John P. Riley · 1987

Biography from the Paoli Republican

Former owner and publisher of the Paoli News-Republican and 62-year veteran of the newspaper business, John P. Riley retired from the helm of his newspaper when he sold it in 1981.

A lifelong resident of Paoli, Riley started in journalism early in life as the founder and editor of his high school newspaper, The Paolite. From there Riley attended Indiana University and the Freemont Linotype School where he graduated as a linotype operator. From 1929 to 1932 he operated a job printing plant, the Hoosier Press, which he sold to John Lingle, editor of The Paoli Republican, and went to work as assistant editor of the weekly newspaper.

On December 1, 1941, in partnership with his wife, Mary, he purchased The Republican, "entirely on credit," he recalls. Then came Pearl Harbor and an amusing account of his day at the draft center which was reprinted by the service papers throughout the armed forces. The account was also chosen as best feature story of the year by the Hoosier State Press Association — just one of many awards.

In 1947, the Republican was chosen by Life Magazine as a typical small town weekly. Life sent a top reporter-photographer team to follow the Republican staff in covering the week’s news, then devoted eight pages to reprint clippings from the paper — birth, death, wedding, court, fire, sports and various social events. Each was accompanied by a Life-style photograph as the national magazine would have covered that particular event.

Riley and the Republican won in competition that was offered only one year by the Indiana State Highway Commission for publicity on highway safety. A front page story and editorial censured the commission for a deceptive dip on U.S. 150 east of Paoli, where 26 people had been killed in automotive accidents. As a result, the dip was eventually eliminated.

The Rileys added a second newspaper, the Paoli News, which they purchased from its 30-year publisher, Henry E. Smith, in 1954. They continued operating both of the weeklies until they were sold to F. Wendell and Helen Gooch.

Riley is a 46-year member of the Hoosier State Press Association, a past director and past secretary. He is also a 46-year member of the Indiana Republican Editorial Association, which offers annual awards for the best Republican political editorial. Riley and the Paoli Republican dominated the competition, winning eight times, while no other paper has been so honored more than twice. He was also named a Sagamore of the Wabash in 1981, by Governor Robert Orr, only the second in the county.

Active in the community and long-time history buff, Riley is a member of the Orange County Historical Society and Genealogical Society. He is also a past president and secretary of the Paoli-Meridian Lions Club and charter member of the Paoli Jaycees.

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