By: Mark Fitzgerald One daily buys the other in Shenandoah, Iowa sp.
THE BRIEF REIGN of Shenandoah, Iowa, as the smallest U.S. city with competing daily newspapers has come to an end. In the fight between the Valley News Today, established 1993, and the Shenandoah Evening Sentinel, established 1882, it was the older and chain-owned Sentinel that blinked. Valley News bought the Sentinel May 1 and two weeks later introduced the new Valley News Today-Daily Sentinel. It was a short fight. Publisher and editor Gregg Knowles created the Valley News as a weekly in 1989. In April 1993, he merged the Valley News with another of his weeklies serving southwestern Iowa, the Clarinda Chronicle, and took the new paper daily. The Valley News Today/Evening Sentinel competition gave Shenandoah ? population 5,500 ? the distinction of being the smallest U.S. city with two independently owned competing dailies. Officials at the Evening Sentinel, then owned by Park Communications Inc., warned that the town could not support two papers for very long. Park, however, showed no inclination to back off. Both papers published five days a week, but the similarity ended there. The Evening Sentinel came out Monday through Friday while Valley News Today appeared Tuesday through Saturday. Saturday publication allowed the Valley News to provide Iowa's sports-mad readers with next-day coverage of Friday night high school football and basketball games. But Knowles said the more important distinction was the Valley News philosophy of creating a regional paper ? in contrast to the Sentinel's concentration on Shenandoah. "We have three communities within 18 miles of each other with populations of 6,000 each. That's an unusual situation in Iowa and there's no reason this regional base cannot support a daily," Knowles said. The beginning of the end of the competition came last December when Hollinger Inc.'s American Publishing Co. bought some of Park's papers. From the start, American knew it would be shedding some of those papers, said American's Roland McBride. The Evening Sentinel, he said, "was just in a kind of market we weren't in. And the competition just wanted it more badly than we did, was what it amounted to." In addition to the Sentinel, the purchase included the Sentinel's shopper, a 29,000-circulation, free-distribution product that publishes on Mondays. Knowles folded his own shopper and eliminated the 25% editorial that Park had published in the shopper. Knowles hired about nine of the 16 full-time Sentinel employees and says he is still looking to fill three positions.