Sunday, February 24, 2008

Good-bye to A Great Friend

The Albuquerque Tribune died yesterday after a long illness. It was 86 years old. The Tribune was born in 1922 as Magee's Independent, a weekly sheet. Its midwife and first editor was an Oklahoma City transplant named Carlton Cole Magee (1873-1946). Magee was a lawyer who later invented the parking meter.

Magee went after government corruption aggressively. He wrote a column called "Turning On the Light." His editorial slogan, accompanied by a lighthouse logo, was "Give light and the people will find their own way." Soon after founding the paper, Magee wrote about corruption on the part of Interior Secretary Albert Bacon Fall. Secretary Fall had been one of New Mexico's first two U.S. senators. The subsequent investigations rocked President Warren G. Harding's administration as the Teapot Dome Scandal. Fall resigned and went to prison for accepting a bribe. [Ironically, Magee had purchased his first newspaper, The Albuquerque Morning Journal, from Fall!]

In 1923, Magee changed his paper's name to The New Mexico State Tribune and sold it to the E.W. Scripps Company. Magee remained as editor.

In 1933, the paper was renamed The Albuquerque Tribune. That same year, in the midst of the Depression, the Tribune and its rival, The Albuquerque Journal, created an innovative joint operating agreement (JOA) by which certain of their business operations were merged, but the papers remained editorially separate. This arrangement was the first of its sort in the nation; over the decades, a number of newspapers have had their lives extended, if not saved, by JOAs modeled on "The Albuquerque Plan."

I got to know The Tribune in 1961, when my family moved to Albuquerque. My father, an Army officer but newspaper man at heart (his degree was in journalism), subscribed to both of Albuquerque's major newspapers. The Journal, edited by the father of my schoolmate Mary Beth Brown, was the morning paper; The Tribune was the evening paper.

The Tribune and I got along just fine. My name even appeared in its pages from time to time for various reasons over the last 47 years. In April, 1966, I was a contestant in the Albuquerque City Spelling Bee, sponsored by The Tribune. (Successful contestants--not me--moved on to the National Spelling Bee, sponsored by Scripps-Howard Newspapers, the Tribune's parent company).

I read about these events in The Tribune: the assassination of President John F. Kennedy; the Cuban Missile Crisis; Dr. Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream Speech;" John Glenn's orbital flight; the murders of Senator Robert F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walking on the Moon; and the death of our neighbor, Major John F.
Stoneburner, the first casualty of the Vietnam War connected to New Mexico. I continued to read the paper long after I had left Albuquerque.

The Tribune was one of the few daily papers with a regular genealogy columnist, Mary Penner.
(Others include the Lebanon (Pa.) Daily News [James M. Beidler] and the News-Messenger of Fremont, Ohio [Terry Snyder]).

But when print journalism caught the new media sniffles in the 1970's, afternoon papers caught pneumonia. The Tribune was no exception. Its circulation declined precipitously. The decline continued even after the paper won a 1994 Pulitzer for its story on people injected, without consent, with radioactive plutonium by government scientists. Its website, more accessible than that of the Journal, apparently failed to attract sufficient revenue.

In August of 2007, the Scripps Company put "The Trib," as it had become known in its latter days, up for sale. Its paid subscriber base had fallen to an anemic 9,200 in a metropolitan area of nearly 900,000. A bid by local buyers to acquire the paper failed.

It once was said that newspapers were "the first draft of history." Genealogists appreciate what is meant by this, though we might find a number of other "first drafts." Increasingly, however, electronic media are playing this role, even in genealogy. I'm not sure it's quite as elegant, though.

One little reminder of The Albuquerque Tribune will live on: Carl Magee's slogan, "Give light and the people will find their own way" and a stylized version of The Tribune's lighthouse logo
now appear in in Scripps newspapers, television stations, cable networks, and websites around the world.

Goodnight, great friend.

Lighthouse image copyright The E.W. Scripps Co.

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