Philadelphia Bulletin

The Philadelphia Bulletin was a daily evening newspaper published from 1847 to 1982 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It was the largest circulation newspaper in Philadelphia for 76 years and was once the largest evening newspaper in the United States. It was widely known for its slogan: "In Philadelphia, nearly everybody reads The Bulletin."

1847 to 1895

The Bulletin was first published by Alexander Cummings on April 17, 1847 as Cummings’ Evening Telegraphic Bulletin. It made history with its inaugural edition by publishing the first telegraph report in a U.S. newspaper, a dispatch from the Mexican War. Yet The Bulletin remained last in circulation of Philadelphia's 13 daily newspapers for the remainder of the 19th century.

Cummings lost control of The Bulletin to stockholders in the 1850s. From 1859 until 1895, the paper was edited by Gibson Peacock. Upon Peacock's death, it was bought by businessman William L. McLean.

1895 to 1975

When McLean bought the last-place Bulletin in 1895, it sold for 2 cents. McLean cut the price in half and increased coverage of local news. By 1905 the paper was the city's largest. McLean's son Robert took over in 1931. In 1946 the Bulletin bought out its evening competitor, the Philadelphia Record, and incorporated features of the Record's Sunday edition into the new Sunday Bulletin. By 1947 the Bulletin was the nation's biggest evening daily with 761,000 readers.

Journalism style

Describing the Bulletin's style, McLean once said: "I think the Bulletin operates on a principle which in the long run is unbeatable. This is that it enters the reader's home as a guest. Therefore, it should behave as a guest, telling the news rather than shouting it." As Time magazine later noted: "In its news columns, The Bulletin was solid if unspectacular. Local affairs were covered extensively, but politely. Muckraking was frowned upon."

Yet the Bulletin's understated brand of journalism won Pulitzer Prizes in 1964 and 1965. James V. Magee, Albert V. Gaudiosi and Frederick Meyer won the 1964 Pulitzer Prize for Local Investigative Specialized Reporting for their expose of numbers racket operations with police collusion in South Philadelphia, which resulted in arrests and a cleanup of the police department. J.A. Livingston won the 1965 Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting for his reports on the growth of economic independence among Russia's Eastern European satellites and his analysis of their desire for a resumption of trade with the West.

Decline in circulation

As readers and advertisers moved from the city to the suburbs, The Bulletin attempted to follow. It introduced regional editions for four suburban counties and leased a plant in southern New Jersey to print a state edition. Reporters attended school and county meetings, but their efforts could not match the combined resources of the smaller suburban dailies.

The Bulletin also faced difficulties that plagued all big-city evening newspapers: Late afternoon traffic made distribution more costly than for morning papers. Also, The Bulletin faced greater competition from television evening newscasts.

The Bulletin's biggest problem, however, may have been the morning Philadelphia Inquirer. The Inquirer was on the verge of extinction until Eugene L. Roberts Jr. became executive editor in 1972. Under Roberts, The Inquirer won six consecutive Pulitzer Prizes and gained national reputation for quality journalism. The Inquirer grabbed the circulation lead in 1980. By 1982, The Inquirer’s was receiving 60 percent of the city’s newspaper advertising revenue compared to The Bulletin's 24 percent share. The Bulletin launched a morning edition in 1978, but by then the momentum had shifted decisively.

Final months

In December 1981, the paper’s owners, the Charter Company of Jacksonville, finally put it up for sale. The Bulletin continued publishing while speaking with prospective buyers. City residents organized a “Save Our Bulletin” campaign. On January 18, 1982, 300 loyal supporters sporting S.O.B. buttons held a candlelight vigil in front of the paper's offices in subfreezing weather. Philadelphia Mayor William Green offered tax breaks and low-interest loans to help finance a purchase.

With no prospective buyers, Charter attempted to give the newspaper away. No publisher, however, would assume the paper's $29.5 million in promissory notes and $12 million in severance costs to the paper's 1,943 employees. Four groups of buyers did come forward, but each found the newspaper's prospects too discouraging.

After losing $21.5 million in 1981, The Bulletin was dropping nearly $3 million per month when it published its final edition on January 29, 1982. Said Charter Communications President J.P. Smith Jr.: "In the final analysis, the paper was unable to generate the circulation and additional advertising revenues ... it needed to survive."

The headline of the final edition read "Goodbye: After 134 years, a Philadelphia voice is silent" and the paper’s slogan was changed to "Nearly Everybody Read The Bulletin" (emphasis added). A front-page message to readers appeared below the fold in which Publisher N.S. (“Buddy”) Hayden stated: "It’s over. And there’s very little left to say, except goodbye."

The Bulletin's internal newsclipping files (approximately 500,000 pieces), card indexes, and photographs (ca. 3 million) are now held in the Temple University Libraries.

The Bulletin

In 2004 Philadelphia investment banker Thomas G. Rice bought the Bulletin naming rights from the McLean family. Rice's new right-leaning newspaper, which began circulating on November 22 2004, is known as The Bulletin.


Further reading

  • Binzen, Peter, ed., Nearly Everybody Read It: Snapshots of the Philadelphia Bulletin, Camino Books (Philadelphia 1997)

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