The Colorado Press Association has a rich and interesting history
The rich and vibrant history of the Colorado Press Association, established in August 1878, is best captured in Kelly Kennedy’s article, “A press organization is born.”
On Aug. 8, 1878, 23 gentlemen gathered at what is now the Common Grounds coffee shop at 17th and Wazee in Denver. They created an organization to take trips and drink booze.
They came up with a name for themselves in what were then the parlors of the Grand Central Hotel, and they appointed a committee to write a constitution and bylaws. Then they got on a train and headed to Central City. An old Colorado Editor reports, “Everything went smoothly until the train reached a defile known as Running Lode Gulch; here two coaches jumped the track and crashed into the ditch. Fortunately, no great damage was done, the editors suffered chiefly from injured dignity.”
Hence the glorious beginnings of the Colorado Press Association 133 years ago.
That October they came up with an official pretext for drinking booze and taking train trips: The Colorado State Press Association was created to: advance the business interests of its members; cultivate social and fraternal relations between publishers, editors and salaried writers; and have annual meetings when they would read a poem and give speeches.
They also decided to fine members for conduct unbecoming of gentlemen. That must have spurred this amendment to the new constitution, voted on at the 1879 meeting: “Whereas, women have rights as well as men, therefore, Resolved, that hereafter, when this Association goes on Editorial Excursions, the right of the wives, sisters, daughters, or sweethearts of the Association, such attendance by ladies being limited to one for each member.” In 1928, they voted to add secretaries to this list.
A SLOW START
The first few years of CPA weren’t about staff development or legal issues. Sometimes they didn’t even read the mandated poem. In 1893, gentlemen were asked, “but declined with thanks."
Still, it was the beginning of something great. Over the past 133 years, CPA has moved from a fraternity to an organization whose members fight for First Amendment freedoms, create continuing education programs for journalists and provide opportunities for people to exchange ideas.
Some things haven’t changed much in the past century: Publishers still want to know how to increase circulation and sell ads, journalists still complain about their paychecks and some city governments still want to hide the police blotter.
Yet some things have changed tremendously: Publishers no longer look to politicians to pay for their publications, and press operators are no longer transients who travel the state ruining press equipment, all of which is a direct result of work done by the CPA.
It was a slow beginning. At first, the organization could claim about 50 members, which isn’t bad considering there were only 56 papers in the state in 1879.
In 1886, they celebrated by creating an official insignia: silver formed into a shield, fastened with a pin shaped like a quill. One side had: “Colorado Editorial Association” written over an old-fashioned hand press. The other side showed the Colorado coat of arms.
RAISING THE STANDARDS
In 1889, President J.D. Dillenback of the Western Newspaper Union said, “In an important sense, this association will be a failure if it does not operate to raise our professional standards.”
There were 11 members present. They decided to take up the literary programs again, but in 1891 there was such a small attendance that they canceled some programs. Then canceled the summer meeting entirely. In 1892, there was no meeting at all. In 1893, the silver crash hit, sparking the lowest point for the Colorado Press Association.
In 1896, they got to work. At the Leadville Ice Palace, they labored to secure the passage of more liberal newspaper libel and public notice printing laws. In 1897, they drafted a law to define fair rates for public printing. They also discussed the need to prove malice before there could be a recovery of damages in libel cases.
WHAT’S IN A NAME?
The members still took train trips, and considering that they elected Wolfe Londoner president in 1900, one may assume they still were drinking. Londoner, one of the founding fathers of the Denver Press Club, former Denver mayor and grocery merchant, was infamous for the “cyclone cellar” in the basement of his store. There, reporters gathered to drink and catch up on gossip. The cellar was also the first meeting place of the Press Club.
But they were making progress. In 1900, the CPA created its first paper. An official monthly, “The Colorado Press,” was published from 1915-1920 before changing its name to “The Inter-Mountain Press.” That became “The Editor” in 1926.
The organization also changed its name a couple of times. It began as the Colorado State Press Association. In 1896, the group voted to change it to the Colorado State Editorial Association because it had a more modern ring to it. In 1929, the name again changed to the Colorado Press Association because, well, it sounded more modern.
In 1920, CPA also elected its first female president: Lois F. Allen of Canon City.
BEMIS MEANS BUSINESS
The biggest change for the Colorado Press Association came when the organization elected Edwin Bemis, publisher of the Littleton Independent, as its president in 1922. He won by one vote. Some CPA members were afraid Bemis would concentrate more on the business of newspapering than the business of socializing.
They were right.
Bemis first contacted the CPA when he took over the Littleton Independent in 1919. He wanted advice about how to run a paper; he got train trips and cocktails. So he started doing some of his own investigating. Then he decided the CPA needed a central business organization to meet the needs of the member papers.
The other officers persuaded Bemis to become the new manager until someone else could take it on fulltime. He stayed for 29 years.
Bemis' wife took over as editor of the Littleton paper, and he opened up CPA shop. At first he worked out of the newspaper offices. Then he convinced Colorado University that it needed a secretary of the Bureau of Research and Extension in journalism. For the next 20 years, Bemis was based on campus, and the Editor was published through the journalism department.
Bemis spent most of his time traveling the state, visiting publishers. He convinced them they should use advertisements to pay for their papers – almost all Colorado papers had made the switch by the time he retired in 1951.
He also alerted publishers to scams: the stories from pattern companies that were really just free advertising; the transients who posed as pressmen to make a quick buck then ruined the presses with their lack of knowledge; and the names of companies that weren’t actually going to pay for the advertisements they placed with papers. He also addressed the issues of the day: Should editors be made to have licenses as do doctors and lawyers? How should editors treat their typecasting metals? And why should journalists embrace their communities and join their local Chambers of Commerce?
Bemis also began the Colorado Press Clipping Service, using CU students to cut out stories. In 1927, he created The Bulletin, since renamed Colorado Editor, which still publishes monthly. He personally checked the resumes of potential employees before recommending them to publishers.
In 1928, he announced the first CPA contest. The organization would give out a prize cup at the convention, but it hadn’t yet decided for what accomplishment.
Bemis was a leader in legal battles on behalf of state newspapers. In 1929, CPA tried to make it a misdemeanor to furnish a newspaper with information that leads to damages for libel, and it asked that people not be able to file a libel suit against a newspaper unless they had asked for a retraction. The state asked that publication fees for legal notices be paid to the court, which then would distribute funds to publishers. CPA fought it and won. In 1933, CPA also asked that the association be allowed to distribute press credentials rather than the secretary of state controlling who got them.
Bemis also ran an ethics column that tackled such questions as whether it was: libelous to suggest a female is unchaste, or to describe a white person as a race other than his or her own, or to say bad things about dead people.
Bemis got CPA through the Great Depression, often writing about what a great profession journalism is in hard times because there is always a need for the news.
The CPA is alive and well and thriving with nearly 350 members, an outstanding annual convention, renown for its success in fighting important legal battles that ensure a free press and offering continued support and focus on re-defining the industry to meet the changing times.