Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Life of Enos, Part 12

The Chinese and Koreans were using movable type as early as 1200, but Gutenberg introduced it to Europe in 1436. In 1876, type was still being set the same way: by hand, one letter at a time. That's what made printing a daily newspaper such a daunting endeavor.

It was one thing to print a four-page weekly newspaper, and quite another to do it six days a week. A printer was able to set only about 2 columns of type in a day, so producing four 6-column pages required two people working six days a week. A daily paper would require six times the workforce, but Washington was still a small town at the time, and there was no way to find six times as many advertisers or to convince advertisers to spend six times as much.

Enos Christman's business model was risky. Instead of printing his daily on the big sheets of paper to which his readers were accustomed, he would print a daily newspaper half the size, with half the type. It quickly gained the derisive nickname, "The Dinky." This paper was distributed only in the city. A twice-weekly, regular-size newspaper, using the already-set type from the daily, was distributed to outlying areas. In doing so, the paper would gain a huge advantage in timeliness over his weekly rivals.

Launching the daily was an experiment, conducted in total secrecy. The appearance of carriers on the street on Friday, Aug. 4, 1876, was a complete surprise to the public. The paper announced: "We propose delivering it free of charge at every house, office, store and shop in town for a week or 10 days for the purpose of giving the people an opportunity of seeing what the publication will be. If it is continued longer it will be one cent per copy or six cents per week. No one will be forced to take it."

Almost 1,000 copies were distributed each day during the trial. At least 500 paid subscribers were needed to continue the daily, and they got them, though just barely. When Aug. 4, 1877, rolled around, Christman and Moore had accumulated between 800 and 1,000 subscribers and announced that the experiment had proved successful and the daily newspaper would continue.

Two months later, his health failing, William Moore announced the sale of his interest in The Reporter, and on Dec. 30, 1877, he died. Five years later, Enos gained complete ownership of the business and began looking for ways to grow not just the newspaper, but the community.

That growth would be enormous, and it would all start with a few bubbles escaping from the bed of Chartiers Creek.

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