People who work in journalism often say the profession is rewarding and well worth the hard work it entails.
They also may tell you the work can be difficult, demanding and possibly even dangerous.
But it probably is not as personally challenging as it once was.
The first newspapers in central Ohio were the Freeman’s Chronicle in frontier Franklinton and the Western Intelligencer based out of Worthington and then Columbus.
In the Nov. 12, 1812, edition of the Chronicle, editor James Gardiner noted some of the problems he recently had encountered:
“For some time, the Chronicle has not been as interesting and useful to its readers as the editor always designed to render it. Sickness in his family, his own long indisposition, the recent pressure of extra work, and the impossibility of procuring mechanical assistance have been the only impediments which have caused this deficiency. Having now surmounted the greater part of these obstacles, the public are assured that every exertion will be made at this all-important crisis (the War of 1812) to furnish them with the most early and correct intelligence which the very eligible situation of Franklinton at present affords.”
The Freeman’s Chronicle published for a few more years but then closed, as many early newspapers – the effort of a single printer or perhaps a small group of people – often did.
The Western Intelligencer was more fortunate, and it evolved through several owners and name changes into the long-lived Ohio State Journal, surviving until 1985 as part of the Columbus Citizen-Journal.
Even with the passing of the frontier and the arrival of railroads, canals and large numbers of immigrants, the perils of the journalistic life did not ease.
As an example, one might note the experience of Samuel Medary.
Medary had a long and notable career in politics and government and had provided a counterpoint to other Columbus newspapers with the highly successful Democratic newspaper called the Ohio Statesman. Medary also was a vigorous opponent of Abraham Lincoln, the Republican Party and the American Civil War. He expressed these views strongly and often in a newspaper he called the Crisis.
During the Civil War, Columbus was home to Camp Chase, a mobilization and training center for several thousand Union soldiers. The town also was home to several other camps and military bases. Many of the people in those camps and other residents of Columbus did not like the views of Medary and the Crisis.
A later account reported that “on the night of March 3, 1863, the office of the Crisis was mobbed by enraged citizens and soldiers. Numbering about two hundred men, and evidently well-organized, the mob moved noiselessly through the heavily falling snow, late in the evening, to the corner of Gay and High Streets, where the office of the offensive publication was located. Mr. Medary had gone to Cincinnati on the afternoon train, and there was no one in the office to resist.
“Soldiers with fixed bayonets formed a circle around the door, and threatened with death any who should interfere. Then the work of sacking the office began. Doors were forced open and windows were smashed. Books, furnishing and fixtures were destroyed, and copies of the Crisis in the thousands were scattered into the streets.”
Undeterred by the violence, Medary continued to publish the Crisis for several years.
After the Civil War, the violence that sometimes troubled Columbus journalism was self-inflicted. The classic case along these lines occurred in the 1880s and 1890s.
A later history summarized the disputes:
“On June 12, 1882, Edward Eberley assaulted W. J. Elliott, of the Sunday Capital, for an offensive article that had appeared in that paper. On November 8, 1885, Hon. Emil Kiesewetter fired two shots at Elliott in the lobby of the Neil House. Mr. Kiesewetter was impelled to this act by animadversions upon him in the Capital which he deemed intolerable. Neither of his shots took effect.
“He was arrested, admitted to bail in $1,000, and after a hearing before Mayor Walcutt on November 16, was discharged on the grounds of provocation. This affray led Rev. Francis Marsten of the First Presbyterian Church and the Rev. Washington Gladden of the First Congregational Church to preach sermons on immoral journalism.”
The sermons were not heeded. A later history told the story:
“On February 23, 1891, W.J. Elliott and P.J. Elliott of the Sunday Capital met A.C. Osborn of the Sunday World on High Street, opposite the Statehouse Square, and opened fire on him with revolvers. Osborn was killed and Washington Hughes, an innocent bystander, was also shot dead. Osborn tried to return the fire and in the fusillade a number of persons were injured. The shooting was the result of an interchange of newspaper attacks of a personal nature. W.J. Elliott is serving a life sentence in the penitentiary for the crime.”
Such were the perils of the press in the 1800s.
Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As It Were column for ThisWeek Community News.