The history of The Brillion News can be told in three parts. The bulk of the story, however, is made up of the 70 years that Otto and Elliot Zander were at the helm.
Otto Zander came to Brillion in 1899. Prior to that time there had been five publishers of The Brillion News, which was founded by William W. Stoddard in 1894.
The front page of the first issue contained a number of pleas for advertisers, correspondents and printing orders.
As it turns out, the first issue also was a day late. That was a problem that continued to plague the paper until 1899.
Stoddard was helped the first year by Emil Reuther, Clyde Williams and Walter Smith. By August of 1895, however, Stoddard called it quits.
A partnership of H.W. Buckle and Eugene Bing purchased the paper Aug. 2, 1895. Buckle bowed out of the partnership in July of 1897, and Bing lasted another year.
Harry Jones was the third owner of the paper. He started at The Brillion News in August of 1898. Jones, despite 30 years of newspaper experience, failed to make a success of the paper.
Jones sold the paper to Jay Matthews on June 2, 1899. Jones claimed to have purchased the paper from Bing, leading one to wonder if Jones had been brought in by Bing for his experience.
Matthews lasted exactly one month. During that period he experimented with a tabloid size newspaper, similar in size to The Brillion News of today.
Otto Zander finally came on the scene July 1, 1899.
There are probably several reasons The Brillion News switched hands five times in the first five years. One reason was that Brillion was almost completely made up of German immigrants and none of the first five publishers spoke German.
In 1938, Otto said of his predecessors, “Stoddard, Jones and Bing were good newspaper men, and skillful typesetters. They should have been successful; financially they were in my class. They had one fatal handicap. They could neither read nor write German in a community where 95 percent of the population were Germans.”
Another reason the first printers may have found the going tough was the physical labor of the job. For about the first decade, printing The Brillion News required someone to press on a foot pedal four times for every newspaper published. It was exhausting work that often was preformed after a full-day of job printing.
What Otto found when he arrived at Brillion was a dilapidated office behind the State Bank on North Main Street. Upon entering the office he saw some badly worn fonts of type, a 9” x 12” job press, and a cracked paper cutter, surrounded by spittoons and empty peanut shells.
Otto put his faith and $450 on the line to purchase the business.
Of the 300 subscribers in 1899, 200 of them were delinquent. (Subscriptions were $1 per year at this time.) Otto thought over the situation and immediately deleted all delinquent subscribers without notice.
It allowed him to struggle along with a foot powered press for another five years. In 1905, Otto was able to purchase a Diamond cylinder press and a gas powered engine.
In 1909, The Brillion News moved to the corner of North Main and Water streets. The word “News” was added to the building in 1959.
Otto also added employees. At first his help was mostly school age boys. Oliver Wordell, however, stuck with the News. Wordell helped with the typesetting, which was a painstaking job that included physically handling each letter by hand. Wordell eventually left to join the Brillion Iron Works.
The Brillion News under Otto rarely featured state or national news. The front page included obituaries, birth announcements, weddings, scores from local baseball games and any other tidbits that people stopped to tell Otto about. There also were ads and it is possible to get a good glimpse of the businesses existing in Brillion at any given time by perusing the front page ads.
Much of the local items were colored by Otto’s personal observations about the people or the community. He was always generous in his description of a man’s character.
The other pages printed locally included reports from local correspondents and editorials.
The correspondents were frequently people residing in the nearby communities of Reedsville and Forest Junction.
Of particular note as a correspondent was Robert Haese of Forest Junction. Haese was notable because he wrote well for many years.
Haese ran the general store in Forest Junction and no doubt was well aware of all the local happenings as people came and went in his place of business.
The editorials written by Otto gained rapid notoriety and included some sparring between Otto and other newspaper editors.
Elliot Zander joins the business
Otto’s son Elliot joined the paper in 1927. Elliot ran the linotype machine and by 1938 was getting his feet wet as editor.
Operating the small newspaper was always a family business. Otto and Elliot both relied on their wives and children for help at various times and in various ways. Margaret Zander eventually became bookkeeper for the business.
In 1944, Otto died, leaving Elliot to carry on as publisher and editor. Elliot became known for his editorials which were on occasion quoted in official congressional journals and by other newspapers.
Elliot also promoted a newspaper layout style called the Diamond Valley that was commended by the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
The Brillion News changed its publication date from Fridays to Thursdays in 1953. This change was made to reflect the shopping habits of Brillion residents.
1953 also was the year Elliot was elected president of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association. It was an office also held by his father. Over the years Elliot and Margaret developed many friendships through the newspaper association.
The office on Main Street was remodeled in 1959 and that is when the word “News” was inscribed on the front of the building.
Although Elliot had followed in his father’s footsteps, in the late 50’s it didn’t appear that any of his sons or daughters were leaning in that direction.
However, in 1960, Noel started working at Zander Press and within a few years so had Zane. Noel took up sports writing as well as various duties running presses and in the bindery. Zane tried his hand at design, printing and sales.
Noel’s sports writing led him to compile a very complete set of statistics from Brillion High School athletics. He covered boys sports for Brillion for 33 years.
Zane’s artistic abilities led him to design the current Zander Press logo and the a new flag for The Brillion News. That flag was introduced in 1971 and was used until 2008, when a new design was unveiled. The current flag was intended to reduce the appearance of “Brillion” and increase the impact of “News” since the business model for the newspaper changed in recent years to better cover the areas of Reedsville, Hilbert, Wrightstown and the surrounding counties.
A steel building was erected as an addition to the News office in 1964. A year later Zander Press incorporated with Zane, Noel and Elliot as the primary share holders.
On April 29, 1971, The Brillion News updated itself almost as dramatically as when Otto purchased a gas engine to run his press. That was the date the paper was first printed on an offset press.
That meant it no longer took untold hours setting type by hand. Instead, the paper was prepared using film negatives and then taken to Brown County Publishing in Denmark to be printed. The Brillion News is currently printed at Print N Press in Waupaca.
That change improved the type and pictures and also helped establish the deadline schedule still in use today.
The next major change was the hiring of Bob Kalafatric to act as editor. Kalafatric was the first editor outside the Zander family since 1899. Since that time there have been 23 editors.
On Sept. 11, 1975, The Brillion News switched from a broadsheet to its current tabloid size. At first it was six columns, but has since become a four-column paper and is currently a five-column format.
The Brillion News played significant roles in helping the community prepare for both the U.S. Bicentennial in 1976 and the city of Brillion centennial in 1985.
Laura (Behnke) Hernandez especially found The Brillion News files helpful as she compiled the book “Brillion, the First 100 Years,” published in 1985. Consequently, when the book was updated in 2011 for the 125th edition, the bound newspaper editions were of critical assistance in reaccounting what had happened in the 25 years following the first book.
Zander Press Inc. moved to the current location at 425 W. Ryan Street in 1976, and it has expanded at that location twice to this day.
The fourth generation
In 2005, Zane bought out Noel then sold Zander Press to Zane’s four children, Beth Wenzel, Darcy Zander-Feinauer, Kris Bastian and Mike Zander. Mike left the business a few years later to pursue a life in the religious field. The Zander women currently manage the workings of Zander Press. Beth is president and manages the printing side of the business. Kris is the advertising manager and also takes care of the wide format printing part of the business. Darcy’s primary responsibilities lie in the design and layout of both The Brillion News and the Lake to Lake Shopper, as well as maintaining several printing accounts that she has taken care of for the past 27 years at Zander Press.
Current changes at Zander Press that impact The Brillion News tend to focus on ever-improving computer technology.
The Brillion News’ layout is no longer done by hand as it had been throughout the past century. Metal type made way for galleys of type to be printed out and pasted onto layout sheets, which were then shot into negative form, stripped into place, burned onto a plate and printed; which then gave way to the paper of today, which is done entirely on computers by one person using Adobe InDesign Software. This software replaced Quark XPress, which was used until 2009. Articles for layout are emailed or saved onto a server by reporters or emailed from various other sources.
Photography that is incorporated into the layout has transformed over the years as well, with film-based photography giving way to memory cards and digital photography in the mid-2000s, as well as computerized editing software like Photoshop. For the first few decades, there were no local photos printed at all in the newspaper. From there, photos of local events would appear sporadically, with just one or two gracing the pages of The Brillion News in the mid-1900s. The first local color photo to appear in the paper was published on the front page in 1984, and featured a team photo of the Brillion High School state-qualifying girls’ basketball team. As photography methods improved and became more efficient and affordable from the late 1960s onward, the frequency of photos appearing within the pages of the news steadily increased, especially as pictures became digitalized at the turn of the 21st century. Color photos are now standard practice every week on the front page and throughout the paper, and often there as many as 50 – and sometimes far more – photos of local events printed each week.
In finishing the weekly layout, these numerous articles and pictures are then formatted for the paper and the entire paper is designed on the computer by Darcy Zander-Feinauer, great-granddaughter of Otto Zander. Articles are proofread by Lisa Sprangers, the receptionist and proofreader for Zander Press. Once the paper has been given the OK and all the corrections (that we’re aware of!) are made, a PDF file is created and then sent via the internet to be printed by Christensen Printing and Publishing LLC in Shawano. The paper is delivered paper mid-afternoon on Wednesdays for distribution for subscribers plus the hundreds of papers that are sold on news stands.
The current look of The Brillion News can be attributed to the vision of former editor, Andrew Pantzlaff, who decided to update the look to reflect the current trends in newspaper layout. Pantzlaff became the editor in April of 2010 – joining a list of roughly 30 employed editors and reporters to work for The Brillion News in its 12-decade history.
The Brillion News and its staff has been awarded by the Wisconsin Newspaper Association (WNA) a total of 45 awards for its reporting, photography, online coverage, design, commentaries and more since 2011. Out of the roughly 190 weekly newspapers in the state, only two others can boast as many or more awards during this same time span. The Brillion News earned 15 awards in its weekly division including seven first-place honors in the 2013 Better Newspaper Contest. In 2011, the paper earned the Best in Class award from the WNA, which means that The Brillion News was determined to be the best newspaper in its subscription size in the state of Wisconsin. In 2013, it was the only newspaper in the state – daily or weekly – to earn an award in all six of the WNA’s Better Newspaper Contest photography categories.
The Brillion News launched an official Facebook page in 2010. From there, in 2011, www.mybrillionnews.com was unveiled by Pantzlaff with its first online coverage of the local news. The website expanded the reach of the The Brillion News’ articles, both in potential audience and immediacy, with readers being able to read content on computers, smart phones and tablets at anytime from anywhere. The website, formerly www.mybrillionnews.com and currently www.thebrillionnews.com, is one of the top award-winning news websites for a weekly newspaper in the state. With the website, breaking news stories are also shared with viewers moments after they happen as opposed to waiting for the next week’s issue to be printed. Periodic videos, photo galleries, the ability for readers to leave public comments and more have made Brillion’s online new venture a unique supplement to its traditional printed newspaper.
Looking back, as the newspaper celebrated its 100th anniversary in 1994, a special article printed then ended in rather prophetic fashion, predicting some of the changes that were to come:
“It is possible to imagine a day in the not so distant future when many of the current layout processes, which still involve a scissors, ruler and glue, will be eliminated in favor of process that rely on a computer,” the newspaper wrote.
All that and more has come to pass, but, as we reflect now past our 120th anniversary, in the midst of a media and technological landscape evolving as rapidly as it is today, we can’t venture a guess as to what transformations will take place in the next 20 to 30 years. Our sincerest hope, though, is to continue to serve the area well in our news coverage using whatever future methods that become available.