The Scopes trial occurred during a period of unprecedented growth within the newspaper industry. A summary of the industry landscape can be found in the annual year book edition of Editor & Publisher, a trade paper for the newspaper industry:
Editor & Publisher statistical review of 1925 shows highest records in history for volume of newspaper advertising and circulation [...] the greatest year in the history of the American press. Stupendous industrial advances were scored by the newspapers of this Continent, reflecting generally stable social and political conditions [emphasis added] and unprecedented economic activity [...] morning and evening newspapers of the United States provided 1⅓ newspapers for every family in the United States [...] It was a year of light news [emphasis added], contrasted with the dark years of war and those of post-war confusion in industry and politics.1
When you are using newspapers as sources, it's important to remember that newspapers are businesses, and by the late nineteenth century they had become high-risk, heavily capitalized businesses dependent upon advertisers, subscribers, and newsstand sales for revenue (the latter two driving the price a paper could charge for the former), which is not to say that they are unreliable sources of information, but they are certainly not "the first draft of history," as has often been claimed.
In 1925, there were 2,116 daily newspapers being published in the United States, with a combined circulation of 37,407,000. There were far more weekly newspapers (6,435), but the weeklies had a much smaller combined circulation (15,990,000).2
Today, few cities but the largest have more than one daily newspaper. Chicago still has two. In 1925 Chicago had over thirty dailies, about half of which were immigrant newspapers.
Some dailies were morning papers, some evening. In general, morning papers were read quickly, while the readers were eating breakfast or on their commute to work; a morning paper was often quickly discarded after the reader was finished with it. Evening papers tended to be larger in format (page size), and somewhat higher toned: they were read more leisurely, and tended to be shared among other members of the family.3
A daily newspaper would circulate well into its city's hinterlands, thirty miles out or even more. Here's a graphic showing the zone of circulation for the Cleveland Press in 1925:
Detail from an advertisement for the Cleveland Press in the January 30, 1926 issue of Editor & Publisher.
The popular and influential newspapers of 1925 were not the popular and influential papers of today. Below is an ordered list of the 45 highest circulating dailies (an "m" following the title indicates a morning paper; an "e" indicates an evening):
One trend revealed by this list is that the east coast and the Midwest were, in 1925, the centers of newspaper consumption, correlating roughly with population trends. The south and the west coast lagged.
In many cases, the above newspapers printed Sunday editions with circulations up to two and three times as high, so if you are looking at the Sunday edition of a daily, then you can safely assume it was read by far more people than the weekday edition would have been.
In Tennessee, the highest circulating newspaper was the Memphis Commercial-Appeal (98,699). Dayton had one newspaper, a weekly called the Dayton Herald.4
Most newspapers could not afford to send their own reporters to cover the trial in Dayton, and this would especially be true of small town newspapers. Instead, these smaller newspapers relied on news agencies (like United Press, or Associated Press). Much of the actual reporting on the Scopes trial, therefore, would have been identical from one newspaper to the next. Each newspaper, however, was permitted to write its own headlines, and make other, minor edits in order to fit an article onto its page layout. Therefore, even though the articles could be identical in hundreds, even thousands, of newspapers, the articles could still be given a distinctive, editorial spin.
Below are two different newspapers that published the same article on the same day. The De Kalb (IL) Daily Chronicle went for a quadruple decked headline, with the top deck forming a full banner headline:
"Countryside People Flock to Court City | Big Trial Underway | Judge Raulston Opens Famous Case with Reading of Chapter in Bible | Scopes Indicted."
The El Centro (CA) Imperial Valley Press gave the story much less prominence, both in positioning and with a single deck headline with restrained, factual wording:
"Picking Jury to Hear Evidence in Evolution Trial".
Below are the two front pages side-by-side:
Attached is a list, created by your professor, of suggested newspapers for your assignment.
To find digitized newspapers, we recommend beginning with our guide to Finding Newspapers:
For this class, the two best digital collections are probably ProQuest Historical Newspapers, and Chronicling America, but you will find many more on the above-linked guide:
To find even more newspapers, including publications of the "alternative press," please consult our guide Finding Newspapers:
1. "Celebrating Peak Year of American Press," Editor & Publisher, January 30, 1926.
2. Alexander J. Field, "Newspapers and Periodicals: Number and Circulation by Type, 1850–1967," in Historical Statistics of the United States, ed. Susan B. Carter, millennial ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 4:1055.
3. Jason Rogers, Fundamentals of Newspaper Building: A Brief Consideration of the General Business Principles Involved in Starting a Daily Newspaper or Turning a Moribund Property into a Successful One (New York: J. J. Little & Ives, 1922), 22-23.
4. American Newspaper Annual and Directory (Philadelphia: N.W. Ayer & Son, 1925), 1265-87.