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TUPPER: Two letters that changed us

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opinion Mitchell, 57301
The Daily Republic
(605) 996-5020 customer support
Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

Eighty years ago today, as legend has it, the man who was the owner, publisher and editor of The Evening Republican called some employees into the newspaper's composing room.

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He greeted them with hacksaw in hand.

That man was William Roy "W.R." Ronald. He was a demanding taskmaster, and the sight of him holding a hacksaw was probably the cause of some fear.

With the staffers gathered around, he sawed the "an" off the end of the nameplate that was used in the hot-metal typesetting machinery of the day.

I stress that the account is "according to legend" because I've seen the story published and heard it told numerous times during my 11 years at this newspaper, but I've never actually come across any absolute proof that such a dramatic scene unfolded.

There is no doubt that on March 19, 1934, The Evening Republican's name changed. We know that because there was a different name atop the paper's front page that day.

I do have my doubts about the hacksaw story. First of all, I'm a natural skeptic, and the tale just sounds too good to be true. Secondly, it doesn't quite add up. Had Ronald simply sawed off the "an" as the legend tells us, the new name of the paper would have been "The Evening Republic," and we know that's not true. The new name was "The Daily Republic."

I suppose it would diminish the entertainment value of the story greatly if the teller had to add, "and then he sawed out 'Evening,' and then he set the word 'Daily' into type and patched it into the hole between 'The' and 'Republic.'" Perhaps Ronald left that tedious work to an underling. Or perhaps the legend is pure fantasy.

Whatever the case, the nameplate was in fact changed to "The Daily Republic," with the tagline "An Independent Newspaper" added just below it. Our newspaper had several previous names throughout its history, which dates to 1879, but "The Daily Republic" has stuck and has been the longest-lasting.

And though we may never know if the legend about the hacksaw is true, we do know the reason for the name change. Someone listed as "THE EDITOR" -- presumably Ronald -- explained it in an editorial on the day of the switch.

"For many years the ownership has considered a somewhat different heading," the editorial said. "Inasmuch as this paper has been strictly independent in politics for two score years, the name The Evening Republican was a misnomer."

That claim of 40 years of previous independence falls a bit flat, since the word "Republican" was allowed to stay in the name the entire time. Ronald also neglected to mention that the paper was becoming more liberal and progressive during the lean years of the 1930s, when the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression inspired him to support some Democratic relief efforts.

But Ronald's declaration of independence did set a worthwhile and lofty tone for the paper. The editorial went on to establish that The Daily Republic would not be a political rag, as some of America's earliest newspapers were.

"When this paper was established 51 years ago, it was quite the custom to make newspapers political organs," the editorial said. "Indeed political aspirants often were responsible for the founding of new papers. Since that time the cost of publishing daily newspapers has multiplied so many times that it has become a thoroughly legitimate industry. It is no longer financially possible to keep a paper going just as a political venture."

All these 80 years later, the Internet has once again made publishing cheap enough that just about anybody can start up a partisan rag in the form of a blog.

It's lately become fashionable in the blogosphere and the broader media universe to have an identifiable political viewpoint, like television's Fox News (conservative) or MSNBC (liberal). During my tenure as publisher, I hope to adhere to that long-ago tradition of independence established by W.R. Ronald, whose editorial mantra was "Try to find the right side of every question and advocate it, regardless of any party, person or interest."

I say amen to that, and I'm glad old W.R. preceded me in establishing an independent philosophy here at The Daily Republic, because I'm not very good with a hacksaw.

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