What’s in a name? For American newspapers, tradition and direction

October 15, 2013
Category: Uncategorized

Today, with the change of a name, International Herald Tribune readers became readers of The International New York Times. It’s a change that happens from time to time, reflecting business decisions or sometimes philosophical ones.

In his book “Discovering the News: A Social History of American Newspapers,” Columbia Journalism School professor Michael Schudson writes about the shift that happened among American newspapers in the 1930s.

“There was a move to more community-oriented and aggressive newspapers,” Schudson says, “not just waiting for the news to come to them.”

That shift showed itself in a slew of name changes, from ones that included words like intelligencer, advertiser and journal to names with loftier goals.

“And you get more names like The Sun, The Star, indicating that the newspapers will actively illuminate the world, not just record what’s going on.”

But people don’t always like those changes, at least at first.

Schudson grew up in Milwaukee, Wis., where the Milwaukee Journal and the Milwaukee Sentinel published, reflecting different political perspectives. When the two papers merged, he says, “I think that was fairly shocking to people, and it didn’t really make sense.”

The paper is known today as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

At the beginning of 2012, the St. Petersburg Times, (which is owned by the Poynter Institute,) became theĀ Tampa Bay Times. AndĀ The Fauquier Times, in Warrenton, Va., underwent a few name changes in its 196-year history, says Executive Editor Ray Finefrock. The paper began as the Fauquier Democrat, added the Times in when bought by Times Community News, then dropped the Democrat this summer.

Mostly, the change went over well, Finefrock says, but older subscribers weren’t happy, and got even angrier when the paper went through a subsequent redesign. There are people in the community who refuse to call the paper anything but its old name.

“We have some that are definitley stubborn about it,” Finefrock says.

News organizations name changing won’t cause anyone to commit suicide, Schudson says. “But it’s unsettling. It’s a sign of something changing that you sort of thought would last forever.”

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