Pioneer newspaper celebrates sesquicentennial

The Deseret News was days away from celebrating its 75th anniversary in 1925 when President Gordon B. Hinckley began his personal association with the pioneer newspaper.

The future Church leader and chairman of the Deseret News board of directors accepted an unassuming position with the company — paperboy, route D2. He remembers being a teenager and trudging through snowstorms to deliver the paper, struggling each afternoon to peddle his complement of issues.

Seventy-five years later, the Church-owned Deseret News is celebrating its sesquicentennial — 150 years of delivering news to Utah and the world.

"When an institution has survived for 150 years, that says something concerning its importance to the community and the quality of its product," said President Hinckley during an anniversary luncheon in Salt Lake City on May 24.

The Deseret News, which printed its first issue just three years after LDS pioneers entered the Salt Lake Valley in 1847, is now the oldest corporation in Utah. It has chronicled the city's and state's history over the course of two lifetimes — bringing local news, opinion, sports, business and other information to a growing number of readers via the printed page and, in recent years, the Internet.

"It has been a tremendous thing from its beginning . . . . We wish for it a great and wonderful future," President Hinckley said.

The Deseret News, like many other Utah pioneers, can trace its genesis to the eastern United States. Under the direction of President Brigham Young, W.W. Phelps procured a printing press in Boston. Brother Phelps returned to Winter Quarters, Neb., where on Nov. 12, 1847, he reported to the Quorum of the Twelve that he had "obtained a press, type and paper to take over the mountains."

The press was later carried west in an oxen-pulled wagon. Brigham Young appointed Willard Richards, an apostle and newspaper tenderfoot, the first editor of the Deseret News. On June 15, 1850, the first issue was published with news both momentous and trivial. Only 200 copies were made in the first press run.

Still, Willard Richards envisioned a proud, dignified future for the infant newspaper, selecting the motto: "Truth and Liberty."

Over the next 150 years the Deseret News would have 12 homes, beginning in an old adobe hut that doubled as a mint. Today the paper is headquartered in a recently-built nine-story building replete with the technology, equipment and journalistic know-how needed to operate a 21st-century newspaper.

The first issue of the Church News, a supplement to the Deseret News, was published in 1931, offering news of the faith to tens of thousands of Church members.

President Thomas S. Monson, first counselor in the First Presidency, has been a first-hand witness of the development of the Deseret News for more than half a century. He started working for the paper's advertising department about 52 years ago.

But President Monson's introduction to the Deseret News happened before his own employment in 1944 while at a New Year's Eve dance at the University of Utah with his future wife, Frances Johnson Monson. During the recent luncheon, President Monson recalled his date's New Year's Eve announcement that she had to be home from the dance by 1 a.m. because she had to be to work by 8 a.m.

"Where do you go to work on New Year's Day?' " President Monson asked.

"The Deseret News," answered the future Sister Monson.

President Monson would later serve as chairman of the Deseret News board for 19 years. The Deseret News, he said, has embodied the key elements of a successful newspaper.

"I love the Deseret News," he said, adding the newspaper needs to look to the future and be prepared. He noted the importance of the Newspaper Agency Corporation, having served as a board member for many years.

President James E. Faust, second counselor in the First Presidency, noted his ties to the Deseret News go back four generations. His great-grandfather, H.J. Faust, was a Pony Express rider who occasionally contributed to the newspaper. President Faust himself served on the Deseret News board of directors and deemed the paper's 150th birthday "an auspicious occasion."

"The [Deseret News] has made a significant contribution to this state and this community," he said.

Deseret News administrators hailed the paper's past while promising a bright future.

L. Glen Snarr, president and chairman of the Deseret News Board of Directors, said the paper and its dedicated staff are moving forward, working "to create an ever improving Deseret News."

"The best is yet to come," added Deseret News publisher Wm. James Mortimer.

The newspaper's editor and chief operating officer, John Hughes, called the Deseret News "an extraordinary American journalistic institution" that has thrived over the past 150 years, sometimes amid great adversity. Mr. Hughes, an internationally renowned journalist and former editor of the Christian Science Monitor, said he has been given the charge by President Hinckley to make the Deseret News "a newspaper serving the entire community — for all races, all religions, all ethnic groups."

Later, Mr. Hughes recalled, President Hinckley said "truth without favor" must be the watchwords of the Deseret News.

"I'm confident the Deseret News will keep fulfilling that mission to its community for the next 150 years and will do so with the same quest for truth and integrity that has characterized its first 150 years," Mr. Hughes said.

E-mail: [email protected]

Sorry, no more articles available