Yellowed, torn pages packed with words. Vibrant photographs taken by drones. The evolution of local newspaper coverage is clear at Cape Ann Museum’s latest exhibit, in a time where local news is more important — and fading faster — than ever.
Instead of focusing on the present, the museum stepped back Saturday to look at Cape Ann’s first newspapers during the CAMTalk speaker series event, “Behind the Fold: The History of Cape Ann Newspapers,” a program that’s part of the special exhibit, “Above the Fold: The Photographers of the Gloucester Daily Times, 1973-2005.”
“It’s neat to reflect on these things from time to time, to remember that having a daily newspaper on Cape Ann still is special and unique, and that takes a lot of hard work to make it happen,” said Trenton Carls, head librarian and archivist at the museum.
While the Times was first published on June 16, 1888, Cape Ann’s first newspaper came about 60 years earlier, when William Edward Pearson Rogers published the first edition of the Gloucester Telegraph on Jan. 1, 1827.
At the time, only five other small newspapers existed in Essex County and there were no more than 200 nationwide, said Stephanie Buck, the museum’s retired librarian and archivist who researched Cape Ann’s original newspapers for the exhibit.
“Most news came to Cape Ann via travelers on horseback and mariners returning from voyages. News could take weeks or months to arrive,” Buck said during Saturday’s event.
“By the time the Gloucester Telegraph came on the scene in 1827, society had changed and newspaper readership had grown,” she said. “Political parties had evolved and needed a vehicle to air their platforms. Business owners were eager to increase their customer count through advertising.”
More than two dozen other Cape Ann newspapers would follow the Telegraph over the next century. Some lasted successfully for decades, like the Gloucester Advertiser.
The publication dubbed the Gloucester Advertiser in 1857 was started by brothers Francis and George Proctor in 1853 when they were just 18 and 20 years old. The brothers went on to found the Times three decades later and published both newspapers separately before merging them into The Gloucester Daily Times and Advertiser in 1901.
In 1952, the Advertiser was dropped from the masthead, leaving the paper with its modern name.
Most Cape Ann newspapers had much shorter runs than the Advertiser. The first Rockport newspaper, the Rockport Quarry, ran for only six months after its first edition in January 1868.
While the Times covers Rockport, Essex and Manchester-by-the-Sea today, these towns saw their own newspapers pop up in the 19th century.
The Essex Echo, Essex’s only newspaper, ran from 1887 to 1918. It then merged with the Manchester Cricket, Manchester’s third ever newspaper and the only other Cape Ann newspaper remaining today.
The Times ran largely unrivaled from the mid 20th century until 2007, when the weekly news and arts newspaper the Cape Ann Beacon first went into print. That paper folded in 2021.
The term “folded,” when a newspaper shuts down, has gained a more poignant meaning since the Proctors’ time. While losing a competitor mainly meant more business for the brothers in the 1800s, shuttering newsrooms in the 2020s leaves many communities with no local news source at all.
“Twenty percent of the country exists in news deserts. Every week, one or two daily newspapers fold,” Carls said. “The fact that the Gloucester Daily Times has now survived for over 135 years, and still reports on its community daily, is extremely fortunate for the members of this community.”
Along with the first edition of the Times, original copies of Cape Ann’s early newspapers are some of the first items visitors see when entering “Above the Fold” on the museum’s third floor.
These publications, like the Times photos on display in the exhibit, capture the memories of Cape Anners even long after they’re gone.
“I love to just sit and read those old newspapers,” Buck said. “I’ve been researching my house and everybody that’s ever lived in my house, and the newspapers are the biggest source of information. They really are amazing.”
“Above the Fold: The Photographers of the Gloucester Daily Times, 1973-2005” runs at the Cape Ann Museum through March 17.
Contact Caroline Enos at [email protected] .