Newspaper editors at the turn of the 20th century were powerful opinion-makers who could use their papers to reach and influence a wide audience. Many newspaper articles of the period do not have bylines, but we can assume that few editors allowed writers’ pieces to go through if they did not agree with their own stance on the issues. A story from the April 22, 1904 issue of Canton, South Dakota’s The Sioux Valley News is a good example of the way newspaper editors made their biases plain.
The headline was “Goes Wet,” and began: “With feelings that cannot be expressed THE NEWS is obliged to record the fact that after eighteen years of existence without open saloons Canton has opened her door and invited the saloon to enter.” The writer complimented “the good old Third [ward]”, which had “stood its ground and beat back the friends of the saloon as it did one year ago.”
The chagrin of the writer is apparent in some of his following words: “THE NEWS is not ready to assert that all who voted for license, did so because they were evil minded.” However, he made it plain that most of the voters had to have been misguided. Saloon supporters evidently had campaigned on the idea that saloons would bring in more business and eliminate some of the illicit hole-in-the-wall establishments evidently in operation in Canton. The paper’s powers-that-be waited sarcastically “for the decrease in drunkenness and the dawn of the promised millennium which we have been assured the saloons would bring.”