Feb 20

1875 Advertising in the San Luis Obispo Tribune

Feb. 6, 1875 San Luis Obispo Tribune is all advertising on the front page.

Feb. 6, 1875 San Luis Obispo Tribune is all advertising on the front page.

In recent years there has been some debate among newspapers about advertising placement. Should advertising slots be sold on the front page? Stickers, wraps, inserts, special bags, the advertising world wants something to give their message an edge.
Sometimes called the fourth estate, the founding fathers saw the unfettered flow of information via journalism as a balance to executive, legislative and judicial power. They protected the flow of information with the First Amendment to the Constitution and then said something like, “You’re on your own bub.”
Publishers had to figure out how to make it pay, since unlike the other three estates, there is no pipeline into a taxpayer funded Treasury.
From the earliest days subscription income and advertising were needed to balance the books.
In 1875 the Tribune was in its sixth year, it had out dueled competing journals the Pioneer and the Democratic Standard now standing alone in the field. However editor/owner Horatio Rembaugh was not an eager wordsmith. He preferred running the print shop and had just bought an expensive press.
Speaking from a news point of view this February 6, 1875 front page is about as thin as it gets.
Profitable yes, newsy no.
Weekly rural newspapers at the time did not have many individual rack sales. Annual subscriptions were at $5 and it didn’t matter what was on the front page or above the fold.
Advertisements included doctors in the first column and if that didn’t work out carpenter Benjamin Grable sold zinc lined coffins. Horses, hotels, houses, hardware if it began with H it was for sale.
Most of the rest of this edition was filled with listings of individuals on delinquent tax rolls, pushing the advertising onto the front. These may have been legal listings paid for by the county. The newspaper was so full of delinquent names that the paper published a small extra edition with news inserted into the paper. It may be the first example of an EXTRA in local journalism.
There was one announcement, on page 2 under the creative heading:

Under the firm name of H.S. REMBAUGH & CO., which has so long stood at the head of the TRIBUNE, we have associated ourself in the ownership and management of the paper Mr. O. F. THORNTON. Heretofore the editing, composing and printing the TRIBUNE has largely devolved upon myself, which fact may be set down to my credit by those patrons who have been inclined to censure me for a lack of local news. In taking a partner into the business of the concern I have been largely influenced by the popular demand for more matter, and that of a more diversified character than I could possibly give them with the burdens above-named resting upon my unassisted shoulders.
We make no promises for the future, but hope to make the TRIBUNE speak for itself when our new press arrives, which is now on the road.

Oscar Fitzallen Thornton would be one of the more interesting and elusive editors the Tribune has seen. He would be the first editor to sign editorials with his name, and after almost three years at the helm the second of the first four editors to quit. I am still searching for his photograph so if you know of one please contact me. dmiddlecamp[at]thetribunenews.com
He will be the subject of future posts as the research fills in the blanks.

Related posts:

  1. Santa Claus is coming, San Luis Obispo ad 1875
  2. James J. Ayers, founder of the San Francisco Call, editor of San Luis Obispo Tribune
  3. James J. Ayers, western journalist, Tribune editor part 2
  4. 1964 Telegram-Tribune Advertising Staff
  5. Hurrah for the 4th of July, San Luis Obispo 1883