Interviewee: James H. Jesse
Interviewer: Ralph Lowenstein
Date: July 24, 1999
L: This is Ralph Lowenstein. It is Saturday, July 24 . I am here in Merritt
Island, Florida, at 2125 Eastwood Drive, interviewing James H. Jesse, a
publisher of several Florida newspapers. First, would you state your full name?
J: My name is James Henry Jesse.
L: Tell me, Jim, where and when were you born?
J: I was born in a little town named Shepherdsville, Kentucky, on August 14, 1918.
L: What did your father do?
J: He was a dairy man.
L: How big of a town is Shepherdsville?
J: It is big now, maybe 5,000 now, but it was about 500 then.
L: Did he own a dairy in town, or did you live out on a farm?
J: No, I lived out on a farm.
L: So, you were not really living in town, itself?
J: No, I was not. Plus, before [I] moved down on that farm, I was in an orphanage
in Anchorage, Kentucky.
L: How did that happen?
J: My father died when I was twelve, and my mother did not have any money. I had
two sisters, and we went to live in the orphanage.
L: What was your fathers' name?
J: His name was Charles Jesse.
L: How long did you live in the orphanage?
J: Off and on, until I was through college.
L: Who ran the orphanage?
J: [The] Presbyterian Church [Kentucky Synod].
L: And you graduated high school where?
J: In Anchorage, in a little school there. I graduated in 1934. Then I went to Centre
College in Danville, Kentucky. I went there and graduated in four years, which
there wasn't any choice. But it was a tremendously good school.
L: What did you major in?
J: I majored in history and political science.
L: How big a college was Centre College?
J: Centre was less than 1,000 in those days. It gets its name from the fact that the
center of the state is on the campus, and they put a big pylon up there, and it
used to be a great fun for us-I don't even know how many times-to go move that
damn thing around. I graduated in 1938.
L: Then what did you do?
J: I worked for an ordnance plant until I went in the Army Air Force in 1942.
L: You went into the U. S. Army Air Force in 1942?
J: Right. I got out in 1946, I guess.
L: What did you do in the Army?
J: When I started out, I was a clerk and ordnance supervisor, ordnance that we
were shipping to Britain at that time. Then I went to officers' school in Miami
Beach, which was my first trip to Florida. I went to officers' school there and
graduated as [a] second lieutenant. Then I went back to Eglin Field, Florida,
where I was on the staff and rose to be a first lieutenant. Florida was pretty wild
and wooded in that area which is now Eglin Air Force base.
L: Did you go overseas at all?
L: What were your duties at Eglin?
J: I was commander of troops, which I do not know is a job anymore. But in the Air
Force, pilots are the guys who got the ranks, of course. They were the guys who
flew the airplanes, and they did not often allow them to command troops. So,
they had an officer who was the commander of troops. I headed about 3,000 or
L: What did you do then?
J: I had married a girl in the Army. Gloria Wollank.
L: Where was she from?
J: She was from Shreveport, Louisiana. I went to Shreveport and got a job working
for old Chicago and Southern Airlines, which sold out to Delta many years later. I
worked there about six or eight months, but it was a dead end. I was a
passenger service manager. I do not know whether they still have those or not.
But I was the guy who got the airplanes when they had to come in from bad
weather or something and feed out tickets to hotels and stuff like that. I did not
like it. There was not any future in it, you know? It was just a dead end. So, I
left that. Then, I went to Lake Charles, Louisiana, in 1947. About six of us
started out a daily newspaper called the Southwest Citizen. I had been editor of
my college newspaper, and I had done some radio and stuff like that. So we
went down to Louisiana, and I met a guy named Vernon Anderson, who was one
of the most unusual men I had ever met. He had gone to a naval officers' school
before the war. He was a man who had almost complete recall and who never
forgot anything that he ever knew. So he could fake anything he wanted to. He
put together this team. None of us knew much of anything about radio, but he
did. He designed some stations that went on the air. He started a radio station,
and I worked there for about six months, maybe.
L: What town was that, again?
J: Lake Charles, Louisiana.
L: Do you remember the name of the station?
J: Yes. It was then KLOU. It has changed now. Anyway, I went to work for this
same guy [Vernon Anderson] who was going to start a newspaper in Lake
Charles, which we did, and it was called Southwest Citizen. We lasted about a
year, I guess. Louisiana was always mixed up in politics, all of it, you know.
L: Was that a daily or a weekly?
J: It was a daily and a pretty nice-looking little daily, too, way ahead of its time.
Anyway, they sold out to the competition, [for] no real reason. The owners were
L: What was the name of the competition?
J: Lake Charles American Press. It is still there. So then, I went and left them.
They dropped us in the middle of the night then. It was a funny thing. We got
two weeks pay, and then you got all the telephone calls you wanted to make
long-distance trying to get a job. So, I thought I would not mind a small
newspaper of a job. There is a little town, Bastrop, Louisiana, which is a paper
mill town. It used to smell pretty bad. I do not know whether they have
straightened up or not. Anyway, this guy owned two weeklies. One came out on
Tuesday, and one came out on Friday. He wanted me to turn it into a daily. I
looked at all of this and then went in to talk to him. Seriously, I said, you have it
made here, do not try to go into a daily; you have Shreveport on one side and
Memphis on the other, and it is pretty top. That was the day when a customer
could limit the features you could sell outside.
L: What year was this?
J: 1949 or something. Anyway, I turned it in, more or less, into a daily, five days.
L: What was the name of the paper?
J: Well, it had three or four names. I guess it was called the Morehouse Clarion,
Morehouse being the name of the county. Can you imagine at least getting to go
away to college, and [going] there from Bastrop and Morehouse Parish? Plenty
rough. Anyway, I stayed there a while, and then I went to Shreveport. I had won
some prizes in Louisiana, and the ad director had read about it. So, I called him,
and he hired me over the telephone.
L: What paper?
J: Shreveport Journal. That was the afternoon paper, not in existence anymore. I
went to there and worked, I guess, three or four years.
L: In advertising?
J: Yes, advertising. Then, I met Loyal Phillips. I do not know whether he is still
alive or not, but he lives in Fort Walton Beach, or did. Anyway, he had bought
three little papers around Lake Okeechobee. He had been publisher at the
[evening paper St. Petersburg Independent]. Anyway, he had managed that and
still did, until they finally closed up. He had bought three little papers around the
lake. One in Clewiston, one La Belle, and one somewhere [else] around the
lake. I do not remember. Anyway, I went to Punta Gorda, moved to Punta
Gorda from Louisiana, and took over the Punta Gorda Herald.
L: Was that owned by Loyal Phillips also?
J: No, it was owned by Lord Thomson, the British press lord but [Loyal Phillips]
L: Do you know what year you moved to Punta Gorda, because that is when you
really get to Florida. Roughly? In the mid-1950s, maybe?
J: Something like that, yes. I could look all of this up, but I do not know. I think.
L: So, you went to run the Punta Gorda Herald?
J: Yes. [Punta Gorda] means fat point, in Spanish.
L: Okay. And you came in as publisher?
J: Yes. It was a weekly, and it was printing about ten or twelve pages a week.
L: What was the circulation?
J: About 2,000 or 3,000. He told me I would not be there long, and I stayed ten
years. Anyway, I had a lot of fun. The town was growing like mad. The Mackle
Company had come in and had started these dollar down, a dollar a month or
whatever it was, ten dollars down, ten dollars a month, I guess it was.
L: What kind of business was that?
J: They were big developers.
L: They were selling off lots?
J: Yes. They sold off all of these lots and, of course, the thing kept expanding.
Naturally, our circulation expanded, too. I stayed there ten years. You know, in
the future I again rounded that alley, and I went to leave. I did not know many
people. I mean, boy, a weekly business, if any weekly people are listening, they
know what it is. You do not have time to do anything, even to go to the
L: Right. You work a seventy-hour day.
J: Yes, you do. So, I went to a little town [Laurel] in Mississippi for Lord Thomson.
A good daily. He had about 20,000 to 25,000 in circulation. I stayed there about
a year. The thing about that was that I had written stories for newspapers ever
since...well, at all the weeklies, you cannot help it, you know. But, I had written
stories and sold them and everything else, but I had never done it all for a daily.
These were the closing days-or opening days, whatever you want to call it-of
segregation, and it was a pretty tough time to live in Mississippi. Anyway, I got
all of that out of the way. I stayed there for about a year, but it had given me the
opportunity to have worked in just about every job on the paper and learn an
awful lot. Having to work for quite a few owners and stuff, I had picked up more
knowledge than I thought about management. I had always played with
newspapers. Even in the fifth grade, I had put out a hand-made newspaper
every day for about a month. Then, I got tired. Anyway, I have always been
fascinated with newspapers. I wanted to either be an architect or a newspaper
L: Going back a minute, did you ever work on a newspaper in high school? Did
your high school have anything to do with it?
J: Yes. I was sports editor of that thing.
L: Then when you got to college, you worked for four years on the paper?
J: Yes. __ when I became editor of the paper. And I was [working on] also the
yearbook. You know, once you write stuff like that, you can keep on grinding
down. So then, I got to do some nice things in Laurel. Lord Thomson had sent
me up there. Of course, I never met him, but that is all right. Then, I had met
the Knights when I was working over in Punta Gorda.
L: That is John Knight and Jim Knight [of Knight-Ridder, Inc., parent company of
Miami Herald]. You had been in Laurel, now, how long?
J: I was in Laurel [for] about a year and a half. So, I called [the Knights]. I just
thought I had [no] place to go, yet, but I was in the process of doing it. I called
Jim Knight on the phone and I said, I would like to get back to Florida, I am about
to go out of my mind here. I grew up in the Deep South, but I cannot understand
this type of integration stuff, and I want to get out. He said, okay, I will have
Alvah Chapman call you back. So, Alvah called me back and said, well, we do
not have a whole lot, but we have Boca Raton News, which is a paper we bought
for more money than we should have paid for, but it does not amount to much.
He said, it does not have much equipment; it does not have much anything. He
said, Boca Raton is one of the fastest growing cities in Florida, and we need to
do something with it or fix it so nobody else can ever make any money out of it
because a great deal of our circulation is up there too, in the Herald. I said, all
right. So, I went down and looked at it and while I was in Boca Raton, I called
him and said, yes, this is fine, I will take this--I think I can do a job with this. He
said, fine, great. The next day, his secretary called me and said, Mr. Jesse, did
you and Mr. Chapman talk about a salary? I said, no, we did not; [will you] ask
him what it is? She said, no, I will have him talk to you again.
L: Now, Alvah Chapman was an executive with the Knight newspapers?
J: Yes. I guess he was the executive vice president then, but he was the guy who
ran it. Jim was there, and Jim was a friend then and, I have to say, was a good
newspaper man. Jack Knight lived in Akron [Ohio].
L: Right. So, what salary did they pay you? Do you remember?
J: $5,000 a year. Hell, [that was] not much money. I got paid less than that from
Lord Thomson. No, I guess it was $7,000 from Miami Herald. Anyway, I went
down there for four years. That was good training.
L: You went as publisher of the Boca Raton News?
J: Yes, a weekly newspaper. I turned it into three-times-a-week on the way to go
five. Anyway, it grew nice. We worked like dogs. I had an old German press,
hand-fed, four pages at a time. [In] the press we had, I had one guy [who was]
one of the best photographers I have ever known. His father-in-law owned the
paper. He won a national award for a picture from [the] Polo Association. Of all
news lists in the world, Polo is not the most widely known sport in America.
Anyway, he was a good photographer, and we could do unbelievable color on an
offset press. We did not do it too much because it took separate press runs for
every column. But we put some pretty good papers out. I left in four years.
Again, I had hit a stump. I did not want to work with a paper this small.
L: Do you remember what year that was you left?
J: I came to Cocoa in 1966 from Boca Raton.
L: And you were in Boca for four years.
L: So, you went to Boca in 1962, and you left Boca in 1966.
J: That is right.
L: After four years, what happened? You were still publisher of the Boca Raton
News, and you were getting unhappy with working on a weekly?
J: I turned it into a three-times-a-week. It had started growing nice. We did not
make any real money, but we made enough.
L: So, at the end of four years with the Boca Raton News ...
J: I left.
L: There was no place for you in the Knight chain?
J: In the end, there may have been, but I did not want to push it too much. I was
just sort of tired of old things at that time, and I had met Al Neuharth [Allen
Neuharth, founder of USA TODAY, former chairman and chief executive officer
of Gannett Co., Inc.]. He was one of the most unusual men, again, I have ever
met. He had just bought the Cocoa Tribune, and then they had bought Henry
Hudson's paper, the Titusville [Star Advocate]. So I was sitting there. I was
president of the Florida Press Association that year. I went to a meeting over in
Naples. That was the first one that Al ever attended. Hudson had just sold his
paper to him, and we were old friends, of course. I met him [Neuharth] at the
press association meeting. We talked for a little while around the table. I
thought, that is a dynamic guy. He did not act like he did later. He was just a
regular guy. So, I went back to Boca Raton and sat down that night. I called him
the next day and said, hey, I could do you a good job, I think. Up there, you were
talking about some of the enemies you had made in the newspaper business by
[running] too-severe stories. I said, I have been around a lot of towns in my life,
and I believe I can help you on that. He said, I will tell you what; I want to see
you and talk to you a little bit more, but I could knock into it this weekend before I
have to go to a convention in Virginia. I said, Virginia Press? He said, yes. I
said, I am going to go up there and receive an award. He said, I [am], too; I am
going up there for the day. So, I met him up there, and we had lunch together.
L: Was that in Richmond?
J: Yes. The worst soup I ever had. It was peanut butter soup. I can still remember
that. One of the worst hotels I ever stayed in, but it has gone to its reward now.
Anyway, we hit it off pretty well. So he said, do you have any objection to
moving? I said, no. My golly, we moved ten or fifteen times since I got married
anyhow. So he said, we are going to buy two dailies and six weeklies up here in
Virginia. He said, I want you to go look at them and see what you think; we think
that everything can be combined in one paper and, sort of, a branch. So I said,
all right, fine. He said, call me in a couple of days. So, I called him in a couple of
days and he said, well, you are too late. We didn't buy those papers. I said, all
right. He said, go up to Cocoa, so I went in to look around. [He had told me], I
have a nice young man up there--he does not know much about the business,
but he is a nice guy--he is pretty hard-nosed and has to be in that area. So, that
was my formal joining of Gannett. In March of 1966, the paper had started. I
came along in the early fall [of 1966].
L: You are talking about TODAY?
J: TODAY, yes. What is now FLORIDA TODAY, but in those days, it was just
TODAY. In Cocoa.
L: What did they want you to do when you came into the paper?
J: I had the greatest title in the history of journalism. I was editor and general
manager of south Brevard, whatever the heck that meant. The idea was, I would
stay down there in Melbourne. They owned that weekly: the Melbourne Times.
[It] still had a publisher, but I was over the publisher.
L: So, in other words, you were editor of the south Brevard County for TODAY,
J: That is right.
L: Even though you were sort of running the Melbourne Times.
J: Well, I had input as far as the south county was concerned. This county is
seventy-five miles long, about, and about twenty miles wide. It is awkward to try
to cover county government with ten or twelve communities in it. So, it is
awkward and has some reasons for awkward titles, but that was about the most
unusual one I ever had. Then I was doing another job. I was also assistant to
the publisher, mainly to give me a way to represent the paper when they were
talking to unions.
L: Who was the publisher at that time?
J: We did not have a publisher until I was made the publisher. I was the first
L: So, Neuharth was sort of running it?
J: Yes, he was running it, lock, stock, and barrel. It was really the first scientifically
designed newspaper in the United States. They made incredible surveys and
everything else. It was done by Lou Harris [Louis Harris and Associates,
research firm]. He made all the surveys.
L: It must have been fun, Jim. For all these years, you had worked for people who
were not paying much. Of course, the Knights were good people, but you were
working then for just a weekly that did not have a lot of money either.
J: You know, it did not pay much money when we started here either. We did not
have any hospitalization, which is unheard of nowadays, of course. We were
supposed to lose about $5,000,000 until we broke even. We were supposed to
do it in five years.
L: $5,000,000 a year for five years?
J: No. $5,000,000 total. Because we only had secondhand stuff. We had not
bought any equipment or anything else yet. We lived off of what that press was
in COCOA. Then, we bought another secondhand press from somebody. Of
course, nobody wanted to get out to Orlando because Orlando was obviously
going to be the competition. They had a lot of circulation in here. So, it was a
long time before pay was better, of course. The first time I got to go to
conventions outside the state of Florida, SNPA, ANPA, where I really learned
something. You talk about conventions, and you think of everybody drinking and
everything else, but [people] learn a lot there, if you want to learn. Anyway, in
1966, they had a real bad problem here [Cocoa] with real estate brokers. They
did not like a publicity story in a Melbourne edition, so they were going to boycott,
which is standard. They wanted to boycott us, so I just went in and called these
people and said, will you settle it? We finally talked it over. The real estate
broker who had led the whole thing had been fined in some other state, or other
states, so he was not a good leader. So we got that straightened out. Then,
they had one more thing, and that one more thing broke it down there without
any trouble. They still did not like us. We had done a piece on the
superintendent of schools and had said that he was accepting free washing
machines and stuff, because whoever he gave a contract to, they gave him a
washer or a dryer or whatever it was. So, we wrote the story, and all hell broke
loose. This was the most popular man in the county. But that did not make us
nearly as many friends as you would think it would. Then, the car dealer down
there, a Chevrolet dealer primarily, did not like the way we advertised and did not
like the rates we charged him. So, he called the Chevrolet agency and said, I
want to cancel all that advertisement there. Of course, they wrote him back and
said, you cannot cancel that, sir, we are an agency, we placed this ad, it is
approved by Chevrolet once a year. So then, he wrote Chevrolet and, in the
meantime, calling me every time and telling me he was doing it.
L: Was that in the Melbourne Times or TODAY?
J: That was TODAY. Anyway, he tried every way he could, and he could not do it
at all. So then, he got together with a bunch of dealers. They got mad at us for
something. I refereed that, and it was a very easy thing to do because I sat there
and answered the questions. The main reason was, when we started
advertising, we used eight-point type instead of six. Eight points is about the
same body type as the reading part. Anyway, we cut that back to ad type, which
is six-point, whatever you use to make the classified. And we left the rates
almost the same, so it was a considerable increase in rates, but it was also
something we could live with. The other stuff started to get some volume. They
were terribly mad about the rate increase. Of course, some of them were trying
to get rid of us. It had only been a year or two after we started. It was nice and
simple. The Orlando Sentinel and the Miami Herald had good circulations in this
area, very good. So, they had it very easy. They had to pay about two-thirds of
the price for an ad.
L: But, you were still the assistant to the publisher at that time?
J: Yes. The way I settled this things was, I had a guy who I bought a car from down
in Melbourne, a nice hard-nosed character. I went to the meeting down there,
and we argued. Finally, this guy had asked for a vote to not advertise in the
TODA Y newspaper for a period of six months. So, this guy stood up and said,
look, I am down here running a little agency. He used to run a little Pontiac place
[where] they had a dealers' association. Since he put no advertising in a local
paper, his business failed. That was the reason he was in the South running a
dealership. He said, you cannot fight these guys, and you might as well accept
it. He said, remember an old saying, never fight anybody who buys ink by the
barrel. That is a true statement. So, he walked out, and so did I. I waved at him.
That was the last we heard of any kind of problems or anything. Of course,
everybody has a problem with that. Every advertiser in the world, I expect, has
gone to somebody at the newspaper once or twice and complained.
L: At what point did you then move in as publisher of TODAY?
J: About 1970.
L: So, you were assistant to the publisher for four years before you became
J: No, for about two and a half, I guess.
L: Then you became general manager of TODAY?
J: Business manager.
L: Was there a publisher?
J: No, or a general manager either.
L: Was Moe Hickey the general manager before you?
J: Yes. He left before I was publisher, because he had the title of business
manager. That was all he ever had here. In those days, pretty much across the
country, these chain operations were growing bigger and bigger. What they had
done was, usually the owner or the president of the biggest company was
publisher of all the newspapers, like Jack Knight was president of everything the
Knights had, and Paul Miller was president of everything in Gannett. But then,
things started changing. I guess it was about 1969 that I became publisher.
L: And before that for a couple of years, you had been business manager.
J: Yes, and general manager. Moe had been gone for a while.
L: So, you took over TODAY for him--when you took over, the paper was just
beginning to really grow, right?
J: Yes, because it had started in 1966, and this was 1969. It had grown pretty well.
The first major thing that I added as publisher was, man had gone to [the] moon
and the space center... cut down like that. So, times were tough [after NASA's
Apollo program was finished]. We had a tough time over here. There were
some empty houses.
L: They were cutting back here after the moon shot.
J: Oh yes. Man went to [the]moon [and] just about ended this place, for a very
short period of time. You could pick up a house here by moving in it and paying
next month's rent, just about. I know my circulation manager did that.
L: So, COCOA TODAY started in 1966 and you joined it in 1967, essentially.
L: By the time you became business manager and then publisher in 1968...
J: Maybe 1969.
L: You had severe competition, from Orlando Sentinel especially. How did you face
J: Th[at] publisher decided that he would not permit us to grow, and he had a good
circulation. His newspaper was far too conservative, even for the average
L: That was Martin Andersen of the Orlando Sentinel?
J: Yes. Anyway, we had to do that, and it was pretty tough. It seemed there was
not a single merchandiser, large national merchandiser, in here. There were no
malls. There was a J. C. Penney and a Sears, and that was about it. We worked
hard getting Burdines in here. We thought sure if we could got Burdines, we
would be able to get the others, and we did. That is what brought what is now
Dillard's on it, and some of those. But, it was real tough because we did not
have any advertising to base [our] fight with.
L: It was mostly a small display of advertising.
J: A small world linked to the Cape. To fight us, Martin Andersen cut his advertising
rates over here. He cut them about 15 percent or something like that. So, we
had run into all these people who had already had budgets. This is the spring,
and everybody had budgets all set for a year. So, he ran a full-page ad on how
much he was cutting the rates and so forth.
L: Through his edition here, through his Brevard edition?
J: Yes. So, we took that edition and called all of our advertisers and said, now, you
are going to save X dollars from your budget. Now, you do not have to increase
your advertising. Give that to us. It does not cost any money. Give it to us, and
let us see what we can do with it. Well, that is all it took. Pretty much, we had
given it away free for two months, to get it started. So, that is the only thing that
broke the Sentinel's back here.
L: That was when TODAY first started?
J: Yes, that was when TODAY first started, giving it away free. Then, they started
charging for it and figured they would get about 40,000 in circulation when they
started selling, and they got 60,000 instead.
L: Yes, and then they started losing money because the ad rates were not pinned to
J: Well, we had pinned them pretty tight. They were only a year, so we did not
have to wait that long before we got it up there.
L: Anyhow, do you remember any other big events that occurred when you were
here, anything that was particularly exciting?
J: Man went to the moon. That was the most exciting thing that happened. There is
a funny story to go with that. This city in those days was smaller than it is now.
This whole area is scattered so bad[ly], and there are numbers of roads running
between them but not very scientifically devised. They can hardly get there from
here sometimes. But, when they had decided to go to the moon, they were
predicting that there would be a million people here, extra, and that the roads
would just be gridlocked. So, we looked at different ways to get the film from the
lot site over on Kennedy Space Center back to the paper. So, we looked for or
five different ways and finally talked to Tip Davidson up in Daytona, who is an
innovative guy if nothing else. He was going to do it by carrier pigeon, and we
thought that was interesting to do a trip to the moon with a carrier pigeon running
the film. I do not know whether he did it or not. We finally got a setup where we
had a guy pick up the film and brought it by boat. So, that was the most exciting
story, I guess, that we did.
L: Were you out there when they headed for the moon?
J: Oh yes. I was right there. I still go to some of them. I can hear it. It is a pretty
good view right out over to the east here, anyway. You look straight east, and
you can see it when it gets much above the horizon.
L: Did you impose any policies at TODAY as publisher that had not been in effect
J: Yes, it may have been imposed on me by Neuharth, but I tidied up our credit.
The idea was that we needed the volume damn near as bad as we needed the
money. So if we got the ad, [but did not get paid], we did not show it. We just
ate it. So when I took over, we had to start tightening it [up], and we did.
L: What other sources [were there] of competition besides the Orlando Sentinel?
Did the radio stations or TV give you much of a competition in those days?
J: Yes. There were four radio stations, and they got some of the money. Then,
there was the Miami Herald. Miami Herald did not solicit ads, but they had a
pretty good-sized circulation in here. That was about all, besides Titusville and
Melbourne which, of course, was bought in the early days.
L: How much did you get involved in the editorial part of the newspaper, as
publisher? In other words, did you just leave that to the editor, pretty much, or
did you get involved?
J: Oh no. I knew what was going on. I tried not to ever correct an editor. You
know, we checked. We always had a meeting and talked over everything pretty
much already, anyway. But my editors ran the paper. Now, on the other side,
sometimes when I was publisher, I was also the editorial page editor. So, it
might conflict with my editor in the middle.
L: You took editorial stands and so on? Did you write editorials?
J: Yes, I wrote for about six months, I guess. I do not like that end of it, but I took it
because we had made a very grievous error. We had a guy here who was the
chairman of the school board. A nice guy. A car dealer. So, the school board
had to rent a couple of cars, and he had a rental agency. He said, no profit; you
take them at what I paid for them. All right. So, everything went along pretty well
but while I was on the case, they brought the Tallahassee bureau chief down,
and he wrote editorials for about a week and a half, I guess. One of them, he
decided, was a breach of [ethics].
L: A conflict of interests.
J: Yes, completely. Because he did not know they were rented at the same price.
He just thought they were regular rentals, and it was a conflict of interest. He
dug a pretty deep hole. When I came back and found it out, when I got to editor,
I said, why did you do that? Anyway, we had to [apologize] and that was pretty
L: What was it like to work with a guy like Neuharth?
J: Well, he is one in national newspaper history, too, with USA TODAY. But, he is
an interesting, very thorough man who wants to play as hard as he works. That
is sort of his slogan, and he does it. Obviously, he has had three wives, and he
has six kids. Four of them are adopted, and one is black. He is a different type
of guy who is outspoken and charged all the time. The only place he can relax is
around the pool or the ocean in the sun, and that is the reason he is in Florida.
Now when he hired me, he had not quite all the experience that I had, but he
made much better use of it. He took off and did as he damn well pleased. When
I first met him, nobody had ever heard of him, of course. He had been state
editor of the Miami Herald. He learned more about Florida in about two years in
working for the Herald than anybody else had all their lives. So he was the first
one who looked at this place strongly. He came up here [to Cocoa] a dozen
times or so, covering something, anything he could do to cover this part of the
state. Then he looked around the rest of it. But, he did all these things by
himself, accumulating things.
L: Did you know him, incidentally, when you were still at Boca Raton?
J: When he was at the Herald? I knew him slightly. I think one of the great stories
of him is the fact that he is such a swift writer. He can walk around, and he has
to, before he sits down at his typewriter. He will walk around a little bit. He will
sit down, and that story will flow. It just comes out, you know, just as fast as you
can go. He does not stop anything, make corrections, or anything else. He just
runs it and makes corrections in pencil. But I have never seen anybody [like Al].
Everybody I have ever known has to stop and concentrate and redo and stuff like
that. He used to drive city editors mad because they would keep saying,
Neuharth, how is that story coming? Fine. [He would be] sitting there talking to
somebody. Hey Al, I have to have that story. All right, you will have it. The day
is done. Got four minutes. He would sit down and write the story and give it to
the editor. Then he would go to the restroom. And the editor would say, that son
of a bitch, I do not have a single correction on this thing, I wish he was not so
damn efficient. But he could do it.
L: Did he ever interfere, and I do not mean this necessarily in a pejorative way,
when you were publisher and he was president of Gannett?
J: He did not tell me what to plan. Never. In fact, we argued one time about a
political appointee in a political race. We found out something else against the
guy I was for, so I had to call and apologize and say, I am sorry, but you did not
talk me out of it either; you remember that. But, he never did really do anything
L: In editorials at TODAY, did you support gubernatorial candidates?
J: Oh yes.
L: You took stands?
J: Yes, we did.
L: Did you ever have any personal relationships with governors or politicians?
J: Oh yes. You cannot do without it when you are a publisher of papers, particularly
L: So, which ones stand out? I mean, like Askew [Reubin Askew, governor, FL,
1971-1979] or anybody else?
J: Askew was tremendous. Leroy Collins [governor of Florida, 1955-1961] was
wonderful--even Claude Kirk, who still calls me every now and then. I was not
here when Martinez [Bob Martinez, governor of Florida, 1987-1991] was
L: What kind of relationship did you have with those people?
J: Well, pretty friendly. With Collins, after he lost a race, he retired from politics,
and a guy gave him a job at [Burger King] so he could pay his debts. So I called
him, asking him to come to speak at a Boca Raton High School graduation. So,
he did and said, you know, you have more courage than a lot of the other people.
I said, hell no, Roy, everybody thinks you did a good job, it is just part of the old
integration story here. So, he came down and spoke. Boca Raton is a weird
[place]. It has all kinds of people living there. So, two guys called me and said,
hey, what are you going to do with LeRoy. I said, I am going to take him to
lunch, I guess. This guy said, hey, we will do that; I want to have a cocktail party
at my house. So anyway, we got there, and he came to the door and he said,
Jim, I forgot our bartender; I have thirty or forty people coming, but I forgot. I
said, hell, I am a pretty good bartender; I will take that over for you. So, in a few
minutes, Governor Collins came in and said, well, I have a distinguished
bartender, and he looked around and there was a Episcopal Cannon, and
he was doing the other bits of the bartending in there. This was when he was
out. It was after he lost that race he ran for, whatever [it was], senator,
congressman, or something. Left over from the bad days of segregation.
L: Speaking about segregation, you mentioned that it was tough in Laurel,
Mississippi. Why? Because the segregationists gave you a hard time?
J: Oh yes.
L: When you got to TODAY and, let us say, in Boca Raton, did you have anything to
do with hiring minorities or hiring more women?
J: Well women, of course, we had always hired, in weeklies particularly, because
they were cheaper than men. Then, of course, before I retired from Gannett they
were on us pretty hard to hire. In other words, you had a little bonus and that
was little, but if you had not hired any black people, they would chop a chunk of
that. Then, the next year, if you had not hired any department heads who were
black, they would chop some more. So, you learned quite fast to get it done.
L: That is what had happened in Pensacola.
J: Yes, but it sucked. It was so hard to hire blacks. That was the trouble. In
Pensacola, this kid called and asked for a job. He had just gotten out of college.
I talked to him, and I thought, this guy is good; this guy could really do
something, and I would like to have him. So I said, sit down; let us talk. I told
him, now, the trouble is, I am going to offer you a job, I want you to think carefully
about it--I want to make you the personnel director [because] I have one who is
getting another job. So he said, do you realize what you are saying? You are
putting a black man in as head. I said, yes. But, I said, department heads make
their desire for somebody [known], and you sort of look it up. You can stop
anything you want to, but you can also not force anybody to hire anybody if you
do not want to. So anyway, he did that for a week, and then he resigned and
said, I cannot do it. He said, I can go out to college and teach and make more
money working than I can here; but I do not get any backtalk out there. He said,
I just do not think I want to fight white people. I said, I do not think you want to
either; I would not have hired you if I thought you did. But he would not change
L: It was very difficult finding a pool of blacks to hire from, is that it?
J: Yes. There were not many qualified, really, because the teaching had been so
sorry for, elementary schools and secondaries for so many years, there just were
not any qualified blacks in the segregated schools of the South.
L: But you did improve the situation, I think, quite a bit in Pensacola.
J: Oh yes. We did that. We found some pretty good ones and helped them along.
L: Jim, I also want to talk about the relationship with the University of Florida
because, without a doubt-even Al Neuharth said this also-the huge gift that the
Gannett Foundation gave to the University of Florida was very, very largely due
to you. Give us a little background of your relationship with Rae Weimer [Rae O.
Weimer, professor and dean emeritus of journalism and communications, UF,
1949-1973] and John Paul Jones [John Paul Jones, Jr., professor and dean
emeritus of journalism and communications, UF, 1948-1981] and what led up to
J: All right. I had enjoyed the Florida Press Association. I got into it as soon as I
came here because, as I said before, there are ways to learn stuff. Any time I
could learn anything, I would go and talk to some of these other people and say,
gee, I am better than they are. Then, there would be others of whom I would
say, now, he is so smart that his head hurts. So, that is how I got into that, and
Paul is a likeable guy.
L: We are talking about John Paul Jones.
J: And his wife Marion was a nice person, tough as nails but she was a nice person.
So, I became pretty friendly with them. Also, as I said, a lot of these damn little
places...you know, if you live in Punta Gorda, you are pretty glad to get out for
anything. So, that is what I did and through the years, I met Ray, of course, and
worked with him. I worked on a couple of little projects up there. The Florida
Press, at Paul's insistence one time ...
L: I think Paul was the head of the Florida Press Association.
J: He was the head of the Florida Press Association before he became dean.
When he became dean, he resigned.
L: Right, and the Press Association was handled out of the University of Florida, in
the College of Journalism.
J: Yes. We had a staff up there.
L: And you were president of FPA while you were at Punta Gorda.
J: Yes, and then again at Boca Raton and here. I was a second time [too], the only
guy still living, I think, who has ever done that. Anyway, about Paul, we became
pretty good friends. I never took any real vacations much until the last few years
before I retired. With my wife, Gloria, I would take a long weekend and visit with
somebody, not stay in their house but visit. We would get a hotel room and then
take them to dinner or something like that. John got to be a pretty good friend.
As I said, [he was] at the college then. Anyway, in later years, I put together a
deal, and he approved it. He thought it was great. What we were going to do
was to get together for a semester and make people come from a newspaper
and spend a week at the University, eat in the Rathskellar, if that is still around or
whatever is, have to eat down there, and the students could join you if they
wanted to. It was better for us than it was for the students but, anyway, a pretty
good deal. So, we picked out a publisher and an editor and an ad director and
whatever else, all of the regular department heads interested in journalism. We
did not put anybody in from personnel or anything like that. So, we taught that
course a week.
L: They all would come at the same time?
J: No, [at] different [times]. Each one came for a week.
L: So, they would teach a course, one week at a time.
J: Yes, right. Mainly on what their job is and how it is done, what they think about
journalism, in general, and newspapers.
L: It sounds like a newspaper management course.
J: It was sort of like that, and it was pretty good. Everybody showed up except for
one guy, so we thought that was pretty good. He was from a weekly and
probably the most unprogressive paper in Florida, so it was all right. But, that
was a good thing, and that got me close with the University.
L: You were one of those who came for a week.
J: Yes. I have forgotten which division it was. So, I was up there one Thursday
and Friday, over in the old J-[journalism] school. Pretty soon, there was all this
damn noise. I knew [the College of Journalism] was under the stadium, but I
thought it was better [insulated] than it was. You could not even hear yourself
speak, the next thing you know.
L: Was it a football weekend?
J: Yes, but the teams were practicing. This was not during the game. So, that is
when I talked to Paul and said, Paul, when are you going to get a new building?
He said, well, we are on a list. Man, it was something else. With lots of colleges,
for part of the training of each day's practice was running to the top of the
stadium and back. I thought we might be able to get a sound effect of buffalos
running, but we did not. Anyway, he said, we are on a list; we are supposed to
be third, but I think somebody has put us up. I said, Paul, why do we not get
some money to build it? Can you go out and solicit money? He said, yes, I can,
but I would have to get all kinds of approval. I said, of course you would. I said,
anyway, we will talk about it. So, I came back and called Al [Neuharth]. I told
him a little bit about the noise and so, I said, why do you not get Gannett
Foundation to give the University of Florida $1,000,000 so they can get one. I
said, if they walk in there with $1,000,000, that so-called building committee or
whatever they have is going to have to give you some money down. He said,
that sounds pretty good; write me a letter. So, I wrote a letter, and that is the way
it was started.
L: And that was in the early 1970s.
L: I think they actually gave the money, committed, maybe in 1973 or something
J: It may have been, yes.
L: It was based on getting matching money from other publishers, not a complete
match, but I think they wanted a match of three-quarters, $750,000 from other
J: Right. Did you ever hear Paul's story of calling on the woman at the Washington
L: Kay Graham [publisher of the Washington Post] [UF] had a college vice-
president, like you always have, who goes around and gets funds.
L: Bill Stone [William K. Stone, director of university development, UF, 1973-1985],
J: So they go to get an appointment and go to Washington to talk to Kay Graham.
They are in the middle of things and this guy says, now, Ms. Graham, it would be
awfully great since your husband was a graduate of the University to put this big
double door in at the college and name something for him, so we can put his
name up there. She said, you have not done your homework; I hated that son of
L: I think it was Steve Wilkerson who was the Foundation director then.
J: Anyway, she gave them $250,000, I think.
L: One other thing I want to talk about before we move you on up to Pensacola-
well, you already were in Pensacola then-you know how little things occur, and
you never really forget them. You and Paul Jones and the Weimers, Marion and
Paul and Ray-I am not sure whether his wife was dead by that time or not-and
Brania and I and Gloria, we all went out to The Yearling, remember?
J: Yes, I do.
L: At Cross Creek, and you always used to like to order frog legs.
J: Yes, I love them.
L: And when the bill came, you paid the bill, but you did not ask for a receipt. It was
very interesting. I said, say, Jim, do you not need to turn in a receipt in order to
get repaid, and you said, Gannett has one policy on expense accounts,
especially. You said, if you cannot trust a publisher, you cannot trust anybody.
Is that true? I mean, you did not have to turn it in?
J: That was true at that time. However, later on, the IRS moved in, and we were
digging the barrels and everything else to find the receipts.
L: Okay, but it said something about the organization itself, to me.
J: Most of that is Neuharth's decision. We did not have a lot of policies when I
joined the company. We had a few guys up in Rochester who were just
directors. We had a production director, of course. But Neuharth changed all of
that when he took over and built himself a little larger central staff up there. I do
not know much about it now. I know there are four or five hundred people in that
building when there used to be thirty. Anyway, it runs differently. When I
worked for the Thomson Company [and] for the Knights, they gave me complete
directions. I was just simply a clerk. Except editorially. They did not worry too
much about the editorial copy. [Thomson doesn't] care about anything as long as
they made money. Then, when I worked for the Knights, they would tell me, but
they would not help me much. Then, when I worked at Gannett, Gannett says,
here it is; do it. I mean, a complete freedom is what I found.
L: The papers are given a tremendous amount of autonomy, but they are expected
to make the bottom line.
J: Oh yes. We had a budget and finally, it got to be the best budget I ever saw. In
fact, one thing ... when Askew ran for governor of Florida, all three Florida
papers endorsed him.
L: All three Gannett papers?
J: Yes. Neuharth called me and said, I do not know this guy; is he that good? I
said, yes, he is; he will make a hell of a governor. He said, well, I find it a bit
awkward to have all three of our papers endorse the same candidate; I do not
want to go back [to] the days of Hearst.
L: Hearst would send down a directive, right?
J: Right. I said, well, I think in this case, it is founded. So that was it. Then he
called me and said, I have a problem; let me talk to you about it. He said, a
woman [is] running against Paula Hawkins [U. S. senator, Florida, Republican,
1981-1987]. This woman [Lois Harrison] was the wife of the publisher of
Lakeland, [Jack Harrison, who] came out against his wife [Lois] saying she
should not run because it would be a conflict of interests, with he as publisher
and she as whatever. At the meantime, I knew Paula well, and she was [not
brilliant], and this [lady, Lois Harrison] was pretty smart, a pretty bright lady. She
had been in the newspaper business before. Paula beat her, but it killed Paula,
L: So, why did Neuharth get into that?
J: I do not know. He knew them. He had been trying to buy the paper that Harrison
ran for the New York Times.
L: You mean, he asked you to endorse?
J: No. He said, could you endorse her? I want to know if you could endorse
somebody; if you cannot, just say so. He was talking about who she was, and I
said, no more needed Al, I [am] not going to endorse Hawkins for all the money
in the world and he said thank [you].
L: Before we move on to Pensacola, it occurs to me, Jim, that I forgot to ask you
this. Al Neuharth divorced his first wife, Loretta, and as you mentioned, he
married Lori Wilson. Lori also was a state senator, or she ran for state senator. I
do not have the chronology. But did she run for the state senate when she was
married to Al Neuharth, and got an endorsement? Did you have any conflict of
interests of any kind at all when Lori Wilson represented the Cocoa area at the
same time she was married to the president of Gannett and you were a Gannett
paper? Would you explain that?
J: We did not have an awful lot of trouble with it. She tried to give us suggestions
and if we liked them, we listened to her. If we did not, why, we would still listen to
her more seriously than we may have listened to somebody else. But we did not
do everything she [asked]. When she first got married, man, she had a lot of
suggestions but the longer we went on, it became less and less. She had some
pretty good suggestions on starting some kind of space walk or something like
that, and we talked to her about that.
L: What do mean, a space walk? Building a park?
J: Yes, to build a park. It was something in Titusville. She had quite a few
suggestions, some very good. She is not a dumb woman. She is very bright.
L: But did she run for office while she was married to Al, or was it after?
J: [Yes.] She was already in [county] office. Of course, he put her in office.
L: I mean, but you did not have anything to do with endorsing or not endorsing her?
J: No, we endorsed her. We explained that she was a loyal friend of the president
L: You did say that, editorially?
L: So, you gave a qualifier on that?
J: Yes, but it was in there, maybe on the front page. I do not remember, but we
qualified that. Well, because I did not like that at all. I was trying my best. The
trouble was, she was so damn much more qualified than the guy she was
running against that, you know, you would have to really be in bad shape...
L: Brain dead to support the other guy?
J: Yes, right. But, she went on to be a pretty good senator, as you know.
L: In fact, there is a Lori Wilson Park. I always find it a little amusing that right next
to where Al lives is a Lori Wilson Park that he must pass ten times a day. Where
is Lori Wilson now?
J: She is still here.
L: She still lives here?
J: Yes. After she got a divorce, she went to law school and got her degree and ran
into two guys who owned a small company that chose stocks for retirees.
L: Financial planners?
J: Yes. Financial planners. She got involved in that. I [do not] see her very often.
I mean, once a year is all, about as often as I see Neuharth.
L: The other thing I want to ask you is, you are here in TODAY up until 1973. Then,
in 1973, they moved you up to Pensacola. Now, is this something you
requested, or they needed somebody up there? It is a bigger paper? What is
the reason for moving?
J: Several different reasons. I had been stationed at Eglin Field, as we said before,
during World War II, and I knew those people. I also knew Braden Ball and his
son and [other] people. So, I went up there for a Florida Press Association
[meeting], and I stayed for about three days in Pensacola. So, the day we were
coming back, Neuharth called me and said, if you will be out at the Pensacola
airport in about an hour, I will pick you up and take you back to Cocoa. I said,
great. So, Gloria and I went out, and he picked us up and said, did you learn
anything up here. I said, yes, I learned your paper is in a hell of a mess; Braden
Ball thinks he wants to retire, but he is not sure.
L: Who is that? Was he the publisher in those days?
J: Yes, of the paper. Anyway, I said, I think he wants to retire; you have a general
manager who [drinks too much]. I said, you have Ball's son who is damn good,
but he is a little young. He said, I know, but I am glad you told me those things;
they establish my beliefs. He said, what did they do when you came in and
visited? I said, they took me out there to a little pier on Fort Walton Beach, and I
do not know why because there is nothing out there. I said, Braden Ball gets
afraid when anybody comes to the building. I think that is [what] the pier is for.
Anyway, a week later, we had our annual meeting. [Al] said, Jim, I have an idea; I
want you to go to Pensacola. I said, actually, no, this is a fascinating newspaper,
there is nothing bright about the Pensacola page. He said, you can do it; you
can make it. He said, you know old man Ball up there; he will not do anything.
He said, you go up there and run it and make some money; he is making a lot of
money, but you are going to get more than that. I said, hell, Al, that is not an
advancement; at the very best, it is equal. He said, no, you have two papers up
there. I said, Al, I have three here, because I have the two little weeklies.
Anyway, I ended up there.
L: You had the Pensacola News and the Pensacola Journal.
J: Right. Neuharth always liked to pull these things as a surprise. He would open
the door this second and right after you got in, he opened the door and here
came another guy. He was going to replace him or something like that. He
loved to do that. Anyway, we were flying into Pensacola. Neuharth had good
eyes, so he went up with the pilot. He shrugged his head back and said, Jim, get
under the seat, or somewhere, because here is Braden walking out. I thought at
least, we would have time to get out ourselves.
L: He did not want Ball to know that...
J: ... know that I was on board, so I tried to hide. So, when it landed and
everything, here came Ball and shook hands with him. They get away from the
airplane and Ball said, what is Jesse doing here, because I saw him?
L: How did he see you?
J: Sometime when we landed or something else. Anyway, that was funny.
L: So did Al tell him?
J: Oh yes. He had wanted to get out. He said, I do not do anything, but I would just
like to live without a newspaper for a while. So that is what he did. He never,
never tried to call me and suggest anything or anything. He never did.
L: So, then you just moved in. What did you find in Pensacola?
J: Well, I found a different city from what I was used to. You know, it is pretty much
right on the state line. When I was here [in Cocoa], I used to argue with Braden
and say, hey, I do not have any cities; I will buy a city from you for the state,
because you do not have a state; you are so close to Alabama, which is pretty
true, for both of us. One thing I was sure I was going to do when I got there was
to get everybody to put all of Florida under one time system. I would like to put
all of Florida in [Eastern time].
L: Pensacola is under the Central Standard [time zone].
J: Right. All of that west part of Florida is. When I got up there and found out that
gave me an extra hour on everything in the Eastern time zone, I said to hell with
it. Braden ran a tight ship, very insular. He was more interested in economic
things, not interested in firing up the governmental issues, and had pretty bad
representation all the way around.
L: What do mean by that?
J: I mean all the county commissioners ...
L: Oh, you mean it did not pay much attention to cleaning up the government.
J: No, it did not.
L: Was Earl Bowden editor at that time?
L: Was he editorial editor, or was he the overall editor?
J: He was the editor, overall, the vice president. I left him as vice president, and
that is what started Neuharth making presidents out of all the publishers.
L: Actually, I think what you did was, Earl became editor of the editorial page, and
then you brought in a new executive editor, did you not?
J: Yes, I did. Earl does not have [great] leadership value. He is great in the
community. So, that is what I was trying to do, get him out in the community. He
likes to speak and study the old-fashioned public speaking thing and can still do a
job on it. But, he makes good speeches. He loves history. So, the University [of
West Florida] got him to come out there and speak, and he teaches a course. I
do not know what it is in now.
L: So, what policies did you impose at Pensacola that made them better papers?
J: Well, I paid money. When I took over, the salaries were absurd. I would not
even put them down because nobody, in this day and age ...
L: I can remember how low they were.
J: Yes. So, I went in and I was there about a month. Then, I sat down and looked
at the whole thing. I called John Quinn, I guess, who was head of the news side.
I said, John, I have looked over this, and I can afford to just raise everybody $20
across the board in the newsroom, $20 a week. He said, nobody has ever done
that before in that paper. I said, well, you have never had a paper that paid
people this low either. He said, well, you are about right there, too. He said, you
have guts; go ahead and do it. So I did.
L: That should have made you popular with the staff.
J: Oh yes. I was a hero with the staff for a while, but the pay was so low. It was
just sad, and we had lost a lot of good ones. We got some good ones back and
L: So, you stayed there from 1973 to 1978. That is five years.
L: Then, Gannett bought the Nashville Banner.
J: No, they had already bought it. They owned it and had somebody running it.
The thing was, the man who owned 50 percent of the Tennessean, well, let us
just say he had ten wives. As you can see, his interests were more in his pants
than in his head. He made life miserable for us. We owned 50 percent a piece,
but he ran the other paper. We owned 50 percent, but we did not get much say
L: You owned 50 percent of the Tennessean and 50 percent of the Banner?
J: Yes, we owned half of both.
L: You owned half of both, and he owned half of both?
J: Yes, it was a JOA, first in the country. The Banner was owned by family. His
family owned the Tennessean. When the Banner guy died, he left it to the guy
who sold it to us later on. His father died, and his grandfather died. So, he kept
that paper. We talked to him a little bit. I could talk to him. [Few could].
L: Do you remember his name?
J: Amon Carter Evans.
L: And his family owned 50 percent of both papers, and Gannett owned 50 percent.
No one had a majority?
J: Nobody, no. So, that is what I went into, and it was really tough because he
wanted to turn down everything we wanted to do. Some of things he did were
pretty good but what I got mad at him about was, he sneaked in and built a
hunting club for about $200,000 and put it in for false stuff to buy it.
L: You mean he charged it to the paper?
L: And said it was a what? A treat for the staff?
J: No, it was announced. There were some other things for the newspaper from the
same company. It was pretty hard to dig out. I never did dig out the whole thing.
L: So, what did you do about a situation like that?
J: Well, that was the reason I went to Nashville.
L: That was why they brought you in?
J: Yes, and said, you can get along with anybody; try to get along with him, stay up
there for three months, and tell us whether we should keep it or sell it--we can
sell it pretty easily, but we do not want to sell it, we do not have a big paper in the
L: When they said, sell it, they mean sell both? Sell the interests in both papers?
J: Sell their 50 percent interest in everything.
L: In both papers, in both the Banner and the Tennessean?
J: Yes, right.
L: Because the Tennessean had been a great paper. It had a great reputation.
J: Oh yes, sure it was. It was a leader in the mid-South.
L: And Sigenthaler was there [as editor], was he not?
J: Yes, he was there. So, I went up there, and things got rougher and rougher. I
remember the first time after I was there that day. I went up there to an annual
meeting, and I had to preside because I was head of the Banner publishing
company. I was also chairman of the board of the printing company.
L: The Newspaper Printing Corporation?
J: Yes. So anyway, that was the worst day of my life, ever, because everybody
was shooting at me.
L: Why were they shooting at you?
J: Neuharth wanted to get the hell out.
L: You mean, he wanted to get out of the situation?
J: Well, no. We were having some arguments on such things as making out
budgets and things like that. Amon Carter Evans just did not want any stuff,
nothing. This was an argumentative meeting. It never accomplished a darn
thing. But then, when I got through, I shook hands. I guess we'll see you
tomorrow, and maybe we will make amends or something, with your help. Amon
told somebody, that is the first time anybody from Gannett ever had anything kind
to say. Anyway, that went on. I watched it. Amon was a real innovative guy. He
put in a circulation department which, I think, is still the best in America, all these
years later. He was the first guy to use computers, intelligently, in the newspaper
business. Sigenthaler ran the Tennessean with an iron hand. We had a deal
where, because it was 50 percent ownership, that all department heads had to
make the same salary. I mean, conjunctively. But, if the other owner wanted to
add more money, he could.
L: Out of their own pot?
J: Out of their own pot.
L: Not out of the Newspaper Corporation's pot?
J: No, out of his own split. Anyway, this guy could infuriate you. I went to talk to
him a couple of times.
L: You are talking about Carter Evans, again?
J: Yes. I said, I want you to sit down with me or by yourself or with accountants,
whoever you want, and come up with some kind of ideas. I have just been here.
Then, we talked and he said, I am not going to put up with all of that shit; I have
never made out a budget, and I never will. Then, he looked back and he said,
you are serious about this, aren't you? I said, yes, I have a job to do, and I have
to do it. He said, well, I must admit, you are the only guy from Gannett who I did
not dislike; I do not know that I like you, but I do not dislike you. He said, you
want a budget? He had one of those calendar pads. He ripped off the first sheet,
turned it over, and he put down-I believe the year was-1980 and enough zeroes
to make $1,980,000 that year. He handed it over, and I took it as his budget.
L: It was 1980, so he wrote down $1,980,000?
J: Right, and we damn near did it.
J: Well, that is the kind of guy he was.
L: So how was that ever resolved?
J: [Amon] sold.
L: To Gannett?
J: No, he wouldn't sell to Gannett. He sold to Combined Company. We had set all
this thing up. I was involved in it. We had this guy from Combined
Communications who sold to Gannett.
L: Carl Eller?
J: Yes, Carl Eller. Neuharth was trying to get Eller out of the way because he was
in the way too much. So, he called and said, I am going to turn Eller over to
Amon. I said, if you do not know what happened, tell me you know what did
happen to me. So, Eller came down and the story is that Eller came in and, of
course, he was with Combined, and he told Amon Carter Evans that, I really
came down, Amon, to buy your paper. He said, well, you can talk to me, but you
are not with Gannett. He said, no, I do not have anything to do with Gannett. He
still had not at that time, but everything was in ...
L: He had a lot of Gannett stock.
J: Yes, and everything was in writing. So, Amon Carter Evans said, you could not
do it; you do not have that kind of money. He said, try me. He said, I would want
$50,000,000 for that, and Eller stuck out his hand and said, deal? So Amon got
serious and finally agreed to sell.
L: For that price?
J: No. He got more than that. I forget what it was. Carl Eller turned to Gannett and
just sold it to Gannett.
L: So then, you owned 100 percent.
J: Yes. Amon Carter Evans knew about it ahead of time, but it did not really bother
him. He just made his bed and stood on it and hollered. He never came in that
building, that I know of, after he sold it. But, we have remained pretty good
friends. We would go out to dinner sometimes. He is a hell of a wine student. I
am not, but I like to eat good. So, we would find some place to eat. Then I got
involved when he bought his house and was trying to talk him into giving it to the
University of Tennessee to put it back in its original state, which was about 1804,
I guess. This estate is called Rattle and a Snap, because that is a dice game of
the American Revolution. They could not play dice, but they could play a rattle
and a snap, which was about the same thing. It was owned by the famous family
of a bishop general [Polk] in the Confederacy. Amon is still alive, still colorful, still
having a lot of fun. He spent all of his money. It did not take long.
L: You also taught management while you were out there.
J: Yes, at Middle Tennessee State [University (MTSU)], and I lectured at the
University of Tennessee some, until I got tired of driving 200 miles.
L: You taught newspaper management.
J: Yes. I taught at MTSU for a while, and I lectured at Vanderbilt. Another guy who
was, at one time, chief of the Huntley-Brinkley report (he was the producer),
retired and was down at Vanderbilt as ... something to do with public relations. I
was head of public relations at Vanderbilt [Medical Center] for a while until they
finally found somebody, which I did not think was ever going to happen, the way
they were doing it.
L: You retired in 1983.
L: I know you had been lecturing part-time. Did you go full-time to Vanderbilt in
J: No. He and I came up with this idea that we would like to teach teachers,
professors or department heads, either one. We would teach them on how to
control the press. That was the title we used.
L: Well, you had to get along with the press.
J: Yes, but if we said, how to control the press, we got twice as many students.
Then, at Middle Tennessee, I taught what amounts to Journalism 101, I guess,
and Ethics of the Media.
L: That was after you retired?
L: How long were you teaching?
J: About three years.
L: But you had a terrible automobile accident in 1984.
L: A head-on collision in Alabama.
L: Gloria, your wife, was very badly injured.
J: Yes. She never walked again, except with a walker.
L: What year did Gloria die?
L: So, you lived out there, in Nashville, until what year?
J: I moved down here about 1986, or something like that, about two years after the
L: So essentially, you taught up until 1986?
J: Right. I have done some since, but not anything to be very proud of.
L: What would you say was your influence on the Florida Press Association over
the years? Because you were very active, I know, from 1955 until 1978.
J: Yes. Well, as I said, when I went to my first meeting of Florida Press, the guy
who was publisher is dead now, from Arcadia. His son was, later on, publisher of
the Sun. I have forgotten what this guy's name was, a common name but he
was publisher of the Gainesville Sun. The family was headquartered in Arcadia.
Anyway, his old man took me around and introduced me. Once in a while, he
would say, we ought to go over there and meet him, but he is a son of a bitch;
you do not have to meet him. Then, he would take me somewhere else. But, I
was just impressed by it, to be so welcomed. I had served on both the Louisiana
Press and the Mississippi Press. I was impressed with this one because it ran
well. It had things to do and did them. It did not have meetings where everybody
wants to go a different way. It went nice, and I enjoyed that. That was one of the
reasons I kept going. As I said, the other [reason was that] Punta Gorda is a bad
place to stay in all your life, so to get out to a convention, it was pretty good. But,
that is the reason I got, more or less, involved in everything. Then, [John] Paul
[Jones] would keep you pretty busy. Somebody has to judge other state papers,
so I always enjoyed doing that.
L: Was there a lot of friction between the weeklies and the dailies in those days?
J: No, there was not for a very good reason. When the legislature passed the one-
vote-one-man thing, that killed the weeklies in Florida because they could go in
and see the governor or anybody they wanted to, any time they wanted to. I
guess they still can but, anyway, that was the thing, that the weeklies knew the
candidates and incumbents better than the dailies did by a damn sight.
L: Why is that?
J: Well, we had at that time quite a few active publishers in north Florida, other
small towns, and they had always traveled with the candidates, maybe, or
something else in their county because that was the only big news you had. So,
the weeklies got closer to anybody than would the dailies. The dailies always
had one or two stories that nobody liked, or something like that. It was easy to
piss on them, you know? All of sudden when I started writing editorials...I am not
saying I was the originator, but the British newspaper I guess had the idea best.
You know, this was the end of the line for weekly papers and small people up
and down the state, that never again would they have this kind of power.
L: Because they reapportioned?
L: They reapportioned according to population strength, rather than size, and gave
one person one vote.
J: That was right. In other words, Miami in those days had three votes in [the]
[Florida] House [of Representatives]. Now, they have [four times] that, which is
L: So, that gave the dailies more influence.
J: Oh yes. The dailies had considerably more influence. The weeklies had no
influence at all any more. I mean, who wants to kowtow to the guy who is
publisher in Starke, which [has] nothing beside the prison. So that changed the
whole state around. That made the power of St. Petersburg and Orlando.
L: How did that affect the FPA?
J: Well, we used to be able to walk over and call the governor or anybody else we
wanted to, get a speaker, and have him come, and anything else. They never
turned us down. I served a year on the board of the dailies, and we could not get
anybody, not even the publishers. I called Alvah Chapman one day and said, I
need somebody to speak at the Florida Press Association, saying, even though it
is weeklies but you have some, of course, if you want to talk about them, or if you
have somebody else to. What are you doing in this thing? I said, it is a pretty
good organization; we have done a lot of things.
L: Do you mean that the FPA, then, were only weeklies?
L: They did not include the dailies?
L: When did that change?
J: I was in Boca Raton.
L: So it changed between 1963 and 1967.
J: Yes, because I had been president of the Association.
L: So, what did the dailies do? Did they have an organization at all?
J: They had a daily organization, but nobody ever came with any power. They
always sent somebody to represent them, but he might have been [a minor]
editor. He may have been somebody on [a] pension. They had their own
organization, but they were so small and nobody ever heard of the people.
L: Right. So, did you have anything to do with merging the two?
J: Oh yes. Paul, me, and Dick Campbell.
L: Down in Jensen Beach?
J: Yes. We helped merge it.
L: You do not know what year that was that you merged?
J: Yes, it was about 1964 or 1965, I think.
L: Before that, was it still called the FPA?
J: Yes, it has always been called the FPA, and theirs was the FDNA [Florida Daily
L: The Florida Daily?
J: Yes. We put that together. We had a meeting. Art Gucker, who was with the
Miami Herald, was head of newsprint purchases, but he also had a lot of other
powers in it. He called one day and he said, Jim, I am the new president of
Florida Dailies; it is not worth anything to us [because] we just do not get
anything out of it, so could you all, in some way, take us in? I said, yes, we
better do it. I told him about the same thing I told you, about the things we were
losing by, that we could move together and could gain some power. But I said,
you know, if you are looking for pure power, this is not it, because newspapers
do not have quite this much power. Maybe it did in the 1890s, but not any more.
Anyway, that is the way we put it together. We agreed that he would come to
our meeting, and I would go to his that year. Then, we would both go back and
explain to both sides what they thought.
L: Were you president that year?
J: Yes, I was president.
L: In other words, you were one of the kingpins in getting the FPA together as one
unit, dailies and weeklies.
J: Yes. Yes, we talked about that. Art was bright. He is gone now, but he was a
bright guy. He could not stand to waste time. Well, nobody who ever worked for
Alvah Chapman could stand to waste time. He was the most efficient man I have
ever known in my life. It would drive you crazy. I played golf with him one day,
and he was driving me mad. I am not a good golfer and told him I was not. He
would rant and rave. He wanted to keep moving. He wanted me to shoot better.
I do not know what Alvah is doing, now, because they had a big falling-out, you
know, with all the Herald people.
L: No. I think he still lives there. He is very active in civic affairs.
J: He always was. He was a good citizen.
L: How would you say Florida is different in character now than it was when you
came to Boca Raton, in 1963?
J: Well, if this had all happened in a hundred years instead of twenty-five or thirty or
whatever it was, it would be understandable, because this was just big crunch
here. There is the space program and everything else in this part of Florida.
When I got to Pensacola, they had some stuff. I wanted to get zoning in up
there, and I never could. But, they were heading some other ways. Florida has
progressed more, certainly, since I have been here than any place I have ever
lived before, or even read about. It has really come a long way, become more
urbanized. The economy, of course, is much, much better. Probably, the
biggest improvement is getting rid of the dang mosquitos. This county was part
of old Mosquito County, and it was pretty tough until after World War II, when
they went in here, got a bulldozer and went down all these little roads spraying
and straightening things up.
L: There are backyards that are completely screened in, still, here. Is that because
they still have a mosquito problem?
J: No, I would not think so. Not anymore. Of course, the trouble was with screens,
they did not keep out the no-see-ems. They would keep out the mosquitos, but
the no-see-ems would bite just as bad. There used to be an organization in this
county. Well, there still is, but it used to be active, called Skeeter Beaters. Each
guy had a fly swatter, and he carried it with him all the time. It was damn bad,
L: Right. Of course, air conditioning helps, too.
J: Oh yes. Air conditioning is the thing, and also emptying some of the potholes
and stuff like that.
L: So, how did they beat the mosquitos? I mean, how did they really eliminate the
mosquitos? By draining the swamps?
J: Yes, by draining the swamps. They should not have emptied all of it in here.
L: Why do we not just conclude by you giving me the name of your children again.
You and Gloria have two children.
J: That is right. "Chuck," Charles W.
L: And what year was he born?
J: He was born in 1943.
L: And then you have ... ?
J: "Rik," Rikard Jesse, who was born in 1951.
L: Then, Rik has a son at the University of Florida, now. Edward.
J: Yes. He is having a lot of fun. He said most of summer school is fun up there,
L: Yes. Well, he has a great tradition to follow. I hope that the University of Florida
does good things for him because the University of Florida owes you a
tremendous amount, Jim. It really does.
J: Oh well, you know I got paid back for every cent of it. It gave me something to
do, in addition to running papers and stuff. I enjoyed my affiliation with the
University of Florida very much. Of course, I was surprised at John Paul, when
Neuharth said, write me a letter, and I did. It was a funny thing, and I do not
know if you want to record this, but I wrote the letter and Neuharth sent a man
down from the Foundation to investigate it and everything else. He told him, you
get together with Jesse, and you all write a request for this thing, one page, but I
want you to make it strong. So we did. Then, we said, Al, how are we going to
get the other two Gannett papers involved? By the number of employees they
have. So, we sat down, and each paper had one or two.
L: Who had been graduates?
J: Yes, graduates. So, we found a few more, and then we wrote the letter to
Neuhardt and he showed Paul and he said I'm going to put his in to the
foundation. And then he called two hours later and said we have some problems.
L: He said that he did not think Paul Miller was going to go along with it.
J: That is right. Anyway, this other guy was on a committee with us who was on the
Foundation. He said, I can convince [Miller] to do it, and Neuharth said, let us do
that, then, because I would like to.
L: And Paul Miller was the president of Gannett.
J: Yes, and Al was the executive vice president. So, he went in and talked to Miller.
Jerry Sass was this guy's name. He went in and convinced him that we ought to
give $500,000 for a journalism school at Oklahoma State, which is where Paul
graduated. So we did that, and Paul said okay, fine.
L: Was Jerry Sass then the personnel director for Gannett? Vice president for
J: Yes, that is right. He is retired now, I think.
L: He then became head of the Foundation.
J: Yes, for a while. He is a hell of a guy. I liked him.
L: And that is how you got Paul Miller on board.
J: That is right.
L: It has been great speaking to you, Jim. Good luck to you, and thank you very
[End of the interview.]