In the months immediately following The Daily News’ debut on April 11, 1842, the local newspaper boasted little, actually, in the way of local news.
A reader was more likely to find accounts from elsewhere cribbed from newspapers arriving from New Orleans aboard this steamer or that.
Now, there was some local coverage: an announcement, perhaps, of a vaudeville set to appear at the Tremont House and a listing of ships arriving at and departing from the Galveston wharves, but not much else.
That, of course, has changed, beginning with the arrival in 1844 of Willard Richardson, a former schoolmaster turned journalist, who the paper’s owners brought on as editor.
Richardson embraced a livelier approach, replacing opinion — most newspapers of the era served as soapboxes from which their owners could loudly espouse their beliefs — in favor of actual news, preferably from Galveston and the surrounding region.
He also made it clear that the paper, rather than parroting the campaign oratory of any political party, would maintain its independence, supporting only policies he deemed as benefiting the readership.
He also championed community service and envisioned Texas as someday becoming an economic center, and worked to bring that about. He looked out over the sprawling, thinly populated state — home in 1850 to fewer than 213,000 people, less than a person per square mile — and saw opportunity.
Through the pages of The Daily News, Richardson began promoting the availability in Texas of vast tracts of land, pastureland and cropland alike, and, too, of merchants’ willingness to extend credit to homesteaders.
As the community grew and prospered, he reasoned, so, too, would the paper.
Fully 175 years later, The Daily News, the oldest in the state, stands witness to Richardson’s vision.
A changing emphasis
At most papers in those pioneering days, publishers and editors contented themselves with augmenting those articles poached from other papers with whatever handwritten items travelers and friends brought in.
Few people were employed as reporters, charged with getting out and about and discovering stories to be told and telling them. Richardson began to change that.
The Daily News was the first newspaper in the state to hire a stable of writers to aggressively seek out and report the goings-on within the paper’s broad circulation area, which at one point encompassed much of the state.
Richardson took it upon himself to travel, on horseback, to wherever the paper circulated, reporting on residents’ happenings.
Moreover, he recruited a network of correspondents in towns to which telegraph wires extended.
The paper in 1866, shortly after the flames of the Civil War had been extinguished, carried the first dispatch to arrive from Europe by undersea cable, and worked to organize a mutual association of journalists, joining with newspapers throughout the rebuilding nation to share accounts of what was occurring where they circulated.
After fits and starts, The Associated Press — its first tender shoots emerged in 1846 during the Mexican War — reorganized in 1900, and The Daily News signed on as a charter member.
Yet, even at that, news from elsewhere then arrived only at the speed of the telegraph, a few dots and dashes at a time. It wasn’t until the advent of the teletype, a machine capable of converting electronic signals into printed letters — their feverish clattering falling pleasurably on the ears of harried editors — that vast volumes of information from elsewhere became readily available.
Over time, the very nature of news has evolved.
At one point early on, accounts of the deliberations and actions of governmental bodies were considered virtually all the news readers needed or desired.
Yet, newly hired editors and reporters brought new ideas: a review, perhaps, of a show everyone was talking about, and what about clubs’ business and who among the city’s who’s who appeared at what event?
An important advance in newspapers’ notion of news came with the hiring of women as reporters, many of whom first were assigned to write about social events and then — more daringly — about gossip they gleaned.
Eventually, astute editors realized that women could report on anything men could, although many male reporters initially scoffed at such a notion.
Yet, they came around; today, most newsrooms are equally staffed by men and women.
An extended range
Over the years, what began as The Daily News became The Galveston News, which became The Galveston Daily News and is today The Galveston County Daily News, a name reflecting the expanded — yet ultimately local — emphasis of its coverage.
Now, with state, national and global news only a mouse click away, virtually all newspapers — that is, all but the remaining few staffing national and international bureaus; in other words, the very few — focus their coverage on where their readers reside, covering city councils and school boards and other public bodies — and more.
In addition to also covering social events and club happenings, The Daily News — it was one of the first newspapers to review books and music and to report on commerce and sports and on scientific and medical advancements — continues to bring its readers reportage reflecting the complexities and extent of modern life.
Evolution of design
As coverage evolved, so, too, did newspaper design, how that broader content is displayed.
For the first few decades of The Daily News’ existence, the only visual elements on its pages were typographical: Headlines of varying size and emphasis distinguished major stories from their lesser cousins, but the paper remained image free.
By the 1870s, however, illustrations were in vogue, at first in the service of advertisements — front-page promotions with images of their respective labeled containers appeared for Dr. Price’s Cream Baking Powder and for Royal Baking Powder, those rivals locked in dogged competition for primacy in the pantry — and then for more prosaic purposes, including a drawing of cattle and corn and wind-riffled wheat for a Jan. 1, 1900, Special Edition highlighting “The Resources of Texas.”
Other illustrations, produced by a perfected process known as photoengraving, appeared.
Photographs first appeared in The Daily News during the first decade of the past century, typically facial images of newsmakers.
By 1930, photographs, often received by wire, appeared on a regular basis, bearing images of events beyond most readers’ scope and travel, from war zones to sporting events to glittering high society.
Layout changed, as well
The front page of The Daily News in the mid-1980s reflected a key design change — so-called modular layout, prevalent today throughout the industry, which ended the practice of allowing a column of type for one story to wrap around another.
With modular design, each story occupied its own, typically rectangular, space, and, if needed, continued — “jumped,” in newspaper jargon — to a subsequent page.
The innovation gave readers a clearer, more-intuitive sense of individual stories’ relative importance.
A switch in focus
Yet, throughout most of the past century, readers of The Daily News still were more likely to find stories from elsewhere on the front page than they were from their hometowns.
That largely changed in the late 1970s when the newspaper made a concerted effort to feature on its front page predominantly local news.
State and national and global news — unless of great import — was relegated to inside pages.
Newspaper editors and publishers have come to realize that readers seeking news about the institutions and people in the area in which they live can best, in most cases, only, find it in their hometown newspaper, a reality unlikely to change anytime soon.