Newspapers help build community
MOLINE -- The reputations of The Rock Island Argus and The Dispatch for powerful, effective community journalism is directly rooted in each paper's beginnings.
Fred Nichols and John Dunham launched the Rock Island Republican in 1851. After J.B. Danforth bought the company in 1853, the newspaper built a reputation for straight-shooting commentary during the Civil War. In 1855, the paper became the Rock Island Argus, to avoid association with the newly created Republican Party.
A few miles away and 23 years later, Oliver and Louise White wanted to give Moline ``a small, neat daily paper...of modest dimension, published at reasonable expense, but alive to the interests of the city and its surroundings,'' according to newspaper accounts.
The Moline and Rock Island of that era have become half the Quad-Cities of today, and The Moline Daily Evening Dispatch and the Rock Island Argus eventually came together under the auspices of the Moline Dispatch Publishing Company.
Though time and technology march on, the goal of the MDPC has remained the same.
Today, the company publishes The Dispatch and The Rock Island Argus, both daily morning newspapers; The Leader, a weekly newspaper in Scott County; the Gold Book, a monthly social magazine; and Showcase, a visitor's entertainment guide.
Technology has changed over the years, and in its efforts to help readers find information quickly and easily, MDPC debuted a free, touch-tone telephone information service in October, 1989.
Called CITYLINE, the service gives callers information on topics ranging from horoscopes to sports scores to national news. CITYLINE was an immediate success, and continues to receive about two million calls a year.
``People can call and get a stock quote or a sports score any time of day,'' manager Steve Flatt said. ``It's a great service for people who, say, want to know if the Cubs won a game on the West Coast. Plus, it's free.''
CITYLINE has about 1,000 categories of information, more than any other area audiotext service, Mr. Flatt said. Many categories, like soap operas or national travel weather information, are updated daily while others are updated as needed.
The MDPC again was at the forefront of an evolving business when it launched Quad-Cities Online in late 1994. The company was one of only seven daily newspapers in the United States to offer a computer ``bulletin board'' and Internet access system.
``Quad-Cities Online really began as a research and development project and alternative delivery system for local news and information,'' Leslie DuPree, Quad-Cities Online administrator, said. ``When you pair that with affordable Internet access, email, chat and other features, you have a complete service. We think of ourselves as a sort of `hometown AOL' but without the busy signals.''
Quad-Cities Online recorded more than 100 percent growth in 1997. Ms. DuPree expects another busy year in 1998 as Internet usage grows. To meet increased demand, Q-C Online has expanded into training, home setups, commerical websites and online advertising.
The future of Quad-Cities Online rests on content development, she said.
``The Web has broken the boundaries of time and distance for the delivery of news,'' Ms. DuPree said. ``Many retirees and people who used to live in the Quad-Cities read the local news every day over the Internet, or check out the river view on one of our webcams.
``Our focus in the future will be on more sophisticated, customized ways to give people the news and information they want, when they want it.''
Delivering the news and information Quad-Citians want also remains the mission of the company's newspapers. The two papers share the same staff but are headed by separate managing editors who independently decide on which page a given story will run. Both papers are intensely local in their news coverage.
``Our focus is on the local communities,'' Argus managing editor Roger Ruthhart said. ``We have been fortunate to continually attract reporters and editors who are committed to continuing that high level of accuracy, fairness and objectivity in reporting.
``We're not afraid to go after the big stories, and have won many awards and readers for doing so,'' he said, ``but at the same time we haven't lost sight of the importance of reporting high school athletic scores, honor rolls and promoting civic events. It's all important to our readers.''
Dispatch managing editor Russ Scott pointed to a news team that's ``second to none'' in the Quad-Cities area.
``Our staff is unrivaled when it comes to daily news, sports and lifestyle coverage, especially in the Illinois Quad-Cities,'' Mr. Scott said.
The company decided in 1995 to switch from an afternoon publication to a morning one. The decision was made based on feedback indicating readers found a morning paper more accessible, since it was available throughout the day.
Some readers did not like the change, but most reaction was positive, Mr. Scott said.
``The daily paper is more popular since the conversion two years ago to morning publication,'' he said. ``Circulation is up, and the staff is putting out a lively, informative and entertaining product, which is exactly what our readers expect.''
Those readers' expectations help the papers evolve, Mr. Scott said.
``Readers aren't bashful about letting us know when we can improve,'' he said, ``which I believe means they welcome us into their homes each day and care enough to want us to be the best we can be.''
Putting out the best possible newspapers always has been a priority of the Small family, which owns the Moline Dispatch Publishing Company and other newspapers around the country. Being owned by a family dedicated to newspapering rather than a corporation dedicated to profit makes all the difference, Mr. Taylor said.
``The Small family cares very much about their newspapers,'' Mr. Taylor said. ``They're willing to accept a bit less profit in return for better newspapers.''
Mr. Ruthhart appreciates the time and money the Small family -- president Len R. Small is based in the Quad-Cities -- invests in the newspapers.
``Being part of the Moline Dispatch Publishing Company and the Small Newspaper Group has meant we have the resources we need to produce that quality news product,'' he said. ``There is a commitment to community journalism here that in many communities is part of past history.''
That commitment keeps the past history of the Rock Island Argus and The Dispatch alive in the present and will carry the company into the future.
-- By Sarah Larson (February 2, 1998)
Copyright © 1998 Moline Dispatch Publishing Company, L.L.C.