Utah Press Association to honor former Sun Advocate publisher for more than 30 years of service
On Friday night at the annual Utah Press Association convention in St. George, Hal Glen MacKnight, the publisher of the Sun Advocate for over 30 years will be honored by the organization by being placed in the Publishers Hall of Fame at the Utah State Capitol.
The award will be presented by the UPA to his son Scott MacKnight that evening. Hal MacKnight himself passed away on Jan. 17, 1983.
The story of MacKnight's struggle to keep the paper alive during the depression and then to make it thrive into the 1960s was one of fortitude and dedication to the local community.
In 1934, in the middle of the greatest depression the United States has ever known, a young MacKnight and partner Val Cowles purchased the fledgling newspaper in Carbon County. While the paper itself had ancestors that went back almost a half a century, the Sun Advocate was very much on the ropes when the two bought it and determined that they wanted to make it one of the finest small newspapers produced in the state.
The foundation for that future newspaper was laid by MacKnight during a time of social and financial upheaval in the United States as well as locally in Carbon County. The poor economy along with frequent strikes and lockouts in the coal mining business, the life blood of the county, made it hard to run any business, particularly one that had to tell the stories about the various sides of the issues involved.
MacKnight had come to Price as a 10-year-old boy in 1915 when his father was appointed manager of the Consolidated Wagon Company, a new venture in the county.
But Hal was not one to be interested in wagons; instead, not long after moving to the community he talked R.W. Crockett (also a member of the UPA Publishers Hall of Fame) into a job at Crockett's newspaper, The Sun.
Even as a young "printers devil" Hal must have seen the unusual and convoluted goings on concerning the operation of The Sun and its adversary in the form of the News-Advocate. It was in those days when Hal came to work at the paper that Crockett had many a run-in with the ownership of the other paper in town, including, but not limited to gun play and a stabbing. Crockett had once owned the Eastern Utah Advocate while in competition with the Carbon County News, but through a sale and a reneged-on agreement lost the name of the Advocate to the News, which the owners promptly renamed the the News-Advocate, thereby claiming the ancestral line of newspapers in the county right back to the original paper founded in 1891. This irked Crockett to no end so he opened an enterprise almost identical to his "old paper" and he called it The Sun.
Crockett could be an intimidating individual and many people had a hard time working for him. But MacKnight felt differently.
"He trained me well," said MacKnight when interviewed by Edith May Allred in 1962 for a master's thesis that she did on the history of the Sun Advocate. "Most people, however, were afraid of him."
Through the days of the early 1920s MacKnight toiled for first Crockett and then his son Robert Jr. who took over the paper late in that decade. During this time Hal graduated from Carbon High School (May 22, 1924) and went on to study journalism at Brigham Young University.
In 1932, Hal was one of the key people in the composition and printing operations for The Sun when Joseph Asbury bought the two competing county newspapers in Price and merged them together creating the Sun Advocate. Both publications were close to going out of business because they had been mismanaged by prior ownership, and the beginning of the depression had just about killed all business in many small towns.
Asbury also owned other business interests in Utah including the Richfield Reaper in Richfield. These businesses took a lot of time to run and Asbury left the operation of the Sun Advocate to MacKnight who became his shop foreman. But after only 18 months, Asbury found that it was too much to handle and decided to sell the paper. MacKnight and Val Cowles, who was the editor of the paper at the time, were there to take over.
It was the realization of a dream since he had been a young teenager; MacKnight owned a newspaper. But that too was not really complete. He did have partners in Cowles and another man named John Vlahovich who put money into the partnership. So the paper wasn't all his and at times there were differences in what the partners wanted to do.
Despite some of those internal problems, the paper went on, growing in strength during the 1930s, a time when it was very hard to heal a wounded business. But under MacKnight's guidance it survived and later thrived.
In the hard times of the 1930s the Sun Advocate was a bright spot in peoples lives. It carried news that most small town papers of the era commonly did, but the difference with the Sun Advocate was that it wasn't just about one city, but many different towns within a whole county. It also wasn't a typical small town Utah paper either. Carbon County, being a coal mining community, was unlike almost any other part of the state. It was filled with characters from all over the world, not just from northern Europe like most rural Utah areas. There were the Slavs, the Italians, the Greeks, the Mexicans, the Japanese and the Chinese. Names that filled the paper then and to this day were and are not Smith, Brown and Jones but names like Miyasaki, Milovich, Migliori, Malencik, Marakis, Marvidakis, Matekovic, Matsuda, Zamantakis, Zavala, Zaccaria and Zmerzlikar. And that covers only the M's and the Z's.
The people served by the paper came from 27 coal camps spread in canyons around the county, many living in company quarters. But there were also others in agricultural areas and railroad people in places like Helper, Spring Glen, Carbonville, Wellington, Sunnyside and Price. And as World War II came upon the country both Sunnydale, built by Kaiser for wartime coal production for steel manufacturing and Drager (later to be known as Dragerton) came into being.
MacKnight had to deal not only with many cultures in the paper, but also many different languages for the people who came into the business.
Sensitivities about religion also played into the pages of the paper. Unlike the rest of Utah, Carbon was not settled by the predominant church in the state, but instead had a dozen different denominations who built beautiful buildings to worship in and who also had celebrations that the entire community were invited to.
MacKnight took this all in and found a way to blend it all into what was truly a real melting pot in eastern Utah. The Sun Advocate, from day one, was an all-American paper.
There was also the issue of politics. Not only different in religion, ethnic diversity and culture, the county had a strong lean towards the party of FDR. In earlier days the two papers preceding the merger had announced they would take stands based on one party, each picking the opposite to represent. Hal ended that and announced a policy of non-partisianship right from the beginning of his ownership. He knew that taking sides could be the death of a paper both politically and financially. However, this did not take him out of representing one issue over another when it affected the interests of the area or of the people of Carbon County.
It was during Hal's ownership of the newspaper that one of the biggest battles affecting the local area took place. Carbon College (today known as Utah State University-Eastern) had been opened as a junior college in 1938. The paper was a major influence on the county's efforts to open a college in the area in those early years. But in 1953, a very odd thing happened. The former mayor of Price, and a Carbon County native was serving as governor of Utah. To trim the state budget, he decided that a number of junior colleges in the state be either closed or turned back over to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which had originally started those schools. Carbon College was amongst those that were to be closed. J. Bracken Lee, a home town boy, now wanted to close the very thing he had helped fight to get started when he was the Mayor of Price. Hal, along with other citizens, were appalled. The Governor actually got the legislature, during a special session, to vote to close the school. But if ever there was a reason for the Sun Advocate to exist, and for Hal MacKnight to be its publisher, it was the campaign to keep Carbon College open.
Despite a life long friendship with the governor, MacKnight was the first to alert the citizens of the county to the situation and how serious it was.
"Carbon College has advanced the cultural climate of this section's people," wrote MacKnight in an editorial at the time. "It has provided entertainment in the fields of art, sciences and athletics. It has literally brought back to this section state money which left here and were never returned. Governor Lee's attitude is amazing."
He later also wrote that "We (Carbon County) have become the victim of inexorable events in the unpredictable field of political maneuvering."
With MacKnight amongst the leading citizens fighting to keep the college open, a campaign to put an initiative on the state wide ballot began. To do that local people had to go all over the state and gather signatures. The Sun Advocate, with almost every issue for months following the legislature's vote, urged residents to help in the effort to keep the college open. The Sun Advocate was sent to parties around the state to enlist their help in defeating the closur,e and since other places around the state (such as Ogden) also did not want to see their colleges closed either, there became a brotherhood of working together. In the end over 56,000 signatures were collected to put the initiative on the ballot when only about 33,000 were needed. The initiative appeared on the ballot the next fall, and the public voted to keep the colleges open.
By the time of the college fight MacKnight had taken over sole ownership of the Sun Advocate. He did have one partner, a silent one, in his father-in-law, L. Earl Durrant who also helped out at the paper.
By that time too, Hal was also married and raising a family, who as in most newspaper families, joined one way or another in the enterprise. Wife Earlene did the books for the paper, and sons Richard and Scott worked in various places at the paper over the years.
"I remember my mom doing the books and circulation," said son Scott recently. "That's what it seemed she was always doing. Grandpa helped with that too."
Richard, the oldest son, ran the press for six years and then went to the University of Utah and while there worked for the Salt Lake Tribune. He later went to work for Mountain Bell.
Scott worked in the press room and then on production. He stayed with paper for a number of years after it was sold to Robert Finney and a group of investors from California in 1966.
Scott remembers that the paper was his dad's life. As a little boy he remembers how tired his dad was at night when he came home.
"He would sit in the chair in the front room and just fall asleep," said Scott.
But Hal did have time for community beyond the newspaper as well. He served as president of the Kiwanis Club and the Carbon Country Club. He was also a member of the Price Elks Club. He was active in the Price Chamber of Commerce and served as president of that organization and was on the board numerous times.
And the UPA also took advantage of his abilities for 10 years as he served on the board and was president of the association in 1949.
Under his leadership the paper also won numerous statewide awards, including the award for General Excellence from the UPA three times from the time the awards were started in 1946 until 1966 when he retired. The paper also won several national awards in various categories during his years of leadership.
Upon the sale of the paper Hal wrote an emotional piece in the paper talking about his many years in Price, in the newspaper business and about his loyal employees. The farewell came in the Feb. 24, 1966 edition of the Sun Advocate and he wrote that despite the problems and tribulations of running a newspaper and the conflicts that exist when one is operating such an endeavor "the people of Price and Carbon County have been kind, lovable, tolerant....history has been chronicled...sadness and heartaches have been shared. On saying farewell, how fleeting are the misunderstandings and unhappiness...how sweet the pleasant memory. With a lump in the throat, a name is taken form the masthead."
A plaque honoring MacKnight as a hall of famer, which he shares with 62 other past publishers, will be placed in the UPA Publishers Hall of Fame that is located on the lower level of the Utah State Capitol.