The Brooks Bulletin, first published in 1910, was not the first newspaper to be published in Alberta. The now defunct Edmonton Bulletin, first published in 1880, holds this distinction. Nor is it the longest running newspaper in Alberta. This distinction is held by the MacLeod Gazette, Alberta’s second locally produced newspaper, first published in 1882 by two former NWMP officers. The distinction held by the Brooks Bulletin is that, but for its first year and a half of existence when it was published by the Brooks Board of Trade and edited by Bert Coultis and the years between 1929 and 1935, when it was owned by R. B. Williamson, the newspaper has been published by three generations of the Nesbitt family up to the present day, an extraordinary feat when most weeklies in Alberta are published by a few large media chains. Leonard Nesbitt was a pioneer in the Alberta weekly newspaper industry. He and his partner, James Sharp, had been reporters for the Calgary Herald.
Before the Nesbitt and Sharp arrived in the Brooks area to set up shop, Calvin Goss arrived intent on setting up another newspaper. By then, Coultis was relieved to relinquish his publishing duties at the Bulletin in favour of the Banner. He could return to his principal job which was to operate the Bowman-Sine Lumber Company.
Goss’s four-page Banner was handset on a manually operated press and powered by a foot pedal that had to be continuously in motion. A run of 2,000 letterhead required the same muscular power as running five miles. It has a circulation of 250 and the advertising rate was 25 cents per column inch.
In the Spring of 1912, Leonard Nesbitt bought the Brooks Banner from Goss for $500 and renamed the paper back to the Brooks Bulletin.
Back then, the four page paper took four days to write, edit and publish and two days to print. Business was good. Homesteaders, mow moving into the area in droves, often lost their horses, which provided business for the print at the rate of $2 for 100 small handbills that described the lost horse. Rents were comparatively cheap. The 16 by 24 foot building that housed the printing plant cost $10 a month.
The editor and one printer managed to publish the Bulletin with the help of a printer’s apprentice. The staff at the Bulletin remained fairly constant until after World War II. Labour saving machines such as the Linotype, which set type in blocks of hot lead, and semi-automatic presses reduced production time.
After living in Brooks for eight years, Leonard Nesbitt sold the Bulletin to his brother Howard and moved to Bassano to publish the Bassano Mail for the following six years. In 1926, Leonard Nesbitt joined the Alberta Wheat Pool as its first public relations and advertising official until retiring 29 years later.
In the meantime, his brother Howard Nesbitt published the Brooks Bulletin until 1929 when he sold it to R. B. Williamson. The years of depression came and were very difficult on small businessmen and Williamson sold the paper back to Howard Nesbitt and Clive, Nesbitt’s eldest son, became the editor.
Leonard Nesbitt’s brother Howard and sons Clive and Lee, edited and published the Bulletin until 1954 when Leonard’s youngest son, Jim, became the publisher. In 1976, Jim’s two sons joined the family business. Jon became the General Manager and Jamie Nesbitt, the publisher and editor, positions they still hold. In 1982, Jim Nesbitt semi-retired but continued to write editorials and a column until he passed away in November 2005.
Over the years, the Nesbitts have invested heavily in computers, digital camera and press upgrades to grow the business and to compete with the Brooks and Country Chronicle, a free weekly newspaper that began publishing on Sundays in 1995.
Prior to the arrival of the Chronicle, the Bulletin was printed in black and white with occasional spot colour. After its arrival, the Bulletin began publishing in colour and, in 2004, launched a second paper, The Weekend Regional. The Weekend Regional is a free weekly newspaper distributed on Fridays with a circulation of just under 12,000, about the same circulation as the Chronicle.
The Bulletin now occupies a modern 10,000 square foot building in downtown Brooks with 12 full time and 14 part time employees. Along with a news-gathering staff of three, there are 21 country correspondents and several contributing columnists through syndication services.
The paper is published every Tuesday of the year regardless of holidays and enjoys a paid circulation of some 5,000 newspapers delivered through the mail and sold over counters in several locations throughout the district.
Office and production areas are fully computerized with separate systems handling the invoicing, subscription and payroll records and all typesetting for newspaper and commercial printing production.
Today, Leonard Nesbitt’s grandsons Jamie and Jon continue to oversee the day-to-day operations of the paper and plan to continue for the foreseeable future. Reports are they have a standing offer to sell to a media chain, but they want to keep the business in the family for as long as possible. Maybe one of Jim’s nine grandchildren may decide to their heritage alive?
The Brooks Bulletin has been intertwined with the people of Brooks and the lives of the Nesbitt clan for almost a century and there is no end is in sight. The weekly newspaper has prospered and grown with the town and continues to rank high among the best of the community newspaper published in Alberta.
See more at: www.brooksbulletin.com.