Our media landscape is constantly changing with the introduction of new technologies and formats, but it all began with words printed on a page. Historian Alicia Barber traces the evolution of Reno’s daily newspapers in this installment of Time & Place.
It’s becoming less and less common for communities of any size to publish two competing daily newspapers. But for more than a century, Reno did just that. There were several early contenders, but the two that quickly gained solid footing were the Nevada State Journal, founded in 1870, and the Reno Evening Gazette, founded six years later.
Their rivalry was intense. Since the Journal published in the morning, and the Gazette in the afternoon, their reporters were always trying to scoop each other, and their editorial boards were constantly at each other’s throats. Political differences added more fuel to the fire: the Gazette was staunchly Republican, while the Journal allied with the Democratic party.
Like other businesses across the country, many independent newspapers struggled during the Great Depression, and a growing number of newspaper chains started making the rounds to buy them out. In Reno, the chain that came calling was Spiedel, a Colorado company that already owned a handful of papers, mostly in the West. In October of 1939, they purchased the Reno Evening Gazette from the Sanford family, who had owned it since 1915. One month later, they purchased the Nevada State Journal, too.
That common ownership made for a somewhat unusual work environment, as Rollan Melton found when he joined the Gazette as a reporter in 1957. By then, the two papers had combined forces in some ways, but not others, as he recalled in 1996.
“We had the Nevada State Journal down the hall; we were housed in the same building," Melton said. "The competition was hot, and sometimes it got somewhat emotional. And it was kind of an interesting mix because although we were sister dailies, the Gazette editorial stance was very conservative. Speidel thought it was healthy to have two distinct editorial voices.”
The two papers retained their distinct political stances and kept the news divisions entirely separate, even as their printing operations and advertising and circulation departments were combined. That was fine with Melton, who became the Gazette’s managing editor in 1963 and eventually the President of Speidel.
“We were competitors and we were trying to outdo the other," said Melton. "And I believed then, and continue to believe, that nothing is more important in the news business than competition. If you have the luxury of facing an adversary or a competitor in this field, I think the reader’s the one that profits.”
In 1972, the privately-owned Spiedel Company did what many other media groups were doing at the time: it went public. Soon, larger companies again came courting, and in 1977, Speidel merged with the much larger Gannett Company.
By then, the once fortress-like wall between the two Reno papers had started to come down, and in 1983, the longstanding rivalry came to an end, when the Reno Evening Gazette published its final issue. From that point on, Reno’s one daily newspaper would be published every morning, honoring both the Reno Evening Gazette and Nevada State Journal with a new title, the Reno Gazette-Journal—a fitting tribute to two papers that had each served the public so well, for so long.
Historian Alicia Barber is the author of Reno’s Big Gamble: Image and Reputation in the Biggest Little City. Oral history clips for this segment were provided by the Special Collections Department of the University of Nevada, Reno Libraries. You can read Rollan Melton's full memoir, which was derived from his oral history.