© 2024
Prairie Public NewsRoom
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Brinton Newspaper Law


On this date in 1919, North Dakota newspapers were quickly dwindling in number. Almost twenty-nine North Dakota papers had gone out of business or changed ownership since April 1 of that year. The wave of failing newspapers began as a result of the Brinton Newspaper Law, which was passed in March of 1919 by the State Legislature. The law sought to reduce the number of official newspapers per county to a single publication. Prior to that, each of the fifty-three counties had three official newspapers, each printing notices required by the state, such as foreclosures and bank statements. In fact, many of the local papers got their start by following the survey crews and publishing the homestead proofs as the land changed from public to private ownership. After that source dried up, newspapers relied heavily on the state-required public printing, as advertisements were not enough to support them.

The official publications could expect to receive between $10,000 and $20,000 per year from public printing alone, not to mention the subscription fees from readers forced to rely on a single designated paper for important legal and business information. Consequently, when the State Printing commissioners finished choosing the official publications for each county, more than 200 papers were expected to suffer substantial losses in revenue. In essence, the Brinton Newspaper Law was bad news for any publication not chosen, but highly beneficial for the lucky few.

That the Brinton Law created a monopoly of sorts was no accident. The powerful Nonpartisan League had newspapers in more than half of North Dakota's counties, and many of the commissioners were shareholders in NPL newspapers, ensuring that the NPL papers were favored. And with opposing newspapers failing, the NPL official county newspapers gained control over the information that reached readers.

The Brinton Newspaper Law has had a lasting effect on North Dakota's newspaper industry. The spring of 1919 saw 327 newspapers recording the important events and everyday business of the state's population. By 1954 there remained only 129, and today there are 91.

And even though the Nonpartisan League effectively corralled the state press, becoming America's first real example of a "kept press," it failed to save the organization from the adverse criticism that eventually led to it's decline from power.

By Carol Wilson, Dakota Datebook Intern 2009

(Jim Davis- Supervisor)

The Starkweather Times, July 18, 1919.

Laws Passed at the Sixteenth Session of Legislative Assembly of North Dakota, Bismarck Tribune State Printers, 1919.