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April 1, 1997

Readers of this newspaper have been receiving a tabloid version of The Journal each Friday for the past several weeks. Some of you may regard the "Weekender" as a curious novelty and a refreshing contrast to the traditional page-size format to which you've become accustomed through the years. Lest you think it's never been done before, however, let me take you back to an earlier tabloid experiment at The Perry Daily Journal. I remember it well.

The time was in March 1942, barely three months after the U.S. had been dragged into World War II by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Wartime shortages of sugar, gasoline, tires, silk stockings and other goods already were making life difficult for those on the home front, and everyone knew other commodities for the civilian population soon would be difficult to buy. It was a sign of our changing way of life. W.K. Leatherock, astute publisher of The Journal, expected newsprint to be rationed at any time and began making plans for adapting to that situation. He decided newsprint rolls for tabloid size sheets might be easier to obtain than the larger rolls, so the switch was made to a daily tabloid format.

Under Mr. Leatherock. The Journal always prided itself on innovative ideas. Column rules were eliminated at the PDJ long before that became a standard makeup practice on newspapers everywhere. After dropping the rules between columns, Mr. Leatherock used this motto at the top of the front page each day: "The Only Modern Streamlined Daily Newspaper in Oklahoma." There was a practical side to this. Column rules were subject to frequent nicks and dings which made them unsightly, and small dailies that did not have the equipment to make new ones had to buy replacement rules quite often. By eliminating them from the paper, that expense also was eliminated.

Mr. Leatherock suggested to Francis Thetford, managing editor, that in the tabloid, all United Press war stories be set two columns wide to emphasize their importance. Usually a banner headline was strung along the top of page one below the masthead. There was no shortage of local stories with wartime perspectives: The office of the county AAA (Agricultural Administration Agency), under J.D. Nelson, regularly announced new marketing quota changes for farmers; more local men were being called up by Selective Service; combat casualties, including deaths, were sadly and frequently announced. To demonstrate the importance of weather news to this community, Mr. Leatherock had the forecast set in a single line above the page one masthead each day. "That's what most people want to know," he said. "We'll put it where they can find it quickly."

My experience as a PDJ reporter covered all of nine months at the time, so imagine my surprise when Mr. Leatherock designated me as the newspaper's first-ever movie critic. Our little city had three first-run film houses -- the palatial Perry Theater on Sixth street, about where the Exchange Bank drive-through facility is located; the Roxy Theater, where a dance studio is now housed next door to Foster's Corner Drug; and the Annex Theater, located in the old Grand Opera House building which filled most of that big gap on the east side of the square, about where the Farmers Union Insurance Office now stands. My job as a critic required me to see as many movies as possible each week, something I already had been doing most of my life, and to review them in the Saturday afternoon edition. That I had never done. John B. Terry, owner of the local movie houses, provided me with a free pass to all of the cinema attractions at his three theaters. I was walking on air. Some of my dates did not know I was taking them with me on an actual assignment from the newspaper.

Francis Thetford and I, along with girl reporter Jane Schneider, comprised the entire news staff. We assumed the change to tabloid was permanent and we quickly began enjoying the variety of makeup possibilities the format afforded. It was much easier to give good display to little feature items that might otherwise have been lost on a standard size sheet. Mr. Leatherock wrote his personal page one column, In the Wake of the News, once or twice a week, and his pithy style made it very popular. Jane had an equally well-received column on an inside page, entitled Perry Parings and signed by "Jane of The Journal."

After the experiment had continued about six weeks, Mr. Leatherock announced in a page one box on April 10 that it was time to go back to the previous format as a blanket size newspaper. He cited increased mechanical costs required by the tabloid format as the principal reason for ending the trial run. He thanked readers for their many favorable comments and confessed surprise that the paid circulation had a net increase of 18 copies during the period.

It was a noble and interesting experiment, and I believe it provided subscribers with a more exciting and readable daily paper. My career as a movie critic also terminated with the end of the tabloid era at the PDJ, but I was in the Army a year later, anyway, and didn't have much time to catch the latest releases. The 1942 tabloid was fun to work on. Even that was not the very first Perry newspaper of that size. A predecessor, The Noble County Sentinel, was a tabloid when it was published in 1897. Perhaps others were, too, but I have a copy of the Sentinel dated December 23, 1897, showing it to be that size sheet.

So, when you're examining the next copy of the Weekender, just remember that it has an illustrious blood line and that it is not simply blazing a new trail.