Weekly or daily, depending upon the local publisher, North Dakotans counted on newspapers to publish the minutes of county and city meetings, land proofs, and other official documents. So, as Western lands were settled, publishers were soon to follow, making much of their income by publishing homestead proofs.
By 1918, North Dakota had approximately 350 newspapers. When the United States entered the War in 1917, the papers became an essential tool for coordinating the war effort. Meeting notices, war bond sales, food restrictions, and draft notices were all carried in local newspapers. Pro-German sympathizers were exposed. Red Cross and Y.M.C.A efforts were chronicled. The smash-up of the North Dakota Smashing Second Regiment was proclaimed, and Herbert Hoover’s meatless and wheatless days were announced.
As the North Dakota soldiers first went into battle in February of 1918, the families back home counted on the newspapers to provide information on their loved ones. At first, the news from the front was widely censored. Letters were carefully scrutinized to eliminate the names of units. Locations were invariably noted as “Somewhere in France.” But as the Associated Press began sending back news from the front line trenches, the progress of the war became more detailed. By May, newspapers were printing letters that detailed recent battles and locations. Reporters such as E. H. Tostevin, formerly with the Mandan Pioneer, recounted the horrors of trench warfare. Vibrant descriptions of battlefields and of North Dakota boys “going over the top” were now being published in local newspapers. And as the war progressed, weekly casualty reports brought the face of war to homes across the state.
With so much news and information to report, newspapers expanded, both in the number of pages and in the number of subscribers. The demand for newsprint was staggering. One this date in 1918, the War Industries Board announced that all weekly newspapers had to reduce their circulation by 15%. Although it adversely affected smaller newspapers, most publishers recognized it as a chance to rid themselves of delinquent subscribers, reduce the number of complimentary copies, and even increase their rates. The order was to be effective on September 15. For many publishers it was a significant windfall, and for many North Dakota families already strapped with increased prices, news of their loved ones would have to come from other sources.
Dakota Datebook by Jim Davis
The Courier Democrat, (Langdon, North Dakota) August 29, 1918