’s good will.
“A newspaper, to be successful, must appeal to the rank-and-file of people. It must provide information, entertainment and inspiration,” Helsby wrote in 1939.
“It is entirely dependent upon the good will of the public; and nothing its owners or its staff can do can perpetuate it if that good will is forfeited,” he stated. “This unassailable fact is an irrefutable answer to those who continually charge that a newspaper is ‘controlled’ by this or that interest.”
A newly formed Newspaper Association Managers set the first National Newspaper Week for Oct. 1-8, 1940, as World War II was raging in other parts of the globe.
The Gazette mentioned that first observance on Page 11, explaining what the week meant and why it was important.
“For generations, Americans have taken their newspapers for granted, like pure water or fresh air. We have always had them,” the article read. “They have been easily available, cheap, trustworthy. We give lip service to a ‘free press’ without the least understanding of its meaning.
“So, October 1st to 8th has been designated as Newspaper Week. Perhaps it is the war in Europe and threats to our principles of freedom (freedom of the press being one of them) that prompted this National Newspaper Week.”
At the end of the week, an editorial appeared expressing uncertainty about what to say about a new national week honoring newspapers.
“A newspaper reader isn’t going to acquire a sudden new appreciation of how vital a free press is to his freedom, security and general welfare from a few words of editorial self-glorification,” the editorial stated.
“Unless his own paper is constantly on its toes to reveal and battle the forces that threaten his interests, nothing it can say will convince him of its indispensability. And if his paper is in there pitching for him, from one year’s end to the next, it doesn’t have to tell him so.
“The Gazette is not a national newspaper. It is an Iowa newspaper — more specifically an eastern Iowa newspaper — edited and managed primarily for what it conceives to be the interests of the people of Cedar Rapids and the surrounding territory.”
While the first five years or so of Newspaper Week at The Gazette featured editorials about the value of newspapers, the focus gradually turned to features about the carriers — usually kids — who delivered the paper.
Flash forward to 1971. A new program was introduced into schools called “Newspaper in the Classroom.” Using film strips on current events, news quizzes and class discussions, 364 newspapers across the country, including The Gazette, encouraged students to read newspapers.
The program continued into 1977’s National Newspaper Week, Oct. 9-15, with “Freedom in Our Hands” as the theme. Schools were provided with a program on the First Amendment to the Constitution.
The last time The Gazette mentioned National Newspaper Week was in an ad on Oct. 3, 2012, advertising a Gazette coffee with editors Zack Kucharski and Annette Schulte.
By 2021, fewer newspapers are landing in yards and doorsteps, with more people getting their news off laptops, tablets and cellphones.
The Gazette has not been immune to changing reader habits, closing its printing plant and moving printing of the paper to Des Moines. Its reporting, editing, advertising and circulation business remains in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City.
“The industry’s financial fortunes and subscriber base have been in decline since the mid-2000s, but their website audience traffic has again begun to grow,” the Pew Research Center reported in June of this year.
So, there’s still plenty to celebrate for National Newspaper Week. It’s just changing.