When Community Newspaper Holdings Inc. decided to cease publication of The Edmond Sun in May 2020 soon after the COVID-19 pandemic turned the world upside down, Edmond residents lost a familiar outlet that had told their city’s story for 130 years.
“We have missed it so badly,” said Amy Stephens, executive director of the Edmond Historical Society and Museum. “Even more so, not only did we lose the newspaper, but we lost access to the digital content.”
Founded by Milton “Kickingbird” Reynolds in July 1889, The Edmond Sun premiered as a weekly publication in a town that what was known then as a train refueling stop in Oklahoma Territory.
“This is the first issue of The Edmond Sun in the beautiful land,” Reynolds wrote. “It is here to stay and lay the foundations of a growing city and prosperous trade center. The country is here. The people are here to lay the foundations and start right. We commence with schools and churches, temperance and sobriety, enterprise and thrift. The recognition of these factors and a unity of purpose on the part of our people cannot fail to build a prosperous city.”
Although Reynolds died just a year later, he kickstarted what became Oklahoma’s oldest paper in what would become one of its largest communities.
From the 1986 post office shooting to Edmondite Shannon Miller becoming the most-decorated gymnast in U.S. history, journalists at The Edmond Sun chronicled the city’s darkest days and brightest triumphs.
But for Edmond residents looking to revisit their history or research the city’s past, the harsh realities of the struggling corporate newspaper world have complicated the process. When CNHI closed the paper in May 2020, it also took down the publication’s website. Some say limited access to The Edmond Sun’s archives has stung almost as much as watching the paper close in the first place.
“That has been just a tragedy for us as historians,” Stephens said. “We get research requests every day that we could so quickly look up or people could have looked up on their own.”
Former Edmond Mayor Dan O’Neil, who served one term from 2007 to 2009 and another from 2019 to 2021 when The Edmond Sun closed, said digitizing those archives is something that must happen one way or another.
“That’s one of the undone things that we just need to do,” O’Neil said.
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The effort to digitize The Edmond Sun archives
In response to concerns from people like Stephens and O’Neil, members of the Oklahoma Historical Society are seeking to digitize The Edmond Sun’s archives dating back to 1889. The organization wants to place the the digitized archives on The Gateway to Oklahoma History web portal, making them freely accessible to the public.
“We continue to try to do it because it’s a really important aspect of state history that we want people to be able to access and be able to use,” said Trait Thompson, executive director of the Oklahoma Historical Society. “We’re continuing to try to work through the channels that we have to get permission to put those out there.”
Thompson said the Oklahoma Historical Society, which was formed in 1893 by the Oklahoma Territorial Press Association, has collected copies of every single newspaper that has published in the state and has placed them on microfilm — including The Edmond Sun.
After those papers are placed on microfilm, they are recycled, Thompson said.
“We have a lot of them on microfilm, and of course we’re transitioning to digital now, but we have all of the newspapers,” Thompson said. “That’s not really the issue.”
The organization faces a legal hurdle in digitizing those archives, Thompson said. Copyright law prevents the Oklahoma Historical Society from digitizing issues of The Edmond Sun that published after 1963.
However, with permission of Community Newspaper Holdings Inc., all archives could be placed online.
Stephens and Thompson both said they sought to get permission to place those archives online after The Edmond Sun briefly merged with The Norman Transcript, but they said they were unable to reach any representative with CNHI.
“Somebody has it in their portfolio, but it probably isn’t that big of a deal to them anymore because obviously it isn’t in business anymore,” Thompson said. “What we’ve been trying to do is reach out to the publisher and get permission.”
James Coburn, who served as a reporter and photographer for 35 years with The Edmond Sun until it closed, said he still thinks about the city’s loss of The Edmond Sun and its website.
“I still grieve that a vital link to historical identity of the city of Edmond was lost when the newspaper’s website vanished,” Coburn said. “The Edmond Sun staff cared about the product and community it served. We were in the people business. The newspaper’s historic investment in the safety, progress and lifestyle of the community ended when its pulse of valuable and revealing documentation of a city on the rise was silenced.”
Coburn believes it’s CNHI’s duty to share those archives with the public.
“How great that would be. It is my opinion that the owner of such a vast source of Edmond history has a responsibility to the community and beyond to share every publication of the newspaper’s history for educational purposes,” Coburn said. “I only date back to the mid-1980s at the Sun. There was much going on during my time and the decades before me. You might be surprised to learn about the history of race relations, early business leaders through the decades, the rise of education and developments and how residents came together after profound tragedy.
“My remembrance of volunteerism and community outreach, the arts, sports and health care speak volumes of the community spirit of everyday people that have made Edmond shine.”
Matthew Gray, CNHI’s chief operating officer who also serves as an attorney for the company, did not return a phone call or email prior to the publication of this article.
Principally owned by the Retirement Systems of Alabama, CNHI operates more than 100 newspapers in 22 states. Its Oklahoma publications include:
- The Norman Transcript
- The Muskogee Phoenix
- The Enid News & Eagle
- The Tahlequah Daily Press
- The Ada News
- The Stillwater Daily Press
- The Woodward News
- The Claremore Daily Progress
- The McAlester News-Capital
- The Chickasha Express Star
- The Pauls Valley Democrat
- The Stilwell Democrat Journal
- The Duncan Banner.
In April 2017, CNHI also chose to close The Pryor Daily Times, leaving Mayes County residents facing a similar loss of their historical newspaper archives.