UM professor discuss book on history of Montana media at Sheridan library

SHERIDAN – The Sheridan Public Library hosted Montana author and historian Dennis Swibold on Thursday evening to discuss his book “Copper Chorus: Mining, Politics and the Montana Press, 1889-1959,” an examination of the influence the Anaconda Copper Mining Company held over the states newspapers during its heyday.

Published in 2006, the book addresses the power, greed and corruption displayed throughout the history of publications such as the Anaconda Standard that would later become known as Company papers. These early newspapers competed fiercely with each other, Swibold said, promoting themselves and proclaiming their own communities as superior while at the same time expounding the political beliefs of friends and foes alike.

“It was amazing, here in the middle of nowhere, you were as well informed as anybody in the United States of America,” he continued. “At the height of the Anaconda Standard’s day, you could find it on news stands in Chicago, New York, San Francisco.”

The Company papers were also masters of the political cartoon, antagonizing their competing publications while offering a satirical illustration of less than reputable political figures of the day such as Marcus Daly and William Andrews Clark, known as the Copper Kings of Montana. One cartoon depicted the Company as a large serpent constricting the states legislature, while another portrayed the various Company newspapers in Montana as organ pipes, all playing the same tune as commanded by the Anaconda Copper Mining Company.

Swibold has been a professor at the University of Montana School of Journalism since 1989, and before that he worked as managing editor of the Bozeman Chronicle as well as at other newspapers in Montana and Arizona. When asked to compare and contrast the way the local and national media has or hasn’t changed throughout the generations, Swibold just laughs.

“I love to look at this and see how things haven’t really changed that much,” he said. “Nobody really sort of pulls the curtain back on the media very much, and I think it’s kind of amazing to do so.”

“Copper Chorus: Mining, Politics and the Montana Press, 1889-1959” is available for purchase at various bookstores throughout the state as well as through the Montana Historical Society and Amazon.com.

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