History in the making for Nebraska newspaper family

May 6, 2014

By Stanley Schwartz
Managing Editor | Publishers’ Auxiliary

It started as an innocuous call from a Rotary club in Illinois. The executive director had been cleaning out the club’s old files and found a magazine that had a lot of information in it about the National Editorial Association.

“Is that your association?” asked Dave Williams, with the Granite City Rotary Club.

I told him, yes, that had been the association’s name before it became the National Newspaper Association. He asked if NNA would want it. Of course, I answered. It was probably filled with a treasure trove of historical information about the association. And it was.

About a week later, a brown envelope arrived and inside was a copy of The United States Publisher, a newspaper trade publication. It’s motto: “Devoted to the Welfare of the Press.” Judging from the folio line on the cover, it was a monthly in its third year. The June 1925 issue was filled with stories about NEA’s convention that year.

That front cover sported a nice photo of the incoming NEA board. The new president—Frank O. Edgecombe—had a familiar last name. This year’s incoming NNA president is John Edgecombe Jr. This historical magazine deserved much closer inspection.

On Page 3, facing an ad from Whiting Paper Co., was the story of Frank’s selection as NEA’s president. The convention that year was in Richmond, VA. The story stated that after Frank had been led to the front of the room, 200 editors paid him respect by rising to their feet.

Frank said, “I have nothing to say, but words of appreciation, and doubt as to the wisdom of the selection. When Caesar reached the Rubicon, it was a question of plunging or of not plunging. He plunged, and we are told that Rome was free no more. I, too, have plunged, but I trust that the effects will not be the same.”

The association’s cash balance that year—$11,000. The treasurer, W.W. Aikes, reported that it had been the most successful year in the history of the association.

A scanned copy of the page was sent to John Edgecombe Jr. He noted that Frank had been his great grandfather, but he’d never seen this publication before.

“I’m the fourth generation at the Geneva (NE) Signal,” John added. His two sons, Jim and Mike, are the fifth generation of Edgecombes working for the family newspaper company.

“I’ve never seen a photo of my great grandfather as a young man,” he added. Frank died the year John was born, so he was intrigued by what the article had to say. He also has some items that had belonged to his great grandfather from that time at his home. A silver goblet was presented to Frank for best editorial in the association’s contest.

“I always wanted to be in the newspaper business,” John said during a phone interview. At the time he was getting ready to join the family business, many newspapers were switching to offset printing. John joined the U.S. Navy and became a printer. He said the military had already been using offset since the ’40s, so when he finished his enlistment and returned home he was ready to handle the offset technology.

What was interesting about seeing the publication, John added, was that he had recently been in Texas visiting his 96-year-old aunt.

“I asked her if she remembered my great grandfather,” he said. She was 6 at the time Frank was made president of NEA, and she did remember him.

John recalled his days as a boy, hearing about Frank.

“He was blind. A hunting accident at an early age left him blind. At the time he was a banker, and he knew he could not do that anymore, so he bought a newspaper,” John said with a chuckle.

But everyday Frank would have people read to him. John said that even after he retired, Frank would have people—family members and caretakers—come in and read to him; newspaper after newspaper, cover to cover, every day.

John said he thought about becoming active in NNA years ago, but it was another Nebraska publisher, Laurel Johnson, who finally convinced him to become an NNA state chair.

“I said I would do it if (Laurel) would be co-chair with me,” he said. From there John would stay with the association eventually becoming a regional director and then moving up to the association’s executive committee and now is in line for the presidency.

The United States Publisher printed an article from outgoing NEA President George Marble, the editor of the Fort Scott (KS) Tribune-Monitor in 1925. He took to task those newspapermen who violated the prohibition law.

Marble wrote: “Under the suggestion of two of my predecessors in this office this association has gone on record as deprecating the widespread tendency on the part of metropolitan newspapers and more or less influential citizens to join with the lawless elements in flouting the prohibition amendment to the Constitution. I believe it to be the duty of every member of this association to throw the weight of his influence on the side of the respect for law generally and in support of the enforcement of the prohibition law in particular because of the tendency on the part of so many to condone the violation of that law.”

At least half of the attendees arrived in Richmond on the “NEA Special,” a train set up by the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway.

Some of the headlines from that issue:

“Forest preservation and sustained yield stop paper shortage”

“Truth and repetition are the essentials of effective advertising”

“Woman editor starts paper—mortgage and 2 children as assets”

For that last headline, it was noted that Mrs. Edith Susong of the Democrat-Sun in Greeneville, TN, was the only woman who had an address during the NEA convention. She spoke on “A Woman’s Experience with the Daily Newspaper.”

Susong was quite the entrepreneur. She took over the weekly Greeneville paper—one of three papers in town. One became a daily. She bought out the other weekly and eventually she bought the daily, too, closing it after the sale.

But what of The United States Publisher? A search turned up little information on the magazine. The masthead shows that it was printed in Springfield, IL—the editor had been Hiram L. Williamson. The staff at the Illinois Press Association had not heard of the publication. The association was not based in Springfield in 1925.