Warrensburg - The Daily Star-Journal's colorful, 149-year history is rooted primarily in the vision and longevity of several publishers.
EADS: Birth of a Newspaper
J.D. Eads' made what might have seemed a harebrained decision to start a weekly newspaper in Warrensburg, doing so shortly after the Civil War decimated the nation and much of Missouri.
"No paper was published (in Warrensburg) during the war years, but only eight days after its close, April 17, 1865, publication of The Journal was begun," the newspaper's centennial issue states.
Imagine that - a newspaper operating in difficult economic times.
Eads started the paper when Warrensburg had neither a public school nor a bank, and no more than about 1,000 residents. But if not for his bold decision, today's Star-Journal would not exist.
CROSSLEY: Ends Revolving Door
The centennial edition Dec. 7, 1965, names nine people who led or co-led the newspaper after Eads.
During this "revolving door" period, a competitor emerged in 1871 - The Democrat. Competition with The Democrat lasted five years, until Oct. 6, 1876, when a merger established The Journal-Democrat.
The revolving door slammed shut in 1907 under The Journal-Democrat's new publisher, Wallace Crossley.
Crossley's paper showed a penchant for solid reporting, including on April 18, 1908, when Byron Hall arrived in town by train. He toted an automatic pistol and seemed out of his head. Marshal James Ryan, Assistant Marshal James E. Basham and Officer Robert Polk approached Hall outside a hotel and tried to take the gun. The Star-Journal headlined the story, "Warrensburg Police Officers Slaughtered," and provided solid details of the shootout that left Ryan and Basham dead, and Hall wounded before committing suicide.
Part of the account states: "The five shots, every one of which did deadly work, were fired within two or three seconds. Such wholesale killing would have been impossible with any other sort of weapon. Had Hall been armed with an ordinary pistol, no more than one shot would have been fired under such circumstances and nobody would likely have been killed."
Competition would heat up in June 1883 when J.M. Coe moved The Johnson County Star from Knob Noster to Warrensburg. Five years later, Feb. 6, 1913, Crossley's Journal-Democrat merged with the Johnson County Star and from this union the Star-Journal sprang.
Crossley later employed one of the most respected men in Missouri history, James "Jimmy" Kirkpatrick. Kirkpatrick served 13 years as The Star-Journal's editor, became Missouri secretary of state and is the namesake for the library at his alma mater, the University of Central Missouri.
In the Star-Journal's centennial issue, Kirkpatrick wrote: "The Star-Journal has always been a progressive newspaper. ... Today, as it has been all down through its 100 years of service to the people of Warrensburg and Johnson County, The Daily Star-Journal is quick to fight for what is best for the community and area."
Crossley, no stranger to politics, served from 1905 to 1911 in the Missouri House, from 1913 to 1917 in the Senate and from 1917 to 1921 as lieutenant governor. He did not relinquish the newspaper's reins for 36 years, until his death in 1943.
THE TUCKERS: Innovation, Longevity
The paper remained in the Crossley family's hands for four more years, until William and Avis Tucker took the helm. The Tucker family would own the paper for 60 years, from 1947 until 2007.
The newspaper's archived pages are a testament to William Tucker's newspapering skill and innovative spirit. From 1947 to 1966, the year he died of a heart attack, the paper showed continued improvement.
As examples, in 1965, the Star-Journal moved from being about 18 inches wide to a more reader-friendly 16 inches wide, and printing took place on a new, high-speed press. Also, a review of front pages produced that year showed the publication using large, bold headlines; big, action-packed photos; and a full column of briefs down one side of Page One. This visual cocktail, designed to attract readers, shares characteristics with the "modern redesign" given to the newspaper in 2008.
In addition to creating a compelling product, William's paper reported well, including editorializing for restoring the original Johnson County Courthouse and reporting on making Skyhaven Airport public.
Following William's death, Avis took command as editor and publisher, and in so doing made history.
"I decided I was going to run this paper. I was going to try. I told everyone that I had more nerve than ability, which was the truth, and still is the truth," Avis once said. She also is quoted as saying, "I have felt an obligation to publish a paper which serves the community and takes sides on issues that I think are best for the community and the most people."
Based on further anecdotes collected by Missouri newspaper historian William H. Taft, Avis earned recognition during her 41 years at the helm as "a pioneer for women in business." She served not only as one of the state's rare female publishers, but in other leadership roles, including as the Missouri Press Association's first female president, as president of Missouri Associated Dailies and as the first woman president of the University of Missouri Board of Curators. In 1992, Avis became the first woman inducted into the Missouri Newspaper Hall of Fame.
In understated style, Avis once said, "I don't handle leisure time well."
STILL FAMILY-OWNED: A New Era
At the end of her tenure in 2007, Avis sold the Star-Journal to another newspaper family, the Bradleys, owners of the St. Joseph News-Press. In the same year the family named as publisher a respected newspaperman, Bill James, a former Missouri Press Association president.
James in 2008 focused on modernizing company facilities and operations, and on returning visual vitality to a product already possessing a strong reporting tradition. President Lyndon Johnson once acknowledged The Star-Journal for maintaining a "history of responsible journalism."
The Star-Journal today, as in William Tucker's time, prints a briefs column on Page One, again uses large headlines to draw readers into stories and again uses large photographs that are sometimes stories unto themselves.
The main difference between then and now is technology based. Newspapers in William's day did not have the advantages of computerization, which makes page design far less labor-intensive - headline sizes are easier to change, photos simpler to process and color abundant.
If William would have possessed this century's technology, there likely would not be a nickel's worth of difference between his layout philosophies and those that exist today. He understood clearly that a newspaper can show the importance of a story based on the size of a headline; he used photos effectively, not just on Page One, but on frequent photo pages; and he understood people like to see their relatives and neighbors in action.
William put out a bold community newspaper, as did his wife. They preserved a tradition no publication can afford to neglect.
Star-Journal management to this day embraces wholeheartedly a simple and powerful philosophy: The future of this newspaper depends on the staff's unwavering commitment to the finest traditions of community journalism.