The story below was published April 25, 2007 and highlights the history of The Banner. The story was researched and written by Ty Swincher.
The Banner Celebrates 140th Anniversary
The Banner is 140 years old this week.
The newspaper is published by Eric and Stacy Cox of Kennard, who are marking the eighth anniversary of their ownership of the newspaper this week. Oddly enough, The Banner was originally launched on the same week in 1867.
Knightstown and the surrounding communities have changed dramatically over the years, and the newspaper has followed suit.
Today, The Banner is composed with state-of-the-art computers, digital cameras, and boasts one of the most informative websites among weekly publications in the state.
Keeping The Banner alive and surviving the times has always been challenging, usually rewarding, and occasionally disappointing," Cox said.
“There are hundreds of towns larger than Knightstown that have no newspaper. It takes a dedicated staff, a lot of hard work, and countless long hours to produce a quality newspaper, and I appreciate the people I have working for me,” Cox explained. “None of us are in this for the money, because nobody gets rich off of a weekly newspaper. But there are other rewarding things in life besides fat bank accounts.
“I really appreciated the support from those in the community who got on board with us and have stayed. We’ve seen a lot of new subscribers and advertisers, and they are the key to providing the community with a solid newspaper that is packed with local news. Not everybody likes us or even appreciates the job we have to do, and that’s part of life in this business. But the Hoosier State Press Association presented The Banner with the General Excellence Award this year, which means our industry considers The Banner one of the best weekly newspapers in the state. We are very proud of that and we will continue to give our best to improve every week.”
The Banner also has a rich history as one of the oldest businesses in Knightstown. The paper has grown out of a long heritage of journalism serving the community and surrounding areas.
Before The Banner, the Federal Union was the first newspaper established in Henry County. Roughly five years after Knightstown was founded, that newspaper was launched around 1831 or 1832. There is a copy of that newspaper in the Library of Congress, dated 1833, the year the publication is believed to have discontinued.
In 1836, a single-sheet newspaper called The Banner was published, but didn’t last. That was followed by the Indiana Sun, a newspaper started in 1837.
The Sun was eventually sold, and in 1841 the new owners changed the name to the Indiana Courier, moving the newspaper offices from Knightstown to New Castle. The newspaper was a precursor of the current New Castle Courier-Times.
In 1859 Knightstown got its own newspaper once again, called The Citizen. But the turmoil of the Civil War brought a quick demise to that publication around 1861.
Another local newspaper called The Beech Tree had a short life in 1858, and it wasn’t until 1867 that Knightstown got a newspaper that would out-last hard times and competitors.
John A. Deem established The Banner in Knightstown on April 26, 1867, moving his current plant in Plainfield, where he had been publishing a weekly paper called, The Once-A-Week. Deem sold out to his brother, T.B. Deem, who managed the paper from 1877 until 1885 before selling to Canadian Hunter Bradford. Several years later, W. K. Deem, son of the founder, purchased the paper in 1892.
The Banner had healthy competition during its first century. J.C. Riddell established the City Chronicle in 1870. It was a “semi-occasional” sheet, which basically meant Riddell would publish a paper sporadically or when he raised enough revenue to cover the costs. That paper was sold in 1876 to Frank Grubbs, who changed the name to The Herald, and promptly closed the doors six months later.
While The Banner continued to plug along, other publications were launched. The Journal was started in 1876 by Fleming Ratcliff and had a life span of six months. In 1879, The Banner merged with another competing paper, The Shield. For about four months, they published under the name of The Banner-Shield, until going their separate ways in 1883.
As Knightstown and the surrounding area continued heavy growth, the newspaper wars hit new heights in the late 1800s. Wallace K. Deem, who became publisher of The Banner in 1892, had previously operated another rival paper, The Knightstown Sun. He revived that paper in 1885 and later sold it to Clarence and Charles Beard in early 1891. The latter Beard gained international fame as a historian, and the local school corporation carries his name today.
The Beards ran that paper for a couple of years, and then leased it to J.H. Hinshaw, W.A. Kellum and W.E. Newby.
Newby, thinking the growth of the community had not reached its peak, took a major economic gamble. He split from his Banner partners and launched The Daily Globe, a daily newspaper that lasted about a year.
When Deem took over Banner operations in 1892, the newspaper got on top of cutting-edge technology and stayed there, fighting off every challenger during a time when popular opinion was that every community could support several newspapers.
In 1899 Roy W. Steele began the publication The Daily Journal, and four years later also took over The Sun operations. Now publishing the Sun-Journal in direct competition with a Banner that was still owned by a savvy Deem and backed by Beard, Steele couldn’t make ends meet and changed from daily to semi-weekly publishing. In 1906, his paper went belly-up.
In 1908, Hinshaw and P.A. Hanby formed a partnership and established The Knightstown Star in what may have been an attempt to flood the market and prevent other competitors from moving in. They published just a few issues, however.
In 1935 and after 42 years of ownership, Deem sold out to his stepson, Roy D. Shipman, who owned and operated the newspaper until 1946.
Shipman sold The Banner to R. Thomas Mayhill, who used the small-town weekly newspaper as a launching pad for what would become one of the most respected privately-owned publishing companies in the country.
After building a publishing corporation that included The Banner, Farmweek, the Antique Trader and Indianapolis Monthly Magazine, Mayhill sold The Banner in 1985 to Illinois publisher Ron Isbell.
In April 1994, Isbell sold The Banner to Ty Swincher, a daily newspaper publisher with Nixon Newspaper Enterprises (NNE). The same week Swincher assumed ownership of The Banner, NNE launched the competing National Road Edition, a free weekly publication.
That newspaper war lasted a little over four years, until The Banner went bankrupt in July of 1998 and ceased publishing.
Less than nine months later, current publisher Eric Cox brought The Banner back to life. Not long after that, NNE sold its publications to Paxton Media Group, who eventually shut down the National Road Edition.
Eight years later, The Banner continues to survive in a market with little retail base. Unlike decades prior, the newspaper is dependent on advertising revenues from surrounding cities. But the newspaper’s paid circulation continues to saturate the area communities, and The Banner is read by more than 80 percent of the households in the Charles A. Beard school district.
The newspaper has continued to evolve under the Cox ownership, and advertising services have been expanded to the internet via one of the most comprehensive weekly newspaper websites in the state.
“Our website is a true experiment,” Cox said. “We’re the first to admit that we know little about what we’re doing. But, we’re learning more with each passing day. We want our website to be a clearinghouse of information about the Knightstown area, and, thanks to my wife, Stacy, we’re making excellent progress toward that goal. Currently, we have over 500 web pages of information on our site and that number grows each week.
Readers and advertisers can expect many more updates and changes in the coming months as the Coxes continue efforts to take the newspaper and the website forward.
Surviving In a Changing Market
With exception to an eight-month stretch in 1998, the Knightstown Banner has been published continuously since 1867, a period of 140 years.
While the newspaper industry has undergone drastic changes over that time, even more dramatic changes have occurred in the area communities over the last 40 years. In the newspaper’s first 100 years, Knightstown grew at a rapid pace and retail advertisers reached a peak in 1967.
With the completion of Interstate 70, enabling traffic to bypass every small town along the National Road, the face of the business district changed and the impact was staggering.
The following is a list of all the advertisers in the April 27, 1967 issue of The Banner that are no longer in business:
P.N. Hirsch Co., Goodwin’s Dodge, Sharp Oil Company, Flo Hickman Apparel Store, Garment Cleaners, Ruth’s Odds & Ends, Jack’s Standard Station, Jolly Drug Store, Tweedy Lumber Company, Farm Boy Food Grocery Center, Beneficial Finance Company, Becker Brothers Grocery, Ratliff Jewelers, Weeks & Son TV, Sharp Oil Company, Grossman Realty, Frazier Electric, Miller Milk Company, Rhody’s Department Store, Robin Lee Dress Shop, Goodwin’s Dodge, Sinclair Gas Station, Western Auto Associate Store, Marsh Supermarket, Hopkin’s Furniture Store, Rice Ford Sales, Fausset Mortuary, Danner’s Dept. Store, Carthage Radio Shop, Citizen’s Federal and Loan Association, Flory’s Gift Shop, Citizen’s Insurance Agency, Knightstown Telephone Company, Country Kitchen Restaurant, Howard Coffman Insurance, National Coaches, Inc., Bob & Jack’s Texaco, Jack’s Standard, Walker Grocery, Jordan Cleaners, Wilkinson Implement Company, Warren’s Dari-Snak and Lockridge’s Market.
Businesses who were advertising in the 1967 Banner that are still in operation today include: Leakey Insurance Agency, Knightstown Locker, Butcher Funeral Home (now Todd Funeral Home), First National Bank (now Mainsource Bank), Post & Post Hardware, Hall Motor Sales, Davis Chrysler Plymouth (now Kahlo Jeep Eagle), Dave Van Hoy, Standard Oil, Knightstown Pizza Shop (now Susie’s Pizza), Knightstown Elevator, Schatzleins’ Knightstown Greenhouse (now The Ivy Wreath), National Insurance Agency, Henry County Savings & Loan (now Ameriana Bank) and Citizens State Bank.
(Note: other businesses may be been in existence in 1967 in the Knightstown area, but were not advertising in the newspaper at the time.)