Washington DC History Resources

Matthew B. Gilmore

News for the Community: Origins of Washington’s Neighborhood Newspaper Tradition

News for the Community: Origins of Washington’s Neighborhood Newspaper Tradition

By Matthew B. Gilmore*


Hill Rag, the GeorgetownerNorthwest Current (and more recent targeted Georgetown, Foggy Bottom, and Dupont editions), the Southwester, and The InTowner itself (and others) are the latest representatives today of a long history of neighborhood community newspapers in Washington. While these existing newspapers today stretch back 40, even 50, years, the phenomenon of local newspapers for Washington’s distinct neighborhoods dates to the 1880s.

A local newspaper has many uses — communicating local news, offering more directed advertising, and articulating and advocating for distinct neighborhood concerns. It is a way to build community. In that context it is unsurprising where Washington’s earliest neighborhood newspapers sprang up — Capitol Hill, Georgetown, Anacostia, and Takoma. Each community had specific concerns.

The first neighborhood paper was the East Washington Press, published for just two years from 1880 to 1882. John P. Wright published it on Capitol Hill, at No. 4 3rd Street, SE. He died a decade later in 1893. His newspaper publishing career had begun in post-bellum Virginia, where he published the Lynchburg Press and the Marion Record from 1869 to 1877. He came to Washington to prosecute pension claims (a business his wife continued until her death).

Wright, his career, and the fate of the East Washington Press typify early Washington, DC community newspaper publishing. Neighborhood-serving newspapers were often started by newcomers to Washington, who saw (or made) the opportunity. Most of the newspapers had a short life span — as long as the editor/publisher could maintain the energy and interest to continue. And, copies of most of these papers have entirely or almost entirely vanished.





Masthead of the Suburban Citizen newspaper


Finding the Newspapers – Bibliographic Confusion

Researching local newspapers is a tremendous challenge. The majority have been lost to time and no longer exist. The major federal and state newspaper preservation projects have defined newspapers often to exclude neighborhood titles as too specialized or too infrequent (monthly).

Several sources exist documenting the existence and/or location of early (and all) Washington, DC newspapers; unfortunately, they are dated, inconsistent, incomplete, and conflicting. A basic tool is Wilhelmus Bogart Bryan’s Bibliography of the District of Columbia: Being a List of Books, Maps, and Newspapers, Including Articles in Magazines and Other Publications to 1898. It is a wealth of obscure materials of all kinds covering the history of Washington to 1898. In some cases, this is the only mention of an early Washington DC newspaper title. The information included is quite telegraphic, however. This bibliography obviously gives no indication of what institution might hold any of the material.

To explore a variety of research options scroll down to References & Resources following the footnotes.


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