Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Newspaper archives now under wraps

Express publishing begins to sift through valley history

Express Staff Writer

Idaho Mountain Express newspaper Publisher Pam Morris recovered a matted and framed feature story on the career of Hailey writer and photographer Roberta McKercher from the offices of the now defunct Wood River Journal newspaper last month. "Roberta was the heart and soul of the Wood River Journal," Morris said. Idaho Photo by Willy Cook

Original newspaper archives featuring more than 127 years of Wood River Valley history fell into the hands of Express Publishing last month when the company purchased the Wood River Journal. Packed into 31 cardboard boxes and two wooden crates in a temperature-controlled storage facility in Hailey, the archives are safe, but have an uncertain future.

"We really don't even know what we have yet," said Idaho Mountain Express Publisher Pam Morris, who cracked open a crate two weeks ago to find a well-preserved front page of the Hailey News Miner from May 5, 1900.

"It was in really good condition," she said. "The front-page story was about a Pocatello man who had been murdered. There were ads running in columns down the both sides of the page."

Morris said the turn-of-the-century newspaper's front page was considerably wider than the one she printed this week at the Idaho Mountain Express. She joked that it was an indication of declining newspaper revenues.

"This is an important asset because it is the only continuous history of the valley," said Morris, who plans to preserve and slowly inventory the collection.

"Looking back at the news in aggregate, you can see how a community is created, or in the case of these archives, the community that was," she said.

"For me it all started when I saw a bulldozer in one of the best fishing holes in the Big Wood River in 1974," said Morris. "Nobody was paying attention to this."

Two years later she went to work as a typesetter at the Idaho Mountain Express.

How Morris and the editors at Express Publishing plan to use the legacy of the Wood River Journal archives in developing stories remains to be seen.

"Our mission at the Idaho Mountain Express has always been to provide information to the Wood River Valley in the most easily accessible way possible, whether that is newsprint, the Internet, or both," Morris said.

"I have had calls from people who want to read stories from 50 or 100 years ago," she said, "but right now our first goal is to protect them. Our second goal is to inventory them and see what we have."

Express Publishing publishes the twice-weekly Idaho Mountain Express and Guide, and online, Tables, the Real Estate Guide, and the Sun Valley Guide. The Wood River Journal name has replaced the Valley section in the Wednesday edition of the Express.

The archives, which reach back to the mining boom of the early 1880s, include the records of several newspaper names, including the Hailey Times, The Hailey News Miner and the Wood River Journal. During the 1880s, the population of the Wood River Valley was as high, or higher, than it is today.

"There were 10,000 people at the Minnie Moore Mine in Bellevue," Morris said.

Copies of the entire news archives for all Wood River Valley newspapers are available on microfilm at the Regional History Library at the Community Library in Ketchum and at the Idaho State Historical Society in Boise.

"Preserving archival newsprint can be expensive," said Ketchum Community Library regional history librarian Sandy Hofferber, who preserves a small collection of original news archives by separating the individual pages with acid-free paper and storing them in acid-free boxes to slow deterioration.

"Old newsprint can be very brittle," said Hofferber, who remembers when the archives were available at the Wood River Journal office on Main Street in Hailey for anyone curious enough the peruse them.

"That was during the 1990s," she said. "So far they have survived just by keeping them dry."

Jerry Brady, former publisher of the Wood River Journal and majority shareholder of the Post Register newspaper in Idaho Falls, donated a similar historical archive of the Post Register, dating from about 1900, to Brigham Young University North.

Brady sold the assets of the Wood River Journal to Express Publishing before ceasing publication on Oct. 22.

Morris said Express Publishing will explore preservation methods and the possible transfer of the archives to an institution for safe keeping as a historical reference.

"We would entertain any notion we can afford," she said. "But we would have to find someone who values the archives as much as we do."

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