History of Nevada Journalism

The first newspaper in present day Nevada was apparently the Gold-CaƱon Switch of Johntown, a mining community about four miles from what became Virginia City on the Comstock. The paper, founded about 1854, was handwritten. Unfortunately, no copies exist.

Speculation vanishes with the Territorial Enterprise, the first printed newspaper in Nevada. It began December 18, 1858, in Genoa. The weekly soon moved to Carson City as the rush to Washoe began. Then, when the silver fever gripped the Comstock, the Enterprise moved to Virginia City. The paper established itself in the 1860s as the best and most influential in the West.

Giants of journalism roamed the Comstock in those days: Mark Twain, Dan De Quille, Joe Goodman, Alf Doten, and Wells Drury. Twain, who gained international fame as a writer, admitted that in his Enterprise reporting he “let fancy get the upper hand of fact too often when there was a dearth of news.” He once put an emigrant wagon “through an Indian fight that…has no parallel in history.” Hoaxes were perfect for mining camp journalism, and sometimes other newspapers in Nevada and beyond took them at face value.

The mining industry gave Nevada more ghost towns than live ones. Towns sprang up hastily, and died just as quickly as mining camps went from boom to bust. Mining camp newspapers followed the same pattern: bonanza to borrasca.

In rugged nineteenth century Western journalism, duels and shootouts sometimes took the place of the more sedate libel suits of today. Alf Doten, diarist who recorded much of early Nevada history, was editor of the Gold Hill newspaper. When Drury applied for a job as a reporter, Doten asked: “Can you shoot?” Drury admitted he could. Doten hired him with this admonition: “You write what you please. Nobody censors it. But you must defend yourself if anybody has a kick.”

Boosterism often marked Nevada newspapering. The Rhyolite Herald boasted in 1911 that Rhyolite was “The prettiest, coziest mining town in the great American desert.” The Bovard Booster rang true to its name with headlines in 1908 proclaiming “NEVADA'S LATEST WONDER,” and the “RICHNESS OF LATEST STRIKE.” In big cities and mining camps, newspapers often have promoted their town much as they might advertise a product.

Socialism arose in the early twentieth century with fervor for brotherhood and sisterhood, for social justice and equality. Reno had two socialist newspapers, the Voice of the People, and the Nevada Socialist. The Voice in 1910 proclaimed the dawning of the era of the common man. It did not dawn. The Socialist asked before the 1914 election: “Who will vote the capitalist party tickets? Grafters, politicians…capitalists, capitalist henchmen…?” The capitalists won.

Historically, Nevada newspapers often have reflected their communities in lacking racial sensitivity. The Nevada Daily Tribune of Carson City asked: “Is there a foreign-born gentleman in Ormsby County who would demean himself so much as to vote a ticket put up by a man who says a Chinaman is as good as any other foreigner? We think not.”

As was the case elsewhere, African Americans fared little better. Newspapers often used racist terms that no longer are acceptable. By the 1950s, segregation made Las Vegas notorious as the “Mississippi of the West.” The local Review-Journal published racist news stories and headlines. The local black community benefited greatly from the birth of the Voice, now the Sentinel-Voice, in the late 1950s. It helped promote the local civil rights movement.

In general, women did not work for Nevada newspapers in most of the nineteenth century. However, wives sometimes took over after their publisher-editor husbands died. When Henry Mighels, publisher of the Nevada Appeal in Carson City, died in 1879, his wife Nellie took over. She was no mere figurehead, becoming a journalist who covered the state legislature and the Corbett-Fitzsimmons fight in Carson City in 1897. Reporters like Florence Lee Jones Cahlan of the Review-Journal and publishers like Avery Stitser of the Humboldt Star and Sue Clark-Jackson of the Reno Gazette-Journal cracked the glass ceiling, but men still predominate in editorial and executive positions.

Colorful characters peopled Nevada journalism. One of the most colorful was Jack McCloskey, editor and publisher of the Mineral County Independent and Hawthorne News, who told anecdotes of yesteryear while dispensing political commentary in his front-page column, “Jasper,” from 1931 almost up to his death in 2000. Rural editors also were active in politics, including state senators Walter Cox of Yerington's Mason Valley News and Warren “Snowy” Monroe of the Elko Independent.

The best journalist Nevada ever produced was Frank McCulloch, a Fernley native who worked for the Reno Evening Gazette and the Nevada State News. He was a staff correspondent and chief of two bureaus for Time. In 1960, he became managing editor for the Los Angeles Times but quit after three years to cover the Vietnam War for Time. All told, McCulloch wrote 120 coveted cover stories for Time. Then he became managing editor successively of the Sacramento Bee and the San Francisco Examiner.

The Pulitzer Prize, the highest honor in journalism, was awarded in 1977 to the Reno Evening Gazette and Nevada State Journal. The executive editor of both papers, Warren Lerude, shared the prize in editorial writing with Foster Church and Norman Cardoza. Edward Montgomery, who studied journalism under A.L. Higginbotham at the University of Nevada, won a Pulitzer in 1951 as a reporter for the Examiner. Another “Higgy” student, Howard Sheerin, won in 1956 for meritorious public service by leading, as city editor, a team of reporters for the Watsonville Register-Pajaronian in California.

Three other UNR journalism graduates claimed Pulitzers: Ron Einstoss of the Los Angeles Times in 1966 for staff local reporting, Susie Forrest in 1988 reporting for the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune of Massachusetts, and Kristin Go of the Denver Post, a staff winner in 2000 for breaking news.

The one genuine giant of modern Nevada newspapering was Las Vegas Sun publisher Hank Greenspun. He courageously took on demagogic Senator Joe McCarthy of Wisconsin who throttled the nation in the early 1950s with his redbaiting and fear mongering. Greenspun's vehicle was his page one column, “Where I Stand.” It became a must-read for Nevada editors. He founded the Sun in 1950, becoming a powerful presence in Las Vegas until he died in 1989.

The leading newspaper in Northern Nevada today is the Reno Gazette-Journal. Four of its fixtures are columnist Cory Farley, investigative reporter Frank Mullen, veteran reporter Lenita Powers, and court reporter Martha Bellisle. In Southern Nevada, the Las Vegas Review-Journal rules and features a four-times-a-week column by popular award-winning journalist and author John L. Smith, as well as longtime entertainment columnist Mike Weatherford and a vocally libertarian editorial page. The Sun continues publication as an independent section in the R-J, focusing on more feature and in-depth stories, with such veterans as political columnist Jon Ralston and longtime Sun reporters Mary Manning and Ed Koch.

One relatively recent development in Nevada journalism is the rise of alternative newspapers. They often do the in-depth reporting that the Establishment papers do not despite having far more money and staff. Las Vegas has the weekly CityLife, founded in 1992 and edited today by acerbic columnist Steve Sebelius.

His predecessor was Geoff Schumacher, who now oversees alternative, foreign-language, and rural publications for R-J owner Stephens Media, which has bought several rural Nevada weeklies. CityLife includes commentaries and reporting by Schumacher, Hugh Jackson (now a popular blogger), criminal justice professor Randall Shelden, and historian Michael Green. Some consider the publication Nevada's best public affairs journal.

The Las Vegas Weekly is another alternative weekly, owned by the Greenspun family, which focuses more on arts and culture. The Reno News & Review was founded in 1995 by Mike Norris, Larry Henry, and Bill Martin. Today Brian Burghart is editor and Dennis Myers is the news editor. The kind of journalism the alternatives practice also is evident in internet blogs emanating from Reno and Las Vegas.

The alternative weeklies and blogs also are not alone in continuing a Nevada tradition of smaller publications standing up to the bigger ones. The Valley Times, published from 1959 to 1984, had great influence through publisher Bob Brown and reporter Ned Day for its in-depth coverage of politics and organized crime. The tiny Sparks Tribune, 6,000 circulation, founded in 1910, regularly prints columns that would never appear in any establishment newspaper. From dailies that have been muckrakers or groveled before power to weeklies that have crusaded at younger urban audiences or wielded political influence in rural Nevada, back to the days of Mark Twain, Nevada's journalism history has been rich and varied.

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