The Tooele Transcript Bulletin turned 125 years old on Saturday.
“We are now, as far as I know, the oldest business in Tooele County,” said Publisher Emeritus Joel Dunn.
Joel became the newspaper’s publisher in 1964 after the death of his father, Alex Dunn. Alex took over the company from his father, James Dunn.
Officially, Joel was the publisher until 1994, when he officially passed the role to his son, Scott. However, by 1983 he’d already unofficially passed on most of his responsibilities.
“My dad pretty much got out of the business in 1983,” Scott said.
Starting in 1984, Joel spent a few years away from the company when he was asked to serve as the leader of 180 missionaries in Scotland for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The Transcript was originally founded by two publishers named Beesley and Gabriel. In its first issue, published on June 29, 1894, the editors promised to be “breezily brilliant, winningly witty, curiously clean, satisfactorily sagacious, and liberally loquacious, non-partisan in politics, independent in expression,” according to Utah Digital Newspapers.
Utah Digital Newspapers is a historical newspaper digitization project started by the J. Willard Marriott Library at the University of Utah in 2001.
James Dunn bought the Transcript in 1898 at the request of the previous publishers. At the time, he was working for one of the three newspapers in Tooele City in addition to farming his land.
The mining towns of Mercur and Ophir were booming with around 6,000 people. In fact, Mercur’s local newspaper, the Mercur Miner, had published these words just a year before:
“Mercur is an incorporated city having … a brass band … a fire department … one church … The Opera House Saloon has card and wine rooms and affords the patron a convenient place to go out and ‘see a man’ between acts or dances.”
The town was prospering so much that a proposal was made to move the county seat there, taking it away from Tooele.
According to Dunn family legend, Beesley and Gabriel had just put their newspaper up for sale. They and a few others approached James and asked him to buy it.
“Some of the people around here, including some of the church officials and some others, came to my grandfather … and told him, ‘We’d appreciate it if you’d buy the paper; we need somebody who’s at least friendly to keeping the county seat in Tooele,’” Joel said. “So my grandpa borrowed $10 from somebody and made a down payment for the paper.”
James ended up paying a grand total of $20 for the Transcript. He started out by publishing one issue each week.
It’s unclear how much James’ news coverage influenced public opinion. But for one reason or another, Mercur was denied the county seat.
“They were able to keep the county seat in Tooele,” Joel said.
When the U.S. joined World War I in 1917, Joel’s father, Alex, was on a church mission in the central states. As a missionary, he wasn’t drafted into the army and he had big plans to go to college after returning home.
“He didn’t figure on going back to the Transcript,” Joel said. “He was going to go to college and get a college degree.”
Everything seemed to go smoothly for a few years. In 1923, James bought one of the competing papers in the county, the Tooele Bulletin. After the merger, he changed the name of his newspaper to the Tooele Transcript Bulletin.
“We’ve been known as the Transcript Bulletin for many years,” Joel said.
Then James got sick, forcing Alex to return to the family business and pick up where his father left off.
Under Alex’s leadership, the Transcript Bulletin changed buildings two times. Originally, the newspaper staff and printing equipment was located in a building on Vine Street, just east of Main Street.
Next, the company moved about a block west, to the other side of Main Street. However, it was an old frame building, and Alex was concerned about it burning down.
In October 1932, Alex’s fears came true. A snowstorm broke a power line above the building, causing electrical sparks that ignited the wood. The whole building burned to the ground, along with the newspaper archives and all of Alex’s printing equipment.
It was a devastating loss, and it hit the paper right in the middle of the Great Depression. At the time, there was no way they could rebuild and replace all the equipment they’d lost. Alex called in favors to help build a new cement building on Main Street.
“Dad was worried about the [old] building, and he’d already purchased another lot,” Joel said. “He got people who owed him money to build as much as he could to cut down on costs.”
The new building was completed in 1933. Despite the challenges he was facing, Alex managed to put out regular newspapers during the interim.
“During the Depression, that wasn’t easy,” Joel said. “Dad made an agreement with the Magna paper to use their [printing] facility at night and he didn’t miss a single issue of the paper.”
It took 20 years for Alex to replace all the equipment he’d lost in the fire. The loss of the archive was more permanent. Fortunately, after the fire, newspaper records dating back to 1910 were found in a nearby church building.
In 1936, just three years after rebuilding, Alex began putting out two issues a week.
“[At that time] there was only one other paper in Utah that came out twice a week — that was the Brigham City paper,” Joel said.
In addition to being one of the first newspapers to publish more than once a week, the Transcript Bulletin has led the way in other aspects of the newspaper business. In 1962, it became the first newspaper in Utah to move away from lead type and adopt offset, or photographic, type instead.
“[That was] two years before the Salt Lake newspapers were offset,” Joel said.
In fact, the company’s publishing equipment was so good that at one time it printed about half the weekly newspapers in Utah. The Transcript Bulletin was also the first newspaper in Utah to switch to the digital camera, he added.
“Since that time, we’ve modernized our equipment many, many times,” Joel said. “We’re as modern as any other paper as far as the printing equipment that we use. Not only that, we’re honest. … We’re proud of that.”
Joel wasn’t always so enthusiastic about the Transcript Bulletin’s accomplishments. He grew up with the company and saw how much work it was to run.
“It [the Transcript] had lead type. The sheets were printed by hand and folded by hand. Nothing was automated,” he said. “We had to fold and then insert the middle sections into it … it was just totally, just really, work. I decided that I would sooner do something else.”
Joel decided to get a dental degree and began taking college classes in dentistry. However, everything changed when he served a church mission in Scotland.
“I got a distinct [spiritual] impression that I needed to come back to the Transcript,” Joel said. “I hadn’t taken a single journalism class before that, but when I came home, three years into the dental program, I went to journalism school. … I went back to work at the Transcript. Now we have five sons and a daughter working there.”
Despite the challenges of running a newspaper in a small town, Joel believes that good journalism is always needed. As stated in the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics, “Members of the Society of Professional Journalists believe that public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy. Ethical journalism strives to ensure the free exchange of information that is accurate, fair and thorough.”
Joel still meets with the editorial staff at the Transcript Bulletin weekly to offer ideas for new articles.
“The newspaper is vital to the knowledge of the local community,” he said.