The Daily News Celebrates 125th Anniversary

By Bill Dries

As this edition of The Daily News marking the newspaper’s 125th anniversary is printed, goes online and is distributed via social media many times over, the city is in the midst of seminal changes in its politics, the fabric of its business community and even the make up of the communities that constitute Memphis.

And the realignment of The Daily News in recent years – a touchstone of the local, family-owned paper since its founding in 1886 – corresponds with the headlines being made in the city.

The level of the Mississippi River at Memphis has dropped like a rock since May when the river was at its second highest recorded level ever.

The unemployment rate for the metro area has risen to double digits, much as it was about the time the river crested at its all-time high in 1937.

Memphis voters are about to settle the last of the city elections for 2011 with a City Council runoff. It’s been 20 years since more than half of the city’s voters participated in the odd-year election cycle of city offices.

FedEx is one of several Memphis-based corporations with an international reach that ties them to countries joining the world economy as never before. It is that growth and market of new consumers that keeps the Memphis companies looking beyond the domestic U.S. market for a better bottom line.

You can still find a religious tent revival at certain times of year on vacant lots in inner-city Memphis. The city’s historically large number of citizens living in poverty is challenging the public and private sector and traditional approaches to the problem.

Foote Homes is the only one of the city’s large public housing projects still intact.

Public libraries in Memphis and the suburbs now include the ability to check out ebooks.

Only 26 percent of Memphis City Schools students in grades 3-8 tested as proficient or advanced in their reading skills in the latest state achievement tests.

The parents of many public school students – city and county – are grappling with the mechanics of a historic school consolidation to come in 2013 and frequently confusing a 21-member planning commission with a 23-member consolidated school board.

The Memphis print media market has been building to a more competitive level in recent years and The Daily News – as it has throughout its history – upped the ante considerably with a new and sustained emphasis on more detailed coverage of business, politics and the public interest.

The foundation for the coverage began 15 years ago with the online debut of The Daily News. It continued with the company’s acquisition of the real estate information company, Chandler Reports, in 2004 and the June 2008 debut of The Memphis News, the weekly version of The Daily News featuring a growing amount of original content.

That growth continues this month with an expansion into weekly sports reporting with the same emphasis on a deeper and broader context.

The expanded business, political and public interest coverage flows through the daily newspaper as well as online and a multi-platform Twitter presence that offers real-time coverage of events.

The result is more fluid and comprehensive coverage backed by the same source material the newspaper was built on in 1886 and new sources of information that make a patchwork of transitions an ongoing narrative of a city in a critical period of change.

The level of detail is the reader’s choice.

The change is more than different ways to view and experience the newspaper.

Readers have the ability to explore the source material for themselves through the same databases used by reporters and editors at The Daily News.

What readers find for themselves in the information generates new stories of general interest as they react to what they see and take their own actions that in turn show up in the source material.

The loop of action and reaction has always been a part of the purpose of The Daily News.

At its beginning, the newspaper was a handwritten ledger of real estate transactions filed at the Shelby County Courthouse.

It was the idea of clerks who thought the information was of use to local business owners and other leaders in an age long before such information was compiled in places other than the handwritten sheets of the enormous ledgers that were how the public’s business was recorded.

Since then the definition of what is the public’s business has expanded through laws that have opened meetings and proceedings once closed to the public. Civic movements have expanded the scope of participation in the public’s business.

Information that used to flow only through media coverage to the public is now accessible by the public directly. And the media’s role is increasingly to make sense of an abundance of information through spotting trends and exploring the motivation behind the actions that are the building blocks of events continuing the timeline of the life of our community.