…to refer to any 20th-century daily paper as a “local paper” hides an important truth: the proportion of newspaper content that was written, designed, and printed locally decreased in the early 20th century. Aided by a new technology called the stereotype, syndicates began to sell the same articles and illustrations to hundreds of different newspapers around the country. Meanwhile, publishers like William Randolph Hearst and E. W. Scripps bought up multiple papers to form chains, which shared content among themselves.
Today newspapers are cutting syndicate content to supposedly invest in local content. A hundred years ago newspapers were buying up syndicated content while trying to create the illusion of local product.
While syndicated features usually carried a small copyright symbol, the name that followed that symbol could be deliberately opaque. Readers wouldn’t automatically know that “King Features” denoted Hearst material, or that “NEA” indicated content from the Scripps chain. Local papers sometimes purposely disguised syndicated material. The Milwaukee Sentinel bought a comic strip from the New York World syndicate in 1918, for example, but retitled it “Somewhere in Milwaukee.” The same paper told readers to send in their letters for Dorothy Dix as though she could be reached in Milwaukee, and not in New York City, where she lived and sold her work to the Ledger syndicate.
Business boomed. In 1913, there were 40 syndicates in operation; by 1931, there were more than 160. Some were small and specialized, offering only science articles or fiction; others sold a full array of features to thousands of newspapers.
Zocola Public Square has a very interesting Julia Guarneri article about early syndication.
Been some time since a found a book about newspaper history that I wanted to buy.
Julia’s book, Newsprint Metropolis, is one I think I’ll get.
More on early newspaper syndication: Allan Holtz did us a favor by posting the 98-page 1936 book
A History of Newspaper Syndicates in the United States, 1865-1935 by Elmo Scott Watson.
From 1926 is a Popular Mechanics article (via GoogleBooks) as to How Cartoons are Syndicated.