FORGOTTEN TRAILS: How did newspapers arise in area?

Published 1:46 pm Wednesday, October 17, 2007

By Staff
I am going to give your some more of the writings of Robert Scribner. There is a chapter about the rise of the newspapers in Brewton and the surrounding area. This was written in the mid 1930s.
But apparently there were unfriendly fingers in this pioneer publication, for in the initial issue of 1882 Morrell delivered his valediction, remarking that his policies, contrary to promise, had suffered interference, and alluding darkly to persons who had “gone back” on him.
More than a year passed until, in July 1883 - just before the terrible yellow fever plague of that year decimated the population -R. L. McConnell placed his Brewton Banner on the local newsstands. Like its predecessor, it consisted of four pages, appeared every Thursday, and cost the subscriber a dollar a year. Its caption displayed an impressively defiant bald eagle, which glaring over one wing, was assigned the special duty of clutching in its cruel bill a streamer bearing the title.
Were the Banner to appear in Brewton today, it would probably enjoy the patronage of a single week.
Its front page was devoted to advertising, whether local, state, or national, while a review of its second page would reveal that further advertisements there, commingled with other minor items, were blurred by the penetration of first-page printing.
One could, then, consume this unexciting fare in obverse, reverse, or, more likely, not at all. Spelling throughout was something other-worldly, without ever being celestial.
The typesetters showed a particular weakness in the use of the letter “f,” and if one “f” to match the other type could not be found, they were liberal in their use of capital or italic replacements, or they would even blandly ignore the existence of the consonant at all. So far as news itself was concerned, very little appeared to be transpiring locally beyond the mercantile front, and events of social Washington, Russian imperial court gossip, or the latest intrigues in Paris were the ordinary dishes served up to the hard-working citizenry.
On December 16, 1885, competition reared its head in the form of the Escambia Times, published by James J. Robbins and edited by Frank W. Parker. Beating the Banner to the subscriber by one day each week, it cost the usual annual dollar; and it was, in truth, something of an improvement over its rival in that fewer advertisements cluttered its front page, while it added syndicated cartoons to balance its make-up. But McConnell was unworried, asserting with expansive magnanimity, that “It is just such opposition that we appreciate, as it will spur the editor to do his duty in making the Banner readable and forcible as an advocate of the interests of its patrons.
This, however, was written before he had seen Editor Parker’s assertion that it was high time a paper expressing the fullest sentiments of the Democratic Party should be found in Brewton. Magnanimity forthwith evaporated in searing wrath, and, while stoutly affirming his own devotion to Democracy, McConnell righteously plucked the Times to pieces and flung the tatters to the winds. “But horror of horrors!” he cried out.
The times appears but little stiffer in backbone politically, than a drunken man does perambulatingly — both sides seem good enough in an emergency — and we presume that the Times explanation of its limber-jack salutatory would be similar to the drunkard’s explanation of his peculiar locomotion, “only trying to see what ditch is the deepest.”
This beautiful camaraderie, built on an appreciation of “just such opposition,” endured even after McConnell had turned the bulk of his duties over to the younger H. H. Matthis, in 1887; for when, in July of that year, the Times alleged that a certain partnership was doing a “nice little business,” it had its editorial quill snatched clean for its trouble. “Is it possible,” snapped Mathis, “that the idea and brains of your mighty Editor in chief, have by continued contemplation of his own infintessinal (sic) brain capacity become so warped and dwarfed that everything looks Little to him (?)” The partnership, he added in order to set the record straight, was doing a gratifyingly large business.
I will continue with this next week. It is the most detailed history of the newspapers in Escambia County that I have seen.

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