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Portland Press Herald Glass Negative Collection

Portland Press Herald Glass Negative Collection

A Brief History of the Portland Press Herald

Guy Gannett with Senator Frederick Hale, Portland, 1920
Guy Gannett with Senator Frederick Hale, Portland, 1920Item Contributed by
Maine Historical Society/MaineToday Media

In 1921, Portland, Maine, was embroiled in a journalistic turmoil. The Eastern Argus, which was founded in 1803, folded in January of 1921. The remaining papers were The Portland Daily Press, a paper owned by Senator Frederick Hale, and the Portland Evening Express, owned by Colonel Fred Neal Dow. The Evening Express had the largest circulation in the city, and leveraged this by charging exorbitant advertising rates. Because of these high prices, a group of Maine businessmen bought the remains of the Argus and renamed it the Portland Herald.

With the introduction of the Portland Herald, Senator Hale and his Daily Press began to feel pressure from thier lower advertising revenues. On the advice of his friend President Warren G. Harding, Hale hired a new manager, and reorganized the entire layout of the paper, much to the dismay of many local customers.

Guy Gannett and the Consolidation of Portland's Newspapers

Under these conditions, executives from both the Herald and the Daily Press convinced Guy Gannett, the son of successful Maine publisher William H. Gannett, to buy their newspapers in the summer of 1921. Gannett consolidated the two papers as the Portland Press Herald. Later that year, Gannett bought a third newspaper, The Waterville Sentinel. The Guy Gannett Publishing Company was born; publishers of the Portland Press Herald, Waterville Morning Sentinel, and the Maine Farmer. In 1925, Gannett would consolidate the Portland newspaper market with the purchase of the Portland Evening Express from Colonel Dow. Gannet would also go onto purchase Augusta newspaper the Kennebec Journal.

Guy Gannett’s only printing experience came from working for his father, William Howard Gannett's lucrative and famous, Comfort monthly magazine. Guy Gannett admitted to knowing nothing about newspapers, yet he now owned three. Although he was new to the business, he understood how to hire the right people for the job and how to execute his creative vision.

"Maine First"

This “vision” for Gannett's papers was simple; consider the market. The Press Herald would keep the readers happy with a reasonable price, which in turn would keep the advertiser happy with good sales and customer reach. His market was Maine, therefore he catered to Maine readers with an emphasis on Maine news and politics. This “Maine-first” policy dealt with Maine products, Maine problems, politics, and people from the typical "man on the street," to the Governor of the state.

Photography and photo journalism became a major focus for Guy Gannett, and would become one of the defining characteristics of his newspapers, especially the Evening Express. While the practice of using pictures in newspapers was ubiquitous, Gannett utilized photography as news much more than his contemporaries. His photographers worked under the auspices of Gannett’s “Maine first” strategy, taking photos of everything relating to life in Maine.

Gannett Publishing Co. became well-known nationally for their broad and extensive use of photography in their publications; they were especially active in aerial photography and owned several company planes for that purpose. In 1935, Guy Gannett purchased a Stinson monoplane to fly reporters and photographers to assignments, and give them a fresh perspective on the news. A fire burning on the wharf in the afternoon could be aerially photographed and published that evening, an impressive and telling feat for the 1930s.

The Gannett family were also well known aviation enthusiasts. Air travel was often the preferred method of travel for Guy; and his father William flew across the globe, from the tip of South America to Alaska. While on international trips, Gannett would receive news from his father, who acted essentially as an international correspondent. William P. Gannett was a pioneer in the print industry, his national magazine Comfort, published in Maine, was the first 1,000,000 subscriber magazine in the United States. The success of Comfort was also the major source of the families financial resources.