Since 1908: The Missourian's story

A look back at the pioneering and ever-evolving Missourian
Saturday, September 13, 2008 | 9:55 p.m. CDT; updated 9:19 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, September 16, 2008
The Columbia Missourian began on Sept. 14, 1908, as the University Missourian. Its first edition coincided with the opening day of MU’s journalism school, the first in the country. This is a photograph of one of the few copies of this first edition, with some markings.

The students who produced the very first issue of what is now called the Columbia Missourian were literally pioneers in the world of journalism.

They were part of a revolutionary experiment in reporting, but they lived in a very traditional era.


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Only six of the 64 students enrolled in the world's first School of Journalism were women.

Admission to the Elite Theater was a nickel, and it took $5 or less for a student to live in Columbia.

Today's student reporters are probably carrying an iPod and a cell phone.

They pay $3.50 for a caffè latte and $7 to see a movie at Columbia's art-house theater - the Ragtag Cinema.

Typically, more women than men can usually be found in the newsroom.

These students have always used computers, and life in the United States is now divided into "before and after" Sept. 11, 2001.

As the Columbia Missourian celebrates its 100th anniversary today, what unites journalism students in 1908 to those of the vastly different world of 2008 is the opportunity to learn their craft in the school's still one-of-a-kind learning laboratories.

Here is a look back at milestones that mark the journey of the newspaper from the era of the Model T, the typewriter and the world's first passenger flight to the space shuttle, digital cameras and the BlackBerry.

Sept. 14, 1908, marked not only the first day of the University of Missouri's journalism school, the first in the country, but also the first publication of the University Missourian.

The school was founded by newspaperman Walter Williams. Despite his lack of a university education, Williams nevertheless had been appointed to the MU Board of Curators in 1899.

The creation of the University Missourian was the brainchild of Williams, who thought practical experience in the creation of a daily city newspaper in a real-life setting would give the student reporters the best training.

On Sept. 15, 1908, page two of the University Missourian carried a statement by Capt. Henry King, then editor of the St. Louis Globe Democrat that supported Williams' vision.

King wrote, "I had the honor of giving the initial address in the School of Journalism series at Columbia, and you may remember that I then expressed the hope that journalism would be taught there by the practical method of publishing a daily newspaper.

"My belief is that this is the best, if not the only way, to reach useful and satisfactory results."

The first paper carried a subscription price by mail or carrier of $2 per school year, $1.25 for a semester and 2 cents for a single copy. The office was in Room D of Academic Hall, the building that burned and left the columns on Francis Quadrangle.

Initially, the paper was published five days a week during the school year and weekly during the summer term.

More than 50 students had enrolled in the journalism school by mid-September, a group reported to be larger than the first-year enrollment of any other university department.

On Sept. 16, page four of the University Missourian carried a photo of two St. Louis newsboys, Ben Getzler and Max Silverman, who came to Columbia to hustle the newspaper on the streets by creating a "hullabaloo" every afternoon the first week.

On Oct. 1, the newspaper reported that the first meeting of the first class of the first school of journalism had occurred the previous night.

At this get-acquainted meeting, student Walter Stemmons was chosen president. Mary Paxton, representing the six female students in the department - referred to as the "six coming society editors" - was asked to speak about the duties of a society editor.

The early stories in the University Missourian carried abbreviated United Press International articles, as well as the articles provided by students.

Because the newspaper initially received state funds, it could not cover controversial political issues or attempt to outsell other local newspapers.

The paper was liberated from these constraints in 1909 with the founding of an independent corporation, the University Missourian Association, which established a legal separation of the newspaper from the journalism school.

In 1915, the paper began publishing daily. The University Missourian changed its name in 1916 to become The Daily Missourian. In 1917, it changed again to The Evening Missourian.

In 1920, the paper became The Columbia Evening Missourian, later shortened to its current name, The Columbia Missourian.

Incorporating the Missourian Publishing Association was undertaken by Walter Williams as an effort to raise money to pay the expenses of running the newspaper.

The shareholders received their investments back in 1926, and the assets were transferred to the publishing association.

In 1930, Frank Martin became dean of the School after Walter Williams was appointed University of Missouri president. In 1942, Frank L. Mott became the school's third dean.

A Sunday publication began in 1958, called the The Sunday Missourian as part of the yearlong celebration of the J-School's 50th anniversary.

A Saturday paper was dropped in favor of the new Sunday edition. The Missourian had published a Sunday edition from 1914 to 1918 until World War I created a newsprint shortage and the paper was forced to abandon its Sunday publication.

In 1951, Earl English replaced Dean Mott, who retired. In 1962, the Missourian moved to the corner of Ninth and Elm.

On Sept. 10, 1968, the Missourian became a morning newspaper. On the same day, the paper and UPI marked 50 years of cooperation with a pair of commemorations.

The Missourian's first regular wire news service began in 1918, at 500 words per day. With the new morning edition, a third wire service was added from The New York Times. By then the paper was published from Tuesday to Sunday.

Enrollment in 1967-68 jumped 31 percent over the previous year, creating the largest journalism school in any university. Circulation had climbed 22 percent since 1948, according to Dean English.

April 1971 saw the retirement of Dean English, who was replaced by Roy M. Fisher.

Fisher retired in 1981, and Elmer Lower, a former president of ABC News, took over the reins. Three years later, James D. Atwater became the school's dean. In 1989, he retired and was replaced by R. Dean Mills, who remains dean.

When Lee Hills Hall was built across Elm Street in 1995, it became the fifth home of the then 86-year-old Missourian.

Vibrations Magazine was added to the paper's Sunday edition on Jan. 23, 1972. This publication later evolved into a Thursday magazine called Vox, which debuted in May 1998.

Vox was a combination of the former Weekend Magazine and the Ideas publications. Ideas was succeeded by a Sunday section entitled Insight.

The Missourian has also produced other supplements, including Adelante, a Spanish-language magazine, and Mini-Mo, a children's section.

In 2007, the newspaper began publication of a tabloid-sized weekend edition on Saturdays with emphasis on narratives about health, the arts, faith and other features content.

In more recent years, the Missourian has been impacted by the radical changes in news-reporting technology.

From the early online newspaper called DigMo to the present-day, the Columbia Missourian is caught up in the profound changes in the world of journalism brought on by the new technologies, 24/7 publishing, and the changing role of print media.

One hundred years ago, a question swirling around the founding of the Missouri School of Journalism was whether or not one needed an education in journalism.

As the Missourian celebrates its centennial, it faces, along with all newspapers, the many new and complex questions created by today's digital age.

Nina Johnson is the Missourian's librarian.

Sources: Missourian archives, "A Journalism of Humanity: A Candid History of the World's First Journalism School" by Steve Weinberg, Univ. of Mo. Press, 2008, "Journalism Education at the University of Missouri-Columbia," by Earl English, Walsworth Publishing Company, 1988.


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