Saturday, August 1, 2009

This Month in Rochester History

During the month of August, it is appropriate to reflect on the Rochester community's newspaper heritage. Rochester has been fortunate to have three long-running newspapers in her history, with a few short-lived upstarts sprinkled in along the way.

The first successful title was the Rochester Era, published by T.B. and W.A. Fox, which burst onto the scene with its salutatory edition on May 22, 1873. The weekly Era ran without noteworthy competition for a quarter of a century, until Charles S. Seed's Rochester Clarion launched its inaugural number on August 19, 1898. The Era and the Clarion went head-to-head for another fifty-one years, but gradually, it became clear that the Clarion was winning the competition for advertising. The Era shrank and took on an increasingly shopworn appearance until finally, on August 28, 1949, it surrendered the field and was bought out by the Clarion.

The Clarion soldiered on as a solo player with little competition for twenty-three more years. On August 3, 1972, the Observer & Eccentric chain of newspapers brought the Rochester Eccentric to town, and Rochester once again enjoyed the benefit of two weekly newspapers. Sadly, in October 1997, just a few months short of its century mark, the Rochester Clarion conceded defeat and was purchased by the Observer & Eccentric chain. For a brief time, the remaining newspaper styled itself as the Rochester Clarion-Eccentric, but the Clarion name was soon thereafter dropped and the newspaper went on as the Rochester Eccentric.

In the spring of 2009, the Observer & Eccentric chain reacted to the economic pressure that all print newspapers have been feeling in the digital age, and scaled back its print products. Among the casualties was the Rochester Eccentric, which ceased publication on May 31, 2009, in its thirty-seventh year. The community is poorer for the loss of its newspapers, but I fear historians of the future will feel the effects even more deeply than we do today.

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