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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida
Interviewee: John Haile
Interviewer: William McKeen
Date: July 21, 1999
M: It is July 21, 1999, and we are in the office of John Haile at the Orlando Sentinel.
Would you spell your complete name?
H: I am actually a Junior because I was named for my father. So, I am Lloyd
Johnson (which is a family name) Haile, Junior. As a child, I happened to have a
nurse who focused on the John in Johnson and called me Johnny. That stuck
with me until I was almost through Vanderbilt University. I had gone to work with
the Nashville Tennessean, and I submitted my first story with the byline Johnny
Haile on it. The editor said, no, no, no; we are not going to do this. He said, how
about John? So since then, I have been John.
M: What was your mother's name?
H: My mother's name was Pearl Gillila. That is Irish.
M: Where were you born?
H: I was born in Cleveland, Tennessee, which is in the southeastern part of
Tennessee in the foothills of the Smokie Mountains. It is a beautiful area. When
I was growing up, people would comment on being in the hills of Tennessee and
[I would think] no, no, no, this is sort of a flat-lands; the hills are really up in the
mountains there. Now, I go back, and they were right. I was in hills up in east
Tennessee. It is beautiful country.
M: What is your birthday?
H: March 20, 1945.
M: What did your parents do for a living?
H: My dad was a clothing-salesman. Well, for most of his life, he was in sales.
There were periods when he came in and worked at the main plant there in
Cleveland, which was called P Clothes, a manufacturer in men's clothing.
During the Korean War, they periodically would ask him to come in and head up
a department and focus on getting something working, but he enjoyed the sales.
He was somebody who really wanted to be with people talking, so he just liked
being out travelling [rather] than doing things on the clothes.
M: So he spent a lot of time on the road?
H: He definitely did. It was an interesting situation because we think of people who
travel and are gone a lot as being separated from their families but, in some
ways, [my situation] was the reverse of that. My dad spent a lot of time with his
family because he would be home for periods and then gone for periods. But I
was in school, and I played a lot of sports. I was a basketball player, football,
and all this kind of stuff. My dad was always there, very actively.
M: Did he give you the love of fishing?
H: Well, he was out fishing all the time.
M: Does he still live in the area?
H: He does. He is eighty-nine years old and still lives here. My mom died about ten
years ago. She came from an interesting background __ We think today of
all the progress that women __ Her mother was a home- builder, and she ran
her own business and built homes all over the area. Her father did some
construction but was mostly a farmer.
M: How many brothers and sisters [do you have]?
H: I have one sister. Mary lives in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
M: Do you miss that area?
H: I miss the change of seasons, the greenery that goes with the Tennessee
area was very nice. Some day, I may end up back up there. I think that is the
one thing that __ I love being in Florida. I cannot imagine being in a much
better situation than what has been going on in Orlando, particularly related to
the newspapers, to journalism. But you do end up going back a lot of times to
see the leaves change and the spring flowers and all of those things.
M: Did you go through public schools in Cleveland?
H: I did a fairly traditional route, a fairly typical Southern education program,
segregated schools, for example. In the schools, there was very much a focus
on the fundamentals which was, in many ways, very good. I mean, to this day, I
can take on anybody on grammar and __ I wonder if there are four of us who
could produce a like a language newsletter-style grammar for the
paper I have been doing. On no particular schedule, we try to do that letter every
two months. We have these great debates with grammar, and I will put myself
up against any style book because it was just sort of drilled into me. It was
interesting, though, because when I graduated from high school, I went to
Vanderbilt and I was going to be an English major. It became apparent that I had
not approached some of these subjects the way that all these other kids had to,
the ones coming out of private-schools, because they were better versed in the
interpretive parts of English literature and in looking at something and trying to
understand the different meanings, where I had not had that kind of breadth of
exposure. There was a difference there but in the fundamentals, I had wonderful
teachers who cared about the students, supported the students, and helped us
get involved in other things as well. So, it was just a love of the language that
has stayed with me.
M: What did you see yourself doing when you were in high school? What career did
H: I thought I would be a journalist. I have always had an interest with the art, if you
will, in that even as a young child, I used to have my own little printing-press, one
of these little things you could crank by hand. You could put the little letters in.
They had the little rubber-letters, and you would line them up. I did newspapers
for my neighborhood and stuff. I used to go out and sell them for a penny and
whatever__ bits and pieces, stuff like the __ It was kind of neat. Then, in
high school, I was sports editor. I actually doing a lot of the business side in
things as well. Interestingly, I came back to that in some later parts of my career.
One of the interesting things that happened to me was that when I was a junior
in high school, the local radio station was trying to introduce FM radio to the area.
That shows how old I am. So they wanted to go with more of a contemporary
format, and they looked for a couple of students to be DJs, so a senior and
myself were selected for these jobs as disc jockeys. So I got involved with radio
when I was in high school. I was covering sports for the high-school newspaper.
I started covering sports for the local newspaper. I did that in the summer, doing
little things. So I got involved at a fairly early age. In fact, in the summer
after I graduated from high school, in 1963, I was doing some radio, but I also
had a job as a plasterer. It was great experience. Everybody ought to have
these jobs. For those jobs, you had to be there at seven or seven-thirty in the
morning, at the latest. Before I would get to work, I also would do all the Little
League baseball games for the newspaper. I had this thing where the coaches
would drop off the score-books from the previous night. I used to try to go to one
game myself, but then the coaches would drop off the score-books from the other
games. I would reconstruct those games based on the score-books. So, I would
write those stories for the paper, and they would pay me by the inch. I forget
how much it was. I think it was $0.10/inch. So, I would do all that before I went
to work at seven o'clock. I look back on that and think, how in the world did I do
that? Then, there came this critical juncture in my career. That year, one of our
teams went to what was called the Dixie Youth World Series. It wasn't Little
League, it was actually a segregated league __ I had a choice of staying with
this plastering company and going to another job that we had down in Georgia or
staying with the radio/newspaper combo and covering baseball. Obviously, the
newspaper/radio combo was it, put that way.
M: As a disc jockey, you played, presumably, pop music of the time?
H: Yes, I can tell you all there is to know about hit songs from the early 1960s.
M: Phil Spector, the Beach Boys...
H: All of that stuff. Nat King Cole. Again, it was not really hard stuff. It was just
your fundamental rock 'n roll stuff and some easy listening themes that had come
in from that era.
M: I am getting off the subject, but this is something I am particularly interested in. I
think radio has played a subversive role in history in that you grew up in a
segregated community, but radio waves do not follow segregation. You say you
played Nat King Cole. Did you play very many other black artists?
H: Oh yes. I mean, whatever was __ early rock. __ that makes rock. So, it
was pretty good.
M: the LAC in the radio station?
H: Yes. LAC was probably the far end of that. They were more progressive than
most of the stations, because you would listen to ... what is the Chicago rock
H: There is one up there. But, they were a little bit more moderate. LAC was
always They played some of the blues. They were much willing_
to adapt. Their advertisements were always fascinating because they
recognized that they had a good mix of audience.
M: Going back to journalism, was it the technology of the little printing-press, or was
it the need to write [and share] something [that first inspired you]?
H: I think it was just the fun of being in-the-know, of having a sense of what goes on
around you. I tell my reporters that I am a fairly shy person. If you put me in a
room, it is real easy to go over and stand in the corner. But one of the fun things
about journalism is that it lets you play a role. It is like being on the stage. You
see some of the same things, teaching does the same thing, and it gives you a
forum to be someone else, and you adopt this personality that fits the role. So,
you can go out and ask questions that you otherwise would not ask and deal with
people you might not otherwise associate with. You are going to meetings you
would not normally go to. I really enjoyed that. It let me be somebody else in
some ways. It is very much like acting, like being on a stage and playing a] role.
Then, I go home at night and I am a very quiet person. You ask people around
here what I am like, and you will hear, a really hard-driving, focused, determined
guy. You know, I am insistent, and I am all these things. I am outspoken. But I
am not quite that in the rest of my life.
M: How would you describe your childhood in general? Were you comfortable?
Was there ever a struggle?
H: It was sort of idyllic. We grew up in a community without problems. Some of the
things we did go through: we went through the polio scares in the 1950s. I had
friends who had polio. That was a big thing. I mean, I still remember those
March of Dimes drives that we had when the fire trucks would pull up and down
the streets with sirens on, collecting money to fight polio and stuff like that. That
was one big thing that was a real issue.
M: were there other intrusions?
H: I had a good friend die from leukemia Those kinds of things happened.
So, there were these touches of... I mean, it was not all idyllic. I mentioned the
segregation situation. It was one of those things that, in many ways, we weren't
much aware of. The social awareness was just__ five or ten years later. So,
we were kind of immune to some of these issues. When you get into the 1960s,
you have the Vietnam War and all the racial issues, and there were big changes.
But during that time, the summers were fun; the schools were fun, too.
M: Vanderbilt was pretty darn expensive. Were you on a full scholarship? Were
your parents able to afford it without help?
H: I had some loans, and my parents paid for it. I had a full scholarship to the
University of Tennessee, which I chose not to accept, instead choosing
M: A full academic scholarship?
H: Yes. and I chose not to. Then, you look back on that and think that the
tuition at the time was, I think, $1,100 at Vanderbilt, and I thought it was a lot of
money. Ten years later, I had paid off my loans. I was thinking, my gosh, that
was not anything. Why did I not extend those loans for thirty years or
something? Stuff like that. When times change, perspectives change but at the
time, it seemed like a lot of money, and I know my parents were committed to
doing that. I mean, they had the idea that it was a good school and that it was
worth it. I think it was a good school.
M: When you went off to college, did you think fairly certainly that you were going to
be a journalist?
H: I had thought I would. I remember even in high school, I signed up for physics in
my senior year, and I had a big discussion with my physics teacher about, I do
not know why I am doing this [because] I am going on to be a journalist. He
ended up talking me into because I had this great chemistry project that he said I
could carry over, and it would be half my work. I would kind of cruise through my
senior year if I would do this, so I took his class. As it turned out, we were both
right. Of course, I did become a journalist but, also, my chemistry project won
the regional science fair.
M: What was the project?
H: It was an experiment in which I developed a gas-chromatic graph, which
analyzes the ingredients in mixtures by the chemical electrical resistance to heat.
You take up a solution, vaporize that, and run it through an inner field in which
you have electrical charge. It passes this electrical field, and the resistance
varies. You can read that resistance by doing that, identifying various things,
articles in the mixture.
M: Does it put on a show?
H: No, all you see are the electrical things, but the fun thing to me was that I got to
develop it. I had pieces made for it. I had engineered pieces of plastic, I got a
company in East Tennessee to do that and different little bits and pieces I
put together. Also, there were some interesting things that happens in a process
of that type. The system depended on having compressed air, which forces
these things through this long tube. What you do is, you heat up a little box
which had asbestos on the inside. Now I regret that. Anyway, there was this
asbestos-lined box to which we ran this long tube. Inside the tube was this
and if these gases are passing through the electric charge. One day, I forget
what I had done but for some reason, that tube kind of stopped up. I used helium
to run [through the tube]. The helium that I had came from this huge tank. I just
kept pumping and finally, the tube explodes, and the whole box exploded. So, I
have all this stuff all over my kitchen, and it is a mixture of asbestos, charcoal,
and diamataceous earth and all this stuff. In my kitchen, in my house. So they
were fun things. They were dangerous things.
M: Were you offered a science scholarship?
H: No, I did not get a science scholarship. As a matter of fact, when I did the
placement test at Vanderbilt, they sent me off to [take] "rocks for jocks" in
college. They said I was not cut out to be a doctor or anything like that.
M: Was that a relief?
H: I do not know. I really did not think much about it at the time because I really was
not interested in going in that direction. English was my major.
M: If you knew you wanted to be a journalist, I am just curious [to know], how come
you went to a university that had no journalism program.
H: I hate to say this. I felt then, and I still believe today, that journalism really
requires people with a good knowledge of a lot of different subjects and that the
best preparation is a good liberal-arts training with a sprinkling of the specialty
that journalism requires. I do have a graduate degree in journalism, but I think
the undergraduate work that focused on history, Russian studies, political
science, constitutional-law, and all that stuff is really important. When I look back
on my career, my general-education courses were some of the most valuable
courses that I took, things that I might have missed if I had a straight journalism
work. Again, admittedly, I went off and got a master's degree in communications,
but I did it with an understanding, because, by then, I had already started working
for the Nashville Tennessean and I said, if I am going to do this, I will make a
deal: I will come and do your masters program, but do not make me take any of
those journalism courses. So we struck a deal. I got a graduate degree from
Boston University with the understanding that I would not have to take any
journalism courses. I took the research courses that go with the graduate
program, which were really good. I have used them a lot in my career. I took the
legal part of that. I took the history of journalism which, I think, is good
understanding. But, I did not take any how-to-write-a-story courses or editing
those things. I never had one of those courses.
M: Of course, during your time, you have seen journalism schools, particularly in the
mid-1970s, become a big deal. I always joke with the students that they are all
there __ because they do not do math __ You have dealt as an executive,
with of journalism graduates over the years. I do not know what
percentage of your newsroom would be people with journalism degrees. I mean,
you have not changed your mind about that?
H: Obviously, most of the people we hire have journalism degrees.
M: It is almost a union card.
H: Yes. But I will tell you that if I can find just a bright student who is either thinking
about going off to law school or med school or something else and I can entice
them to journalism, I have worked really hard at that. I think our business thrives
on bright people. The grand idea is business, and reporting is an essential
element of that. Our business is not really about just gathering information. It is
understanding where the stories are, even when they may not be readily
apparent. I think sometimes that by being so focused on the hunting and
gathering process, we miss out on the __ People who have sharp minds and
who are naturally inquisitive, for the most part, can learn what our business is all
about in a fairly good time. I love journalism programs that have incorporated a
lot of other aspects. If I looked back on my college career and I had to pull
courses out, I would wonder about what I would pull out. Would it be my two
years of Russian? I would love to __ two years of Russian at the time, but it
also gave you a great interest in Russian history and politics. I shifted my major
from English to political science midway through college. That was fairly
stuff. Also, for the politics at the time, it was international I could
probably a couple of Chaucer course credits. I think those are all within the
perspective. I think all that stuff was valuable. I think the idea of having a broad
liberal-arts background and being pushed in that direction but then having the
opportunity to come back and focus on what part is important to you. I took
constitutional-law, and I was not a great constitutional- law student. I will tell you
that. But I loved that course, so much so that some years later when my younger
son was at Vanderbilt, I recommended that course to him. He took it with the
same professor, and he was equally enthralled, so much so that he ended up
going to law school. But the principles in that constitutional-law course were so
much of what we talk about in journalism today. I mean, there is the First
Amendment issue, which [encompasses many] other issues which we continue
to battle [over]: fair trial, free press. These fundamentals are right there in that
kind of course, and we do not all understand that. It is really just a great
grounding for journalism. Now, when I took a journalism-law course, it was a lot
of the same stuff, and I think it reinforced that. But even like things such as
statistics. I took statistics in college. It is another course that, at the time, I
thought I could probably do without but, later, when I got into to doing research,
graduate school stuff, it was easy then because I had that kind of background
and had done all that stuff. I could do all those calculations. When I came back
to do polling, as a reporter for the Nashville Tennessean, I was able to take
Tests and say how good numbers were, which was actually very good
M: One of the things we are focusing on in this interview is technological changes,
certainly because you are at a newspaper that is very innovative. I do not know
that there are too many papers, if any others, that are doing the things you are
doing. So, I wanted to sort of see the technological change in journalism through
your eyes since you started at that paper in Cleveland. What was the name of
H: The Cleveland Daily Bat.
M: What was the newsroom like when you went there?
H: Actually, it had just gone offsets [offset printing], so it was barely advanced for
M: That was pretty heavy.
H: That was good. There were no linotypes around, and they had a __ That
was considered the Cadillac then. A nice little press, which made it easy for me.
This was a paper, too, where we did everything. I mean, I was also the staff
photographer as well as the reporter.
M: How many people on the staff?
H: Maybe, six or eight, and, again, everybody did everything. You edit stuff, you
write stuff, and you cover whatever happens. You write features. You cover
politics. I enjoyed the learning experience. I took pictures, photos. I came
back, processed them, developed them, printed them, and cut them on the page.
M: Not able to get that experience today.
H: Oh, I know, and I think it is unfortunate because you do not appreciate the
process from beginning to end. So, __ I think I actually have an exacto-light
on my desk. If you open the top drawer, there is an exacto-light there. I can put
down a micro to measure and and calculate the things for the pictures
and all this kind of stuff. Those are just some neat things that you learn.
M: What else can you say about the newsroom? Were there any women in there?
H: There were, actually. Yes, we had women in the newsroom. I think, probably,
that was more true of the smaller newsrooms like that, because it was said that
they were fairly inexpensive employees, but they were doing mostly society and
feature kinds of things. Obviously, they were part of the diversity of that
newsroom. The community had a diverse population.
M: Was there smoking there?
H: Oh yes, always that, smoking in the newsroom. I don't understand that either
because today, I just hate to be around smoke, but there was plenty of smoke in
the newsrooms of the Nashville Tennessean. I smoked a couple of packs of
cigarettes a night probably, and so did most everybody else. People smoked
pipes. Actually, we had one cigar-smoker.
M: Working on manual-typewriters? Copy-paper?
H: When I went to the Tennessean, we were on manual-typewriters, and we would
put, sort of, a sheath of old newsprint that had been cut to size. Or else, on a
couple of occasions, we had a roll of that down below the desk wrapped around
a little coat-hanger or something. It would run up through the back of your desk
and then up through your typewriter so that as you wrote stories, you would just
sort of tear them off. There was an endless stream of paper. You just ripped
them off. In fact, the most innocent thing about that was when I went to work for
the Tennessean, I had gotten married when I was a junior at Vanderbilt. I
decided I had better get some kind of job. There was a need here, and I better
figure out how to manage this. So I went down to the Nashville Tennessean.
Actually, I thought I was going to go into television. At the time, I was also the
manager of university radio station at Vanderbilt. A couple of my colleagues had
gone to work in television for the NBC affiliate W A very good TV station.
There was guy named Scott Osborne and another guy named Mark Corbett.
They were colleagues of mine. Both [went on to] nice careers. At the time, it was
funny. Of course, there were a lot of stars who, during those days and some of
them for different reasons. A little bit later, we had Pat Sajak [game-show host]
of Wheel of Fortune fame. Dan Milner was there. Who else was there? John
Tesh [TV personality] was there for a while and had, in fact, also worked for the
television market at the time. Oprah [Winfrey, talk-show host] was there. In fact,
I remember Oprah when she started. It was kind of funny. She had such an
accent at the time, a Southern accent. So she was working hard at making sure
she did not have a Southern accent. It was very visible. Oprah really grew up
fast. You know, she was scrambling around like the rest of us, trying to find
stories. Carol Burnett [comedian] worked in Chicago for the news. A good group
of folks on the television side.
M: I remember when she did That was a wonderful
H: Oh yes. I think car or something.
H: It was very a competitive newspaper because you had two news groups.
Anyway, I had gone to the Tennessean, and one of the things they asked me
was, what are your clips? I just happened to have a book that had everything I
wrote and photographs. It opened up with some photographs I had taken, and
then it had some stories. It just so happened that the Vanderbilt correspondent
was leaving as I walked in the door. He was quitting because he was about to
flunk out of school. So, the senior editor said, yes, we are looking for somebody,
and he hired me on the spot. It was like, here, I walked into what at the time was
one of the hottest newsrooms in the country, probably, and I got hired on the spot
with almost no experience.
M: How long had you worked at the Cleveland paper?
H: I had just worked there for three summers. I worked there a little bit in my junior
and senior year, I think, for about three or four summers.
M: So when you went off to Vanderbilt, there was a break in your career as a
journalist. Did you have any other jobs?
H: Only the plastering job. I was a plasterer, and I was pretty darn good as a
M: So, you were a full-time student?
H: I was a full-time student.
M: And you met your wife there?
H: No. She was from my hometown. We grew up together and then had dated in
high school. She had gone off to school in Birmingham, and we kept dating.
Then we ran off and got married.
M: Was that in the days before Interstate 65 was completed?
H: Oh yes.
M: So it was a long drive?
H: A tough ride, back and forth.
M: What is her name?
H: Gwen Jones and Her father is an esteemed surgeon in our home town
and is still there. So, we were just dating, and we ran off and got married. So we
found ourselves having to deal with the real world.
M: You ran off, really, and got married?
M: It was not a big family wedding?
H: There was no big family wedding, which is probably the only way I could have
ever gotten married. I do not think I could have gone through a big family
wedding and all that kind of stuff.
M: I have sympathy for your bride's parents.
H: Everybody is okay, in the end. I think everybody has gotten even more
comfortable with it over the years, so it was just probably one We have
been married since 1965? I will have to figure that out
M: Now we are in the Nashville Tennessean.
H: Yes, back in the Tennessean. I started to tell the story about when I had come in.
One of the questions that had asked me was, what can you do? Can you do all
of this stuff? Typing? I said, yes, I can type. Well, I could not type worth diddly.
So I had this forced-march to learn to type in about two weeks because what
would happen was, I would sit there, and I had a desk on the first row. The way
the newsroom was set up was, there was the main editor's desk in the front of
the newsroom. Then, there was this city desk, and then there were these two
areas of reporters' desks, which went back about six rows deep. I was on the first
row right in front of the city editor. Well, the main editor would come over as I
was writing my story and just tear off the sheet of paper wherever it was and start
reading it. I was so embarrassed with all of the typos that I had, so I would just
rush through as fast as I could to get the paper out of the typewriter and start
editing it before anybody could get over there and see how bad I was. But I
learned to type really fast. It was of those instances of overselling a little bit, but
you can make up for it.
M: So, you joined the Tennessean in 1965?
H: It was January 1, 1966, or January 2, somewhere in there.
M: Was John Sigenthaler there as the editor, then?
H: John was there as the editor.
M: So he had been sort of on a sabbatical with the Kennedy and Johnson
H: John had been with Robert Kennedy at the Attorney General's office and then
had come back as editor of the Tennessean, I believe, in 1963. So, he had been
there for about two or three years when I got to the Tennessean. Of course,
John accumulated just an incredible group of reporters. I do not know if any
other paper of that size...I mean, this was not a large newsroom; you maybe had
fifteen reporters or so. Not a whole lot of reporters. I look back on the group that
I was there with. I cannot remember how many editors we had come out of that
one group. Jim Squires was an editor here in Orlando and of the Chicago
Tribune. David Hall, most recently, was an editor in Cleveland and for some
other papers as well. Frank Sullivan, who is now back as editor of Nashville
Sandra Kyes, who has been editor of the Miami Herald, is now the
managing editor of __ Rob Elder was the editorial page editor in San Jose.
Bill Kovich was the bureau chief of the New York Times for a long time and is
editor of__ now, a career with __ Al Gore [later vice-president under
President Bill Clinton] was there. I have left out some. David Halberstam
M: Fred Graham?
H: No, Fred had left. Fred was a It was just an incredible group of people
who came through there. I do not know what it was. The news was great to
work with. It was very much a reporters' newspaper editing. For the
reporter, it was great. And then, some regret. As a matter of fact, I wish it had
been a bit more. Oh, another one was Craig Craig was the chairman of
the Tennessean board. I will keep thinking of folks.
M: It was a fun newspaper to read, too.
H: Yes, it was fun. It was such a young group of people. At one point, I think the
average age was nineteen. We were all just kids doing this stuff. Somehow, it
M: What kind of guidance did you get from Sigenthaler? Was he just sort of find-
H: There was a mix of that. John was good in terms of giving you, sort of, spiritual
guidance, helping you understand what the story is. That may be the most
important thing to deal with in our business, just recognizing matters and why you
want to write about them. So John was really good with that. John was not that
much hands-on with some beat stories. He set the tone for the news room so
that we were a certain kind of newspaper. We were a kick-ass paper that was
really involved in political issues and digging the news out into breaking-stories.
We were going to make things right. For the young journalists who heads out to
do good, this was a great place to be.
M: Today, if journalists would take an extended break as he did, to work for the
government, when they came back, they might be regarded as damaged goods.
Was there anything ever said about [that]?
H: No, it was not really an issue. It probably had to do with the times. It is kind of
funny because I hear people talking about how newspapers today have lost the
separation from politics, that we are too involved. Gosh, these people do not
remember what it was like. When I was at Tennessean, there were a couple of
things to keep in mind. One is, it was a Democratic newspaper. That paper was
going to support Democratic candidates up and down. We were almost part of
the campaigns in some cases. In political-issues, we were involved every which
way we could turn. We had a political-columnist who wrote every day for the
front page. It was a political-organ in many ways. You had a competing
newspaper [the conservative Nashville Banner] who was on the other side. I
have said that people who read both newspapers got great news coverage
because you really saw both papers going after it from the extremes, at each
other's throat every day.
M: Were the papers neighbors, then?
H: Yes, it was part of a joint-print operation, and you just walked across the hall.
There is a great story about Bill Kovich in that the papers, again, were aligned
politically, and we were always aligned with the liberal Democratic candidates.
The Nashville Banner was aligned with the conservative Democratic candidates
and then, later, with the Republicans. In those early days, there were no
Republicans whatsoever. In the early 1970s, you didn't have Republicans in that
part of the world. So, they would latch with the conservative Democrats. The
Tennessean was always at odds with the political regime of Buford Ellington and
Frank Clement [governors of Tennessee]. I forget whether it was Clement or
Ellington, [one] was the head one, we referred to as the leapfrog of government:
one would serve for governor for two years, and then the next one would serve
for governor for two years, and they would just go back and forth [referring to the
fact that Tennessee's constitution, at the time, limited governors to one term but
allowed them to run as many times as they wished as long as they sat out one
term]. Anyway, I forget who it was, but the political writer for the Nashville
Banner was writing about the new candidate for the governor. He was doing one
a day and another one tomorrow. Bill Kovich was sitting there, just getting
his tail whipped day after day because nobody was going to tell him anything.
He put up with this so much that, finally, one night after a few drinks, Bill takes a
crowbar and goes across the hall and plows into the desk of the competing
reporter and gets the list and writes the story, and we ran the rest of them. So,
Bill comes in the next day, and all the Banner people are really pissed about this.
Sigenthaler sort of feigns being really upset at him which caused to fire him
but, in the end, does not. Saved a great career. Sigenthaler was a practical joker
himself. He had done a lot of this kind of stuff in his career. So, as a competitive
jokester, he could see that in that kind of situation. We were very much
competitors but, again, with John, he set a certain kind of tone. The newsroom
was a lot of fun, yes, but there was also this serious commitment to a kind of
political journalism. We were out there making a difference. That was interesting
to me because before I went to work for the Tennessean, I had been involved a
little bit in Barry Goldwater's campaign in 1964. Actually, I began to have some
doubts about that because the Young Americans for Freedom [young
conservative activist group] kind of scared me, and kind of backed me up: what is
really going on? But, when I came to work for the Tennessean, I got involved
with a couple of racial issues. There was, at the time, the Student Nonviolent
Coordinating Committee [civil rights group] had a fairly active presence at the
Fisk University there. So those things began to have a real impact on me. When
I had been in Vanderbilt, obviously, we were fairly isolated. We would go down
the street in the days, and we would find that Western Avenue was blocked by
the sit-ins at Morrison's, and such things were downtown at Woolworth's, but you
did not really appreciate what was going on. When we got into covering some
unrest kind of issues, it really began to change the way I felt about all of that
stuff. So I went through a political change at that same time. I sort of developed
a different view of the world. Actually, when I started looking for jobs, I
mentioned I had looked first in and talked first to television stations. I thought
that might be where I would go. I actually tried to get a job with the Nashville
Banner before I went to the Nashville Tennessean. Fortunately for me, they did
not have a job.
M: Do you feel that what this town needs is another good newspaper? Of course,
they would probably stomp their competition and run them out of business. But,
do you wish you had competition here? Do you think that would be better? You
cannot really consider the local television stations competition.
H: Well, but they are competition. It is a mixed-blessing, I would think. In one way,
it lets us do things that other papers, in a competitive environment, could never
afford to do. The kinds of resources that I have are fairly remarkable. When I
came from Nashville to Orlando, it really surprised me what we had to draw off
of, even such things as a marketing research I mentioned earlier when I
was at the Tennessean, I conducted our own public-opinion polls. I would get
clerks and reporters, and we would get a bank to do our polling on elections.
Based on what I knew about polling, we did some fairly decent polling state-wide
or in our region. But I come down here, and we have this huge research group
that can do that kind of stuff. I love it. It is great. Part of that is that the
Tennessean, because it was a family-owned operation at the time-later, it was
bought by -and it was in that competitive environment, it did not have the
resources, the financial resources that come into play in Orlando. Those
resources let us do for this community a lot of really good things. So, you trade
off, maybe, the urgency sometimes, that you do have to artificially create for the
ability to do more, to get to hire better people perhaps or to investigate stuff. The
other thing that happens is that, I think when we were in that competitive office,
even though times have changed, there was less attention to being detached
from the story. I mean, we were a part of a lot of the stories we wrote.
H: In the political arena, whether it was somebody running for mayor or governor or
the U. S. Senate. We became very much aligned with one candidate or the
other. Our coverage was not controlled by this. We did not have to be a
certain We did not __ We were not inclined to do the major
investigative piece for the candidate we were supporting. That was the other
paper's job. We did the major investigative piece on the other guy. That is why if
the readers got both of them, they got pretty good coverage. I think what you
see today is that papers are not going to do that. We are much cleaner in our
coverage, even though readers will say, oh no, you are much more biased. That
is just not the case. Newspapers are better than they have ever been on the
credibility issue. Part of this is because we have said, hey, we are in markets
where you are not going to get another voice, so we have to really work hard at
making sure that our voice is as fair and unbiased as we can make it.
M: Going from a real strong political position to the middle-of-the-road, are
newspapers today better or just blander? Another thing might be, do you think
that the Tennessean would have been as good as it was without competition,
without the Nashville Banner, or did the Nashville Banner really influence it? (I
guess I should not ask two at once.)
H: I do not know the answer to that. I mean, I think it helped us, as reporters,
because of the challenge every day. Every day, and we talked a lot about this,
you wrote a story. You had the break on the story, and you wanted to do such a
good job on that story that there was no other fresh angle for the competing
paper. You felt bad when there was an angle you missed, and they would take
that and develop it so it looked like a fresh story when it was not really a fresh
story. So it made you a better reporter, I think, because you really worked your
tail off to make sure you covered all of the bases. Whether the journalism was
better and all that, it was just a different kind of journalism. I think it probably has
affected readership because there is not as much passion in the papers. If you
are, perhaps, overly sensitive to that, you may sometimes find that __ There
is a little lesson about just getting out there, way out in front paving the way
because __ In my opinion, that is just tough. I want my editorial page kicking
butt every day and if we miss a day, we miss an opportunity. Just in being
involved and leading and making things happen and having an absolutely very
political view, it takes a lot of papers __ They hold back, and they are not
as concerned about needing to have that really strong voice because they think,
nobody is going to __ I think that has hurt them for sure.
M: You said you left the Tennessean around the late 1970s?
H: I came to Orlando in 1979.
M: Describe your moving up the ranks in Nashville.
H: I started as the Vanderbilt reporter, and then I went off to graduate school for
most of the year. I mentioned earlier, I had the luxury of not having to a lot of the
fundamental course work. I covered] politics. I did my thesis on the political
organizations of 1968 in the New Hampshire presidential primary.
M: That would have been an interesting thesis.
H: Oh absolutely, the subject matter anyway; I do not know how interesting the
thesis was. That was obviously where Lyndon Johnson was against Gene
McCarthy. Johnson technically beat McCarthy in the votes, but McCarthy won in
the hearts. It became an upset, in fact, that McCarthy had done so well. As I
recall, we actually got a popular vote of whether Johnson __ That was also
when Richard Nixon was making his comeback. So, I spent a lot of time with the
New Hampshire politics, and that was great fun, I think probably in part because
in both the Republican side and the Democratic side, a lot of new faces were
emerging, and I made contacts and friends there. I have been active ever since
in those two parties. I did some campaigning in the McCarthy and Johnson
campaigns when I was going there.
M: So you were writing your thesis not long after that?
H: What I did was, I actually wrote stories for the Tennessean on the primaries as
they were developing. Then, my thesis was on how the organizations were put
together and how what happened, happened, how it came to pass, how
McCarthy rallied with a bunch of students, basically, in sort of a grass-roots
approach. __ when he came in under Johnson, he was generally popular.
McCarthy was a
M: So, you were at Boston U, and ...
H: Yes, and I actually wrote it--it was designed as a piece that was for this reporter
magazine, which probably flunked not long after. But, it had some great writers;
it was just a great piece for the insider in politics. It was just an unusual
opportunity, I spent most of the spring of 1968 preparing for that.
M: Did Seymour Hirsch work for Gene McCarthy?
H: I do not remember Hirsch. One of the interesting things that I tell people today is
that it was before so many reporters raced along behind everybody to get the
best result. The primary night of 1968, I had dinner at the Wayfarer Inn I
am sitting there at the booth with Gene McCarthy and Teddy White [Theodore
White, political author and journalist], talking politics and not many people
around. The TV networks were setting up for speeches and stuff, but there was
not a hoard. I think, gosh, it was a pretty historic moment, with two really
important figures. The historical documentation of the political campaign with
Teddy White and Gene McCarthy obviously
M: When did the big change come about, because even in 1972, there were
campaigns that were not too grassroots and there were not that many people.
H: Not quite as many. It just kept building, you know. __ is a great book. There
was a great line there, great for journalists, and I think it was in that book. The
guy's name is
H: __ if you cannot cover the a 1992 comeback. The idea was you have
to be able to go out and do the tough basics before you start thinking about all
this other stuff.
M: So, when you went off to get your master's degree at B.U., you were still writing
for the Tennessean?
H: Yes, I was at the Tennessean. I had been pretty much full-time during my junior
and senior years at Vanderbilt along with being manager of the university radio
station. Also, for those two years, I was married and had a child. It was an
interesting time, to say the least.
M: Did your family move with you to Boston?
H: Yes, we all moved to Boston, and the Tennessean gave me, I believe it was,
twenty-five dollars a week to supplement my graduate education, which I thought
was wonderful. The B.U. folks paid my fare. I had to send some kind of flier that
came from the radio station to apply for fellowships and scholarships. I filled out
the forms and sent them in, and I took the GRE [Graduate Record Exam].
Sometime later, I got this thing back that said, you have a fellowship scholarship
to pay all your bills, so you need to come up here. So I thought, why not? I had
no idea what I was doing. So, I did.
M: When you came back to the Tennessean, what did the master's degree mean?
H: Well, I know what I did not need. At the time, I had a __ I had thought about
going back to my home-town in Tennessee. They offered me the job of being
managing editor, right out of college. I forget what the salary was, but I wanted
[them] to guarantee my salary would be $10,000 within ten years. They would
not guarantee it. So I said, well, how__ here? And I went back to Tennessee.
M: In what role?
H: As just a reporter. I covered politics. Actually, I was just general. I came back
on general assignment, very into politics. I know I covered part of the fall
campaign in 1968. So, I was very quickly I ended up covering the
Constitutional Convention. Actually, during that time, Jim Squires left the
Tennessean. He left to go to the Tribune
H: Actually, I don't remember when Kovich left. Bill left somewhere through there,
about that time. Jim and Bill eventually had been our political writers, and it kind
of ended up turning all over to Larry Dobtree and myself.
M: Is Dobtree still there?
H: Larry is still there.
M: So, you had ten years there following your master's degree, and you lived
through the Governor Ray Black era. Any stories you want to tell about
H: Well, I just could not believe that Black got elected to start with. He was not the
sharpest tack on the block. He had the right political leanings at the time. He
was a conservative Democrat in a liberal field and got elected. His administration
was just bizarre from the beginning. It was clear that there were a lot of things
that we were chasing the whole time he was there. We did not have a lot of luck.
Most liquor licenses and those sorts of things and never was able to
do it. They could not get the smoking gun that you needed to write those
stories. Also, I missed part of that. In 1975 and 1976, I took a fellowship at
Stanford and spent most of the year out there.
M: What were you studying?
H: My premise was that I was studying the relationship between business and
government. I spent most of the year in the __ B. A. program. Then, I took a
lot of other courses. I had the option to take any course at the University, so I
ended up with a lot of great courses, learned things that are true about the
American spirit, really neat stuff. It is great. I would recommend it to anybody.
M: What brought that about? Were you feeling stagnant in your job?
H: I think a lot of us felt like we had to be moving on the fast-track and for me, it was
the Stanford fellowship.
M: Because the bar had been raised by all these other people?
H: Well yes. I mentioned Jim Squires. Jim had gone off In fact, that may
have been what Jim did with starting politics. and came back for a
short while and then left and got a job with the Tribune. Bill Kovich had done
the Stanford program, too. Anyway, I think we felt we ought to be doing these
kinds of things. At the time, because our salaries were so bad, we could afford to
do things. I think today, it is more difficult for journalists in two-income
households and things to go off to do those kinds of things. It was fairly easy for
me to pick up and move to Palo Alto for a year, and it was an absolutely
enriching experience __ The tough thing is coming back, because you were
in this artificial environment where you think you are much relieved from the day-
to-day responsibilities. Things are sort of taken care of for you. It is this sort of
ideal world, and you come to believe that, that is the way things should be.
Then, you come back home and, suddenly, and you do not like that. I
think that is why you see some people go off into these programs and leave their
papers. The re-entry is tough. They do more counseling with people now than
they did then. But it is terribly disruptive. It is tough on families, too. In the class
that was ahead of mine, [something] like half of the people got divorces because
you sort of think, this is a great way to live. Then, you go back into the same
situation, and you cannot readjust. I think people in academia deal with this, in
relation to sabbaticals, which is sort of the same thing. So, Stanford was great.
The program was great, and the people were wonderful.
M: When you got back, did you have any other problems, or did it make you more
H: I think it definitely made me restless. Before I went to Stanford, I had acted and
moved far too quickly. In a year or two, I went from being an entry-level reporter
with very little experience to being the night city editor by the time I was twenty-
five years old in this newsroom that was a pretty hot-and-heavy newsroom. You
did not have time to edit anything. It was just processing stories. You depended
on the reporters to get it right. You would try to do the best you could. You had
to rewrite __ before you threw out stories to get __ and stuff.
M: You probably were an editor around the time that those versions of VDTs
H: Yes, we had I forget how it was done, but you would scan into these
typewritten pages. That was the first thing. Then, you had to use a certain kind
of editing marks to make a change. Talk about something making editing awful;
that was it. That was as far as we got in Nashville. When I came to Orlando, we
already had systems, which was nice. So, I did not have to deal with too
much of that. Most of the editing I did was by hand, and I had a rewrite person.
But, I did that for a couple of years, and that was tough for me. I mean, I really
Wanted to be doing, in terms of the hours. I was working the four-to-one
shift, and my wife was going to graduate school. We had a child. I would get
home at about three or four in the morning, and she was getting up at six. After a
while, that takes a toll on you. So, just to get back in the reporting ranks ,
which I did. __ for about ten years __ state government. Then, in dealing
with the relationship between business and government, all about banking and
the insurance industry and and there was investigative stuff I did with the
banking industry and insurance industries, bonds, particularly campaign
contributions and stuff like that. But, when I came back from Stanford. I definitely
was restless go back into more of the same was more than I really could
take, and I began talking about leaving. John Sigenthaler and I talked about this,
and John kind of came to terms with it. He had dealt with a lot of people moving,
and they were in the same situation. There were not many places to go in
Tennessee. If you were a reporter, there was the city editor and a main editor,
and those jobs were not going to change very much. So, [I said] hey, I can sit
here and do the same thing for another ten years, but I do not think I can stand
this. I will burn out.
M: Sometime in that era, the Sutherlands went off to right, for a few years?
H: Frank left sometime after I did, but he stayed with Gannett. He went to Jackson,
Mississippi first, I think. I am not sure. He went to Shreveport and, I want to say,
went back to Nashville.
M: Was the Gannett purchase at all a factor in your decision?
H: It was just incidental that it was about the same time. It was just something that
happened. I contribute it to a lot of things. I considered going to law school. I
considered teaching. I had been teaching some out at the Nashville branch at
the University of Tennessee. I really enjoyed that. They had offered me to go
teach full-time in Knoxville and get my Ph.D. at the same time. Law school was
an option. I was offered a job with the public relations with the Tennessee
Valley Authority. I just could not find a job in journalism. Then I had discussions
about going to Washington. I mean, I certainly came down, talked about going to
the perhaps the Baltimore Sun or the Wall Street Journal in the
Washington offices. The Detroit Free-Press offered me a job. I turned down
Detroit. It was just a time when my family could not make that move. I really
thought it was great for them to turn around and offer me a job, sight unseen, in
Miami as the editor of Broward County, at which point Jim Squires, who now is
editor in Orlando, said, hey John, why don't you come to Orlando? It was just
sort of unwritten that nobody be recruited from Sigenthaler. But if we were
leaving, all the rules changed. It was clear I was going to do something. Jim and
John and I sort of talked, and Jim said, come on down to Orlando; you should
come in here and see the firm.
M: How long had the Tribune company owned the Sentinel by that time?
H: The Tribune bought the Sentinel in the 1960s but did not do much with it for
about ten years. Then, they decided in the mid-1970s to really change it, and
they brought Jim in as the editor, a really young editor. It started a whole
upheaval, setting to finding a new standard for the newspaper. One of the selling
points Jim had for me when I came down here was ... at the time, the Sentinel
was a little bit bigger than the Tennessean but not a whole lot. I told Jim, I think
the Tennessean is a better newspaper, and he really was not offering much more
money. Jim said, yes, that is the attraction of this newspaper. He said, this
paper is so bad that it does not matter what we do; it is going to look so good.
And he was right. I mean, the paper really was bad. A lot of other people here
could tell you that. I mean, it just had not had the right expectationss, in terms of
a lot of aspects of journalism. So, we found ourselves sitting here with a
community that was suddenly exploding and a newspaper that was hoping to
have Tribune's attention. We had to pile our resources back into it, and there
was this commitment to see how good we could make it. So we did all kinds of
stuff. Jim brought me in down here as sort of an assistant editor without any kind
of title. My job was to manage the investigative projects and to oversee the
political-reporting. Then, I was also sort of the editorial reporter, mostly editorials
in economics and politics, which we never do today. We do not have that cross-
over. Then, I took over the business section, and I took over the bureau articles.
M: You were kind of the fix-it man.
H: Yes. I just kind of moved around wherever Jim needed me.
M: Did you actually have a title of associate editor?
H: No. I did not have any title. I just had a little office on the side of the lane. Now,
I do not know how many knew who I was. __ did not know many people in the
newsroom. I think finally Jim made me a deputy managing editor or something.
Then, I got into the situation where Jim wanted to give me the editorial page
editors other experience. I had moved around for a while so Jim said, how about
going over to be the editor for editorial page for a few months? So I said, okay, I
will do that. So, I went over to do that, be the editorial page editor. It was
someplace else to build. But while I was there, Jim left to go be an editor for the
Chicago Tribune, and I got left as the editor of the editorial pages.
M: Who was brought in as editor?
H: For about a year, we did not have anybody. We had this strange situation where
I ran the editorial opinions pages, and somebody else ran the news operation.
Actually, two people __ a three-headed creature. Then, they brought in David
Bergen as an editor from Palo Alto.
M: Had you already known David?
H: I had not really known David, no. That was a surprise.
M: He is a very controversial figure.
H: David is a dynamic figure, yes. David and I actually got along very well. I
reported to the publisher. I did my own thing with the editorial pages, but Dave
worked with me a lot. So, I took some of his ideas, and we changed the papers
radically around here. I wanted to have world-class editorial papers. That was
my goal, and I went after it. I tried to get from people who could help me out.
We really stepped it up during that time. Meanwhile, I think David has done
some very good things for the newspaper. He helped the newspaper see what it
could be. I was talking about how I came down here and got involved with the
political coverage, which was really interesting because, like [with] a story about
the Highway Department, our people would call the regional offices to try to get
information. I said, well, why do you not call the secretary of transportation?
They said, can we do that? That was coming out of the paper where I covered
state government, and I would go along and deal with all the Capitol officers on a
first-name basis every day. I said, pick up the phone, and call them at home at
night; I do not understand this place, people did not see themselves as that kind
of newspaper. So, we really had to push It was a difficult transition in how
people thought about themselves and the kind of journalism that we could do and
that we should expect it of ourselves.
M: Make it more of a big-city picture?
H: Yes, and Jim started that process. I think Dave came in and persisted in giving a
big push. Also, he redesigned the paper at the time, which was good.
M: Was this the early 1980s?
H: Yes, the early 1980s. We had new presses, which was good. Most of
them came in at the same time. We changed the name from the Sentinel Star to
the Orlando Sentinel. We got a lot of momentum. But as you said, David was a
controversial figure. I mean, some people loved David, and some people hated
David. I liked a lot of his ideas. Some days you were not quite sure whether you
should hide under the desk or what you should do but, definitely, I think he was
good for the paper when he was here.
M: How long was he here?
H: About three years, and then Dave left to become an editor in San Francisco at
the Examiner and, at that time, I became editor of the paper. That was in 1985.
M: Were you the heir apparent, or was there any surprise, do you think? Were you
surprised that you were picked for editor?
H: I thought I had a good chance of being editor of the paper. Again, I had worked
with the publisher. I think I had his confidence, and I had this background that
some of people who were new at the paper were not aware of. I mean, people
who were new thought of me as an editorial-page editor, whereas my
background really had been in printing as city editor or hard-news investigative
reporter or political reporter. I did all kinds of stuff, so I had a pretty good grasp
of the rest of the business. We were doing so much stuff. I mean, to think during
the first two years I was editor of the paper, we added almost 100 people on the
staff. That is how fast the community was growing. We were making so much
money. I remember one year, the second year, in the late 1980s, I had
something like a $500,000 budget for a year of time, and we were just looking for
places to go and things to do. We could not spend it fast enough. All that came
to a screeching halt in the early 1990s as the economy slowed down. But I
mean, if an airplane crashed in Kansas, we would go cover that. It did not matter
where it happened. If it was an earthquake in Mexico City, we would go. We
would do any of that stuff, because there was no question about being able to
afford it. It was the question, could we get there quick enough and how we would
get it back? Then we went through this period, beginning about 1989, of things
really slowing down economically and we had to come to terms with that. That
was a very difficult period, those years. Here, you have been going full force,
100 miles an hour, for six or seven years, and suddenly you are telling me that
we have to pull back a little bit, we have to focus, we cannot do all these things.
I cannot have two full-time foreign correspondents; I cannot have a columnist in
Washington and bureau people in Atlanta and everyplace else we could dream
up. We were about to put somebody in Los Angeles to cover entertainment
industries. That is where we were. We said, how can we not be able to do those
things? What it did though was, in some ways, it was turning into being a good
thing. We came back and we said, okay, what are we all about? We are
essentially a local newspaper. We are regional in terms of the Southeast, in
terms of our influence, the impact that we have and the papers we compete with
and in the stores that we go after. But more than anything else, we cover the
central Florida area, which we define as a five- or six-county area, and we have
to be absolutely the best there, because that is what matters most to our readers.
Now, as we develop stories and they leap to any place else in the world, we will
go with that story. But we are going to focus on that. That is going to be the core
of our news coverage, and we are going to be absolutely the best we can be.
So, I began doing more with local news, refocusing on really shoring that
up because one thing that had happened when David Bergen was here was,
David had pretty much taken anybody who was in the bureau and moved them
into doing a critic's position or a column, a national columnist, and all those kinds
of things that people began doing. I did not have anybody left. I had very few
people left at the bureau, so I had to go back and restock that bureau and rebuild
that local news coverage because they had to decide what we were really all
about as a newspaper. And I think, as I said, in some ways it was difficult. I
think you had an emotional or psychological lag in the staff, to see us hit those
breaks and refocus back to that, but it was a coming to terms of where we could
really make a difference. And that was where we could make a difference, and I
think that is where we stayed. We stayed focused on what that area is,
recognizing at the same time that we were still Southeastern. We were
determined to be one of the two or three leading papers in the whole Southeast,
and I think we are there. We compete there every day, and we are stacking up
pretty darn well in that category. Allan Neuharth in his most recent list of the top
ten newspapers, [for example].
M: Speaking of Neuharth, a redesign which I guess occurred in the early 1980s...
H: I think it may have been 1982 or 1983.
M: ...was very sturdy because really, there have only been minor modifications.
What do you think about what [USA TODAY] did for other newspapers and how it
affected as an executive?
H: Yes, it had some interesting effects. One is, in the industry, it had such negative
connotation that it made it difficult to boost important changes that we really
needed to make, as the society changed. You have to recognize that pretty
much during the time that I was coming from Nashville to Orlando, we were also
really beginning to pick up a lot of change in the workforce. Women were full
force in the workforce, which affected readership habits. It began to really affect
time available for newspaper-readership. It was a huge change that we were
slow to react to. USA TODAY, in some ways, was the first to recognize that you
have to approach your audience, certain audiences, in different ways. So when
we would talk about pay, we had to be responsive to readers and recognize that
they have less time. How are we going to deal with that? How do we approach
that? The thing you got back from the staff was, oh, you are just going to be like
USA TODAY. It got in to almost everything you did. It became this obstacle that
you had to climb over to get anything done, and a lot of things needed to get
done, particularly if it involved color or switch-stories.
H: Oh, you are going to be like USA TODAY, when honestly, USA TODAY was not
all that bad. I think USA TODAY was the first to recognize that there was a
particular market, I mean, a great market. Al Neuharth identified, way ahead of
his time, that there was a business-travelers' market that can support a national
newspaper, year to year. And he got there. He has put something on the market
that is a pretty good product for the audience that he is trying to serve. Is it a
great local newspaper? No, it is a great national newspaper. Is it good with
sports, providing a good top-of-the-day kind of assessment of what is going on?
Absolutely. Is it visually attractive? For the most part, yes. And Al will tell you
too, I think, that a lot of these ideas came out of Florida newspapers. This was
where color was going on. Al did not invent color. It was this competitive
situation that already existed in Florida newspapers, always kind of pushing the
edge out there.
M: I always thought Florida newspapers were so good in general.
H: Generally, yes. It is clearly the best newspaper state in the country. It is terribly
competitive. If there is any state that comes close, I guess California could make
a claim that it has some pretty good newspapers, but I do not think they stack up
against what you have in Florida, across the board. I have said, take the worst
newspaper in Florida and put it up against newspapers in most states, and it will
stack up pretty well. So, it is a great competitive state which, I think, makes us
better. But back to the USA TODAY thing, it has been a mixed-bag, but I think it
has been unfairly condemned in the industry by people who have failed to see
the kind of changes that are going on around us. As a result, we lost a lot of
ground. I do not know what the answer should have been. We should have been
there. We cannot be today. We are struggling with this, even today. But, we do
know that people have less time to read. We do know that there is this incredible
disconnect between people and government, in particular. A lot of the
institutional things that [newspapers] cover on a daily basis, we have to figure out
how to connect [to people]. In fact, to go back something you and I talked about
at the very beginning, one of the things that concerns me about people who are
in journalism today is that, while we have a much more professional staff, and I
think technically we are much better today than any time we have ever been, we
are not as connected to our communities and in doing that, we have lost.
Newspapers really have to be plugged in to what is going on in this country and if
it is not plugged in, you cannot produce the stories no matter how good you are.
We have kind of given up some things on that end in order to have this
professional expertise, which is often itinerant, moving from market to market,
whereas before-about the time I got into this business at least-people, and
journalists obviously, tended to be more involved with the community. We were
not as separate in terms of our demographics, in our income and education, and
certainly in terms of our diversity. We have a readership task force that
has been working for several years to deal with these readership issues. The
thing we started to present [to] our staff was, the first things you have to
understand is that our readers are not like us. We are different. On the average,
we are better-educated. On the average, our incomes are higher. Our interests
definitely are different. Our backgrounds, probably, are considerably different.
So it is not an easy thing for us to connect and to really appreciate what it is that
our readers are most interested in. I have this example that I use with a lot of
reporters to begin the hiring process. Forgive me, but I think a lot in terms of
concepts, and I visualize things in my head when I try to talk to help people
understand. I say, reporting to me has three main options. One is, if you use the
example of going to a basketball game, there is a level of reporting where you go
to the game and you sit in the stands, and you write about what happened at the
game. You get the score, and you know what happened, who did what. You can
write a little bit about perhaps. That is one level. That comprises the bulk
of the community reporting we do in a newspaper. Another level of reporting is
when you go down and sit courtside. You are sitting right there on the floor. You
are on the first row. The players are running by you, and you see the energy,
and the sweat bounces off of you. You hear the noise, and you hear the trash-
talk back and forth, and you hear the coach yelling out on the floor. When you
write from that perspective, you write a much more energetic story. You really
sense much more of what is going on in the game. That is a much better story.
We would like to see more of that kind of reporting. But, there is also the story
which would be written by the player in the game. If you can get in the game, be
on the floor, be part of that team, you understand more the emotional give-and-
take and the physical feeling that goes with that. To me, that is the ultimate
reporting, and you would like to see more of that in the newspaper. That is what
we have lost. We do not have that sense of, it is my community, it is my
neighborhood, and it is my school, and I have a stake in this and understand
what is going on. When you feel that passion, it shows up in your_ and you
reflect that in your stories. We are too much up in the stands, and I think the
reader senses that. Maybe, we do not quite understand it as much as they do,
M: But, under your editorship, you have won a Pulitzer for editorials.
H: We have won a Pulitzer for editorial writer and for investigative reporting. Yes.
They were both great pieces of work. We have been finalists several other
times. What we seeing is what I had hoped would happen when I came here in
1979 and working through the 1980s, and that is that we have a certain
consistency in what we do, and we do a lot of really good stuff.
[End of Interview.]