The A.H. Belo Corporation has had a storied history in Texas journalism for the past 163 years. As recently as last fall, the Dallas-based company, which owns the Dallas Morning News, made headlines when it announced that the company had overstated Sunday newspaper circulation figures by 5 percent and daily circulation figures by 1.5 percent. In October, Belo was forced to cut 250 jobs—not good news, even for a media conglomerate that employs close to 7,600 people. But as history has shown us, Belo has managed to stay on top of its game. Here’s a brief look at how a small newspaper in Galveston became one of the state’s largest media companies.
Willard Richardson took the helm as editor of Galveston’s Daily News in 1844, two years after the newspaper was first published. In 1865, Alfred Horatio Belo joined the paper, which was by then the biggest newspaper in Texas, thanks to the advent of the railroads; he was a majority owner by the end of the year. The organization was named Richardson, Belo, and Company in 1870, and Belo became its sole owner in 1876, a year after Richardson died. Six years later, Belo sent a new employee by the name of George Bannerman Dealey to explore the newspaper market in North Texas. Under Dealey’s leadership, the first edition of the Dallas Morning News was printed on October 1, 1885. Dealey’s daily took off, and the company sold Galveston’s Daily News in 1923 to funnel its resources into its prospering Dallas counterpart. In 1926, Dealey, who had become president of the company, renamed the organization A.H. Belo Corporation, after his mentor.
Belo braved the radio waves by launching WFAA-AM, a Dallas station meant to complement the Morning News. WFAA, which began broadcasting on June 26, 1922, was the first network radio station in Texas and became the first “super-power” station in the Southwest after increasing its power to 50,000 watts in the thirties. Television became the newest media darling, and Belo hopped on the television bandwagon in 1950, with the purchase of Dallas’s KBTV, which was renamed WFAA-TV. (By 1987, Belo had divested itself of all of its radio properties.)
The growing company had always been owned and operated by the immediate (and extended) Dealey clan, but Robert Decherd, a great-grandson of G. B. Dealey and a young upstart within Belo, began pushing for public ownership. In 1981 Belo stock was publicly traded for the first time; it appeared on the New York Stock Exchange two years later. Decherd, who served as president of Harvard’s paper, the Crimson, and who successfully handled a Pressmen’s strike in 1974, was deeply involved in both the journalism and business sides of Belo, more so than the likely heir to the throne, Joe Dealey Jr., who was not interested in advancing as a Belo executive. In 1985 Decherd became the first member of the extended Dealey family to assume the Belo presidency. (Decherd also holds the titles of chief executive officer and chairman of Belo’s board of directors.)
Belo continued to broaden its interests and in 1999 launched the 24-hour Texas Cable News television channel (TXCN). Also that year the company’s Internet holdings were formed into Belo Interactive. In 2001 the company changed its name from A.H. Belo Corporation to Belo Corp. Last fall, Belo Corp may have suffered a setback with the Morning News, but its Dallas television station is doing well in the broadcast world: In December 2004 WFAA-TV received a DuPont-Columbia award—broadcast’s equivalent to the Pulitzer—for an eight-month investigative assignment on insurance companies and work-related injuries. It was the second DuPont award the station won in the past two years and its eighth overall. With investments in newspapers, television stations, and Web sites from coast to coast, Belo is still one of the largest and most highly regarded media companies in the state.