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Medford Mail Tribune
[LCCN: sn97071090]
Medford, Oregon
1909-1989

 

Although it quickly grew into southern Oregon’s largest city, Medford began as merely a depot on the Oregon and California Railroad, established in 1883. From the first, it was recognized that a newspaper would be needed to serve the new community, but initial efforts did not meet with lasting success. Founded in 1888, the Medford Mail [LCCN: 97071085] would prove to be a more viable enterprise. Thomas Harlan established the paper as an independent weekly, issued on Thursdays. Felix G. Kertson became the publisher in 1891. By the following year the title was switched to the Southern Oregon Mail [LCCN: sn97071086] and the editorial policy had skewed Populist. In 1893 the paper was purchased by Albert S. Bliton, who again shortened its name to the Medford Mail [LCCN: 2010260127], reasserted its political independence and gradually increased its circulation. In 1908 he began issuing a daily edition, the Medford Morning Mail [LCCN: 2010260127].

 In 1909 the Mail was sold to the experienced newspaperman George Putnam, who had been operating a rival paper, the Medford Daily Tribune [LCCN: 2010260128], since 1907. Putnam consolidated the two papers as the Medford Mail Tribune [LCCN: 97071090], inaugurating a most lively period of journalism in southern Oregon. Putnam was highly outspoken and willing to criticize public officials. “The paper that has no enemies has no friends,” he editorialized, and quickly earned plenty of both. Accused of libel by the president of the Rogue River Valley Railroad, Putnam spent a night in the Douglas County jail in 1908. Upon being released, he published an exposé on conditions at the jail which led to its eventually being declared unfit for habitation.

The articles and classified ads in early issues of the Medford Mail Tribune speak to the local economic importance of railroads and, especially, orchards. Conspicuous by their absence are the medicinal ads that filled the pages of so many contemporary papers—a 1910 editorial declared, “Gratuitous distribution of patent medicines should be stopped by city authorities as a dangerous nuisance and a menace to health.” The paper also campaigned for cleaner municipal water and the organized planting of shade trees along city streets.

Robert W. Ruhl first invested in shares of the Medford Mail Tribune in 1911, then became majority owner and publisher in 1919, when Putnam left to take over the Salem Daily Capital Journal [LCCN: sn99063957]. Ruhl continued on the editorial path Putnam had laid out: advocating for progressive reforms, exposing the corruption of power brokers and politicians, and declaring his paper “independent in a literal and perfectly sincere sense.” Ruhl was a staunch critic during the meteoric rise of the Ku Klux Klan in 1920s Oregon. Then, in the early years of the Great Depression, the paper was in constant opposition to the Good Government Congress, an anti-establishment movement that applied strategies of character assassination, fraud and violent intimidation to local politics. Throughout this tumultuous period that came to be known as the “Jackson County Rebellion,” Ruhl’s paper urged calm behavior and rational discourse. For these efforts, the Medford Mail Tribune was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1934--then as now, a remarkable achievement for a small town newspaper of the far west.

Still published to the present day, the long-running paper’s title was shortened to the Mail Tribune [LCCN: sn96061864] in 1989.

-- Written by Jason Stone