Documentary commemorates 200 years of Missouri newspapers

Sunday, January 25, 2009

A documentary chronicling Missouri's contributions to journalism will air at 9 p.m. Feb. 9 on WSIU public broadcasting station in Carbondale, Ill.

Rust Communications chairman Gary Rust and co-presidents Jon Rust and Rex Rust appear in the one-hour presentation, "Trustees for the Public: 200 Years of Missouri Newspapers."

The documentary was produced by the Missouri Press Association and commemorates both the bicentennial of Missouri's first newspaper and the 100-year anniversary of the world's first journalism school.

Dozens of interviews with editors and publishers past and present lend a sense of color to the narration.

Betty Simpson-Spaar, owner and publisher of the weekly Odessan newspaper in Oak Grove, can recall sleeping on newsprint as a child when her parents would bring her to their newspaper offices to get their work done.

A majority of news professionals, however, discussed their simple love of the industry. Mike O'Brien, retired associate editor of the Springfield News-Leader, called it "more of a calling" than a job.

In the documentary, Gary Rust described Rust Publications as "his legacy," and Rex Rust said a good deal of his education in the industry came from conversations held around the family dinner table.

Jon Rust said, "The reason why we wanted to come back to the company and why we love this business is that you really can be in the center of your community and have the opportunity to do good."

Work on the documentary began in 2006, with the intention of releasing it in 2008, and Columbia film producers Beth Pike and Steve Hudnell traveled the state documenting newspaper employees working at larger dailies and weekly newspapers in Missouri's cities and rural towns, according to a news release from the Missouri Press Association.

"Trustees for the Public" begins with some history of the Missouri Gazette, the state's first newspaper.

An Irishman named Joseph Charliss published the four-page weekly paper for 14 years beginning in 1808, when Merriwether Lewis, then governor of the Missouri territory, furnished him with money to buy a printing press.

Lewis wanted Charliss to use the paper to advise settlers of the territory's laws,

"If you were going to start a settlement in the frontier days, the first thing you have to have was a newspaper because the newspaper was the chamber of commerce, and it still is, to a certain extent," William H. Taft, former professor and associate dean at Missouri School of Journalism, said in the documentary.

The documentary follows the history of newspapers from the troubles with delivery, paper supply and payment collections that plagued the Missouri Gazette to the industry's current struggles with balancing online content with print content and lost advertising revenue.

"Trustees for the Public" is dotted with profiles of Missouri's more notable newspeople, including Mark Twain and Ernest Hemingway.


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