The award-winning Observer-Reporter has been part of Washington and Greene counties since the early 1800s.
In 1808, printers William Sample and William B. Brown stopped at The Sign of the Swan tavern in the village of Washington on their way to Kentucky. They had with them a hand-printing press, type, ink and paper.
Tavern owner John Rettig convinced the two men to set up their shop in the basement of his business (currently the Union Grill) and, on Aug. 15, 1808, The Reporter, a weekly newspaper, debuted.
Two years later, Sample bought out Brown and, in July 1833, Sample sold the weekly paper to B.S. Stewart and George E. Acheson. In 1873, the paper was sold to Maj. Enos L. Christman who, on Aug. 4, 1876, renamed the publication The Daily Reporter and began publishing it every afternoon.
The Monthly Advance, founded by Horace B. Durant, was published in 1871. Within four months, it was renamed the Weekly Advance. In 1876, that publication was renamed The Washington Observer.
The Washington Observer, then owned by E.F. Acheson and Winfield McIlvaine, debuted as a daily newspaper in 1889. Acheson became sole owner in 1890.
The newspaper was bought by John L. (Jack) Stewart on July 24, 1902, and Acheson and Stewart formed the Observer Publishing Co. On Jan. 1, 1903, the Observer Publishing Co. purchased The Reporter. The Washington Observer was published in the morning, and The Washington Reporter in the afternoon. Acheson retired in 1912, turning over ownership and the presidency to Stewart.
When Stewart died in 1940, the company was turned over to his wife, Margaretta. Her grandsons John L.S. and William B. Northrop became co-owners and president and vice president, respectively, upon her death in May 1966.
In 1963, the company purchased The Waynesburg Republican. In 1967, the newspapers merged into the Observer-Reporter.
The 1980s brought much change and growth to the company. In 1981, the two newspapers merged into a morning-only paper, including a zoned edition for Greene County subscribers. Also in 1981, the company bought controlling interest in The Advertiser and The Almanac from Richard Barnes and formed Cornerstone Publishing Co.
In 1982, Eleanor Vosburg sold The Burgettstown Enterprise to the company and, two years later, The Record-Outlook in McDonald was bought from Andrew Eiler and William Burns. The Democrat Messenger in Waynesburg and the Monongahela Daily Herald were bought in 1986. The Sunday Observer-Reporter was launched in April 1986.
The 1990s meant diversity and further changes. The Advertiser and The Almanac were converted from tabloid-size to broadsheet in 1990. In 1998, the two newspapers merged into one, The Almanac, with two zoned editions.
A new color press was installed in June 1993. In that decade, circulation of the Observer-Reporter grew by 7,000 customers, to nearly 40,000.
In 1995, the Burgettstown Enterprise and The Record-Outlook merged to form The Record-Enterprise.
In 1996, InfoSource, an audiotext service, and Ads by Phone, a telemarketing division, were launched. Cobweb, an Internet service provider, started in August 1996. In August 1998, the South Hills edition of the Observer-Reporter was begun.
The end of the 1990s brought consolidation. InfoSource closed in 1998, followed by Ads by Phone. In March 1999, The Record-Enterprise ceased publication. Cobweb was sold in 2003, and the South Hills edition also stopped.
In 1997, John and Bill Northrop named their sons, Thomas and William B. Jr., respectively, as co-publishers. On April 17, 2000, the Northrop brothers handed over the company to their children, and Tom and Bill Jr. became co-publishers. Tom became sole publisher and president when Bill Jr. left the company in 2004.
Today, in addition to its daily and weekly newspapers and their related Web sites, the company also publishes monthly magazines and other special-interest publications.
The Observer Publishing Co. is one of the largest employers in Washington County. Its circulation reaches readers in Washington, Greene and southern Allegheny counties.
The company has always focused on the community, whether through the pages of its newspapers or through its employee and family charitable commitments. Those include service to the Washington, Waynesburg and McMurray Rotary clubs; Washington & Jefferson and Waynesburg colleges; the United Way of Washington and Greene counties; Washington Hospital Board of Directors and Foundation; and the Washington Community Foundation.
There is also a long commitment to the newspaper industry through its alliance with the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association. Jack Stewart was one of the founding members of the organization, which held its first meeting and was housed in its infancy in the Observer Washington office. Stewart served as president of the organization for the first two years, the only person to serve two terms as president until 2004. The state presidency has also been held by John and Bill Northrop, as well as the late Jim Lyon, former Observer general manager and executive vice president.
The Observer Publishing Co. is also committed to literacy and the promotion of a lifetime of reading through its highly successful Newspaper in Education program. Each week during the school year, educators in all the school districts within the newspaperâ€™s circulation area are offered the Observer-Reporter as an in-classroom tool, as well as other teaching resource materials.