Tuesday, October 23, 2007


(News-Herald, October 2003) In these modern times, there’s a thriving world built around what are known as zines, magazines published, printed and distributed on a personal amateur level. Some of these are very slick and stylish, some very personal, some with exceptionally good content and writing. But zines are not new, exactly.

In the late 1870’s, amateur newspapers were in vogue. Anyone who lay hands on the basic printing equipment could create their own local newspaper. In 1878, seventeen-year-old James Borland and a few friends started The Evening News in Franklin. The first issue was four pages long: “An amateur daily paper published by three boys should be read by all. ‘Spicy and newsy’ is our motto.”

I picked up Borland’s memoir Fifty Years in the Newspaper Game, an interesting record of a man who was an integral part of life in Franklin for decades.

Borland’s father was a doctor; he contributed the occasional article and the boys created the newspaper in a back room of his offices. For James it was apparently the discovery of a passion. He worked on the paper before school, during lunch, and after school. The boys quickly ran out of money and only a timely loan from Joseph Sibley kept the paper afloat; it was the beginning of a lifelong bond between the two.

Borland’s path was still uncertain; a school teacher helped him decide. Stumped by algebra, Borland was confronted by Prof. John W. Cannon, who refused to explain the lessons to young James, instead advising him to give up the newspaper business and study lessons in the evening so he could get them without Cannon’s help. Borland decided that he was learning more from the newspaper business than from school, and quit school to pursue journalism.

Borland found himself a partner for years with General Miller; the picture that emerges in his book of that gentleman is less than flattering. In 1917, the two had a major falling out. Miller opposed Judge Criswell, an active Prohibition man in the county. The Judge had crossed Miller when Miller had attempted to divorce his wife, and Miller wanted the paper to oppose the Judge’s campaign. For Borland, it was a conflict between a wealthy man of power and a working class man of principle; the editor resigned and walked away from the business that he had created.

Borland immediately went to work for the Daily Herald, which two years later merged with his old paper to form the News-Herald. Borland was back at the helm again. In his account of events, Miller, never really interested in the newspaper business, wandered off to other pursuits.

Despite his conflicts with Miller, Borland’s loyalty to Joe Sibley remained undaunted over the years. His book includes numerous accounts of Sibley’s generosity and warmth. Sibley had his share of controversy in his career—an election scandal, charges that he was a tool of Standard Oil, a flap over campaign spending (imagine—people were outraged that he had allegedly spent forty grand on an election campaign). But no criticism of Sibley appears in Borland’s book unless it is accompanied by an exoneration.

Borland saw a lot of history: everything from national conventions featuring the era’s famous names to the beginnings of Conneaut Lake Park. In days when you only saw it if you were there in the flesh, Borland saw a lot.

And yet much of his best writing was in the two decades he wrote a column in the paper that most often focused on birds and wildlife and the sweet pleasure of life out along French Creek. And the biggest events in his life were the ones he helped stage here, most notably the series of Old Home Weeks at the opening of the last century. It is abundantly clear in his book that he took pride in those gatherings of folks to the old home town of which he was such a proud booster.

Old Home Week fans honored Borland for his dedication. Near the sidewalk in front of the county courthouse stands a small birdbath and a bench, nestled in a semi-circle of shrubs. Not as big as the fountain or as majestic as the war monument, but a nice reminder nevertheless of a man who managed to create something lasting out of his love and dedication. For Borland, serve was the operative word:

“The fascination of newspaper publishing is beyond compare. It is life itself—changing, moody, exhilarating, all-conquering, submissive, impulsive, wonderfully interesting. Such experiences are the only reward the true newspaper man receives. Few achieve riches, a handful achieve fame, but the great multitude of newspaper men serve—and serve—and serve!”

A bit hokey, perhaps, but a nice sentiment none the less.


Dittman said...

Nice! A subject near and dear to my heart!

Mrs.C said...

What a lovely little story about a truly authentic Franklinite. I never knew about the bench and the birdbath. I probably walked past it a million times. I will make note of it next time I am home.

Thanks for sharing this bit of history with all of us.

From my Flickr