When driving by 300 North Union Street in Kokomo, Indiana, one would never know once here was one of the leading medium sized daily newspapers in the world, The Kokomo Tribune. What stands here now is a burned out relic; a building hollow and locked up but with memories of greatness. It is doubtful current owners of this newspaper will ever restore the building following a fire in early January 2021.
Once here was a newspaper that led in the development of production technology and that had visitors from all over the world to see how production was done. Here was a newspaper that had the latest in a new 48-page Goss Metro Offset press built by Rockwell. Here was a newspaper that led in the development of computer technology and photo composition in newspapers.
Here was a newspaper that frequently on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays had to make double runs of the press because the issue that day exceeded the 48 page capacity of the press. Here was a newspaper that had over 200 carriers that delivered the paper to the door step of readers each day.
Here was a newspaper that was determined to be “First in the Nation” in penetration of its metro market by the Audit Bureau of Circulations, the gold standard, for 8 of 10 years during one decade; and only second for the two remaining years. Here was a newspaper with a paid circulation of 34,000 daily and an over 95% penetration of its market. Nearly all homes in the market subscribed to and received the paper each day.
Here was a newspaper that people wanted to read and one that was trusted for truth and for comprehensive news of its community. Here was a newspaper that had a reportorial staff of about 35 to cover hard news, sports, and community features. Here was a newspaper that editorially reflected the consensus of the community with a moderately conservative political philosophy on its Editorial page, but one that strove diligently to keep opinion out of objective news reporting. Here was a newspaper that was at the heartbeat of the community.
When the Goss Metro press was first received, the Tribune building had a large wall of glass facing Union Street so people of the town could come by and see the press in operation. It was impressive. Nothing can replace the sights and sounds of a large newspaper press in operation. They loved it.
The management of the Tribune was active and recognized. The then publisher, Richard Blacklidge, was once president of the Hoosier Press Association, The Inland Daily Press Association, and finally, the American Newspaper Publishers Association. The latter was historically dominated by publishers of the large metropolitan papers of the United States. Blacklidge was also the Vice President of FIEJ, the international newspaper association.
The Editor, Dow Richardson, was a leader in the American Association of Newspaper Editors. He led the news and editorial side of the Tribune for over 50 years.
Kent Blacklidge, the son of Richard Blacklidge, was the initial inside driver of the technological changes. He led in the development of one of the first computer typesetting machines in collaboration with engineers at Delco Electronics. He wrote several computer programs for production, circulation, and accounting applications. Kent later became publisher of the Tribune when his father retired. During his years as Associate Publisher and as Publisher, he led the paper in causes that bettered the community and the environment.
With his skills, knowledge, and spirit, Richard Isham was brought on as operations manager early in the technological change period. He, with his management team, brought newspaper production to perfection. Every 24 hours a new, fresh, and full of news newspaper was pushed out the end of the press and finally to Tribune readers.
The glory days are gone. The real Tribune family of those days has scattered, retired, or died. The Kokomo Tribune is almost gone. Even before the fire, it was a skeleton of what it once was. Both circulation and content have plummeted. Now even the physical building has been shuttered and locked. The loss to the community is immeasurable.
Newspapers once numbered about 1800 family owned and independent in this country. They were the “Fourth Estate” with power and influence to provide checks and balances on government. No more. The country is worse off for it.