Although Willard Richards would find some radical changes today in the "small weekly sheet" he created from a small hand press in 1850, the pioneer publisher and religious leader would find the Deseret News has hardly shifted from the spirit of his prospectus.
On hundreds of sheets a week, the `News' News provides all and more than what Richards envisioned a local paper should offer to its readers.But what has changed, and for the better, is the way information is gathered, printed and disseminated to Utahns who subscribe to the Mountain West's oldest surviving newspaper.
At the time Richards wrote the prospectus he was 45-years-old and a member of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. A native of Massachusetts and educated, he was experienced in publishing, having assisted in the production of previous LDS Church news publications.
But, putting out a newspaper in an isolated desert proved provided some new challenges. Gathering of news was both a problem and an exasperating experience for Richards.
He used a variety of methods for obtaining news, from recounting stories told by traveling agents to interviewing pioneer passers-by. Dispatches from LDS missionaries serving throughout the world also filled pages.
But because of the unreliability of the mails, news reports of events in other parts of the country were sporadic. At the mercy of an unreliable mail service that brought in newspapers from other parts of the country, Richards tried his best to print old and current news events as fast as possible. But he wrote that he feared he would remain uninformed until "the lightning rods, railroad cars and balloons run daily and hourly between the mountains and vallies (sic), with fewer stopping places on the route, where the transports are liable to be picked by the crows, black crickets and gulls."
A great leap in news gathering took
place in 1861 when the telegraph wire
reached Utah. But, although New York, Washington and other nerve centers of the country were now within a wire's tick, the new technology was not without its problems.
Deep snowfalls and vandalism by humans and animals resulted in telegraph lines being dead for days and sometimes weeks.
It's an understatement to say things have greatly improved. Today, news events from around the globe are beamed into Deseret News computers by satellite within minutes of their occurrence. Reporters covering news from around the state can transmit written dispatches directly to editors' computer terminals via the telephone lines.
However difficult it was, delays in news gathering were a minor inconvenience compared with the critical challenge of
finding paper to print the News. Scarcity of newsprint threatened the existence of the paper in its early days. At times, lack of paper suspended publication for as long as three months.
The LDS Church developed its own local paper industry, which became the first effective paper mill in the trans-Mississippi West, to overcome the shortages.
In 1851, Thomas Howard, an Englishman experienced in papermaking, arrived in Utah. He was primarily responsible for securing the equipment and operating the paper mills that would keep the paper alive in its early years.
In the first seven years of the Deseret News, Howard produced paper from a beet grinder or by hand in a plant on Temple Square. He then was supervisor of the mill in Sugar House.
The mills didn't run without considerable sacrifice, however, from the paper's subscribers. Church members were admonished to save their rags to supply the paper mills. Underscoring the urgency was the call by church President Brigham Young sending a prominent merchant and stalwart member, George Goddard, on a "rag mission."
For three years Goddard traveled throughout Idaho and Utah soliciting rags, and on Sunday's preached "rag sermons." President Young backed him up with sermons from the Tabernacle pulpit scolding women who threw away rags rather than save them for the production of newsprint.
A short but big boost in paper production came with the construction of the Big Cottonwood Mill in the 1880s. The machinery was destroyed by fire in 1893 and the building was later converted to a dance hall.
While they don't pose the threat they did, newsprint shortages are not necessarily a thing of the past. The last one occurred in the late 1970s and early 1980s, caused by demand for newsprint outstripping the capacity to produce it, said Mike Brennan, director of development for the Newspaper Agency Corp., which prints the Deseret News.
Another challenge that faced the Deseret News, and most newspapers of the early American West, was printing with a hand press. The first press in the territory cost $61 and took three years to secure and haul over the Rockies into the Salt Lake Valley.
But early subscribers apparently didn't always appreciate the sacrifice and luxury of having a press, albeit a primitive hand-operated one, in the isolated Mountain West.
Those who complained about slow production at the Deseret News were reminded that the paper lacked a power press like Eastern newspapers were using. Using a hand press, it was a full day's work for a pressman to print enough papers to supply all subscribers.
Technological changes improved printing of the news, and that evolution continues today with faster presses, color capabilities and sharper images. This year, a third press was added for printing the Deseret News - an $11 million offset press that can produce up to 70,000 newspapers an hour.
Deseret News `homes'
The $37 million renovation of facilities on Regent Street, where the Deseret News is located, recalls the many homes Utah's first newspaper has had in its 140-year history:
1850 - A small adobe hut, which also served as a money mint; and later that year in the attic of the Post Office and church store.
1854 - North end of the Tithing office, an annex of the Deseret Store, on the site of the former Hotel Utah.
1856 - Across the intersection (southwest corner of Main Street and South Temple) to the Council House.
1858 - To Fillmore, then to Parowan - to avoid feared destruction by the advancing U.S. Army led by Albert Sidney Johnston - then back to the Council House.
1862 - Back to the Deseret Store Building.
1903 - A new six-story Deseret News building on the southwest corner of Main and South Temple.
1926 - A new four-story facility, including publishing house, on Richards Street. Built on the former gravesite of the paper's first publisher Willard Richards.
1968 - Current location at 30 E. 100 South.