The Small Newspaper Group, Inc.

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A History of the Small Newspaper Group


Welcome to the website of the Small Newspaper Group, a privately owned company principally engaged in newspaper publishing in the Midwest.

The story of the Small Newspaper Group begins in 1903, when Lennington Small became a principal stockholder in the Kankakee Republican Company. A State Senator in 1902, Len had a background in farming and banking. Other civic leaders of the day joined him in buying one of Kankakee's local papers and changing its name to the "Republican."

Len probably did not take an active role in the newspaper, as he was elected State Treasurer in 1904, but his son, Leslie, became its Publisher from 1913 to 1957.

By 1913, The Daily Republican, one of three newspapers in town, was struggling to survive. Leslie, a teller at the First National Bank, was given the assignment of taking control. He succeeded as Managing Editor where eight managers in ten years had not. He established the integrity of the business through personal example. The newspaper moved from East Court Street to a better-equipped facility on North Schuyler Avenue. Leslie and Grace's first son, Len Howard, was born in 1914, and their second son, Burrell Leslie, was born in 1918.

So from 1921 to 1929, Leslie was Managing Editor of the Kankakee Republican, while his father was Governor of Illinois. The Chicago Tribune championed a cause against the Governor which impressed upon the Small family the importance of their hometown newspaper. The Governor is best known for the 7,000 miles of hard roads he built in Illinois and for his support of the State Fair.

The start of the Great Depression saw a merger of newspapers that produced the Kankakee Republican-News. The name was changed to The Kankakee Daily Journal in 1945. Leslie served as Publisher. His son, Burrell, joined the paper in 1940 and became Managing Editor. A Sunday edition was started.

Years of careful management and saving prepared for construction of the plant on Dearborn Avenue in 1951. The 48-page web press offered twice the capacity of the old press. Len H. Small joined the paper in 1955 as Associate Editor after a fifteen-year career in law. The Daily Times, in Ottawa, Illinois, was purchased in 1955. Stan White moved from the advertising department at The Journal to become Publisher there. Stan remained as Publisher of The Daily Times for the rest of his life, until 1994.

After the death of Leslie Small in 1957, The Kankakee Daily Journal Company was essentially a partnership between Len and Burrell. In 1969, the brothers divided the business. Len took the newspapers, and Burrell took the broadcast properties. Radio station WKAN had begun in 1947. A dozen broadcast properties were acquired over the years, and the Kankakee Cable Company originated in 1965.

In 1964, the Smalls purchased the La Porte Herald-Argus, in La Porte, Indiana, from the Lindgren family. Ed Shipley was moved from the editorial department at The Journal to become Publisher at La Porte. From 1969 to 1985, Dick Morrish served as Publisher. He had been a Business Administrator at the Wichita, Kansas, newspaper. Clem Otolski, promoted from Business Manager, served as Publisher from 1985 until his death in 2002. The paper was sold in 2007.

Len was inclined to expand the business. With the help of his Business Manager, Gus Janssen, credit was extended to purchase The Daily Dispatch, in Moline, Illinois, in 1969. As Publisher, Ed Shipley was moved from La Porte to Moline.

It was 1971 when both of Len's sons, Len Robert (Rob) Small and Thomas P. Small, started to work for the company. In Moline, Rob Small became Associate Editor and at Ed Shipley's retirement in 1979, Rob became Publisher. A new press was installed for Moline in 1974, and a Sunday edition was launched in 1976. A weekly newspaper, now known as The Leader, located across the Mississippi River from The Dispatch, was built up through acquisitions starting in 1978. Tom Small was the Leader's first Publisher. Tom had previously worked at The Kankakee Journal in the photo and sales departments, and with early computer operations.

A major expansion in Kankakee began in 1971 with the move to cold type. Extensive remodeling was completed in 1972 with the installation of the new Metro press, which more than doubled capacity.

The new press supported important commercial printing jobs. The Star Publication, a group of weeklies in the south Chicago suburbs with a circulation near 100,000, was printed from 1975 to 1995. Kankakee has won awards for quality for the 80,000 to 105,000 daily copies of USA Today it has printed from startup in 1983 to the present.

In 1976, the Company purchased one-quarter interest in Family Weekly, the national newspaper supplement now known as USA Weekend. Len was Chairman of the Board. It was sold in 1980 to CBS.

In 1978, Small Newspapers opened its Washington, DC, Bureau. Jennifer Small, Len's daughter, was a correspondent there.

The Rochester Post-Bulletin, then the third-largest afternoon newspaper in Minnesota, was acquired by the company in 1977. William C. Boyne, who had been a Publisher in E. St. Louis, was brought in to manage it, and he became Publisher in 1982. The paper today is the largest afternoon daily in the state and in 1997, was the top-ranked newspaper in its category in the NNA's national contest. Today, Randy Chapman serves as Publisher.

The Times-Press, in Streator, Illinois, was acquired by the Company in 1980. It is eight miles from the Ottawa Daily Times. John Bowman, previous Managing Editor in Kankakee, was Publisher in Streator from 1980 to 1982. Today, Cindy Liptak is the General Manager.

In 1970, Len had been President of the Inland Daily Press Association. In 1980, he was President-Elect of the American Newspaper Association. While traveling to his first meeting in that capacity, he was tragically killed in an auto accident.

His wife, Jean Alice Small, first became active in the newspaper in 1974, when she was named Associate Editor, and she wrote a popular column about etiquette, "Dear Journal." She was named Associate Publisher in 1976. The same year, she was the first woman elected to the board of the Inland Press Association. An early woman member of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, she was fond of saying that her journalism education came from seriously attending newspaper meetings and asking lots of questions. In addition, she experienced being a Pulitzer juror, as well as serving for three years as a board member on the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University. Upon her husband's death in 1980, Cordell Overgaard, attorney at Hopkins & Sutter, Chicago, joined the family as a member of the Board, a position he holds to this day.

Two California properties were acquired in 1981. A long-term employee, Roberta Donohue, today runs the Palisadian Post, a weekly in Pacific Palisades. The Press-Tribune, in Roseville, California, was a daily newspaper caught in the competition between the two larger Sacramento papers. First John Bowman, and then Tom Small, were Publishers there. A new building was constructed and a Sunday edition started. The paper was sold in 1988 to the Lescher Group.

Rob Small was named CEO of the company in 1983. In 1986, SNG acquired The Argus in Rock Island, Illinois, from the Potter family. The Argus is one of the state's oldest continuously published newspapers. Moline and Rock Island are neighboring cities, and the operations of the two newspapers were adapted for the switch from evening to morning publication in 1995. Today, the Publisher of both newspapers is Jerry Taylor, who had been Managing Editor for The Dispatch. Roger Ruthhart, previously the Managing Editor in Streator, is the Managing Editor at Rock Island. A Springfield Bureau was opened in 1999.

Jean Alice Small died in September, 2002. Len Robert Small is President of the Company, and Tom Small is Senior Vice President and Secretary. Other officers of the Company are Cordy Overgaard, formerly of the law firm of Hopkins and Sutter, and long-term legal advisor to the company, Joe Lacaeyse, Treasurer and Assistant Secretary, and formerly Business Manager at Moline, and Bob Hill, formerly the General Manager at the Rochester Post-Bulletin, and now Publisher at LaPorte.

Ken Munjoy became the Ad Director of the Daily Journal in 2003, and became General Manager in 2007.

Origins of the Small Newspaper Group are preserved at the Kankakee County Historical Society, on the site of the pioneer home of Governor Small's parents, Abram and Calista Small.