Clay County newspapers cataloged South Dakotans can look into the minds of state journalists in the 1920s by reading Vermillion's Dakota Republican of Aug. 17, 1922.
"A journalist should be not a recorder, but a prophet, not an historian but a promoter of tomorrow," the newspaper paraphrases Walter Williams as saying to a gathering of South Dakota editors and publishers. "No longer do we need a reporter at the point where 'Hell breaks loose,' but we must know where heaven may be built, be the voice we use the trumpet of the metropolitan daily or the rural reed of the country newspaper."
Williams's idealism, as well as the boosterism of rural South Dakota editors, has been preserved on microfilm by the South Dakota State Historical Society. Now their views are easier to find, thanks to Clay County cataloging and inventory work recently completed by the South Dakota Newspaper Project.
Williams, dean of the University of Missouri journalism program and president of the World Press Congress, made his remarks at the South Dakota Press Association's 1922 midsummer session in Vermillion. The South Dakota editors attending joined in a chorus for progress and boosterism.
D.C. DeVany of th Mobridge Tribune was introduced as a booster for hydroelectric power.
"Alluding to the withering sarcasm which Sinclair Lewis felt for the 'Gopher Prairie Dauntless' in its great booster campaign, he said we were furious at the closeness of its application to us, but that after all, out here, we all live in G.P. and most of us on Main street," the Dakota Republican article said.
"Mr. DeVany said that South Dakota could never have attained its present status in higher education, good roads, better farming and legislation had it not been for the untiring small town newspaper editor who boosted, and who had withal, the satisfaction of accomplishment."
The South Dakota Newspaper Project found a rich history of newspapering in the 22 Clay County newspaper titles preserved at the State Archives. There is, of course, the long-lived Vermillion Plain Talk; a hunting and fishing newspaper, Great Lakes of the Dakota Tabloid; various University of South Dakota student newspapers; numerous Wakonda titles; and a number of titles published while the state was part of Dakota Territory.
These newspapers offer opportunities for area residents to more fully understand the history of Clay County, give genealogist precious information about relatives and provide local historians with the raw material for county, town and regional histories.
Following is a partial list of 22 Clay County titles cataloged by the Newspaper Project: The Dakota Republican; The Clay County Register (Vermillion) Semi-weekly Register (Vermillion); The Vermillion Standard; The Wakonda Monitor; Plain Talk; Vermillion Plain Talk; Jerry Nygaard's Great Lakes of the Dakota Tabloid (Vermillion); Great Lakes of the Dakotas Tabloid (Vermillion); The Wakonda Times; Wakonda Times-Observer; Volante (Vermillion); The Summer Session News (Vermillion); Clay County News & Booster (Vermillion); and Letan Wankatakiya (Vermillion).
Although the State Archives has preserved hundreds of newspaper titles on more than 13,000 microfilm reels, some newspapers are missing. Conspicuously absent is a predecessor of the Plain Talk, called the Clay County Freeman. No issues of this title have been found to date.
If you have old newspapers, or know someone with some, please contact Julie Bolding or Ken Stewart at (605) 773-4370. The SDNP address is: Cultural Heritage Center, 900 Governors Drive, Pierre, SD 57501-2217.