Matthew B. Gilmore
The Evening Star: The Rise and Fall of a Great Washington Newspaper https://rowman.com/ISBN/9780742548725/The-Evening-Star-The-Rise-and-Fall-of-a-Great-Washington-Newspaper#
The book tells the story of the 129-year old history of the Evening Star newspaper(later The Washington Star), one of the preeminent newspapers in journalism history . The Star was the most financially successful newspaper in Washington and among the top ten in the country when daily print newspapers were at their height in the first half of the 20th C.. The Evening Star was established in 1852 when the capital was a backwater southern town and it rose to prominence by 1900 under the leadership of Crosby Noyes and Samuel Kauffmann who bought the paper in 1867. Their success was squandered by their descendants much later and they were forced to sell the paper to Joseph Allbritton in 1974. Allbritton tried to save the paper and then Time Inc. which purchased it in 1978. Both failed and the Star closed in 1981 The book provides a unique perspective on more than a century of local, national, and international news and the many fine journalists who reported that news in the Star’s columns.
2. What’s your thesis. Story arc?
I came to the writing of this book with a mostly a blank slate. I had no preconceived ideas about the Star and wanted instead to uncover its history through extensive research and interviews with Star reporters and other staff who were still alive and knew the paper best. I also consulted oral histories and books about Star journalists no longer alive. I tried to tell the Star’s history as accurately and objectively as possible while capturing the drama and fun of putting out a daily paper for 129 years. The book begins with the paper’s origins in the 19th C and ends with its long demise. In between, are chapters on the Star’s coverage of local Washington, race, sports, society, the arts, crime, and political news (divided by era) for more than 100 years.
3. What are the most important influences on your telling of this story?
Of course, the Star’s newspaper columns, which I first accessed on microfilm in the Washingtoniana Division at the DC Public Library and then when the paper became available online, were crucial. To understand what it was like behind the scenes and the internal workings of the newspaper, the interviews I conducted with former Star staff as well as oral histories, books by, and papers of journalists who worked for the Star were a significant influence on how I wrote the story.
4. What are the myths or misconceptions you’d like to dispel about this subject.
Most Washingtonians have no living memory of the Washington Evening Star newspaper. They are also not aware that District residents once supported four daily newspapers with the Star as the most profitable and often read until the 1960s. The Washington Post is an excellent newspaper with a long and respected history in this city and the nation. However, I believe, the history of daily newspapers in Washington is richer and more varied than what just one newspaper can offer The Star played an important role in this city’s history for more than 100 years and the story needs to be more well known.
5. What are the classics in the field, if any?
Surprisingly, no books have ever been published about the Star. The most important histories or biographies which contain chapters about the Star, include The Last Editor by James Bellows who was the Star’s Editor-and- Chief when Joe Allbritton owned the paper; Fat Man in the Middle by respected political reporter Jack Germond who was at the Star in the 1970s; and Death in the Afternoon: America’s Newspaper Giants Struggle for Survival by Peter Benjaminson.. Mary McGrory: The First Queen of Journalism, is an excellent biography of long-time Star syndicated columnist Mary McGrory. Betty Beale, well-known society writer at the Star, authored her Biography Power at Play: A Memoir of Parties, Politicians, and the President in My Bedroom
6. What challenges did you face in this research?
I interviewed more than 30 former Star staff, but I still would have preferred hearing even more voices. Many of the reporters and members of the Noyes and Kauffmann families I contacted were eager to speak with me and were very generous with their time. However, locating and/or getting all the former Star staff with whom I wanted to speak was difficult to impossible, Unfortunately, many had already passed away or were unreachable. The second challenge was finding more first-hand accounts from Star staff from its very earliest years although I was able to locate some gems in the Star Papers in the Washingtoniana Collection.
7. What were the most important resources in this research.
The Washington Star newspaper; The Star Papers, DC Community Archives; Star news clip files; and Washington Star photographs: all in Special Collections, Washingtoniana Division, DC Public Library. Recorded Interviews with Star staff still in author’s possession which eventually will be donated to the Washingtoniana Division, Star Papers. Oral History Collections at the LBJ Presidential Library online and in Austin, TX, National Press Club Archives in DC, and Harry S. Truman Presidential Library. Mary McGrory’s Papers at the Library of Congress, Miriam M. Ottenberg’s Papers at the Wisconsin Historical Society, and Noyes’ Family Papers held privately in Maine by Noyes’ family descendants.
8. Are there sources you wish existed but don’t?
More biographies or oral histories of journalists who worked for the Star, especially before the 1970s. A more comprehensive archive of the Star’s business and editorial operations would have been very helpful. The Star Papers are the most extensive resource for this information but the manner in which the Star closed, meant the complete archive is lost to history. However, I and other researchers are grateful to the Washingtoniana Division staff and the Washington Post, which acquired what remained of the Star after its closing in 1981, for preserving what documentation remained.
9. Who’s your audience?
Journalists and journalism history scholars as well as Washington, DC and U.S. historians, scholars and readers.
10 Tell us about you
I was archivist and then photo librarian in the Washingtoniana Division at the DC Public Library from 1999 until 2013. I hold master’s degrees in history and library science from the University of Maryland, College Park. I am the author of The Art of D.C. Politics: Broadsides, Banners, and Bumper Stickers (Vol.12. No.2, 2000-2001) and Behind the Headlines: The Evening Star’s Coverage of the 1968 Riots (Vol. 19-20, 2007-2008) both published in Washington History : A Magazine of the Historical Society of Washington, DC. I currently live in the Hill Country of Texas near Austin and am an independent author and historian.
11. What inspired you to write this book?
As archivist for the DC Community Archives, Washingtoniana Division, I became familiar with the Star Papers. As a consequence, I prepared and presented a paper in 2003 at the Washington, DC Historical Studies Conference about the Star’s 19th Century history. A representative of the publisher Rowman and Littlefield saw the paper and approached me about doing a complete history of the Star since no book had ever been published on the subject. I was intrigued, flattered and intimidated to be asked to undertake such a huge subject. I prepared a book proposal and it was accepted by the editorial board at Rowman and Littlefield. I have never regretted taking on the task. I learned so much about conducting research, met amazing journalists, and discovered good writing means rewriting, editing, and editing again.
12. What’s unique about your perspective?
A former Star editor wrote me recently to express his thoughts on the book. The comment which meant the most to me as an historian was “it is unusual for a chronicler of situations of which I have first-hand knowledge whose presuppositions don’t interfere, but you are one of the few.” He also was pleased with my ability to be “sensitive to the subtleties and remarkably accurate.” I worked very hard to write a fair and accurate history of the Star as humanly possible and made a point of never overlooking the Star’s failures as well as its successes. I don’t know if that’s unique or, as I see it, the way history should be told. I also wanted to write an interesting narrative which both scholars and the general public would want to read.
13. What’ your favorite DC history book?
Constance Green’s classic Washington: A History of the Capital, 1800-1950. For more recent history Dream ‘City: Race, Power and the Decline of Washington by Henry S. Jaffe and Tom Sherwood and I enjoyed Mary Kay Ricks’ Escape from the Pearl: The Heroic Bid for Freedom on the Underground Railroad.
14. What’s next for you? What are you working on?
For now, I intend to take a sabbatical from writing. I’m currently involved with my local Historical Commission working to identify, preserve, and research sites for historic designation in the Texas region where I live. In the future, I’d like to pursue research projects and write about politics and history in Texas, race, social justice movements, and journalism.