Medina in 1900 was a sassy, motivated village spurred onward by such influences as the Erie Canal with barges arriving hour by hour, the New York Central Railroad with eight or ten passenger trains stopping each day, and Oak Orchard River which as early as 1815 had provided water power for mills and shops and factories in addition to bringing visitors. The community had a tempo and an optimism. It boasted four or five good hotels, a dozen inviting restaurants or taverns, a thriving opera house, and retail stores of most every possible description.
It’s not surprising then that a pair of Medina businessmen and printers decided in 1903 that the time was ripe for a daily paper. David Benson and William Baker were the founders and located space on the second floor of Bent’s Opera House Block (now Bank of America).
When the fledgling daily was up and running the four-page edition went to bed each day on a hand-fed Babocock press of 19th Century vintage where each large sheet was slowly and manually fed.
After a few years Mr. Benson departed from the firm and the operations moved to East Center Street. A new corporation came about with “Bill” Baker, attorney Milton J. Whedon and Charles Newton Hood, a civic leader and colorful figure of many abilities including stage lecturer, railroad telegrapher, retailer and farmer, author, playwright and manager of the local opera house. Then in 1912 the interests of Whedon and Hood were sold to W. John Hinchey, who had divested himself of the weekly Middleport Herald.
Hinchey proudly ran the daily in Medina and gave it the first real ownership stability. In 1917 he took note of the ability of a young farm-raised boy, Alonzo Lewis Waters, and the young fellow began writing a column on local happenings with quips and a bit of doggerel. Hinchey and Waters formed a partnership and the name Waters would be associated with the newspaper for the next 68 years. “Lon” Waters had studied a year at Miami Univ. in Ohio, taken a fling at selling insurance, and fought with the artillery in World War I with wounds suffered in France, but by 1919 he was ready for a journalistic career and he joined the Daily Journal by performing writing and selling advertising.
Medina continued through the teens and 1920s as a vibrant community whose “main stem” had a strong sense of camaraderie. As a trading center for thousands of “farm folk” and an employment center for many hundreds of locals, it moved ahead. The daily newspaper, which knit together the daily affairs and forward motion of Medina, had natural profits from all this growth. Hinchey and Waters formed a strong partnership, acquired the Medina Register, and continued to publish both the daily and weekly publications. The Register disappeared as a casualty of the Great Depression.
Employment increased as the Daily Journal became a valued local institution. The writing skills of “Lon” Waters, along with his natual ability to befriend village leaders and businessman built the newspaper into a durable force in town. Medina’s ability to support a daily newspaper (in a community of 6,000) was considered remarkable throughout New York state.
Step by step, the newspaper grew. Handset type was replaced by the infamous “Linotype” machine producing lead slugs. Talented local workers joined the team: names like Percy Krompart, Edward Bidell, William Knuth, Walter Caldwell, Walter Dombrowski, Victoria Chick, Gertrude Dujenski, Viola Waters, Herb Walck, May Montgomery. A solid team was taking shape and many of the players would remain on the newspaper’s payroll for their entire working lives.
The newspaper in early times relied heavily on “boiler plate,” a term applied to a commercial product produced with solid rows of type on a solid base. It could be purchased on a variety of subjects to fill space. In 1932 the first giant step for the growing company came with purchase of a “Duplex flat-bed printing press” capable of producing eight broadsheet pages at a rate of 2,500 per hour. Gone was the old slow hand-fed press which often did not get rolling until 6 p.m. on a given day. The Duplex started rolling and roaring around 2:30 or 3 p.m. and represented real progress for its time. Newspapers came off from a huge roll of newsprint paper and we all folded and ready for delivery. But as the newspaper run groaned through its pace there were sometimes delaying snaps in the “web” of paper and delivery people like George Spears tore their hair out waiting to get the boys and girls on their routes
The newspaper was steadily gaining friends and good repute. Departments were added including sterotype lead casting under Charles Hauswald and commercial printing. The office and accounting forces expanded and refined. Virginia Rich Welton became office manager, Harold Waters solicited ads, as did Rolland Fisher and Tony Donvito at later times. Finally, Lewis H. Waters became long term advertising chief. The Waters family identity continued.
The end of World War II brought a whole new life to the local daily newspaper. In 1949, after military service and graduation from Miami (Ohio) University, Robert E. Waters, son of the publisher, returned to his home town to enter the family news business. Over the next forty years he and his father, and the uncle as ad manager, created a modern, growing business of which Medina had become very proud. The village and area also gave hope because of a surge in business, industrial, social and civic activity after the war. New plants came. A new W.T. Grant shopping plaza came.
On a summer week end in 1970 the paper, now with the new name of Journal-Register, converted its entire plant to the new technology of photo-offset printing. Goss Community offset presses were installed, hot lead type went out, and pasted up pages of computer produced copy and photos took its place. The Medina paper became the second newspaper in western New York, after Tonawanda, to adopt this brand new system. Photographs could be used in abundance and page design was more flexible. The first conversion required a cash infusion of $150,000 and two more Goss units were gradually added. Now 16 beautiful offset pages could be produced at a rate of 20,000 per hour.
The Journal-Register developed to a point where almost the entire building at 409-413 Main St. was utilized. The yawning basement (once a store for canal boats and travelers) was the pressroom and paper storage. The main floor held the business office, composing room, accounting department, advertising and private offices, photo and litho shop and commercial printing department. The newspaper became one of the first local businesses to have a tailored computer program for its accounting. On the second floor was the photographer’s darkroom, the news room for writers and editors, the United Press wire service, the area for computerized typesetting and the large conference room (in a section which in the 1800s was a hotel for canal passengers). The total staff of the Journal-Register had grown step by step to almost 50 people. The circulation of the Journal-Register easily moved past 5,000 and headed for an eventual 5,600.
The late 1970s, with the retirement of publisher “Lon” Waters, brought an urge for a bit of expansion by his son, Bob, who had also become very active in civic affairs. The latter, along with his businesswoman wife, Barbara, bought the Medina Pennysaver from James Mathewson, adding to the mix a free circulation shopper of 15,000 circulation. In the early 1980s Robert took a further step by purchasing the Albion weekly called the Advertiser from Peter Dragon. He now controlled a group which he dubbed “Lake Plains Publications.” The press capacities permitted him to produce a weekly television section and a weekly publication tailored to serve Middleport.
In 1985, after long consideration and an investigation of the market, Bob Waters made the decision to sell the Journal-Register and its other publications just five years after his father’s death. He then began a decade in Albany as press secretary to the late Senator John B. Daly. He sold the newspaper group to a multi-millionaire media owner, Roy Hampton Park of Ithaca, N.Y., who owned and operated it until his sudden death in the 1990s. Park, who was reputed to be worth around $600 million, owned a large chain of dailies, weeklies, also TV and radio stations.
Owen Toale became general manager of the Journal-Register during the Park era and retained the local orientation and strength of the paper built over the preceding 75 years. During the Park ownership a more modern page make-up was adopted, certain new departments were added and color became much more generally used. This use of full color in the paper was enhanced by the centralization of the printing for several Park newspapers, centered at Lockport. Medina’s presses were moved to the plant of the Union-Sun & Journal, also owned by Roy Park.
Today, the Journal-Register is the smallest of four papers in the Greater Niagara Newspaper system, comprised of the Niagara Gazette, Tonawanda News, Lockport Union-Sun & Journal and the Journal-Register. The GNN papers are owned by parent company Community Newspaper Holdings, Inc. CNHI was founded in 1997, and owns various newspaper, television stations Web sites and niche publications throughout the United States. The privately-owned company is based in Birmingham, Ala.
The Journal-Register continues to operate as the community newspaper of Medina. The office employes seven people locally, in addition to the copy editors, page designers and pressmen, who work out of the Lockport and Tonawanda offices, respectively. The paper is distributed Monday through Friday, and has a circulation of about 3,000.