2009 Essays: 2nd Place — A Community by Brodie Gress

—A community is often defined by three things: a high school, local stores, and a newspaper.— —John A. Rumbach, co-publisher of The Herald

High schools incite some thrill and buzz for town residents. Local stores offer them a hub to shop and gossip. Newspapers tell everybody else these stories. For over a hundred years, The Herald, published in Jasper, Indiana, has brought the latest news in Dubois County to every resident willing to pay the small subscription (About Us 1). The Herald’s staff toils daily to seek out and share the stories around the county, but the paper itself has its own interesting past. Many people and many changes over time have transformed The Herald from a little-known local paper to a nationally renowned work of journalism and a source of community pride.

On July 4, 1846, the county received its first locally distributed paper named The Eagle, founded by Henry Comingore (About Us 1). The paper lasted only two years until Comingore left Jasper, and Dubois County ran a decade without a newspaper. Next, the firm named Mehringer, Doane, and Smith founded The Courier in 1858. Clement A. Doane published the paper until passing it to his son, Ben Ed Doane, a brilliant writer who unfortunately wrote derogatory articles. (2) He constantly used the paper to attack the townspeople and disparaged the state representative William E. Cox—or “billecox”, as Doane called him (Rumbach1 1). The residents could hardly bear the man, but they had no choice but to deal with him until help arrived in the person of William C. Binckley; he moved in and founded a competing paper named The Jasper Herald in 1895 (Kunz 4). The third paper to circulate in Jasper (About Us 1), The Jasper Herald quickly ran The Courier into the ground (2); people obviously preferred a man with the motto “Always boosting a bigger and better community” to a man who habitually defamed his subjects. The paper ran under Binckley’s vision until 1909, when he sold The Jasper Herald to Louis Zoercher of Tell City. Ten years later, 25 Jasper merchants and citizens thought Jasper’s paper should return to its hometown; they bought it from Louis Zoercher. On May 1, 1919, the Jasper Herald Company, as the people named their corporation, moved the paper back to Jasper at the Eckert Building between Sixth and Main Street. In 1929, the paper traded its home for a two-story building on 5th Street between Main and Newton. (Herald Has Grown 2)

The 1930s rolled along; The Jasper Herald, looking as great as ever, overcame The Great Depression. One edition of the paper proclaimed, “Our community weathered the storms and came through thanks to the splendid cooperation of every bloomin’ soul without the loss of a single business.” (About Us 3). When World War II began, the staff of the paper encouraged the United States to join with the Allies, despite the heavy German ancestry that a major part of Dubois County’s population claimed. Albert T. Rumbach, after joining the paper as editor and manager, played a crucial part in ousting out a local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan (named the Horse Thief Detection Association) in Dubois County by publishing the names of the members involved. (3) In its history, The Herald has on multiple occasions influenced its readership for the better. On October 7, 1946, The Jasper Herald changed its name to The Dubois County Daily Herald, changing from a weekly paper to a daily one, also adopting the increasingly popular “tabloid” format—a newspaper printed in pages half its original “broadsheet” size. By then, it had reached a circulation of 3,900 people. Since they distributed a daily paper now, the staff subscribed to the International News Service, United Press International, and the Associated Press to share more national and international news with its readership. In 1963, The Dubois County Daily Herald moved into the vacant Coca-Cola Bottling plant at Fourth and Mill Street, where it remains today. In 1977, the paper assumed its third and current name: The Herald. (Herald Has Grown 2)

The Herald has led an interesting journey, and the many people who have contributed to The Herald nurtured it along the way. Without these forward-thinking minds, some deceased and some still living, The Herald may not have survived—much less thrived—the past hundred years. “There’s an old saying that names and faces sell newspapers,” John Rumbach, the current co-publisher of The Herald, notes (Rumbach3 33). William C. Binckley originally hailed from Devil’s Lake, North Dakota before arriving in southern Indiana. In 1895 he founded The Jasper Herald, publishing its first edition on August 2 of that year. (Kunz 4) “The paper will be conducted in the interests of Jasper and Dubois County . . .” William C. Binckley declared after founding The Herald (Herald Has Grown 2). In 1909, he sold the paper to Louis Zoercher from Tell City and left Indiana. He moved to Rapid City of South Dakota in 1915, starting another paper there. (Kunz 4) The son of German immigrants (Kunz 4), Albert T. Rumbach returned from World War I in 1919 to Jasper, his hometown (Herald Has Grown 2). He had previously studied journalism at Marquette University and worked for the Chicago Examiner for some time. The Jasper Herald Company hired him for the job of corporate secretary and editor and manager for the newspaper. Ever since then, the Rumbach family has guided The Herald, accumulating more journalism knowledge over the passing generations. Albert Rumbach later became the Jasper Postmaster in 1935, serving until his death in January, 1958. (Kunz 4)

Simon Stemle, a visible columnist who worked with Albert Rumbach, wrote a column called “Square Shooting”, focusing mainly on rumors and humor. Tensions may have arisen between the two because Albert Rumbach tried to fire Stemle for an unknown reason. However, he failed in his attempt—Stemle would not quit. “I guess my grandpa learned there were just some men you couldn’t fire,” John A. Rumbach joked about the ordeal. (Rumbach1 2)

In 1944, John T. “Jack” Rumbach became the general editor of The Herald after finishing his studies at the University of Notre Dame and working for the Daily Star at Niles, Michigan. His brother, Edwin J. Rumbach, joined as advertising manager for The Herald after he attended Marquette and St. Joseph College. (Kunz 4) With 48 years of working on the paper under his belt, Jack retired from work in 1993, and he and Edwin became stockholders of the Jasper Herald Company (Herald Has Grown 2). After they retired, John A. Rumbach, Jack’s son, and his cousin Dan E. Rumbach, Edwin’s son, became the current co-publishers and presidents of The Herald (Kunz 4).

The Herald has grown from its interesting roots to reach the status held today, with a circulation of 12,600 people. One of only 300 independent newspapers in the United States, the paper has expanded from its original staff of ten people to one twice that large (Rumbach1 1), and, with the rising importance of photography in papers, has hired two full-time photojournalists (3). The staff places news about Jasper and Dubois County above other information, but will run national news on drier days: in its opinion-orientated column, liberal pieces run on Tuesdays, more conservative pieces run on Wednesdays, and a mixture of both run on Thursdays (Rumbach1 3).

On Saturdays, The Herald runs its popular Saturday Feature—an article that uses excellent pictures and words to portray a story within the community (Rumbach3 33). When John A. Rumbach and a co-worker of his attended a National Press Photographers Association seminar at Bloomington, Indiana, they learned how The Courier from Claremont, CA, combined strong photography with excellent writing to produce solid stories. The Courier inspired John A. Rumbach to try something similar for The Herald; he published the paper’s first Saturday Feature on September 16, 1978. “We thought it would last five years,” John Rumbach said in his article about the Saturday Feature, “That was 30 years ago.” (34)

The Saturday Feature emphasizes a pattern of poignant images with descriptive writing to create a moving story that attracts readers every week and has won The Herald many state and national awards. In 1996, Herald photographer Torsten Kjellstrand entered the University of Missouri’s Pictures of the Year competition with a portfolio centered on a story he had worked on earlier that year; the story focused on two brothers named Carl and Irvin Kahle who ran a farm together their entire lives (Rumbach3 37). Torsten Kjellstrand spoke about his inspiration for his portfolio’s centerpiece: “There was something in the way Irvin talked about his brother, their farm, the community, and their long lives in the area that made both Paul and me want to tell their story—even though we didn’t know what that story was at first.” (Rumbach2 4) With this masterpiece supporting him, Kjellstrand walked away from the competition with the Photographer of the Year award (40).

Since then, The Herald has won 17 more awards, five for picture editing/individual portfolio and seven for Best Use of Pictures (Rumbach3 40). The staff has also won numerous awards from the Hoosier State Press Association; one writer, Vanessa Zimmer, even qualified as a finalist at the Penny-Missouri Awards (Rumbach1 3). Not only does the Saturday Feature help The Herald win awards, but it also helps people of Dubois County learn more about each other and knits them closer together. “My favorite Saturday Features,” Martha Rasche, City Editor of The Herald, said, “are those about people who don’t do anything extraordinary, but are extraordinary in that they’re doing it at all.” (Rumbach2 5) The staff of The Herald has published over 1,500 features since their first one (2).

While The Herald has enjoyed a successful run so far, today it faces a looming future; the recent economic slump and the rising prominence of the Internet have forced national papers such as The Rocky Mountain News and Seattle Post-Intelligencer to cease production of their papers (Rumbach1 2). While this has yet to affect the local scene, recent surveys conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press have shown disturbing results for local papers. Only 43 percent of Americans said they would care if their local papers shut down (Kohut 1); 23 percent of people younger than 40 said they would miss reading their local papers; and only three out of ten people use the local paper to learn about community updates (2).

Both sides of the debate over whether a community really needs a local paper voiced their opinions during the survey. “I think communities don’t realize how dependent they are (on their newspapers),” one respondent to the survey said in support of neighborhood papers. “There are other forms of communications that are more important and easier to follow,” another respondent stated in opposition. (Kohut 3)

The Herald’s current co-publisher does not seem too worried, though. “We’ve still got the local advantage of bringing news about your community,” John A. Rumbach said (Rumbach1 2). Regardless, the staff of The Herald has provided 114 years of admirable service for Dubois County, and many people hope the team will continue to do so. However, the community has the gratitude of The Herald’s staff as well. “These ordinary people have left extraordinary impressions on the photographers and writers who have worked at The Herald,” John A. Rumbach stated his appreciation for the people of Dubois County (Rumbach3 37).