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Coast Mail [LCCN: sn96088440] and Coos Bay Times [LCCN: sn85033159]
Coos Bay (Marshfield), Oregon
1879-1919

 

The Coos Bay area produced a great number of early start-up newspapers. Dating back to the pioneer days of the nineteenth century, it seems the various bayside communities always sustained an active readership and robust demand for local news. In 1897, Marshfield (the town that would later take the name of Coos Bay) had a population of about 700. What are we to make, then, of the circulation numbers that were reported by the town's rival weekly newspapers that same year? The Democratic-leaning Coos Bay News [sn96061907] claimed a readership of 750, while the Coast Mail, the Republican paper, pegged its circulation at 775. Perhaps everyone in town (and more than a few who lived outside of it) subscribed to both papers... or perhaps the publishers were each inclined to exaggerate their figures just a little?

The Coast Mail had begun as a weekly in 1879. In common with the other small papers published around Coos Bay in the early days, it concentrated mostly on shipping news, the comings and goings of local society, and advertising.

The first daily paper in the Coos Bay area was purported to have been a one-sided news sheet that circulated for a number of months in 1898, serving the public's ravenous appetite for up-to-date telegraphic reports from the battle lines of the Spanish-American War. At the war's conclusion, however, interest waned and there were not enough renewals of the $1 monthly subscriptions to sustain this enterprise in daily publishing. Then, in 1902, Weekly Coast Mail [LCCN: sn96088442] publisher Percy C. Levar attempted to expand his readership with a daily edition [LCCN: sn96088441], but he seems to have struggled over the next few years with the myriad challenges of running a daily. By 1906, the local business community felt the need for a stronger and more stable daily paper to serve the area. A group of investors raised $5000 to purchase the Coast Mail and another local title, the Marshfield Advertiser [LCCN: n/a], planning to consolidate them as the Coos Bay Times.

After selling out his interest in the Coast Mail, P.C. Levar would purchase another Coos County paper, the Coquille City Herald [LCCN: sn96088224], in 1912. But he is probably best remembered for a letter of his dated January 30, 1910 that was printed in the magazine Moving Picture World. In this passionate epistle, Levar excoriates the managers of the Biograph Film Company for their underhanded replacement of the original, audience-favorite 'Biograph Girl', Florence Lawrence, with a new actress. This is a curious example of fan mail from the dawn of the motion picture era, with the newsman of Coos Bay describing his favorite screen star as "simply out of sight--unapproachableā€¦ in a class by herself." In fact, Levar's letter is one of the earliest pieces of evidence documenting the emergence of the film industry 'star system', and it has been referenced and reproduced in a number of scholarly books on the birth of American cinema.

The new Coos Bay Times started small: it was initially a four-page folio with coverage mostly limited to local events. Gus W. Kramer, whose brother Earnest had previously owned the Advertiser, became the Times' first editor and manager. He was paid the modest salary of $100 per month to bring out the morning daily. Kramer was a colorful character who could boast of previous experience as a cotton mill worker, concert cornet player, ham actor, railroad builder, and lawyer. It should probably come as no surprise that his days in the journalism profession were numbered. After less than a year on the job, he opted to pass along the paper to other hands.

Fortunately, these "other hands" proved highly capable. They belonged to Michael and Dan Maloney, brothers who purchased the Times in December of 1907 and continued to nurture and develop it for the next twenty years. Michael Maloney had previously worked as a staff writer on the New York World and the Chicago Tribune. In his salutation announcing himself as the new editor and publisher of the Coos Bay Times, he declared that his motto would be: "A square deal for everyone." Under the Maloney brothers' stewardship, the paper was switched over to evening publication and gradually increased to a daily count of 16 pages. The always-popular coverage of local news was expanded, along with featured 'news of the world' gleaned from the telegraph wire. The Maloneys also introduced a distinctive feature that carried through their whole tenure with the Times: the "sky-line" daily quotation printed in 30-point Gothic font, placed boldly above the title on the paper's front page.

Perhaps accounting to his past experience authoring editorial boilerplate for the big-city dailies, Michael Maloney's years as a newspaperman at Coos Bay would not be uncontroversial ones. More than once he stood accused of libel, and his Times sparred continuously with a competing local daily, the Southwestern Oregon Daily News [LCCN: sn96088444]. At the end of December 1927, exhausted from his journalistic battles, Maloney issued his valedictory in the pages of the Times. For the final issue he edited, he selected as the masthead quotation: "The best book, next to the Bible, is not listed among the best sellers. It is the pocket book. The cook book is also good." Thereafter, a committee of local merchants took up publication of the paper, and the Maloney brothers retired to California.

-- Written by Jason Stone

See also: Gunning, Tom. D.W. Griffith & the Origins of American Narrative Film: The Early Years at Biograph (1994: University of Illinois Press)