In 1960, John F. Kennedy’s campaign made its way to Shinnston. While the future president could not make it, his brother Red could. The future “Lion of the Senate” ran his brother’s presidential campaign for Southern West Virginia. Knowledge of what that campaign did to secure the Mountain State’s primary lay well in the future.
On the day of Ted Kennedy’s visit, he addressed potential voters from the steps of the Shinnston News. Bobby Bice, president of the Shinnston Historical Association stated “I’ve never researched the coverage for that event to see how the paper regarded him being there, but I would guess very highly.”
The era after World War II served as a golden era for newspapers, from the New York Times to the Charleston Gazette, to the Shinnston News. Wartime restrictions left the American consumer with healthy savings accounts. War itself destroyed much of the industrial capacity of the world outside of the United States.
Americans had money with which to buy and the entire free world had to buy American.
This meant that most places saw high levels of employment, solid paychecks, and jobs a worker could count upon. With advertisements providing up to 80 percent of the revenues of most papers and subscriptions covering, in many cases, the cost of delivery, newspapers dominated the media landscape.
Smaller papers often expanded their business as opportunities allowed. Leigh Merrifield, who edited the paper in later decades and also is the great granddaughter of founder William Meredith, shared that “in the old days, they did commercial printing jobs. That led to monetary success. It was more of a moneymaker than the newspaper.”
She added that the Shinnston News “was kind of a one stop shop. They also sold office supplies.” One special product produced by the paper was wedding invitations. Merrifield proudly said that she ordered her own from there in the 1970s.
The paper saw a change in leadership around the end of World War II. Thaddeus Merrifield joined his father as editor and publisher and the two worked together until 1950. Thaddeus Merrifield was joined at that point by the founder’s grandson James Meredith Currey joined his uncle.
The two men served as joint editors and publishers for approximately 30 years. Under their direction, the newspaper continued as a family enterprise from top to bottom.
Merrifield, whose father was James Meredith Currey, remembered “his burgundy sweater he wore as he proofed” the paper, saying “those were years well spent.” Her mother Madeline also helped in the office.
Many members of the family worked for the paper. Some stayed on for a very long time. Others, like Bill Meredith, grandson of the founder, worked there briefly, in this case during his college years. The experience left its impression, however.
Bill Meredith explained that his father went to the paper to help out after World War I. “Dad took all the pictures for a long time,” he remembered, adding that “people liked it.”
“I just worked there through college. I was a job printer,” he went on to say.
Newspapers in the 19th and 20th century ran on massive and heavy printing presses, although the industry did see improvements in technology over time. Merrifield said that her great grandfather purchased a Babcock printing press for the paper. “It was brought in on horse and buggy,” she said, adding that “In fact, the press they used to use is still down in the basement.”
Bill Meredith did not feel much nostalgia for the old press with its heavy wheels and intricate systems. He preferred the press they purchased during his time there, sharing that “they bought a press called a Heidelburg. It was pneumatic. It ran on air.”
“What a fine machine it was!” he exclaimed.
The pneumatic press used an automatic system that made operating the machinery less taxing. He also operated the linotype machine. Until the 1970s and 80s, when photostat technology replaced it, the machine would melt lead, pour it into ingots, and eventually make type.
“I got to carry the ingots up and down the steps. We did it in the basement,” Bill Meredith remembered, adding “we had two linotypes in the back. They used different sizes of lead ingots. It was detailed work.”
The family enjoyed a top reputation for quality on their printing jobs. Bill Meredith explained that “any printing job that we did had to be perfect.” This included a regular job for the gas company where every card carried a unique number.
He described the work they performed in the print shop as “pretty amazing.”
In 1980, the family sold the paper to Jim Jackson and Boyd Dotson Jr. They held onto the publication until the 1990s. Ownership changed hands more rapidly in those years. Bernie Dearth, Michael Queen, and Kim Gemando all had a hand in running it until finally selling to Mountain News Media.
Through the 90s into the 21st century, the family still had a hand in the direction of the paper. Leigh Merrifield came on as editor in 1995 at the request of Gerondo. She had taught school and managed the office at a car dealership, but added “I always loved to write.”
“I’ll never forget the first editorial that I wrote,” Merrifield said. It took her back to “my memories of being in that building. I’d go after school, help with anything they needed. They were typing on the computers, still pasting things up.”
When her father read it “he turned and when he finished reading it, there were tears running down his face.”
Merrifield served at the paper from 1995 until 2021 when she resigned to take care of her family. “I felt my family would have been proud of that,” she stated. Along the way, Mountain Media undertook the decision to sell the Shinnston News’ physical plant, though the old Babcock Printing Press remains in the basement, resisting all efforts to donate it to a museum or other location.
The Shinnston News and Harrison County Journal remain both the pride of the town it serves and the family who established it as a community institution.