A History of Mount Dora’s News (1)
Mount Dora’s news for 100 years was a newspaper’s beat (what’s next?)
July 8, 2015
While it’s true that we live in an information-saturated culture — bombarded by media from every direction — strangely, the news of Mount Dora is widely unavailable to its citizens.
If you spend much time on Facebook, there are a few local channels: Local and regional blogs cover upcoming events, and personal pages provide heated coverage of city government. The free print shopper The Triangle News Leader is a great place to sell stuff but it carries very little local news. Rival daily newspapers The Orlando Sentinel and The Leesburg Commercial provide occasional coverage of Mount Dora, but we’re pretty far off their standard beat and both papers are declining.
There is so much about Mount Dora that is not found in any of those places, from prep sports to religion news to news of its varied communities of home and interest.
Surrounded by information, we somehow live in a news desert. A vacuum where all sense of collective local identity has largely become invisible.
Mount Dora isn’t alone in this poverty. As newspapers continue to decline and the Internet becomes dominated by national media outfits capable of delivering news at scale, many communities find themselves isolated and fragmented by silence.
In the 2009 Knight Commission report, “Informing Communities: Sustaining Democracy in the Digital Age,” the need for vital local news sources was declared essential for a community’s democratic survival:
“America needs ‘informed communities,’ places where the information ecology meets people’s personal and civic information needs. This means people have the news and information to participate fully in our system of self-government, to stand up and be heard. Driving this vision are the democratic values of openness, inclusion, participation, empowerment, and the common pursuit of truth and the public interest.”
The newspaper of record in this town from 1916 until it shuttered in 2006 was the weekly Mount Dora Topic. Its story provides compelling proof of how important local newspapers are to their communities — and what communities are vulnerable to when their newspapers stale or wither away. The story also provides some clues for what we here at the Mount Dora Citizen hope to restore.
Mount Dora’s first newspaper was actually the Mount Dora Voice, which first printed in 1886. The Rev. W.S. Fitch, minister of the local Methodist Church, was editor and publisher. The first edition’s front page carried the Elizabeth Browning poem “A Woman’s Question” and two articles — “Getting Acquainted” and “The Climate of Florida.” One of the main motivations for publishing the paper was attracting winter residents.
The Voice didn’t survive the long hot Florida summer (a malady that has haunted many businesses in our town over the years) and Mount Dora was again without a paper until 1910 with the publication of the Mount Dora News, published by J.F. Setzer. A letter-size four-pager, it only lasted for one season. Back then you could get a room at the Lakeside Inn for $2.50 a night (with gas lighting, steam heat and “the best sanitation arrangement) and the Lewis Drug Store offered Pure Drugs, Perfumes, Aligator Goods and, of course, Post Cards. The newsletter listed snowbird arrivals and gatherings for tea.
1916 when Ida Walton started the Mount Dora Topic. By the end of its first hardscrabble summer, the Topic was sold to Edith Edeburn Keller. Edith and her husband ran the paper until 1947; she was the reporter and he worked the linotype machine.
During the 1930s and ’40s, the Topic ran fiction serials such as “She Painted Her Face … A Story of Love and Intrigue” and “The Dim Lantern.” Comic strips became a regular feature, including Rube Goldberg’s “Lala Palooza.” Needlecraft patterns were popular, as was a syndicated photography column, “The Snapshot Guild.”
During the Second World War, war coverage took center stage with two pages every week covering battles and rich with photos. It was then that Mount Dora readers became familiar with journalists like Walter Winchell and Grantland Rice. Local photos were scarce, probably due to the shortage of photography supplies.
At its demise in 2006, the Mount Dora Topic was the sixth-oldest weekly newspaper in Florida. It had seen much history by the end of the Second World War, but its most turbulent — and outstanding — chapter lay just ahead.
Part 1 here: Mount Dora’s news began at the counter of the general store.
Part 2 here: The Topic gets an editor willing to stand up for the truth.
Part 3 here: The Topic gets big as Mount Dora grows up.
Part 4 here: The Topic fades and then disappears, leaving Mount Dorans to wonder at what cost.
— David Cohea (email@example.com)
Originally published at www.mountdoracitizen.com on July 8, 2015.