The Morning After: The Demise of the Courier Express


The Morning After: The Demise of the Courier Express


Buffalo, New York became a one newspaper town on September 19, 1982. It lost The Courier Express, the popular morning and Sunday newspaper that had begun publishing in 1926.

This News 4 television special hosted by the late Bob Koop looks back on the reasons why the newspaper could no longer compete with The Buffalo News and the impact of the Courier’s folding on its former staff members and its readers.

Staff members of the Courier Express voted down the opportunity to work under Rupert Murdoch’s News America. It would have meant transitioning to a tabloid newspaper as well as staff cuts of between 30 and 40 percent. When the paper shut down, eleven hundred people were out of work. Buffalo’s depressed economy at the time made it difficult for many of those workers to find jobs. Some had to go on welfare.

The demise of the Courier Express followed the closings of other major newspapers throughout the country, including the Cleveland Press, which shut down three months earlier. It had been operating for 103 years.

The roots of The Courier Express date back to 1828 according to SUNY Buffalo State, which has possession of the Courier Express archives. As the E.H. Butler Library at Buffalo State points out, “From 1828 to 1926, twelve separate newspapers merged during those years, ending with the formation of the Buffalo Courier-Express…” Mark Twain once was a columnist for one of those papers, the Buffalo Morning Express.




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It's pretty much have a bomb thrown at you. It was tough. What do you think is going to be like having buffalo one newspaper?

I think it's going to be much worse than having a two newspaper town.

Any community is better off with two competing major metropolitan dailies, people in working depression and during hard times. They can't afford it. If the economy was better than they could support to pay this

Good evening once again, everyone I'm Bob Koop. You know, it's been one full year now since the buffalo courier Express published its final edition. On tonight we're going to take a look back at the paper that once reached three quarters of a million readers here in Western New York. We're also going to look ahead to the future of newspapers in our area. But perhaps more importantly, we're going to talk about how the closing of one business in this case the buffalo courier Express, has affected each and every one of us a little bit later on in this program. I'll be joined by Doug Smith, former career editor now best known to our viewers as news four's fun Ranger. We'll also be talking with AD lapping, who's been in the newspaper business for more than 60 years. News credits include managing editor of the Detroit times and the Chicago Herald American. And from Boston we'll be talking with Jim Baker, the former radio TV critic from The courier Express whose column still appears in several local newspapers. Jim's now with the Boston Herald which is owned by News America, the company that almost took over the courier Express But first, some history.

The Buffalo courier Express will cease publication with its Sunday edition of September 19. Unless a buyer is found, who will continue publication of the morning and Sunday paper. We make this announcement needless to say, with great regret this wasn't the first time and it certainly wouldn't be the last that a newspaper went out of business three months earlier in Cleveland, Ohio. The Press shocked that city by shutting down after 103 years of operation but perhaps because of recent store and plant closings here. Buffalo wasn't going to take the death of its morning paper lying down. Sure enough, six days later.

This is a much happier day than the one we had last Tuesday. I'm delighted to announce the conditional sale of the buffalo courier Express by Cole's media company to News America publishing Incorporated.

News America, the publishing Empire run by Rupert Murdoch has taken over several papers in financial trouble. And he's also taken on a lot of criticism. The New York Post on the courier Express are both newspapers but the courier was never like this. Look at these headlines. This is what's known as a tabloid newspaper.

You're gonna have two papers, fighting to create a quality product in a vacuum without the money's not the staff, but the personnel but all that you need to put out a good product which is what the news is strive to do with the courier strive to do in past years. This is no time for Murdoch. This is not his time.

But this was a chance to save the courier and most of its jobs with a couple of conditions. They came right
out and said that we're going to have if something were to continue to expect a lot harder work.

Murdoch's demands the continued strong support of the business community and the cooperation of the courier staff and cutting costs and people between 30 and 40%. And News America had to know in less than three days these agreements must be achieved before midnight Thursday in view of the closure date set by colts media on September 19. Sunday.

Well, it wasn't that easy. If the courier could have to work force 30 to 40%. The Buffalo News would be forced to make similar cuts to stay competitive, and the newspaper guild with union members at both papers wasn't happy. With the way the cuts were to be made.

While the stumbling block was not the cuts themselves. If they were talking about 90, we might have been able to agree to 90 from the president 156 Whenever it got to that it was the issue of how they would be cut. Their notion is that they should pick and choose that somehow. Everyone who works there ought to think like Rupert Murdoch ought to be able to do what Rupert Murdoch wants. Three days
later, the Buffalo Courier Express published its final edition on Sunday, September 19 1982. Well, then on Monday, September 20, the Buffalo News came out with its first sunrise edition available at newsstands throughout the area, but not readily available for home delivery. The next day, the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle announced its plans to spread West offering some local news and sports coverage and own delivery and Courier Express territory to the east of Erie County. Two weeks after that the Niagara Gazette made it switch to mornings and began its spread into Erie County with delivery in parts of Amherst and the tunnel Wanda's then on October 11th. The Buffalo evening it was made switch formal, changing its name permanently to the Buffalo News for all its additions. And we'll take a look at some of the effects of the courier Express closing when we come back in just a moment. With me now is Doug Smith. Our fun ranging chief Gorham, a theater and movie critic jack of all trades rack on tour and other things here news for also though, the former entertainment editor of the buffalo courier Express. Doug started working here at Channel Four, six weeks after the courier stopped publication. He was one of the lucky ones. lucky indeed Bob and thanks to you and to everybody else and all my new friends out there. Now as you indicated not everybody could find a job. 1100 people lost their jobs when the courier Express folded. And as rich Newberg now tells us some of the people who could least afford to lose their jobs or the very people who still haven't found work.

Life has been a struggle during the past year in this resume ski household daughter Melanie was four years old when her mother gave birth to twins in February. Seven months later, the Courier folded and next Doug Smith lost his job as a circulation truck driver.

Is pretty much of a bomb, you know, thrown at you it was tough. And I still find it tough. It gets tougher now because the weeks turn into months and then months almost turn into a year now and you know, he still doesn't have anything and it's I'm putting a spot where I have to start looking and it's really hard with three little ones at home. If they were teenagers, I think it'd be a lot different.

In order to feed his family. Nick had to rely on food stamps and the house he and Murray probably purchased in June of 82 now has a lien placed against it by the welfare department. Nick with a bachelor's degree in history never thought he'd wind up on welfare.

It's just not right because after why you go for interviews here they want experience to now buy. I really want to do something now I have to go to school and get retrained because for four and a half years in college I do have in is just not going to find the job

driving a truck for the courier was not a very challenging job for Nick but he would have grossed with overtime 18 to $20,000. He finished out the year. Marine who once worked in the couriers classified section at planned on returning to work after having the twins. But now this resume skis must save every penny they can sacrificing the good life they once knew.

Can't remember the last time we went to the show or last time we went to a restaurant, you know and you try to find money for that you just can't now it's tough.

Up in the attic Nick keeps his mementos from the Courier including a mock coffin he and others belt for closing day the coffin is stuffed with old courier newspapers. And some final editions have been laid to rest inside the Courier boxes that Nick has kept for posterity

To show my kids is someplace of a newspaper. I used to be here at this newspaper. I missed a lot of good friends especially over in the transportation department. We had a lot of good, very good times over there.

It's tough to look at a year later, but how many people remain out of work? Do you have any fingers on it? Well, Bob, I was at a reunion party last night and that was a great lot of fun. But the interesting thing about that was I was just tickled at the number of people that kept coming up and telling me that they'd found jobs even in the last couple of weeks. But I'd say about 30% of the 1100 remain out of work and many of those that are working are only marginally employed. Now the funny thing is it practically every editor and high ranking executive found a comparable job. Publisher Roger Parkinson became publisher of the Minneapolis Star Tribune back with a Carl's media people and executive editor Joel Kramer eventually joined him as an executive editor out there. But among the reporters in the sub editors many fine familiar names remain unattached to jobs. sports writer Phil Rinaldo old honest Harry, he considers himself retired. Rita Smith, a courier Express women's editor who so often touched all our hearts and did so many charitable things remains without work. On the other hand, TV columnist Jim Baker went from local weeklies and radio to Boston to Hartford and back to Boston, where he writes for The Herald America about the instability of the television business. Controversial Doug Turner joined the Washington Bureau, the Buffalo News, a lot of people surprised at that he does a bang up job and that doesn't surprise me at all. Columnist Carol Stevens and Eric Brady married shortly before the courier closed and they went hand in hand to USA Today in Washington. J. Boyer became the film critic for The Orlando Florida star Sentinel almost the day that the Courier closed, but columnist Mike Haley became film critic for The Denver Post. Just this past month, the news hired about 30 courier writers and editors but not very many columnist, probably the best known Louise Canelli, former Features Editor now a feature writer, artists top tools took his easel and caustic went down to the news and remains a nationwide syndication but Microsoft Liana opened his own cartoon studio then took a cartooning job with the Baltimore news American, among other photographers, Mickey Osterreicher signed on to a WKBW TV, Ron Muscat. He went to the Buffalo News and Ron Shefali that was on Ron makan Muscat. His staff became the chief photographer for the Niagara Gazette, Bob. It's a long long list and if anybody wants if anybody wants to find out what happened to some of the courier then give me a call after the show. And I'll try to give them a hand but for most of them, piecework, part time work, or just sitting there waiting for the phone to ring and there but for the grace of God and Channel Four, go live.

Thank you. Okay, thanks, Doug. And when we come back in just a moment, we'll be taking a look at some of the other effects of the courier Express closing, stay with us. Well, as you might expect, it didn't take very long for the economics of the local newspaper business to change. The Buffalo News saw the most dramatic changes with its daily and Saturday circulation up significantly. At its Sunday circulation almost double. Advertisers also felt the loss of the courier express as the news raised its advertising rates some as much as 119% in the past year, over the Niagara Gazette, circulation Rose 8% of the daily paper 12% for the Sunday paper after the courier folded. Almost all of that growth was informed courier Express strongholds Lockport for instance, circulation there has risen to 100% and that gives that circulation in the Tonawanda is is also up 170% It's good news to publishers, Susan Clark Jackson,

We're surprised at how well we've been received in portions of Amherst and Tonawanda. Frankly, we hadn't planned to go in to town on Monday as far as we have, but receptions just been so good that then we've gone one street farther. It's good there.

Rochester Democrat and Chronicle has increased its circulation by about 2000 but almost all of that in Orleans, Genesee Wyoming and Allegheny County's fringe areas are the courier the six day a week Tonawanda news has made no effort to pick up any additional subscribers but its advertising sales have risen 10% Since the courier went out people there at the tunnel on a news though attribute that the weekly circulation changes

For the past year but has seen a 30% growth in advertising revenues, a raucous picked up a few courier Express columnist and along the way expanded from a 12 page paper to 20 pages. Publishers are now considering putting out more than one paper a week. As for the effect of all of this on morning television, well in the last three readings period since the courier Express folded morning television, viewing of all channels in Western New York. As you can see there, they've all gone up. Well, now these are all changes that can be measured in dollars and cents less concrete is what may happen to a papers quality when it becomes the only game in town. Joining us now is Edie lapping whose newspaper experience spans much of the century and includes some of the major papers in the country. It's been 17 years of the Buffalo News before retiring back in 1974. And in your opinion, what's been the overall impact on the Buffalo News and on the Buffalo community of the folding of the Courier Express?

I think the quality of the Buffalo News has increased sharply. I think they're giving a better paper to the community. They have more news, it's easier to read they have more opinions, opinions by letters to the editor and opinions by a nationally known syndicated columnist. You know that that opinion, though, would run counter to what most people would think because they're the only game in town. Why should they even bother. People? Like to write their opinions. The opinion column in the Buffalo News I've noticed has increased sharply since the courier folded. More people are writing I think there are 120 letters coming in there every week which gave a reflection of what the people in Buffalo and the Buffalo area think about events. And that gives them an opportunity that they didn't have in such measure before.

Now we were talking a little bit earlier and one of the significant comments that you made that really kind of surprised me buffalo is pretty much an afternoon newspaper town right now does have that sunrise addition. But you are you're predicting that in the near future. The Buffalo News would become a morning paper.

I do that because the trend nationally is toward morning newspapers to in the next five years there will be a great drive in this country for shorter work week and shorter work days, which means that people will have more time to give to themselves. They will play in the afternoon. They will not be reading in the afternoon. Furthermore, morning paper give us the advertiser and the reader more time to read the paper and find out what is going on.

I see ad laughing thank you for offering those comments in your opinion over 60 years in the journalism business. We appreciate it. Thank you a number of questions of course arise out of the closing of a newspaper we talked with Buffalo News Editor Marie light about some of them.

We have to be careful that people definitely tend to say, Well, you're the only game in town therefore you will be able to do this and that and what difference does it make it does make a difference with I have a peculiar philosophy for an editor. And I've gotten into trouble in some editors meetings about it about a newspaper.

being the same as a supermarket, people who buy our newspaper are same as customers in a supermarket. If they do not like the product, they can go elsewhere. Now you say in a one paper towels, we're gonna go elsewhere.

They can turn on channel four or channel two or seven or 17 or 29. They can read their weekly newspapers, they can read community newspapers, neighborhood newspapers and the city. There is no monopoly really.

Monopoly really that's an interesting comment coming from Marie light. Do you necessarily agree, Doug?

Oh, what does he mean by there was no monopoly. He certainly doesn't have a monopoly on giving out information. I mean, he's in competition with people passing out the Watchtower downtown and in competition with people putting graffiti on the one of the Clinton Street bridges, but he it's not so much of monopolies they have a responsibility. You may not have a monopoly on the dissemination business, but he certainly has a monopoly on reading habits and he has he has 24 hours a day.

Now the gentleman we have right here with us, of course is Jim Baker. You may be familiar with him as a former television editor with the buffalo courier Express. Jim is with us out of Boston right now where he is working for the buffalo apartment of Boston Herald American. Rupert Murdoch bought that paper and has changed the face of the state Boston journalism quite a bit. made it a little spicier in in Beantown Jim What do you think would have happened had Rupert Murdoch gotten here in Buffalo?

I think number one, it would have been a smash success, especially with the style of paper that we are producing here in Boston. The circulation is over 400,000 Now I'm talking about daily circulation. It's nearly doubled. What it was, in the days not so long ago days of the Boston Herald American. And the style is flashy, that it's big on sports, for example, a 14 to 44 page Sunday Sports section alone. It's big on news and entertainment and it's it's fun to read. It's colorful. I think the people of Buffalo miss that style, and I think it would give them a choice if they had it.

Well, Jim, you're talking now about the guys you're working for. But I'm still gonna ask you when people go into the supermarket and the teller paper you're working for from the National Enquirer? What does it look like?

Yes, they can and the mainly in the section that I deal with, again, that 44 Page sports section that I talked about it, it looks in some ways like the New York Post it in style it is. It is flashy, as I said, but I can't think of a thing that that for example a sports fan would want that isn't in that paper it's just as complete as can be. And again I am you know I'm talking about the man I'm working for but I would have loved to see that product in Buffalo Jim is this what we're Is this what we're reduced to though that we have to show such a change in style for two newspapers to compete, that you have to have this tabloid screaming banner headline sort of newspaper as a as opposed to a rather conservative and staid operation for both to stay in business. I don't think it's necessary, but I think in a limited market and a market that is as smaller as Western New York and particularly Buffalo has become I think it's if you're talking about sales, I think you ought to give them a wide choice, give the people a wide choice. And right now, a colorful product one that is really big on sports and entertainment, in my opinion is not there and it's here in spades. In Boston, I mean, the acceptance of it is remarkable. You come into the city in the morning and you see people walking both papers, both sides of the street as you come out of the tunnel. Those of you that are familiar with Boston, you'll see one brave soul or soul walking down the middle and the end as the traffic is jammed up. It's exciting to see and it's vibrant. And I would have loved to see this kind of thing happen in Buffalo and I was saying to Bob the other day that in the last couple of years the courier Express if they made an error in strategy it was in trying to become more respectable and more responsible than the Buffalo News, which had the respectability and responsibility market all cornered, that they maybe should have tried to play the game on a different turf.

Do you feel that way? Now, Jim?

Well, I don't think you have to be one or the other. I think you can be colorful and responsible I think you can do both.

The first thing you should have is accuracy. The second thing you should have is you should be as colorful. There is no excuse for dull writing and dull reporting and dull editing. And thank goodness that isn't the case where I am. Well, we heard that Christian a union leader of the Buffalo News, just simply deploring the thought that Murdoch was going to come in or was going to horrify Buffalonians with his horrible product. Do you think that Buffalonians many buff that they would have been strong like you know, old world old Eastern European reaction to this seminal paper, telling us something if if they had embraced the Murdoch product, at the very least the people who didn't want to stay there under under him would have had a job for a few months while they went out and looked. The choice that they selected was to me and sanity. So, I mean, they you had to you they had no choice with what they chose. I mean they went out the door. They had no job. They're the people that didn't want to stay with Murdoch at least would have had a job for a while while they looked. And that's what proved to be the case here in Boston. There weren't wholesale changes. Mr. Murdoch kept the people that he wanted and he kept streamline the product. And it seems he's turned it completely around. I'm talking about a successful story here. Jim, you still have some contacts here in Buffalo. You keep in touch with a lot of the folks around town?

I sure do.

Would you give us a prediction from your standpoint, even though it is from above 400 miles away? Does buffalo stand the chance of ever bringing back another quality independent morning voice?

I think it does have a chance but what it needs what needs to happen is for the advertising community that has been that has seen tripled ad rates there for the financial community for the leaders of that community. And you know the names they have to get together and decide that their community that they are a part of deserves a choice that it deserves a couple of products and not just one in print journalism, and I'm talking about the inner city of Buffalo. Now there are there are places like Niagara Falls and Dunkirk that have a good choice. But that's what it takes the community leaders to get together and back it. Because I love that city. And I'd love to see you have a choice again.

Okay, Jim Baker, Doug Smith. Thank you very much. And we'll be back with more in just a moment.

Well now here we are one year after the closing of the buffalo courier Express but no morning paper on our doorstep and still no plans for a local morning paper. There are a couple of possibilities however, gets USA Today which celebrated its first birthday just last week, when they began offering home delivery around Western New York this month. And there are some plans by at least one local businessman to attorneys that a group of former courier Express employees to get another morning papers started. They're working on a Monday through Friday tabloid that would be called the buffalo morning sun. specific plans for that new paper should be announced in the next month. or so. But there was still the question. Can this area support a morning newspaper? We ask what you thought?

Well, I think buffalo shouldn't be a one paper town. The news was a lot better when it had some competition really does need to newspapers so we can have both viewpoints on different sides because one newspaper might have a tendency to be biased towards a different viewpoint. It's good. It's just better to have two newspapers. In any competitive situation. I think we can use an additional newspaper in town to give a more diversified view and what we have right now. I think buffalo is large enough city that it should have two newspapers.

I really do miss a carrier, because it has certain articles in there like this new one. It's okay. But

it's interesting. We get a lot of phone calls from people saying why can't we have home delivery of sunrise? We go into those streets. And what we find is most of those people are buying the afternoon additions to the news and really don't want the Morning Edition delivered. We'll find three four or sometimes two homes that are straight, which wanted and we can't establish routes.

Buffalo still basically is an afternoon newspaper town. There's just no question about that.

Well, earlier tonight at six o'clock on us for Buffalo we asked what you think about buffalo as a morning newspaper town. And here's what we found out the question was very simply can buffalo support a full time home delivered morning newspaper and the response that we got was overwhelming. Yes, by 95%.

Well, it doesn't take much to realize that there is a need for an independent, strong and competitive morning paper in Western New York. Some voices of course will claim that this is an afternoon newspaper town but it appears that people feel otherwise. But why did the courier fool if there is such a need? There? Are many, many reasons not the least among them a decline in readership across the board all around the country, as well as a greater dependence on television for more and more information.

But as broadcast journalists, we can only hope that that trend will be reversed and that a diversity of opinion, both print and broadcast media, and all sorts of information will be available to Western New Yorkers in the very near future.

That's our program for tonight. Thank you very much for joining us. Good night.

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