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The Lufkin News

National acclaim: Newspaper gets journalism's highest honor in 1977 for series of stories about death of a Marine recruit from Lufkin

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Posted: Thursday, February 22, 2007 12:00 am

In 1959, Publisher W.R. (Beau) Beaumier orchestrated the move of the Newspaper from its Lufkin Avenue location to a spacious, modernistic complex at the corner of Ellis and Herndon streets, adjacent to the site of the Bonner Hotel, an establishment known in history as a one-time brothel. The Newspaper dropped the "daily" from its masthead, becoming The Lufkin News, and with the move across the railroad tracks from downtown Lufkin, the Newspaper was now within a short walk from its first home in 1907 - a building located on Cotton Square. During those early days, Cotton Square was the hub of Lufkin, a place were farmers brought their cotton to be shipped out on the Houston East and West Texas Railroad. Three years after its move to the corner of Ellis and Herndon, the Newspaper was sold by the Kurth, Trout and Henderson families to Newspapers, Inc., publishers of Newspapers in Austin, Waco and Port Arthur. The new ownership brought new ways to running the hometown Newspaper, including changes in the way stories were covered, its endorsement of state and national politicians, and more directions from Waco, home of the Newspaper chain. Lufkin residents were not always happy with the changes, but the community soon settled down and adapted to the new ownership. Following Beaumier's death in 1965, Tom Meredith, an employee of the Waco Tribune Herald, was named publisher in Lufkin and in June of 1969, Meredith named as editor Joe Murray, the first editor born in Lufkin. Murray's appointment was greeted by the community as a sign that the new owners were beginning to understand Lufkin. Later, Murray was promoted to publisher and editor and soon restored the Newspaper's mast head to "The Lufkin Daily News." In March, 1974, the News made one of its most significant production changes. Until then, the type seen in each Newspaper's issue was set with hot metal poured down into pots each day and fed through oily, noisy machines called Linotypes. Printers wore black aprons and served six-year apprentices to learn their craft in a back room looking like a machine shop or garage. The switch was made in 1974 to a computerized, photographic process sometimes called "cold type," which was faster and cleaner. While the old linotype machines set type at the rate of six lines per minute each, operating at full capacity, machines introduced in 1974 set type at 350 lines per minute each. Later technology changes speeded up that rate to more than 3,500 lines a minute. The conversion also eliminated in the press room heavy metal plates that were bolted to the press rollers. The plates weighed about 50 pounds each, compared with today's quarter-ounce. At the same time, new camera equipment installed with the conversion to "cold type" were able to shrink down a photograph to thumbnail size or blow it up to two and a half times larger. As a reminder of the old printing system, one of the Newspaper's now-ancient linotype machines was moved to the building's lobby, where it remains as a conversation piece for visitors. On Jan. 7, 1976, the acquisition of Lufkin Newspaper, as well as others owned by Newspapers, Inc., in Austin, Waco and Port Arthur, was announced by Cox Enterprises, Inc. of Atlanta, Ga. Cox board chairman Garner Anthony said the agreement for the sale was reached in October of 1975 between him and the late Harlon M. Fentress, chairman emeritus of the Waco-based Texas chain. In 1977, the News found its way into Newspaperdom's history book when journalism's highest honor, the Pulitzer Prize, was awarded to the Newspaper for a series of articles leading to reforms in military training and recruiting practices. Ironically, the series won only a second place award in statewide competition among Associated Press Newspapers earlier that year. The Pulitzer Committee, however, invited the News to enter the series in competition and in April 1977 the AP notified Murray that the News had won the Pulitzer for Meritorious Public Service, an award that historically had gone to more famous Newspapers such as the Philadelphia Inquirer, New York Times and the Washington Post. The series began in 1976 when the family of Marine Corps recruit, Lynn McClure, asked for help in finding out why McClure, a retarded 26-year-old, died while training to be a Marine. The News' ensuing investigation, accomplished without ever leaving Lufkin, led to a congressional investigation that produced changes to the service's recruiting and training practices and the court marital of several Marine officers. The Pulitzer Committee had words of praise for reporter Ken Herman and Murray. "A small Newspaper with limited resources chose not to settle for the official explanation," said the committee. Herman left Lufkin, became an Associated Press correspondent in Austin and now covers national News in Washington. Murray later became editor and publisher of the News. In 1980, when the News published a Diamond Jubilee Edition, Murray wrote: "Lufkin has changed a lot since the Daily News was started ... and so has the way Newspapers are put together and published. But we like to think that one thing has remained constant. The News, like its predecessors, is still very much a community-minded Newspaper, interested primarily in what goes on in Lufkin." While the early Newspapers of Lufkin had a limited diet of local News, readers of the Newspaper between 1957 and 1982 were being served a full-course meal, Murray noted, including local News, commentary and editorials, opinion columns, photographs from around the world, "and a variety of special features unthinkable and unavailable 20 years ago." In 1980, Clayte Binion, the son of W.C. Binion Sr., who began publishing the News in 1914 with George E. Watford, reflected on the Newspaper's early days, especially those days when he, too, served stints at The News as sports editor, circulation manager and managing editor before he moved on to the Houston Chronicle, which he eventually edited. Those early days, he said, "were a lot of fun, "and I learned a lot in Lufkin." Binion should have. He worked six long days a week and the pay was typically poor. Binion earned only $25 a week and often worked 10 to 12 hours a day, often until after midnight, during the week and all day Saturday. Most of the News Binion picked up in town came from friends, neighbors and acquaintances. Binion said he knew just about everyone in town in those days. In 1940, Binion said editors Broyles and McDermott decided it was time to hit the big time, and sent the reporters Binion and Jim McMullen to the two national party conventions. Binion covered the Republicans in Philadelphia and went on to New York and filed a story from the World's Fair. By the end of the 1940s, Binion had joined the Houston Chronicle, where he rose from the copy desk to executive editor. While at the Chronicle, Binion established an East Texas Bureau for the Chronicle in Lufkin and hired Lufkin reporter Bob Bowman as its first chief. When Bowman left the job in 1966 to become a public relations executive with Southland Paper Mills, he was succeeded by Joe Murray of the News, who later returned to the Lufkin Newspaper as editor. Another News reporter, John Moody, then took over the East Texas Bureau. In 1982, The News published another blockbuster edition, this time to celebrate the centennial of Lufkin's founding in 1882 as a stop on the Houston East and West Texas Railroad. The News was also active that year in promoting centennial activities throughout Lufkin, including an appearance by former President Gerald Ford, who addressed the Chamber of Commerce's annual banquet. Bob Bowman is a local author and historian who owns Best of East Texas Publishing Company in Lufkin. Editor Joe Murray of the Lufkin Daily News stands in the middle of Lufkin Avenue as it makes the turn at Cotton Square in downtown Lufkin. Murray and Lufkin Daily News reporter Ken Herman were awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service in 1977 for stories about the death of Pvt. Lynn McClure. Lufkin Daily News file photo On hand to receive the Pulitzer Prize for The Lufkin News in 1977 were, from left, Jack Tarver of Cox Enterprises, reporter Ken Herman, Robert Sherman of Cox Enterprises, editor Joe Murray and publisher Tom Meredith. Lufkin Daily News file photo The April 19, 1977, front page of The Lufkin News. The July 21, 1969, front page of The Lufkin News. The March 30, 1981, front page of The Lufkin News. Tom Meredith was publisher of The Lufkin News in 1977 when the Newspaper won the Pulitzer Prize. Meredith became publisher in 1965 following the death of longtime publisher W.R. (Beau) Beaumier. Cox East Texas file photo

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