Matt Rascon, KSL TV

Farewell, Davis Clipper: Looking back at over 100 years of history of Davis County's local newspaper

By Carter Williams, KSL.com | Posted - Dec. 4, 2020 at 1:28 p.m.



Editor's note:**** This article is a part of a series reviewing Utah and U.S. history for KSL.com's Historic section.

BOUNTIFUL — It's the end of an era.

The final edition of the Davis Clipper was delivered Friday as the local newspaper ceased operations after 129 years. What started as the "Little Clipper" in 1891 grew into a fixture of the state's third-most populated county.

"We've been a big part of Davis County," said Lorie Matern, office manager of the Davis Clipper. "A lot of people have relied upon the Clipper to be able to celebrate events, to help them through events — difficult times — to keep them informed of things that are happening around them."

Matern, who is also the daughter of the paper's publisher, R. Gail Stahle, told KSL TV Wednesday that they were reminded by a reader recently that the paper would publish wedding announcements, baby announcements and obituaries. It was, in many ways, a recording of the community in addition to providing residents information.

It was also an organization that stayed within the family. Stahle's grandfather, John Stahle Sr., opened the "Little Clipper" along with local businessman Lamoni Call in 1891. It became the "Davis County Clipper" the following year.

Gail Stahle's father, John Stahle Jr., became the publisher in 1954, and Gail Stahle took over in 1989. He was awarded the Utah Headliners Lifetime Achievement Award by the Utah Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists earlier this year for his work.

The work of the Clipper

While it is now over, it leaves an imprint that future generations can look back on. That's because many editions, dating all the way back to 1892 — its second year of existence — can be viewed through digital archives. In all, there are over 5,000 editions available to read from 1892 through 1992.

The earliest edition available was printed on March 11, 1892, when it was still "The Little Clipper." The front page was filled with information about dealings within the community and elsewhere in the world. The yearly subscription cost of the weekly paper was $1.25 at that time.

The header of the March 11, 1892, edition of the "Little Clipper," which was renamed the "Davis County Clipper" one month later.
The header of the March 11, 1892, edition of the "Little Clipper," which was renamed the "Davis County Clipper" one month later. (Photo: Utah Digital Newspapers)

It's through these archives that you can find out all sorts of history documented by the newspaper.

A Jan. 3, 1896, edition lists the program of Utah's "Statehood Day," which was to be held the following day.

The paper extensively covered the 1918 influenza pandemic. As the world deals with another pandemic 102 years later, it detailed life back then and the tactics that seem to parallel today.

Take this news brief from an Oct. 10, 1918, edition, with the headline "people urged to help prevent spread of influenza."

"In compliance with instructions from the state board of health, it is desired that people do not remain in stores or other public places any longer than is absolutely necessary to transact what business they have to do.

"The schools will probably be opened in about two weeks, therefore the people are asked to take every precaution to prevent the spread of the influenza. By the order of the board of health."

There were other times it showcased local reaction to world history.

Just days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the paper reported how the county sheriff met with about 30 Japanese-Americans living in the county, according to a Dec. 12, 1941, edition. The residents, many of them who may have later been subject to internment camps, pledged support for the U.S. as "this was our country."

The archives also show how some things never change. Utahns today may recall the massive windstorm that struck Davis and Salt Lake counties back in September. It was a result of a phenomenon of "downslope winds" that strike the area every so often when weather patterns move in from the east.

There are many recordings of similar events found through these archives, including a 1973 edition quoting a new resident who said, "Why didn't someone tell me about the east winds here?"

One storm mentioned in a June 21, 1929, edition of the paper resulted in a reported $941,000 in damages — or more than $14 million today when taking into account inflation.

A big reason for the steep costs was the storm damaged U.S. military items in the northern part of the county that later became the site of Hill Air Force Base. As noted in "A History of Davis County" by Glen Leonard, there were several large hollow tile structures built on a large property near Sunset that housed unused ammunition from World War I.

"(The wind) was especially violent, almost completely destroying the United States arsenal buildings," the newspaper wrote of the storm in 1929. "Thirty out of the thirty-five magazines were blown down and the loss is estimated at $781,318."

If there's one way to determine the legacy of the Davis Clipper, Leonard cited it dozens of times in his book as a source of information to write the history of the county.

"It's a legacy that's been left to the people," Matern said. "It's not just to our family, but to all those who have worked in the Clipper business itself. There have been many who have come and gone who helped to make it what it was."

'I wish we could have made it work'

The Davis Clipper was never a large publication. Matern recalled that it once had over 20 people employed between reporters and sales staff. At the time of its final publication, the paper employed nearly a dozen people.

Publishers of the paper said the downturn truly began around the start of the Great Recession in 2008. It was a downturn that it couldn't fully recover from, Matern said. Stahle sold off parts of his estate to keep it afloat so the staff could keep jobs, and to provide a service for the community.

Old Davis Clipper newspapers scattered inside the newspaper's headquarters. The Davis County distributed its final edition after 129 years on Friday, Dec. 4, 2020.
Old Davis Clipper newspapers scattered inside the newspaper's headquarters. The Davis County distributed its final edition after 129 years on Friday, Dec. 4, 2020. (Photo: Matt Rascon, KSL TV)

COVID-19 ultimately was the final straw. When the pandemic affected neighboring businesses, those businesses cut back on advertising to avoid financial issues themselves. That was on top of the global trends of news moving online and mobile, away from print.

"Hence, the revenue wasn't coming in order to support it — and then COVID was kind of the final frosting on the cake that kind of put us down," Matern explained.

The moment it became clear there was no way to save the Davis Clipper, the newspaper announced on Nov. 16 it would cease operations. It was announced just weeks after the Deseret News and Salt Lake Tribune — the state's two largest and oldest newspapers — announced they would scale back printing operations from daily to weekly beginning next month.

When Matern asked Stahle what message he wanted to share to the public, she said he responded, "I wish we could have made it work."

For her, it finally felt like the end of the 129-year-old paper was real when the Davis County Commissioners honored it during a meeting this week.

"That's when it finally really just hit," Matern said. "There are so many mixed emotions just because we've been doing this for so long, and we have heard the impact that it has had on the community … it breaks our heart to see how much it's affecting the community."

Contributing: Matt Rascon, KSL TV

Carter Williams

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