small text medium text large text

The Bulletin Index


The Bulletin was founded in 1876 by John Wesley Black, who had been a reporter with the old Pittsburg Telegraph. The paper was originally known as The East End Bulletin. Black wrote the first edition out by hand and distributed copies in person to each of his six subscribers at the time. When Black finally bought his first printing press for $11, it wasn't long before his Baptist grandmother smashed it because she considered the press to be an instrument of the devil.

Black described his Bulletin as "A Weekly Journal of Social & Literary Life," in which he would present personal commentary on local contemporary issues and activities. One of its features was The Rambler, which consisted of short commentaries delivered in a high moral tone. For example, it would editorialize on such topics as the insanitation of kissing and the wickedness of the striker. But the accent was really on society news, presenting columns on music, art, drama, and fashion. Criticism was rare, but praise was plentiful as in this musical review: "Mr. John Gernert won much favor with his violin solos and narrowly escaped an encore." It is said that The Bulletin lived up to its reputation as the prime indicator of the city's social prestige.

In 1892, The Bulletin changed its subtitle to "A Weekly Journal for the Home," and photographic layouts were increased. In fact, it was the first Pittsburgh publication that made extensive reproductive use of local photographers. Columns began to appear which featured fiction writing, and frequent contributors consisted of writers such as Christopher Morley, Margaret Deland and James Whitcomb Riley.

When John Black died in 1898, his wife took over and added a section on business. Soon after, in 1912, a year in which one million American workingmen carried IWW cards, the paper took on a new look and dropped its Weekly Journal for the Home subtitle. The Rambler column took on a pro-Labor stance and advocated a minimum wage law for Pittsburgh.

In 1917, the paper, now known as The Pittsburgh Bulletin, became "A Journal of Life's Finer Side." Then the news column, The Rambler, was replaced in 1921 by an editorial page. During the mid-twenties, Pittsburgh newspapers began to merge. Although T. Howard Black, son of John Wesley Black, had fought successfully to stay afloat for years, he finally sold the paper in 1929.

The Bulletin began its new career under new management with an implied expose, written in installments, by Harvey B. Gaul. Entitled, "The Untold Story of Mary Copley Thaw," it attracted much attention and considerable legal pressure to prohibit publication of the final installment. Harvey Gaul was unable to live up to his audience's expectations, however, and the expected sensational ending never appeared.

Fortunately, the new publisher was able to pay off all the paper's debts. The next plan would be to maneuver the take-over of The Bulletin's chief rival, The Index.

The Index was founded in 1895 and enjoyed a dozen years under the able editorship of Robert Galloway Paul. Eventually, however, the paper's ownership and editorship would go through frequent changes. Its most famous editor was Frank Gannett of the Gannett newspaper chain. Most of The Index's contents were devoted to society news, poetry, art, fiction, amusements, and shopping. The New York and Princeton Letters were printed every week for the first fifteen years, and Willa Cather corresponded from Washington with her Winter Sketches from the Capital.

In 1905, The Index proclaimed itself "Pittsburgh's Illustrated Weekly" and introduced a cover picture. In an effort to attract a wider audience, a full page of editorial comment was added, as well as coverage on Current Events. As automobiles were then enjoying popularity, a weekly segment of Automobile Quips was added.

The subtitle was changed in 1916 to "Pittsburgh's Illustrated & Society Weekly." Most of the feature articles, fiction, and poetry were dispensed with. By 1923, the paper had diminished in length and, by 1929, The Index was exclusively a society paper.

In February 1930, The Index merged with The Bulletin and became The Bulletin Index. In 1931, the Spectator ("Pittsburgh's smart magazine") and the Western Pennsylvania Golfer were incorporated into The Bulletin Index. A young, aspiring novelist by the name of John Henry O'Hara was recruited in 1933 from his Manhattan job at Time magazine in order to transform The Bulletin Index into a regional weekly newsmagazine similar to Time. Within four months of his arrival, O'Hara managed to insult some of the most renowned names in Pittsburgh society with his "acid prose." Thereafter, The Bulletin Index set about analyzing and rehashing old news.

In 1937, several reporters were hired who instigated a series of long, original stories about life in Pittsburgh. During these fast-moving transitional times, the magazine made many enemies, particularly among those who did not appreciate its attitude toward some "sacred" Pittsburgh institutions. Those readers who relied on the magazine's honest news reporting were resentful of the space allotted to society news. Likewise, society people were incensed at the loss of decorum and attention paid to their interests. As one reader noted in 1937, "It's the magazine you love to hate and hate to love."

In addition, The Bulletin Index was now fraught with technical and factual errors. In 1938, a policy of checking galley proofs with the people concerned was instituted, and this reduced the number of errors significantly. A couple years later, under Robert C. Alberts, procedures were implemented to reduce typographical errors. By 1940, "rewrite" material also began to disappear, making The Bulletin Index news much less susceptible to claims of redundancy and inaccuracy.

The 1940s produced some noteworthy special issues, including an annual "industrial issue," which became the traditional authority on Business and Industry. In 1942, ownership was taken over by a corporation which sold the paper to an ad-man and publicist in 1945. In order to save on escalating costs, The Bulletin Index went from weekly to monthly publication between June 1947 and January 1948.

In 1948, J.F. Hedding and J.D. Evans, both Pittsburgh businessmen, bought out the last owner. Anson B. Campbell, a staff member since 1942, became editor. With these new heads, the magazine also acquired a new name, BI-the Bulletin Index, reflecting its popular nickname, BI. A new format and new departments were implemented; however, the magazine continued to lose money. Although it was a good advertising medium, the publishers were unable to attract the necessary advertising revenue to keep it afloat. An open letter was printed in the February 12, 1949 issue advising readers that "... the publication must stand on its own financial feet; further, we know that it is impossible to continue under present conditions."

A week of intense activity thus ensued in order to save the magazine. Appeals were made over the radio and through letters and personal contacts. Unable to stem the tide, BI published its final issue on February 19, 1949. With its demise recorded on the new medium of television, The Bulletin Index passed into history. "It furnished Pittsburgh with a type of journalism that few other U.S. cities enjoyed, and which died only when times and customs changed."

Source: "The Bulletin Index 1876-1949" in BI-the Bulletin Index, February 19, 1949 (the final issue).