How do you find out about what’s going on in the world? Maybe you turn on the TV and the news pops on, or you open your web browser and, in a few clicks, you can find out what’s happening in the country or what’s new overseas. Often, your Facebook News Feed is filled with many people talking about the same current event. Perhaps you have an app on your phone that will send you notifications as soon as something important goes into news circulation.
But some of you might prefer to get your news the old-fashioned way: by picking up a newspaper.
For over one hundred years in the community of Middletown, one newspaper ran the show. The Middletown Press was the chief authority on the important goings-on of Middlesex County, as well as world news and updates for the public about Wesleyan. The newspaper has seen a lot of change within the community in the past century, and has also gone through extensive adaptations itself to meet the needs of Middletown and its readers.
The newspaper started out as a daily flyer with information regarding the 1884 presidential elections and was then converted into a one-cent daily newspaper (also called a penny press). The name would later change to The Evening Press when its price went up to two cents in 1918, and one year later it became The Middletown Press.
In the book “A Pictorial History of Middletown,” Elizabeth A. Warner states that part of the reason for the success of the paper in its early years was its overt political affiliation.
“It was blatantly a Democratic paper in a town dominated by Democrats,” Warner wrote.
Warner went on to recount how the paper faced competition from newspapers like The Sentinel and Witness and The Constitution, both weeklies, and The Daily Herald. The paper’s fiercest daily competition, according to Warner, was The Middletown Tribune, established in 1893 as a Republican newspaper. The Tribune shut down in 1906, and with the exception of The Middletown Times’ brief run between 1913 and 1914, the Middletown Press had a monopoly on Middletown news.
Its partisan viewpoint was not the only defining factor in its success. In looking back on the history of the newspaper, many attribute its resilience and prosperity to its original founder, Ernest King.
“The Press Influence is Large,” an article published in The Middletown Press on Oct. 29, 1935 as part of the 50th Anniversary Edition, provides background on King and his success story. The article states that it all began on March 15, 1878, when Ernest King and son Ernest founded Middlesex Monitor. It was King’s joint knowledge of business and journalism that set the stage for the continued success of the paper.
“It can be seen by the foregoing that Editor King was a businessman as well as a newspaperman,” the article said. “His sense of humor and his clear conception of what appears in the written word were discernible from the start. He knew where he was going and how to get there.”
The original purposes of the paper are expressed in this article, as quoted from the editorial introduction to its first edition. While it addresses the fact that the paper was first and foremost produced out of support for Democratic candidates, it does foreshadow its own importance in terms of daily news and connections within the community.
“The Press will contain daily the local news of Middletown and adjoining places, and will be found to be full of life and energy,” the introduction reads. “Everything of interest will be noted in its columns, and all pertaining to a first class local sheet carries out. It already proves a good advertising medium for the merchants of Middletown. Remember the price is one cent and the paper within reach of all.”
The article states that the secret to the newspaper’s triumph, apart from King’s savvy, is that its publishers and editors sought to learn exactly what it was that Middletown and Middlesex County most needed and wanted to read.
“From the first to the last they have been Middletown, thinking in terms of the city and the county, even as they gradually urged improvements and boldly expressed abuses,” the article reads.
The Middletown Press continues today to “be Middletown.” Though the newspaper has faced many changes over the past century, particularly in the digital age, what keeps Middletown Press different from similar newspapers around Connecticut is its focus on the Middletown community.
“I try to keep it really local,” said Cassandra Day, Managing Editor for The Middletown Press. “Other newspapers have often structured their front page with a state story on top, and local stories less in focus, but I really try to keep it to mostly local stories. We’re trying to hold onto that local connection. Other papers like The Hartford Courant do this—I’m sometimes surprised to see even world news on their front pages.”
In the past, The Middletown Press has also kept Wesleyan, a significant part of the Middletown community, in focus. Though the newspaper used to highlight stories like President Taft coming to Wesleyan, times have changed in terms of how much access The Middletown Press has to stories on campus.
“I think when things happen—like when that girl unfortunately fell, or when people are attacked on campus—the people of Middletown really want to know about that,” Day said. “It’s difficult because the University adheres strictly to privacy. We used to have a reporter who was dedicated just to Wesleyan, which was a real luxury I would love to have again.”
As its online edition has grown, circulation of the print newspaper has gone down.
“I didn’t realize we had such a huge web presence,” Day said. “Web traffic is going up and up each day and it’s just phenomenal how many people are on the website compared to circulation. I think what people think of as The Middletown Press is really the newspaper itself. I could see us being entirely online someday, and possibly getting away from the print product. However, that would be up to even bigger people than our publisher. It would probably be up to the Northeast editor, beyond Connecticut.”
Despite the ever-changing parameters of journalism, The Middletown Press remains as loyal to the community today as it was in the late 19th century. Its continuous devotion to local news is what has kept it going, even despite the increasing accessibility of national and global news.