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Title: The History of the Gainesville Sun : a talk to the Matheson Historical Society
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Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/MH00002567/00001
 Material Information
Title: The History of the Gainesville Sun : a talk to the Matheson Historical Society
Physical Description: Archival
Language: English
Creator: Pepper, William M. (Bill), III
Publisher: Matheson Historical Museum
Place of Publication: Gainesville, Fla.
Publication Date: February 12, 1996
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Bibliographic ID: MH00002567
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: Alachua County Historic Trust: Matheson Museum, Inc.
Holding Location: Alachua County Historic Trust: Matheson Museum, Inc.
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.


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Full Text


A talk to the Matheson Historical Society

By W. M. (Bill) Pepper, III

February 12, 1996

"The History of the Gainesville Sun" 2
by W.M. (Bill) Pepper, III
February 12, 1996

Thank you for your warm and generous introduction.

Before I start this, there are a couple of recognition I'd like to make. One lady that I'd like to
properly introduce, my lifetime, God-given partner of forty-four years, Polly Pepper, and also my
sister, Pat Gager, my very dear sister Pat Pepper Gager, and her husband, Bill Gager. Pat was one of
the six grandchildren that shared with me an oncoming interest in the "Gainesville Sun", which was
denied to us by the sale of the paper in 1962. Would you please rise, Bill and Pat. Thank you.

Another thing I'd like to ask is that those of you who have worked for "The Sun", the "Gainesville
Sun", before the Cowles, before the "New York Times", and there are some in the room, I know, I
would like you to rise and be recognized because this has been a community effort in many ways in
Gainesville. The newspaper has always had lots of local people working for it, and I would like
those people to rise, if they would. Would you please rise anyone that's worked on the "The
Gainesville Sun." Now, Joyce, where are you? All right, Joyce McCollom. Tom Fenton. ????

Absolutely, and I'm going to say that includes any carriers that were on the paper at that time,
because when we had a high school reunion at Gainesville High School several years ago, about
three-quarters of the class had worked as carriers for the newspaper. I would also like to ask those
that are currently working on the newspaper to rise and be recognized, if they would. Thank you.

The "Gainesville Sun" history, as best I can trace it through several fires which destroyed most of
the files of the newspaper, is roughly divided into three segments as I see it. Beginning with the first
edition in 1876, right after the Civil War, there was a period of forty-one years when there were
several owners of the paper. Then in 1917, as it has been mentioned, my grandfather, W.M. Pepper,
Sr. -- you see, I'm W.M. Pepper, III -- my grandfather purchased the paper and it was published
under the Pepper family auspices and efforts for forty-five years, until 1962. At that time, the paper
was sold to the Cowles, of Cowles Magazines and Broadcasting, Inc., and they published it for eight
years or so when they sold to the New York Times, the current owners.

The Gainesville Sun first appeared 120 years ago as the Gainesville Times as an answer to a very
specific problem. The South had lost the Civil War in 1865. Reconstruction under the auspices of
the Republican party was everywhere resented among Southern Whites. All too many unscrupulous
politicians came South as "Carpetbaggers", using recently enfranchised persons with little education
as a means of obtaining office or personal fortune. There was a manipulation going on in many

In its very first issue, the "Sun", the new voice of the Democratic party, set forth with vigor to fight
these abuses. Its first owners and publishers were two young brothers, still in their twenties, W.W.
and E.M. Hampton. That's a name that's well known in our community and they came here from
Bainbridge, Georgia, where their father had lost his plantation as a result of the war.

"The History of the Gainesville Sun" 3
by W.M. (Bill) Pepper, III
February 12, 1996

On July 6, 1876, the Hamptons printed the forerunner of the "Sun" as the "Gainesville Times". The
paper minced no words in disparaging the Republican power structure and espousing Democratic
causes. The "Sun" would remain Democratic for the next seventy-six years, in every election
supporting the Democratic candidates, until in 1960 it endorsed Richard M. Nixon for president, and
that went along with a lot of the happenings in the South. A lot of us here who have Southern roots
understand what I am talking about when I talk about abuses and Carpetbaggers and, of course,
there were people who were underprivileged in these communities that needed badly to be uplifted
and it's a disturbing thing to me that it happened in that fashion because it set forth a reaction from
which all of us suffered, both white and black races over the years. The Hampton ownership was
brief, lasting less than three years. When E.M. Hampton died an untimely death but a natural death,
his brother, W.W. Hampton sold the paper to W.A. Dickinson and went on to become one of
Florida's outstanding lawyers. Hampton was a great lawyer, well recognized in his circles.
Dickinson in turn sold the "Sun" to McK. F. McCook.

McCook combined his paper with the "Gainesville News" and the new paper became the
"Gainesville Sun" with the edition of February 19, 1879. McCook and Charles L. Fildes
consolidated the "Sun" with another paper called "The Bee" on December 15, 1880, and it appeared
for a while as the "Gainesville Weekly Sun and Bee." Sometime after December 1880, the
conversion to a daily took place. As I've said, we had some fires that destroyed files and it's
impossible to set certain dates precisely, but those that I can I will. The name "Bee" was dropped
from the masthead and the "Sun" became a daily sometime before August 1, 1891. The exact date
was lost when all files of the paper were destroyed in a fire after the turn of the century. This was
one of at least three fires that would ravage the paper over its lifetime.

H.H. McCreary, who was a state senator and well thought of, bought the "Sun" about 1882 and he
ran it for some thirty-five years, until 1917, when he sold it to W.M. Pepper, Sr., founder of the
Pepper Printing Co., which was to own and publish the paper for the next forty-five years, until
1962. W.M. Pepper, Sr., was my grandfather. He came to Gainesville in 1904 from Philadelphia,
where he had been in the printing business. As a young man in his mid-twenties, Pepper had visited
Gainesville with his father, E.I.D. Pepper, Eleuthra Irenee Dupont Pepper. My people came into this
country from France as Poivre, and we've established pretty well that they came under the auspices
of the Duponts, and were great friends -- my ancestors -- with the Duponts. They had the good
sense to Anglicize the name and change it from Poivre to Pepper, else I would be speaking to you as
William Mullin Poivre III. My great-grandfather, E.I.D. Pepper, was a Methodist evangelist, and he
would visit Gainesville in the winters. Pepper and other preachers would gather in Gainesville for
revivals in what was called a "Chautauqua", named after the famous religious gatherings of the time
in New York State. And guess where they had these revivals! On this very spot! In the Tabernacle,
which was a large wooden structure on this site, and it's coincidental that I'm speaking from this site
tonight where my great-grandfather preached some of the sermons that were held in these revivals.

"The History of the Gainesville Sun" 4
by W.M. (Bill) Pepper, III
February 12, 1996

Because of this, because of the connection of my great-grandfather coming into this community, his
son, my grandfather, had knowledge of this community and in 1904 he saw a business opportunity
here. He was very active in Philadelphia in publishing the old Cokesbury Hymnals and other
paraphernalia of the Methodist Church, and thus it was in 1904 that my grandfather learned of a
business opportunity here. Now this was thirteen years before he bought the "Gainesville Sun". The
Hill Printing Co. had apparently gone into bankruptcy, went into receivership, and Pepper acquired
the company and paid out its creditors over time. Now, Grandfather Pepper meant a lot to all of us
in our family because he stood for values, and you notice I said he paid the creditors off 100 cents on
the dollar. He acquired a reputation for being a man of integrity and a man of business ability. And
so we're proud of him, and it's because of this reputation as a good businessman and someone whose
word was his bond, that his counsel and advice was frequently sought out by others in this
community. This reputation played a role in his acquisition of the "Gainesville Sun", just thirteen
years after coming here. I was a boy not yet in my teens when my grandfather told me the story of
how he bought the paper. It was done in little more than a split second. H.H. McCreary had gotten
into some business difficulties. In fact, my grandfather said that McCreary had bet heavily on the
grains futures. Now, anybody that knows about the grains futures knows that when you have to
cover big shorts you've got a real problem. I think it was Will Rogers that said the way to make
money in the stock market is to buy a good stock, when it goes up to sell it, and if it don't go up,
don't buy it. My grandfather and the Sun were housed in two buildings near each other on South
Main Street in the second block. The Pepper Printing Co. was in what was recently the Commercial
Hotel, and McCreary and the "Sun" were in a building two doors to the north, the Haymans
Building. So obviously, there was friendship going on between McCreary and my grandfather, and
when McCreary came and confided in my grandfather that he had gone short and he needed to cover,
and that one of his solutions was to sell the "Sun", my granddad told McCreary -- and this is the way
Granddad told it to me -- he said, "I told McCreary I don't know anything about a newspaper," and
then I asked him just how much he wanted or needed, and when McCreary said $50,000.00 -- that's
the figure I remember -- Granddad said, "I don't know anything about a newspaper, but you just sold
one." And they shook hands, and the next day the Pepper family began a tenure as owners that
lasted forty-five years.

Now, my grandfather, as I said, was a good businessman, and my cousin, Sam Butz IV -- some of
you may remember the name Sam Butz. His father was the managing editor of the "Florida Times
Union" in Jacksonville, and married to Ellen Pepper. Sam Butz IV is my cousin, and Sam is a
delightful character and he said he was sitting on the porch of his home, playing with his lead
soldiers out on the porch, and his grandfather, the same fellow that had bought the paper -- this was
in the 1930's -- was talking with another fellow the politics of the day, and apparently he shook his
head and said, "That John J. Tigert (now you know who John J. Tigert was -- he was the third
president of the University, and well thought of in academia), but Granddaddy, who had never even
graduated from high school -- for some reason which he never confided to us -- he left high school
before graduating, but he did go one year at what later became the Wharton School of Business in

"The History of the Gainesville Sun" 5
by W.M. (Bill) Pepper, III
February 12, 1996

Philadelphia but that was before the connection with the University of Pennsylvania, he had an
innate sense of business. He said, "I just don't understand how a man as smart and as educated with
as many degrees as John J. Tigert knows so little about money." Of course, Tigert was probably
pushing for some academic program at the University and having trouble with the legislature, but
my grandfather also said what he thought and he didn't think John J. Tigert was too good a

Sam said he asked his grandfather how much education he had and Pepper replied that he was
kicked out of high school and didn't even graduate. Sam said this brought on a long lecture as to
how, nonetheless, it was very important to get as much education as you could.

Now, the "Sun" was profitable through the 1920's but suffered a severe downturn in revenues in the
great depression of the 1930's. During that period, profits of the Pepper Printing Co., which was the
successor to the Hill Printing Co. that he bought in 1904, had become the third largest job printer in
Florida, and it carried the newspaper. In fact, there was one time when my grandfather came in and
talked to his boys about selling the paper as if he wanted to sell it and they said, "No way," and he
went back and we think that he notified the buyer at the time that the paper wasn't for sale because of
the interest of the younger Peppers, his two sons.

In the late 1930's, however, the health of the my grandfather, W.M. Pepper, Sr., began to fail. His
younger son, Calvert Pepper, whom I grew to love, a University of Florida law graduate, returned in
1935 from a position with the Internal Revenue Service in Jacksonville, to run the paper. Shortly
thereafter, the "Sun" shifted from morning to evening publication. It had been a morning paper until
the 1930's, and in 1935 it became an evening paper that most of us knew, which was five days a
week except Saturday and Sunday. The older son, my father, W.M. Pepper, Jr., had attended the
U.S. Naval Academy and graduated in law from the University of Florida, was well lettered. He was
not to return to the "Sun" until after World War II.

W.M. Pepper, Sr., died in 1940 at the age of sixty-five. His widow continued as publisher -- Mrs.
W.M. Pepper, Sr., who many of you knew. By that time, the "Sun" had returned to profitability as
the growth of Gainesville provided healthy increases in circulation and advertising revenues.
Ordinarily in newspapers the circulation, if the publication is well managed, precedes the advertising
because as the circulation increases per thousand, the amount you can charge for your advertising
due to additional copies goes up, and the revenues go up.

With the end of the war and the return of W.M. Pepper, Jr., my father, the paper took on a shared
management. Mrs. Pepper, Sr., retired and Bill Pepper, Jr., concentrated his efforts on the news and
editorial side, and Calvert, his younger brother by six years, concentrated on the business side. They
shared the title of Co-Publisher.

"The History of the Gainesville Sun" 6
by W.M. (Bill) Pepper, III
February 12, 1996

I want to speak about my father a minute. W.M. Pepper, Jr. was fourteen when his father acquired
the "Gainesville Sun" and I can still remember him telling me about the exciting times of coming
behind his grandfather into this new enterprise and sweeping up that very first day at fourteen, and
how his career and his ambitions were directed into the newspaper field, and something Ben Pickard
said here earlier is certainly true. Any of you who have been around publishing, around newspapers,
understand the term "getting printer's ink in your blood." It gets in there and it flows and you feel
that all of the important things that are being done in the community, you feel a part of it, you feel an
integral part of it, and so "printer's ink in the blood" is what my father got and he passed it on to me,
I guess. But Dad was a top graduate at the University of Florida Law School. In fact, he was
recruited by George Smathers' father as a young lawyer in Miami. In World War II, leaning on the
experience he had from the U.S. Naval Academy, he went into the Navy and served in the U.S.
Naval Reserve in the Public Information field and was retired as a full Commander. He returned to
the "Sun" after the war. I would say that my father was a consummate editor. He understood the
English language as well as any editor I've ever been in contact with. He knew what words meant
and how to put them together, and he was a consummate editor. I don't know whether you could say
he was an editor par excellence, but I certainly thought he was and certainly my opinion is not the
objective opinion one would seek on that, but he did spend six years with the Associated Press in
Atlanta and he ran the Night Desk for the whole Southeast, and he was really active on the Sun from
about 1946 to about 1956.

Under his auspices, the "Sun" went to flush left headlines. Previous to that time, all headlines were
written in inverted pyramid style and there were caps and lower case and Dad found a desk man who
was having difficulty with all those letter counts, so this fellow one day said, "Why don't we just
write everything flush to the left and let it hang out on the right?" Well, we got national publicity
about that in 1933!! We were the first daily here in Gainesville to have the flush left headlines.

Dad was also active in the community. He was interested in the community. He was, you might
say, the grandfather of the quadrant system that we have here. His editorial campaigns led to the
establishment of the present street naming system. Before that, you had to know where Lemon
Street was and Lime Street was, and Peach Street was, and Oak Street was, and Date Street was, and
I believe we were on Columbia Street, and so the quadrant system (I was talking to Milton
Brownlee doing an oral history of Gainesville, which I'm active in with the Association) and
Brownlee said that in his opinion -- that's as former City Commissioner and Mayor Commission --
that that was one of the best things that ever happened to Gainesville because immediately a
newcomer could pretty well tell the position of the street was by the quadrant system, the street and
the avenue system.

Dad had a very strong sense of fair play. He had a mind like I can't conceive. One thing he did was
to fail Spanish in high school. It was the only course he ever failed. At forty years of age, he took
after that with a vengeance. He learned Spanish so well that he wrote a Spanish/English and

"The History of the Gainesville Sun" 7
by W.M. (Bill) Pepper, III
February 12, 1996

English/Spanish dictionary with 25,000 cross citations that was awarded the Maria Cabot Medal for
contributions to interhemispheric relations and became the Chairman of the Awards Committee of
the International Press Association, the IAPA, which is the equivalent to the Pulitzer Prize
Committee in this country for the Southern Hemisphere of the Western Hemisphere. So he was a
man of letters and a man of great integrity, and I think one reason he withdrew somewhat from
society and was a little bit introverted in a sense, was that he didn't want anybody to be treated
differently. He didn't want to face one of his friends one day who had done something that got them
in the paper the wrong way and have them feel that they were treated any differently than anybody
else. He had that kind of sense of fair play. That kind of sense of fair play got into my psyche and
my makeup and my feelings about things that people should be treated right and that news should be
treated as news and that opinions should be in the Editorial Page, and that the news story should
strive to give an equal amount of space to both sides of the issue. It is a fine line. Those here
tonight who are in the newspaper business will understand what I am talking about.

The "Sun" was housed, when Pepper bought it in 1917, in the Haymans Building at 109 So. Main
Street, and the Pepper Printing Co. in the old Commercial Hotel building to the south and on the
corner of So. Main and S.W. 1st Ave. In 1926, Grandfather Pepper consolidated the two in a new
structure designed for that purpose at 101 S.E. 2nd Place, next to the old Post Office at the foot of
S.E. 1st Street. A number of additions were made on the site after World War II but after the
acquisition of the "Sun" by the "New York Times", the building was donated to the City of
Gainesville for a downtown redevelopment project and has been converted into what is now known
as the "Sun Center."

The beginning of negotiations involving the sale of the "Sun" in 1962 came as a complete surprise to
the Pepper family. The sale itself came as a surprise to the community. The newspaper had been in
the family hands for four and a half decades. W.M. Pepper, Sr., had died in 1940; his widow, Sarah
Thomas Pepper, in 1958. This left three children as heirs: Bill Pepper, Jr., my father, as editor and
co-publisher; Calvert Pepper, as business manager and co-publisher; and Ellen Pepper Butz, their
sister. Ellen's husband, Sam Butz, who had served many years as sports editor and managing editor
of the "Florida Times-Union" in Jacksonville, had moved to Gainesville in about 1960 and he was a
board member and active in management of the Pepper Printing Co. at the time. Of six
grandchildren, I was the only one actively interested in the "Gainesville Sun." I was thirty-three
years old and had planned a career around the family newspaper. I had worked on dailies in Texas
and Louisiana and was serving as executive editor of the "Sun."

One day in 1962, Sam Butz came to me with disturbing news. He said that Calvert Pepper, my
uncle, had been talking to an "anonymous potential buyer" of the "Sun." Sam added that he thought
it might be a good idea to sell. My father, W.M. Pepper, Jr., was in Europe, not expected to return
anytime soon. When I reached him by phone, he expressed disbelief. Both of us agreed that we
were not interested in selling. He cut his trip short and returned to oppose such a move.

"The History of the Gainesville Sun" 8
by W.M. (Bill) Pepper, III
February 12, 1996

It seemed almost heresy that we would be trying to sell a newspaper that we had built our family
around, to me, with the limited sight I had of things. It quickly developed that the "nameless"
bidder, anonymously operating through a local broker/finder, was offering $3 million in cash. This
had a strong appeal for Calvert, who'd always been more involved in the business side of the "Sun",
and to Sam Butz, who was not well and would die from cancer within a short time.

The suitor made it clear he wanted all the stock of the "Sun" or none. He threatened to abandon
intentions to buy unless he could get 100% ownership. My father and I attempted to persuade
Calvert and Sam not to sell, but they had two-thirds and we had one-third, and they wouldn't budge.
One night, at the very last hour of negotiations, my father called me to his home. He said that he had
decided not to sell his third of the business and, since the buyer would back out unless he could get
all the stock, it would block the sale. Now, even though I did not want the paper sold, I reasoned
and pleaded with my father not to take such action. I argued that it would be unfair to the other
members of the family and would sow seeds of conflict that would be sure to turn bitter and even
lead to a family feud. Dad was adamant. If you knew my father, he could be STRONG. He was
determined that night and I drove home sad in the wee hours. I certainly did not wish to see the
"Sun" sold. I loved my father, and I loved the family. Visions of future conflict and even disaster
dominated my brooding.

Much to my relief, my phone rang about 5:00 the next morning. Dad said he had wrestled with the
matter all night. He had changed his mind and now agreed with me that he should sell with the

Thus it was that Gardiner Cowles, of Cowles Magazines and Broadcasting, of Des Moines, Iowa,
bought the "Gainesville Sun". Incidentally, the eventual purchase price was $2 million, not $3
million. Evaluation of the books of the business showed different profits than Cowles had imagined.
But it was still a record price at the time -- based on circulation or profits. Not today. The
"Gainesville Sun" could not be bought today for many multiples of $2 million.

The Gainesville paper was one of a number of family operations which would pass into the hands of
chains in the decade of the 1960's. Many family newspapers went the way of all flesh.

John Paul Jones, the former executive secretary of the Florida Press Association, former Dean of the
School of Journalism at the University of Florida, and founder and publisher of the successful
magazine, "Florida Living", and a friend of mine and a friend of many of yours, had some
significant observations on this phase of Florida newspapering. Jones said that as newspaper
families aged, more and more heirs came on the scene in each family, each with less and less share
of ownership. Also, Florida was experiencing an unparalleled population explosion which pressed
upon the owners of newspapers the necessity of heavy capital expenditure in building and plant. At
the same time, there was a technical revolution in the way newspapers were printed and published,

"The History of the Gainesville Sun" 9
by W.M. (Bill) Pepper, III
February 12, 1996

and it forced costly conversions of equipment. Because of this, the demise of family-owned
newspapers was taking place beginning in the '60's in communities all across the state and nation.
Cowles, which had become CMBI (Cowles Magazines and Broadcasting, Inc.) subsequently bought
dailies in Sarasota, Lakeland, Ocala, and Lake City, as well as a number of weeklies. Other national
and regional chains, like Knight-Ridder, Newhouse, and Harte-Hanks, acquired many previously
home-owned papers.

Jones said that the perception was that communities lost something of value when the newspaper
passed into chain instead of local ownership. Instead of the owners being residents and an
accessible integral part of the fabric of the city, the feeling was that the paper's character was being
directed by parties from a distance with an eye for profit only.

When Gardiner Cowles took over the "Gainesville Sun", he sent a very young son and son-in-law to
Gainesville to run the operation. Pat Cowles III and Jack Harrison were in the twenties. I was the
only Pepper left on the "Sun." My new duties under the new ownership were to continue only as
editor, but I soon sensed that Cowles and Harrison had little intention of running the paper through
me. Over their expressed objection, I resigned. I was still young -- thirty-three years of age -- and I
had other plans which took me far from Gainesville. I had started at fourteen as a printer's devil. I
can remember at the saw, shaving, redistributing type, running presses, and I reflect on my
experiences at second thought, of what I might have done differently. If I could go back now, I
think I would do a lot of things differently. I think we all would if we had a chance to go back and
be thirty-three again. I think I would have supported more local causes of people other than myself.
I would be a good second support for them. Then if I had a proposal as an editorial cause, I would
have a lot of friends out there.

Even while in Texas and Colorado, my heart was still in Gainesville. My first love, the "Gainesville
Sun", has always haunted me, as you can tell. Thus it was that I kept up with paper and its fortunes.

The Cowles era of ownership lasted nine years and had a number of pluses for the community. With
superior financial resources, the new owners set out to modernize production. Some say the news
content improved. But there was one thing that I believe was detrimental to the interests of both the
community and the paper. In my view, it never should have happened. The "Sun" hired an editorial
writer who actively opposed every established and vested interest in this town. A former University
of Floridajournalism professor, Buddy Davis, was allowed to write with brilliant but blistering satire
-- even vitriol -- propagating his belief that evil motives tainted almost every leader and institution in
the community.

While increasingly unpopular among townspeople because of this caustic satire, the "Sun"
nevertheless won two Pulitzer prizes -- Jack Harrison in 1965 for an editorial campaign for better
housing -- and Buddy Davis in 1971 for his series of stories on school desegregation and race
relations -- and they are no mean accomplishments. In 1971, Cowles sold out to the present owners

"The History of the Gainesville Sun" 10
by W.M. (Bill) Pepper, III
February 12, 1996

of the "Sun", the "New York Times", trading all of his publication interests. Gardiner Cowles in
1939 had started "Look" magazine and from that mother lode he had added all these other
publications, and he traded all these to the "New York Times" and became the largest single
stockholder in the "New York Times" -- not the majority stockholder -- but the largest single
stockholder in the "New York Times" in exchange for these publishing interests. Well, the
management of the "Sun" remained much as before the acquisition by the "Times". W.G. (Bill)
Ebersole, who is my friend and had worked for the Peppers as advertising manager, had moved up
under the Cowles to general manager in 1965, and Bill is a very capable business man. Harrison and
Cowles moved on to other papers in the chain. Harrison went to Lakeland, from where he directed
the "Sun" as well as the "Lakeland Ledger" and other Cowles properties. Young Cowles went to
Long Island.

Ebersole was promoted to publisher in 1971 and served in that position 1985, when he retired.
Ebersole had some interesting observations about his tenure with the Cowles and during the "Times"

The "Sun" had made a drastic change on September 4, 1977, shifting back to the morning
publication we know now from the evening field it had been in for forty-two years. The move was
made to accommodate readers who, like others across the country, had changed from an evening to
morning preference. It proved to be a great success financially, and I think it was a very wise move.

In fact, the "Sun" had become a key profit center in the "New York Times" group. According to
Ebersole, at one time it generated more profits than any other unit in the chain, and it continues
highly profitable.

Under Ebersole's direction, the new "Gainesville Sun" plant at 2700 SW 13th St. was constructed
and completed in the Spring of 1984 at a cost of $17.5 million. This was more than eight times what
had been paid to the Pepper family for the "Sun" just twenty-two years prior, when that had been a
record price at the time. This showed you what was happening.

The surging population of Gainesville and its prominence as a trading center for surrounding
counties had propelled dramatic circulation increases. At the time the Peppers sold the "Sun", the
circulation was about 15,000. Just fifteen years later, in 1977, the circulation was about 34,000.
Today, in 1996, the circulation is at 57,000 daily and 60,000 Sunday.
The "New York Times" sent John Fitzwater to Gainesville as publisher in 1987. Fitzwater is a
seasoned newspaper executive. He started with World Newspapers in Virginia and was with that
organization when it was acquired by the "Times". Before coming to the "Gainesville Sun" he had
been publisher on papers in Mississippi and Alabama with the "Times".

Under Fitzwater's direction, the "Sun" has aggressively pursued diversification. It has become
publisher of the "Source Book", competitive directory to the Bell Telephone Directory. It has built a

"The History of the Gainesville Sun" 11
by W.M. (Bill) Pepper, III
February 12, 1996

$3 million job printing business and prints on contract the "Florida Alligator", the University of
Florida student newspaper. Today the "Gainesville Sun" is one of the largest businesses in the
community. It employs 240 besides news carriers. Somebody handed me a copy of the Centennial
edition and you can see the size of the "Gainesville Sun" staff here, including carrier boys, when we
had the newspaper, and today it has 240.

Now, the paper was completely redesigned in 1987 and is currently in the midst of a multi-million
dollar investment in the revolutionary new method of printing called "pagination". In a single
operation, pages are made up on the computer and directly processed into curved printing plates.
The word "pagination" comes from the fact that the entire page is assembled on the computer screen
and with the punch of a button it goes down and becomes a curved plate which is locked on the
press. Revolutionary things have happened. When the "Sun" was published through the 1920's, all
type was set by hand. I can remember distributing agate type -- now agate type was that small type
you see in the box score of a baseball game -- by hand into a case. When I started, I was fourteen
years old. Today all of that is obsolete, all the molten lead is done away with. The printing process
went through the process, as many of you know, of the linotype machine where the matrixes came
down and formed a mat, and the hot liquid metal was poured into there and the line of type came out
and the linotype was assembled by printers. All the printers are gone. It is an entirely different
process. And I can remember my father telling me -- and I believed him because I believed in my
father -- that there never would be anything better than the old Goss rotary printing press and the
method we were using at the time because it's just like a dinner fork. You can't improve on it.

Through different printing processes and owners, the "Sun" has continued for twelve decades as a
faithful chronicler of local events. In its very first year of publication, the "Sun" pages were full of
stories about the infamous stuffing of the ballot box in Archer. L.G. (Little Giant) Dennis, a former
union officer who had come down to the South to administer things, a local Republican leader,
admitted in a story in the "Sun" on April 14, 1877, that he had perpetrated the fraud in the election of
November of 1876. Thus it was that the outcome of the election of the Governor was changed.
Marcellus Steams, the Republican candidate, had been declared winner after the first count but after
the ballot box was uncovered and rectified, George Drew, the Democrat, was declared winner on a

The "Weekly Bee", later absorbed into the "Sun", ran an advertisement in the "Times", describing
itself as Democratic in principle, conservative in tone, sprightly, newsy, ever outspoken and
independent. It announced it would continue to "wage war" on Republicans. The "Bee" drew the ire
of its big city neighbor, the "Jacksonville Times", and the attack was reprinted by the "Bee" on June
9, 1882: "The Gainesville Bee is a candidate for a first-class spanking, which will be soundly
administered if it is not a little more respectful of its elders." The "Bee" invited its critic to "come on
down", noting that, "Our latchstring hangs on the outside." It later apologized but only for taking
notice of such "boasting braggarts".

"The History of the Gainesville Sun" 12
by W.M. (Bill) Pepper, III
February 12, 1996

The City of Gainesville had trouble keeping the streets clean. One of the editions of the late 1890's
noted that buzzards often descended on the streets, feasting on garbage.

There were steamboats on Paynes Prairie before it went dry in 1892, and the "Sun" reported that one
of the sidewheelers was stranded and in danger of rotting at the bottom of Bivens Arms.

In 1897, an electric light plant was built.

On December 18, 1898, the "Sun" published the very first photograph that ever appeared in the

The "Sun" reported in December of 1900 that teachers of the public school reported before
Christmas vacation to find a great surprise awaiting them. Signs of the times! Their students had
decorated the rooms for the holidays and each teacher had "been kindly remembered with elegant
presents and an abundant supply of fruits, confections, etc."

In an election of June 1903, Gainesville voted "dry". The saloons were to be shut down by a vote of
195 to 145. The condition would continue until after World War II. The "Sun" was an immediate
beneficiary. Jacksonville liquor stores became heavy advertisers for a while. Prices ranged from
$1.65 a gallon for Copper Distilled Rye Whiskey to $4.00 a gallon for a more preferred pedigreed
brand. (After 1917 when the Pepper family acquired the "Sun", the paper would no longer accept
liquor advertising because of the strong opinions of Mrs. W.M. Pepper, Sr., a president of the
Women's Christian Temperance Union.)

In 1905, the Buckman Act consolidated higher education here in Gainesville. A new home was
being sought for the fledgling state university to be located in Lake City. Gainesville, under the
leadership of Major W.C. Thomas, put up $40,000 in cash, five acres of land, and the offer of free
water if the institution relocated here. It did so, and on July 7, 1905, news reached Gainesville that
the city had been selected as the new home.

The "Sun" reported that a noisy, two-day celebration was touched off: "Handsome carriages,
bicycles, and vehicles of all kinds were literally covered with orange and black (yes, not orange and
blue but orange and black), the university colors. Several hundred people, some in carriages, some
on wheels, and others afoot, gave members of the committee returning with the news a rousing
reception. The procession marched through the city, there being not less than a half hundred
vehicles. Church bells rang and whistles from various mills and factories saluted the procession as it

In its edition of July 9, 1905, the "Sun" noted in an editorial that Gainesville had a sacred trust to
"always keep itself clean and wholesome, that no local condition ever be tolerated that would bring

"The History of the Gainesville Sun" 13
by W.M. (Bill) Pepper, III
February 12, 1996

disgrace upon the institution or put obstacles in the way of its success." The population of
Gainesville at the time was a mere 4,000.

The "Sun" reported extension of telephone service to Micanopy in its edition of January 2, 1907.
Hello Micanopy!" shouted the headline. A representative of the "Sun" was reported to have talked
over the phone and found it satisfactory in every respect.

During the late 1920's the "Gainesville Sun" broadcast major sporting events by shouting from the
second floor newsroom to assembled crowds below. A member of the "Sun" staff, using a
megaphone, and I still have a picture of that megaphone, would relay scores and results as they came
in over the news wires. On September 23, 1926, it was reported that a crowd of some 5,000 jammed
the streets and the sideyard between the "Sun" and the Post Office building to get a round-by-round
description of the Dempsey-Tunney fight. Now, I've never figured out whether that was a preacher
or a politician that estimated that crowd. You might get 2,000 people in that sideyard -- not 5,000!

During World War II, the armed forces and defense industries drained off qualified young men and
women, and the "Sun" was forced to make do with severe manpower shortages, as all the qualified
people were off fighting the war. I remember V-E Day, that is Victory in Europe Day, on June 6,
1944, because as a fifteen-year old I was assisting in the pressroom. The flatbed Duplex press was
operated by a pressman named Cotton, who was about twice as big as I am now and it wasn't twice
as tall; it was twice as wide. He was not able to maintain proper tension on the paper as it was
pulled through and printed. The paper was pulled from the roll and would print and you pull another
print and the roll would come out like this -- big rolls -- I mean huge! We had thirty-two web breaks
that day. Thirty-two! A web break roars and shreds paper all over these rollers. Picking the press
clean by hand was a piece-by-piece job that consumed so much time we were hours beyond deadline
getting the paper printed.

There were exciting and fun times in my own career on the "Sun". I remember returning to the
"Sun" in the 1950's as City Editor after stints with the "Abilene (TX) Reporter-News" and the "New
Orleans States" following graduation from the University of Florida and the Columbia Graduate
School of Journalism. One night, well after midnight, I received a call that burglars had been
surprised after entering the High Springs Bank and were holed up inside the building. I called our
photographer, Eddie Davis, and the two of us sped to High Springs in the wee hours of the morning.
As we arrived, police had just finished entering the bank and were still entering the bank. I went in
beside them since nobody was stopping anybody. In a back room, trussed up in chairs, were Paul
Mortellaro, a former University of Florida football player, and an ex-con, Julio Meana. I had gone
to the University with Mortellaro. We had an awkward exchange of recognition!

As I turned to find Eddie Davis to get him to take pictures, Mr. McCall, the president of the bank,
indicated that he thought someone was in his office. I went into the office to see if it was Eddie and
circled the desk, saw no one, and came out. Mr. McCall yelled out, "There's someone in my office."

"The History of the Gainesville Sun" 14
by W.M. (Bill) Pepper, III
February 12, 1996

We all hit the floor. A High Springs policeman, Mr. Koons, nervously waving his shotgun in one
direction and the other, probably having as his greatest excitement a traffic violation earlier in the
day, went to the door of the office and demanded that the person inside come out. Out came Mike
Romanello, who later proved to be the owner of three Good-Goody Drive-in restaurants in
Jacksonville. I shouted to him from my position prone on the floor, "What are you doing in there?"
Romanello had a dilly of a story. In heavy Italian accent, he replied, "I tell a story you don't believe
so I don't tell anyway."

His story was that he had been picked up in Jacksonville by Mortellaro and Meana, who promised to
take him to Gainesville to get dates. They stopped up the street in what he thought was Gainesville
but actually was High Springs. They told him to wait for them while they drove off to get the
women. Soon he said he saw a commotion down the street at the bank, and he went to see what was
going on and went in, just like I did. Then he saw Mortellaro and Meana trussed up and he knew he
was in trouble and he hid in the well of McCall's desk. Now that story fooled no one when the FBI
got ahold of his shoes, because they were crepe-soled and they were burned with acetylene
droppings from the torch used to cut open the bank safe. Droppings do not remain hot enough to
bum but seconds, as we all know.

Another memorable event for me was the planning and production of the Centennial Edition of the
"Gainesville Sun" on May 2, 1954. This is a copy up here. This was 196 pages commemorating the
100th birthday of the City of Gainesville. It was a four-month labor of love. Work on the issue
began in January. It was printed in 24-page sections which were stored until the final day and then
inserted into the paper. We didn't have enough press capacity so we'd print twenty-four sections,
stack all the papers, the next twenty-four, the next twenty-four, etc., and finally we assembled them
on the day before the publication. They were filled with old photographs and stories of early
Gainesville and its subsequent history.

I went out and got a reporter from Newburg, N.Y., a fellow named Main Rich, and I knew that Main
was an excellent writer and we needed somebody just to concentrate on that while we did other
news. Of course, we all did centennial stories. But it wasn't until Main got down here that I found
out he was an alcoholic. It was my first experience with an alcoholic. It is a tragedy, indeed, for
people who suffer from that kind of thing but I took up Main as my own cause and I attended more
AA meetings with him, keeping him sober and keeping him writing because that fellow was like a
machine. He wrote copy beautifully, and many of the stories were by Main Rich.

A final word about the "Sun" before I conclude. The Peppers always felt they had a trust from the
community in running the newspaper. We tried to report both sides of a news story, reserving
opinions to the editorial page. We emphasized local news. For the resources we had, we did the
very best job we knew how. Now, economic factors being what they are, the local newspaper is a
virtual monopoly. The Peppers had their share of critics, and I understand that. Remember,

"The History of the Gainesville Sun" 15
by W.M. (Bill) Pepper, III
February 12, 1996

paraphrasing old P.T. Barnum, the circus man, "You can please some of the people some of the time
but you can never please all of the people all of the time."

Today's "Gainesville Sun" enjoys a circulation more than three times that of 1962. In my opinion,
the "Sun" has used these resources today to do an excellent job despite the unfortunate impression
that outside ownership has brought a liberal slant to its view of things local. This view, I believe,
comes from the policies of past management and not from present operation beginning certainly with
the arrival of John Fitzwater.

The only real way to judge a paper is to read and understand dailies of similar size. I have done this.
I believe in all fairness each one of us should look at other papers of similar size before we judge
the "Gainesville Sun" because I believe the "Gainesville Sun" today deserves to be recognized for
what it is. I believe it to be one of the best in the country for its size, and I say that sincerely. And I
note again that we can't please all of the people all of the time, and the corollary to that is sometimes
we offend some of the people some of the time.

And so my sympathies are with the present management of the "Sun" despite many of my friends
who've said otherwise, because I've had an overall view of things and I understand what a newspaper
really can do and what it should do, and I think we've got a darned good product here in Gainesville

With all of that said and done, I've enjoyed very much talking to you. I've omitted certain parts of
my talk because I saw in the interest of time we were going far beyond what I intended.

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