It was 100 years ago today that two daily papers merged to create the Medford Mail Tribune, and a slew of colorful, sometimes controversial, sometimes courageous editors have ensued — including Robert Ruhl, who earned the paper's sole Pulitzer Prize for standing up to a gang of unscrupulous politicians in 1934.
The Mail Tribune's predecessors were the Medford Mail, a morning paper, and the Medford Tribune, which published in the afternoon. The two had begun sharing the Medford market in 1906 before merging on Nov. 1, 1909.
1896 — J.M. Potter starts publishing twice-weekly newspaper called the Tribune in Ashland
1888 — Thomas Harlan founds Southern Oregon Mail, a weekly newspaper published in Medford on Thursdays
1893 — A.S. Bliton of North Dakota purchases Southern Oregon Mail and renames it Medford Mail
1906 — Potter moves Tribune printing plant to Medford and begins publishing every afternoon; by this time, Bliton's Medford Mail is publishing every morning
1907 — George Putnam becomes editor of the Medford Tribune
Nov. 1, 1909 — Putnam buys the Medford Mail and merges it with the Tribune, creating the Medford Mail Tribune
— "History of Oregon Newspapers," by George S. Turnbull (Binfords & Mort, 1939)
Each paper had origins dating to earlier years, according to "History of Oregon Newspapers," published in 1939 by George S. Turnbull, professor of journalism at the University of Oregon.
The Mail began as the Southern Oregon Mail, a weekly in 1888 founded by Thomas Harlan.
A.S. Bliton, a newcomer from North Dakota, bought it in 1893, renamed it the Medford Mail and changed its political bent from Populist to independent, losing many subscribers. Bliton ran it for 16 years before selling it to his rival, Tribune Editor George Putnam.
The Medford Tribune, according to Turnbull's book, was a continuation of the Ashland Tribune, which had been founded in 1896 as a semi-weekly. Publisher J.M. Potter moved the plant to Medford and renamed the paper in 1906. Putnam became the editor in 1907.
Two years later, Putnam bought and consolidated the Medford Mail with the Medford Tribune to create what he called the "largest printing and publishing establishment in Southern Oregon."
Putnam became publisher and editor of the Medford Mail Tribune, now an eight-page, seven-column evening newspaper with a Sunday morning edition and a weekly of eight to 16 pages.
Putnam had considerable newspaper experience before moving to Medford, having worked for the San Diego Tribune, Spokane Press, Eureka Herald and the Oregon Journal of Portland.
He stirred things up, Turnbull said.
Putnam criticized Medford's water supply, which then came from Bear Creek. He suggested that selling such muddy water might be a violation of "the pure food law." Eventually, Medford would develop the Big Butte Springs water source that it still enjoys today.
Another time Putnam accused a railroad executive of attacking the mayor of Medford with an ax. Putnam was charged with libel, but eventually exonerated.
Putnam stayed with the Mail Tribune until 1919, when he moved to Salem to take over the Capital Journal. He made a name for himself there as well. As recently as the 1960s, the Salem bureau of United Press International used the initials "GP" to identify itself on wire service messages.
There was one other newspaper in Medford during the era of 1906 to 1919, the weekly Sun. In 1911, Robert W. Ruhl arrived in Medford and bought substantial interests in both the Sun and the Mail Tribune.
"He conducted the Sun in a way that attracted attention to the soundness and the cleverness of the paper," wrote Turnbull of Ruhl, an Illinois native who had graduated from Harvard.
In 1919 Putnam sold his interest in the Mail Tribune to Ruhl and another partner, S. Sumpter Smith, a co-founder of the Sun. Smith continued as the Mail Tribune's business manager.
Ruhl served as editor and publisher of the Mail Tribune until the 1960s. He spoke out against the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s, and he won the Pulitzer Prize for public service in 1934 for his editorials criticizing nefarious leaders of the Good Government Congress.
Ruhl retired in the 1950s but did not step down as editor until 1964, at which time Managing Editor Eric W. Allen Jr. became editor. Ruhl died in 1967. His widow, Mabel, continued as publisher until 1973. During the 1960s and early 1970s, Gerald Latham, who was the newspaper's business manager, fulfilled many of the duties of publisher.
In 1969, the Mail Tribune launched its weekly arts and entertainment section — Tempo — becoming one of the first newspapers in Oregon to do so.
A major change at the Mail Tribune occurred in 1973. One day while Eric Allen was vacationing in Europe, Managing Editor Earl Adams asked everyone in the newsroom to gather around his desk for an announcement: Mabel Ruhl was selling the Mail Tribune to Ottaway Newspapers of Campbell Hall, N.Y. Ottaway was part of Dow Jones & Co., publisher of the Wall Street Journal.
The Ottaway/Dow Jones era brought with it many changes and improvements. The newspaper's printing method changed from hot metal to cold type and offset. Publication of color photos became first feasible and then commonplace. The photo staff grew and the paper looked better.
The computer age arrived in the late 1970s and early 1980s. More and more stories were written on computer screens. By the late 1990s and around the turn of the 21st century, the old composing room functions gradually ceased to exist. Newsroom people created entire pages on computer screens.
Several publishers would follow Ryder — Gil Bogley, Beverly Jackson, Greg Taylor and finally the current publisher, Grady Singletary.
The newspaper's publishing schedule underwent a couple of changes during the latter part of the 20th century. For decades it had come out Monday through Friday evening and then on Sunday morning. There was no Saturday paper. (This schedule somehow spawned the myth that the Mail Tribune was owned by Seventh-day Adventists.) All that ended on Sept. 2, 1989, when a Saturday edition was added to the schedule. That same day, the "Medford" part of the Medford Mail Tribune was dropped. In 1995, the paper changed to its present schedule — a morning edition seven days a week.
Also during the 1990s, construction was completed on the two new downtown buildings that house the Mail Tribune today. First came new offices for news, advertising and production departments in August 1993, followed by the printing and distribution center on the site of the old newspaper offices in 1996.
In December 2007, Dow Jones was sold to Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., and the name Ottaway Newspapers was changed to Dow Jones Local Media Group Inc. on July 1, 2009.
Cleve Twitchell was a member of the Mail Tribune news staff from 1961 to 2002. E-mail him at email@example.com.