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Sparks Tribune’s centennial: Identity as local news provider has never changed
by Jessica Garcia
May 01, 2010 | 2777 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Courtesy/Sparks Heritage Museum Mulcahy Collection - An interior photo of the Sparks Tribune in 1912 shows old time presses. Publisher P.H. Mulcahy is at the left and printer Joe Jackson is on the right. The building was located at 11th and B streets.
Courtesy/Sparks Heritage Museum Mulcahy Collection - An interior photo of the Sparks Tribune in 1912 shows old time presses. Publisher P.H. Mulcahy is at the left and printer Joe Jackson is on the right. The building was located at 11th and B streets.
Courtesy photo/Sparks Heritage Museum Mulcahy Collection - Sparks Tribune founder and publisher P.H. Mulcahy stands outside the paper’s original building located at 11th and B streets.
Courtesy photo/Sparks Heritage Museum Mulcahy Collection - Sparks Tribune founder and publisher P.H. Mulcahy stands outside the paper’s original building located at 11th and B streets.
From leisurely reading on a Sunday morning over a cup of coffee to a hurried glance on a computer screen, the Sparks Tribune’s method of delivering the news over the past 100 years has changed.

But current management says the paper's tradition of offering Sparks-centric content has remained consistent over the years.

“We stick to our philosophy of local, local, local,” current publisher Ed McCaffrey said.

The Sparks Tribune celebrates its centennial year in June, a rarity among Rail City businesses and a celebration of a media outlet that has remained focused on its mission to provide the community with Sparks news every day.

“Businesses aren’t around for 100 years anymore,” McCaffrey said. “The leadership and the employees have never lost that focus (of local content) from day one. No one’s lost that mantra of how that permeates, from me to (former publishers) Linda Brown to Chris Smith, Randy Frisch. … The philosophy’s always been there.”

The Tribune was born in 1910, the city of Sparks’ fifth year in official existence. Today, not much is known about the paper’s early years but there are still archived copies of its oldest editions at the Nevada Historical Society on the University of Nevada, Reno, campus, both in hard copy and microfilm form. As part of its centennial celebration this year, the Tribune reprints a page from its large collection of newspapers each week in its Sunday paper with a brief description about the historic issue's content.

Today’s owners of the paper are A.L. “Butch” Alford, who bought the Sparks Tribune in 1998 and who also owned the Lewiston, Idaho Morning Tribune; Dominic Welch, a former publisher of the Salt Lake Tribune; and former Tribune editor and publisher Randy Frisch.

Alford said the centennial of a newspaper is special but with a community newspaper there is particular significance.

“The Sparks Tribune should be remembered for one primary reason on its 100th birthday: It is a community newspaper that records today’s events, personalities and news, for the most part that will never in depth be done by any other entity, whether newspaper, radio or television,” Alford said. “It is the newspaper that for 100 years has captured the life of the community, its growth, its challenges.”

Frisch, who became editor in 1986, recalls coming to the paper during a special time for the city, with city manager Patricia Thompson and Mayor Jim Spoo leading Sparks' effort to differentiate itself from Reno, encouraging commercial and residential growth. Likewise, the push for growth frequently created friction between the news outlet and city officials.

“Sparks was growing and Spoo and Thompson had vision for an independent Sparks that valued community and conservative values,” Frisch said. “John Ascuaga (owner of John Ascuaga’s Nugget) and his family also had that vision and desire to make Sparks a more traditional community than Reno. That also made sense for the Sparks Tribune. That era brought Sparks the outlet stores, festivals downtown and development to the north.

“That said,” Frisch continued, “the city and the Tribune didn’t always agree on issues and there was a pointed cartoon drawn by Paul Horn that had the mayor threatening to sue us.”

Frisch and longtime columnist Andrew Barbano both recalled the days of creative headline writing that would sell papers. Together with then-Tribune designer Bryan Allison, now president of, Frisch said he and the staff made a push toward big, bold headlines, often walking a delicate line between conservative restraint and eye-catching words that made copies fly off the racks.

“It was hard work and the headlines were not always good,” Frisch said. “My three favorites were ‘We Kicked Ass,’ ‘Milk drivers want more moolah’ and ‘Shooweiler weinies out.’ It took us most of the morning to agree to ‘We Kicked Ass.’ But we ended up having to have a second run of the paper to meet demand.”

Barbano, whose first byline in the Tribune appeared in 1973, became a regular contributor in 1988 and his opinions still run today. He said he believes he holds the record for longest Sunday column in the Tribune at 3,600 words.

For him, the columnists’ work is more than just selling papers.

“It’s a labor of love,” he said.

Current editor Nathan Orme is now at the helm of the newsroom in his first full-time position as editor in chief and leading the vision for the future of the Tribune.

“What is great about small, independent papers like the Sparks Tribune is each editor has the chance to really mold the paper into whatever he or she wants from an editorial standpoint,” Orme said. “I am proud to be contributing my little part to our varied and colorful history of local coverage. I know I often look at what was done in the past to get ideas for the future and hopefully, one day, some editor will get ideas from what I and the current staff have done.”

Other changes for the Tribune happened behind the scenes that had an effect on its front page. Cheryl Bain, now the paper’s production manager, started in 1984 as a typesetter, before the boon of desktop publishing and personal computers.

“It was very tiring and very boring,” she said. “You’d have to spend so much time at the keyboard on your monitor. You had to type in your commands. You’d type in the changes you’d want, such as a 10-point font, and you never knew what it would look like until the film process.”

The newspaper’s page size also has taken a marked decrease in size, both thinner and smaller.

“Everything’s getting narrower and narrower, which is physically nicer to hold, but if you go back when you’re 27 1/2 by 24 inches, everybody was so accustomed to it,” Bain said. “All the major papers have done this for cost savings. In our case, we progressed slowly to 26 1/2 inches. In some ways, larger papers force you into that change.”

The Sparks Tribune became the Daily Sparks Tribune on June 27, 1988. Bain remembers the changes that came with putting out a product every day. She also learned the ropes of the Big Nickel, the Tribune’s free classified advertising publication, which also involved a process of cut-and-paste.

“Our computer systems didn’t work and you’re accustomed to doing it the old way,” Bain said. “It was difficult to transition.”

But, she said, the variety that comes with her job keeps her motivated.

“The newspaper business has constant changes,” she said. “It’s a challenge. I like what I do, meeting a lot of nice people and I get a lot of joy finding out why they get into the business they do. Seeing something you produce every day is rewarding in itself.”

Advertising director Nancy Streets said the Tribune is still a reliable place for readers to get their news, even as other media outlets race expediently to disseminate information first.

“If there’s a plane crash at 10 p.m. at the airport, by the time we or the (Reno Gazette-Journal) knew, people would know more about it (from other sources),” Streets said. “What we can do is tell the rest of the story. You don’t run out of paper; you run out of time. Even with the Internet, you can still go to the trusted source.

The Tribune went online in 2007, starting off with a simple site that featured typically usually two or three news stories and briefs and sports articles from the day’s content. The site was expanded and improved in 2008 with a more diverse selection and more stories, as well as the capability to provide quicker updates.

There are now about 6,500 copies printed every day and delivered to Sparks residents and other locations and circulation holds strong.

“None of this would have been possible without the support of the community, if there wasn’t a need for the local newspaper in Sparks,” Streets said.

Today’s staff, though still small in size, continues the Tribune’s mission of delivering content impacting Sparks residents and life in the area.

Orme said the paper remains competitive and mindful of its objective to report the news of the city.

“This area has always been more than Reno, which people often overlook,” Orme said. “Sparks grew up as a hub of commerce with all the railroad activity and while that industry no longer employs the whole town, a wonderful community has sprouted up from its roots and has found other ways to thrive. With that growth has been a need to know what’s going on, hence the longevity of the Tribune.”

“We are the newspaper of the community that is committed to delivering local news and sports to the city of Sparks and the surrounding areas and we remain committed to being a viable source of local information,” McCaffrey said. “For 100 years, we’ve been committed to this community.”

“With color and with professionalism, the Trib(une) is the indispensable community asset -- its information source,” Welch said. “This is a time to say thanks to the 10 decades of dedicated staff who are responsible. Its temporary custodians, the owners, look forward to years ahead of service to the community, and we pay our thanks to today’s staff for making it possible. We’re proud of the past effort, proud of today’s Trib(une) employees and managers and look forward to the future.”

Orme’s wish for the newspaper is simple.

“My hope is that the Tribune is here for another group of journalists to celebrate a 200th anniversary,” he said.
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