Interviewee: Jesse Earle Bowden
Interviewer: Julian Pleasants
Date: May 20, 2000
P: This is May 20, 2000. I am in Pensacola, Florida, and I am talking with Mr. Earle
Bowden. When and where were you born, Mr. Bowden?
B: I was born in Altha, Florida, on September 12, 1928.
P: Talk a little bit about the early interest you had in journalism and newspapers.
When did you first realize you wanted to be in the newspaper business?
B: When I was a youngster, twelve, thirteen, fourteen years old, I began to try to
write stories in my notebooks. My family did not really have any background
toward writing journalism, although my mother was encouraging. She read a lot
of gothic novels, and she always wanted to write, she said. I was imbued with a
lot of imagination, taken from movies and stories I read, and I began to try to
write. I also wanted to be an artist at the same time, drawing, reading the
Saturday Evening Post and looking at editorial cartoons of the time, Milton Caniff
and "Terry and the Pirates" and all that. So, I had all these interests of wanting to
write and illustrate all through my childhood. Then, when I reached early high
school, we developed a school newspaper, the first one in the history of Altha
High School. It was a little mimeographed sheet that I created. I wrote it on my
old upright Underwood typewriter that my dad had. I began to work for the county
weekly in Blountstown, I would see my stories in print. I just slowly went into that,
wanting to write, enjoyed writing. Really, my ambition was to write books, even at
that early age, but I found the smell of the ink on the newsprint at an early age
and was able to be the editor of a small weekly newspaper called Altha Times in
the late 1940s. The town had prospered somewhat, and an old gentlemen by the
name of Olen Kelly, who was an old-time weekly newspaperman, brought his
flatbed press to town and started a weekly paper, and I was his editor. I was
seventeen years old.
P: You were still in high school at this point?
B: Yes. So, I went from there. I began to be a correspondent for the Florida Times
Union in Jacksonville. My father took that paper, and Arnold Finnefrock was
sports editor. He paid me $50 a month to phone in or mail in the sports events in
the panhandle. I did the same thing for the Panama City News Herald at that
time. So, I had a little business going by the time I started to go off to college that
really whetted my interest in writing. Mostly at that time, it was sports because I
was sort of an athlete in high school, baseball and played a little football. Sports
was my world. Then, I decided to go to journalism school. First, I was going to
the University of Georgia because, at that time, Georgia had a [journalism]
department that had a pretty good reputation. I had read a lot about it. Also, I
wanted to be an artist, and I wanted to go to art school. I actually enrolled at the
Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, but I was rather frustrated with all that, not sure,
and some of my mentors said you really need an education, so I decided to go to
school up in Georgia. They sent me to Savannah, to Hunter Air Base, because it
opened as a branch campus of the University of Georgia. I was a country boy, a
small-town youngster who was a little out of my element in Georgia. I stayed up
there three or four weeks, and it did not have any kind of campus atmosphere.
Savannah was strange to me, and I was awfully young and had not been out of
Florida much. So, I called my father, and the registrar let me withdraw. I went
back home and enrolled in Tallahassee at the campus of the University of Florida
at Florida State College for Women, at that time. After the war, they sent 500
male students to Tallahassee because of the overflow in Gainesville. In that, I
decided to study art and journalism.
P: This is 1947?
S: Yes, and I became a little disappointed in the study of fine arts. I wanted to be a
magazine illustrator, and they were into abstraction and impressionistic art. I was
just not real pleased. I wanted to write, so I drifted over into journalism, made that
my major, became sports editor of the Florida Flambeau, the student newspaper.
I found out that I could draw my own cartoons and write, too, so I began to draw
a sports cartoon and write a column on the Flambeau. I have been doing that
sort of thing throughout my career.
P: Let me ask about the journalism program. What did they emphasize? What kind
of training did you get at FSU?
B: It was a small department, and one of my favorite professors was a gentleman
named Earl Vance. He had headed the little department at Florida State College
for Women. He had written extensively for academic journals, he was a
wonderful teacher; he encouraged us to get a liberal arts education, which is a
noble argument, the technical versus the liberal arts. He said, get yourself a good
education; study history and economics and language, and let the technical
aspect of journalism fall into its place. So, I took that as a guide in those early
years, and I did that. I minor[ed] in political science at Florida State. He
encouraged me to learn to read. This sounds elementary, but, in those days, I
had come out of a rural school and thought I could read, but he had the most
marvelous course called Journalism 101, which is contemporary reading. All we
had to do was read about seventy-five articles out of Atlantic and Harper's
magazines. Then, at the end of the semester, we had an essay test to give the
thesis of each of those articles. His classroom technique was Socratic: start a
discussion and have everybody thinking by the end of the hour. He really brought
me out in that regard. I have always treasured that time I spent in those classes.
It taught me that, really, I needed a strong education. It is a philosophy I have
used throughout my career. I teach writing at the University of West Florida, and I
tell these [students] in communication arts now, get yourself a good strong liberal
arts education; take the writing courses, learn to write, but all the other technical
aspects of journalism can be learned on the job because on-the-job training is
really what you need.
P: Do you therefore think a degree in journalism is necessary?
B: Not necessarily, no.
P: Is it better to learn on the job?
B: I think it probably is, because what I have found in journalism in my experience at
Florida State. We had a course in the history of journalism, which was okay but it
was a textbook course; we had courses in headline writing and copyediting,
which is kind of a routine thing you learn on the job because each newspaper is
different. I could have spent more time in other areas of political science, learning
American government, economics, maybe some advanced English courses to
strengthen myself in the language where I was learning little technical things.
Now, I have to say, in today's world of electronics, so many courses in graphic
design and use of a computer are very valuable. As a matter of fact, you
probably could not get a job unless you had some knowledge in that, but it still
goes back to the basics. You have to know how to use the language, how to
write a good, sharp, clear story. That is the most important thing that you can
learn. But, you really ought to have history, economics, language, because, as a
newspaper person, you are going to have to deal with everything, from the high-
and-mighty and the celebrity to the technical, the scientist, the police beat, the
courthouse and city hall. If you do not know the framework of government, if you
do not know how American business operates, if you do not know how education
works, then you are going to be lost. So, it begins with that liberal arts base.
P: How about the Flambeau? What was it like during this period of time? I guess it
was controlled pretty carefully by the administration?
B: It was up to a point. At Florida State, Doak Campbell was the president. It had
been a women's institution. When I went on the Flambeau, I was the second
male sports editor of the Flambeau. There were few male[s] on the staff. [The]
paper was financially in good shape. They had money in the bank. They sold
ads. They operated semi-independent of the administration, up to a point,
because at that particular time, we did not have any really controversial issues
that had caused the student rebellion [in the 1960s]. I will share with you an
experience we had in regard to that. Earl Dobert, who was from Tampa, was the
editor, and he was an aggressive young idealist. He ran into difficulty with
President Doak Campbell over an issue that would sound awfully simple today.
One of our associate editors discovered that, in the late 1940s, some faculty
[members were] teaching black children on Saturday mornings in the black area
of Tallahassee, French Town; we thought it made a good story. These people
were volunteering their time to help these black children. So, we ran a story on
page one, kind of a feature story of people doing good service. The Florida
legislature was in session, and Doak Campbell, being a university president who
(like all university presidents) was sensitive to what the legislature was saying in
those days, called Dobert in, and he told him, you are going to have to step down
as editor of the Flambeau or I am going to have you kicked out of school. Dobert,
being one who wanted to finish his degree, resigned, and I became the editor
that last semester before I graduated. That was the only experience I had with
the administration cracking down.
P: What was the issue? Why was he upset?
B: The issue was the black issue because they did not want the radical faculty out in
the early days of the civil rights movement, in the late 1940s. It was beginning to
take shape even at that earlier period. After World War II, all that began to
change, and Tallahassee had a pretty large black community. The issue was that
the Florida legislature at that time was controlled by what we call the Porkchop
Gang, a term created by Jim Clendenin, the editor of the Tampa Tribune. He
called them the Porkchop Gang, and that comes from the fact that they were
mostly North Florida rural legislators, before the days of reapportionment, who
really controlled the legislature. In those days, [the more urban] South Florida did
not have much clout in the legislature. So, all across the tier of North Florida, the
rural [lawmakers], who were avowed segregationists [and] in control. So, you can
imagine the attitude of Campbell-and he probably was overreacting to that-but
you can imagine, you got your faculty out teaching black children and, you know,
[funding might be in jeopardy]. That was the only issue in my time that was that
severe. At a later time, I was on the committee when Stan Marshall was
president of Florida State University, in the 1960s, when we had student protests
developing and the Flambeau became, apparently in his eyes, very radical. He,
being the overall administrator of the university press, asked three of us editors,
John McMullen of the Miami Herald and Don Shoemaker, the editorial [page
editor] of the Herald, about four us, to come to Tallahassee and tell him what to
do with the Flambeau. We spent a couple of days over there talking to the
students, found them to be very wonderful--you know, just typical students. But
we recommended that they set up an independent corporation to run the student
newspaper, and that ended it. It happened, and, today, I think many of the
student newspapers are [independent enterprises].
P: It happened about the same time the Florida Alligator [at the University of Florida]
P: When you started out with the Altha Times and later with the Calhoun County
Times, what kind of journalistic activity were you involved in? Were you doing
B: I was writing all kinds of stories for the paper, whatever came in. Sometimes,
there were even social items, death notices, a little police and sheriff's
department, just anything that came. Mostly, when I worked on the weekly, I
learned how to set type by hand. [Mr. Kelley] at the Altha Times set all his type
by hand, which was an antique thing even in those days. An interesting part
about the Altha Times, [was that Kelley] was an alcoholic and an old-time printer.
He knew his business. He could go to that California case, as we called it, and
pick up that type, and he could get a stick of type in just a few minutes, and his
wife could do the same. The problem was that he got too much alcohol
sometimes, and he could not set all that type. He had an old station wagon, so
we would get out in the night and go to Chattahoochee, Quincy, Wewahitchka,
Bristol, where weeklies were produced, and they would finish up his newspaper.
They had Linotypes, and they would finish up this newspaper for him. That
happened a lot. Now, the other paper I worked on was called the County Record,
in Blountstown. It was run by a gentleman by the name of Wallace Finley, who
had been principal of Altha High School. Wallace was an [University of] Alabama
graduate, and his field was literature. He was really the one who turned me on to
good literature. When I was in the eighth grade, we had to go into a class of four
seniors who needed a credit to graduate, and he was going to teach us Spanish.
He had been to Spain and Mexico City, had seen the bullfights. He thought he
knew all about Spain. He never taught us three words of Spanish that entire year,
but we sat in his room and listened to all the great books that Ernest Hemingway
had written, and William Faulkner and Thomas Wolfe. He was fascinating. He
always had a novel under his arm, and so that really [inspired] me. Well, later on
after World War II-he was a field artillery officer in World War II-he came back to
Blountstown and bought the county paper. So, when I was a student at Florida
State, in the summers, I would work for him. I would do everything, clean the
rollers on the press, try to learn to use the Linotype machine-he had a Linotype-
and then I would write stories. I would even go down to the grocery store and
pick up their ads and bring them back. There was a lot of fun and excitement in
that, so that helped whet my interest in it. The world of the weekly newspaper, as
you know, has changed. They do it all electronically today. They do it,
sometimes, in a common shop somewhere, and it is printed somewhere else.
The paper in Blountstown now is printed, I think, in Thomasville, Georgia. Some
lawyer out of Tallahassee bought three or four weeklies, and he operates them
out of a print shop in Georgia. That is a changed world, but in those days, you
had to put it together mechanically by hand. You could see the whole paper
come together. So, I got experience on how to write headlines, how to compose
type, and how to make things fit. When I was finally in journalism school taking
these copyediting and headline writing stories, they were easy for me and it
seemed to be redundant. I recall a course I took in headline writing, and this
gentleman who had been an Associated Press [AP] reporter was the instructor.
He had a copy desk and he would just throw us a piece of AP copy, and we
would edit it and write a headline on it. After three weeks of that, you pretty well
mastered that. That is what I meant, that I thought I was wasting my time with
that where I should have been studying the more serious areas that would have
helped me later on in my career. But along the way, I [became] fascinated with
history and good literature and writing, and so I advanced on through that. But
the weekly experience was very valuable. I would not take anything for it. I did
not make any money, but I fell in love with the printed page from that period.
P: After you leave FSU, you go in the Air Force for two years, and you have some
additional writing experience with The Planesman at the Mountain Home Air
Force Base. What sort of activities were you involved in there?
B: I was editor of The Planesman. I had joined the Air Force. In those days, if you
were a college graduate, you could join. You had to go to basic training, and then
you could [enter] Officer Candidate School [OCS]. That was the agreement I
signed. I went through basic, and I missed the OCS class. As typical in the
military, they finally put me on orders to go to Mountain Home, Idaho, because
they were developing the U.S. Air Force's psychological warfare program, which I
did not know the first thing about, but I was a journalism graduate. They sent me
up there, and I was in the wing that was developing this program of psych war.
Because I had a journalism degree, they thought it worked. Just as I got to
Mountain Home, which was an old World War II base they had reopened for the
Korean War, the base commander wanted a base newspaper, and so I was
chosen to go over and develop it. We named it The Planesman, and it was the
plains. It was a sagebrush desert country. I edited that newspaper for about a
year, and, again, I was able to draw my own cartoons. I did facial cartoons that
were fashionable in the day, take the face and then put little comic characters
around them. I did all the base leaders and all these wonderful guys in psych
war. They were really John Wayne kind of characters. I did a series of those, and
the base commander just loved what I did with that paper. I applied for a direct
commission at that time. I was frustrated because I did not go to OCS, and even
the base commander attached a letter to it, a very nice letter. Then, I also applied
for a position on a new magazine the Air Force was starting at that time in St.
Louis called Air Force. They were recruiting people, and along comes the orders
for me to go to St. Louis to work on Air Force magazine. The base commander
rejected it and said [I was] needed [at Mountain Home]. A few weeks later, along
comes the orders for OCS in Texas. He could not stop that, so he put me a nice
attachment to the application and I went down to Texas and got my commission.
We had a [OCS] newspaper there, and I worked on that. I worked on the
yearbook as an upperclassman. I went to New York and went to the officer's
information and education program, which was training in journalism.
P: Did you ever have any formal training as a cartoonist?
B: No. The only training I had was two or three courses at Florida State. One was
design, and one was oil painting. As I said earlier, so much of this was designed
toward fine arts, abstract, impressionistic art that was kind of in style at that time.
I really did not have much interest in that, but I wanted to cartoon. I wanted to
illustrate. That is when I just started doing it myself. I studied all the cartoonists,
Willard Mullin, who used to do the great sports cartoons, and looked at all of
them. I did a comic strip for awhile called Rod Carson, and it was modeled after
Steve Canyon [comic strip]. It ran in the Flambeau in Tallahassee a few weeks,
but doing a comic strip, you have to stay with it. So, I was just searching when I
started doing these sports cartoons, and then, actually here, I drifted into editorial
P: Which editorial cartoonists do you admire today?
B: There are several. [The late] Jeff McNelly [was] great. He is a [University of]
North Carolina graduate. [One of] my great heroes of all time [was] Herb Block
[Herblock], who is still going in his eighties at the Washington Post. Bill Mauldin
was really my idol. I collected all of his books. I have read everything he has ever
written, and his great cartoons. Cartoonists today are better than they ever were.
P: Oliphant, [Mike] Peters...
B: Oliphant, yes, he is real, sometimes, vicious cartoonist, but very effective.
P: What makes a good editorial cartoonist?
B: It is the irony, the satire, the fact that you can crystallize an idea about an issue
into comical form that would cause the reader to react, chuckle, laugh, say oh
yeah. It can be a vicious art. Caricature, historically, has always been a terribly]
powerful weapon, even in the early centuries in France and England. [Many]
caricatur[ists], many of them went to jail because they lampooned the king or
whatever. The editorial [cartoon] is simply a pictorial thirty-second thought that
appears on the editorial page that does visually what a written editorial does. I
was an editor who believed in local news and local issues, and most of my
cartoons through the years have dealt with Pensacola and regional topics. Very
P: But it has to be recognizable, right?
B: Right. Occasionally, I do national [topics], but I always thought that cartoon could
be powerful in trying to persuade people. It worked, I think, in such issues that I
had through the years as when we were trying to create Gulf Islands National
Seashore. I did, maybe, 100 cartoons ripping the people who opposed it and
trying to put across the idea. So, a cartoon has to have punch, irony, satire,
P: Would you use that to illustrate an editorial you had written?
B: Yes. It [is] always more effective to have the visual, the graphic, [published with
the] editorial that you write. Now, we do not always do that anymore. I [still draw]
one on Sunday, and it is always local. It might be a legislative issue out of
Tallahassee or something here in the community. Editorial cartoonists today
really kind of stand alone. Most of them are kind of independent of the editorial
P: Do you know of anybody else who writes editorials and illustrates them?
B: No, and the book I wrote [Drawing From an Editor's Life] has this in it. A
gentleman by the name of Judd Hurd is editor and publisher of a national
magazine called Cartoonist Profiles. He is an old-timer; he used to be a
cartoonist. So he called me and says, I understand you do your own editorial
cartoons. I said, right. He said, I have looked around, and I have never heard of
that before; would you write me an article? And I did. It covered about twelve
pages. He used several of my cartoons. It was [entitled] "An Editor as His Own
Cartoonist," and I am the only one he ever heard of who did that. It is unusual,
but cartooning was really kind of my sideline activity as an editor of a newspaper.
I did it because I enjoyed it, I thought it was helpful, but I was primarily an editor.
Sometimes, I would write the editorial at the office, go home, and that night on
my kitchen table draw the cartoon. [They were published] together.
P: I have talked to several editorial cartoonists, and it is interesting how they work.
Some of them, like McNelly, for example, get an idea and then spends a large
portion of time trying to draw what he wants to say. Is that how you work?
B: Yes. You [strive for] an idea; you use metaphors. You know, you can use things
out of classic literature, Alice in Wonderland or whatever. You do not use so
much the old symbols of the past, like Uncle Sam. Well, McNelly us[ed] that
because his work has got some of the old classic. He truly dr[ew] an editorial
cartoon. Many of these younger ones who I see just do what we call a gag
cartoon. It is funny, dealing with the Internet or dealing with [topical subjects]. It is
not really issue-oriented, but McNelly ha[d] a creative way of taking the editorial
cartoon and creating a classic scene where it is almost subtle in what he does.
Yes, you have to do that. You deal with symbol. You play around. Sometimes,
you do just a really make-fun thing of local people. In this county, for example,
we had what I called in editorials through the years an old dirt-road board for our
county commissioners. They would make some of the most really old-time 1930s
thinking, here in a city that was trying to get into the twentieth century and
advance. I began to draw cartoons, and I would put them in wagons and straws
in their teeth and straw hats and create a country band with them singing. They
are all in [my cartoon book], but you use those kind of things and you are really
making fun of them, but you are trying to make a point. It is strange. These guys
who I have ridiculed and lampooned through the years all want copies of them to
hang on their wall. So, yes, that is what you do. That has really been a very
pleasing part of my career, drawing, because I really love to [create cartoons].
My goal as a youngster was to write and illustrate my own books, and I love
illustrated books. The only vehicle I could get into was newspaper work. I love
the daily business of newspaper. No two days are alike. Everything is different.
You start over every day. It is the only industry where you create a product every
day, and it is always different.
P: You first came to the Pensacola Journal in 1953. You worked for the News
Journal. That was the afternoon paper, is that right?
B: The News Journal is the name of the company. We had the Pensacola Journal
morning and the Pensacola News evening. We had two papers. On Sunday, it
became the Pensacola News Journal.
P: So, you came to work for the ... ?
B: I worked on the Journal as sports writer for just a few weeks, on the morning
paper and the Sunday paper. I was made sports editor within just a few months
because the fellow I worked had been drafted in the Army. He was a bachelor-
he was older-but he wanted to go in the Army, so I became sports editor. I
worked for the morning paper and the Sunday paper.
P: A lot of people who are editors and publishers started in sports. Why do you think
B: I could not think of a better place for a young man to begin because what you
deal with in sports is a human drama. It is almost like you are describing a stage
play. Sport is competition. It is human drama. It has all the elements of a good
story, winning and losing. It gives you an opportunity to write freely because
sports writers, even though many of them use too many adjectives and overwrite,
it is a great place to start. And I recommend it. The only problem is that sports, to
me, was such a limited field that all my friends and associates were coaches and
athletes. It is a world in itself, and when you have other interests, pretty soon you
say, well, I have to get out of this. Now, a lot of people never lose it, and they
want to stay and make a career of it. The great Red Smith and Fred Russell in
Nashville, who spent his entire career as sports writer but wrote literature. He
was protege of Grantland Rice. His columns were just a piece of literature, so he
saw sport as a human drama. The same with Red Smith. When you read his
columns, they were universal. They had a theme to them. He was not just
covering the Yankees and the Dodgers. He was writing about the human
condition more than anything else. So, they were writers more than they were
sportswriters. I reached a point where I was interested in other things. I was
interested in editorial writing, and I was sort of interested in political science. That
is when I backed out of sports, about 1958, and I went on the afternoon
Pensacola News [as] news editor. I did the telegraph; I laid out all the pages.
P: Let me go back a little bit into sports. What did you mainly write about? What did
the Pensacola paper cover?
B: That is one of the reasons it was limiting. Most of our coverage was high school
sports, in this area. We did not have a university. Occasionally, I would get to go
to Gainesville to cover the Gators on a big event, but mostly we were just
interested about here in the panhandle, all these high schools. We covered the
entire panhandle all the way to Quincy, covered every game. They would call
them in, and we would run a complete account. We had two editions of the
morning paper. It was fun. You would take a high school kid recalling a sports
game, take their facts and write a story and put a headline on it, ask him
questions and develop it as best you could and try to cover everything out in the
panhandle. You would have the opportunity to write a column, go interview
people, but it was not like, say, a sports editor at the Times Union--they were
near Gainesville and they could talk to the coach and cover the university
system. Today, of course, we have the pros. We did not have that. The only thing
we had in those days was the Senior Bowl in Mobile, which I covered. That was
kind of a big event in those days. It brought all the pro coaches to town and you
got to interview them. But it was prep sports, and after a while of that, you began
to see bigger horizons. That is when I was fortunate to get out of sports.
P: Let me get a definition of your job as a news editor. Exactly what did you do?
B: As news editor, I worked telegraph, which we call wire service.
P: That is AP and UPI [United Press International]?
B: Right. I edited that, I worked the wires, I laid out front page, I laid out all the
pages of the entire newspaper, except for women's pages-in those days, we still
called them] women's society pages-and sports. That was a tremendous
challenge and quite a contrast to sports; you deal with hard news and you have]
to be fast with it. I was not writing as much, although we had reporters at the
courthouse or the police station; they would phone in stories or phone in fax on
deadline and I would take them and write the story. I found myself suddenly
being able to tighten up these stories. Unlike sports where you had the liberty to
flow, you had to write it tight. That was a good school for me, to go from sports
where you kind of have a wild, loose, featured approach to things, more so than
hard news, where you have to tighten it up and get it on the page.
P: Did you assign reporters, or did you just edit?
B: I just edited at that time. We had a managing editor of the afternoon paper who
[supervised] the reporters. After he completed all the copy, it would come to me,
and I had to place it on the page, lay out the page and place the photographs.
P: When was your print deadline?
B: We had a print deadline at about eleven o'clock in the morning and then another
one at one-thirty. We had two editions.
P: So, you would get a lot of the late-breaking night news for the afternoon paper.
B: Right. Afternoon experience is, to me, better than the morning experience
because what you have to do [is]-the morning paper has come out, and it has all
the news in it-you have to come back by ten or eleven o'clock in the morning,
and you have to get a fresh angle to everything. Most news would be considered
old. You have to go through the morning paper and look at this lead on the
county commissioner and [find] an angle that this morning paper did not cover?
You have to find [a fresh approach]. It lends itself-or it did then; all this is passe
now-to write news with a second-day lead. It lets you write it more loosely in a
featured] form. Take the hard news, and give it a softness at the beginning in
order to get a new angle for the next day. Otherwise, you are repeating what was
in the morning paper.
P: Plus, there had to be some new information. If there were a fire, you might now
have the names of the victims which you did not have before.
B: Right, and it is evolving. Fortunately, you get breaking news early in the morning,
crime or fire, and then you run with that as your lead story because that is what
you have. In those days, we had pretty large street sales. This is also passe.
Street sales were important to our afternoon paper because you would bring that
paper out around noon when people were going to lunch, and you have a big
headline on a breaking story, people are going to buy it. That has all changed.
P: Yes, because that paper was never delivered, was it?
B: Yes, it was delivered.
P: So, some people got morning, and some people got afternoon.
B: Yes, because the afternoon paper at one time had a larger circulation in
Pensacola, as it does in some cities, than the morning paper. The edition that
goes to the home was the final edition that came out about one-thirty. By the final
edition, you've] cleaned up the paper [and] gotten rid of big headlines [designed
for street sales]. You had to take what would not be too important at a
later period and play it big to try to attract the reader's eye in the day. Not to be
sensational, I am not talking about that. I am talking about, you have a big fire in
the city or in the county, you play that real big. By the next cycle, you may have
something else that is better. So you have an opportunity to do a quick edition
and then fall back and clean it up for the second edition. That was a tremendous
experience to me. I loved page design, which today is done on a computer.
Macintosh Computer, they just put all those elements and pop them together in a
few minutes. In those days, I had to take my photographs and crop them, I had to
size all the stories, and as my biography shows there, I won [state awards] five to
six years in a row [for] the best design in Florida with the afternoon paper and our
circulation. So, that was a lot of fun, and it was really helpful for me to develop
the idea that you can take news and do a second-day lead to it. I remember one
of the old editors. You would say, the Journal picked that story clean, and there is
nothing there we can do, and everything is covered. So, you always went into
these stories in the morning paper and looked at what they did not include and
try to find another angle. That is the kind of essence of news.
P: What was the circulation of the Pensacola papers around 1964?
B: The Journal, the morning paper, was about 65,000 daily, 80,000 on Sunday. The
afternoon paper was 30,000 to 40,000. Now, at an earlier period, back in the
1950s, the morning paper and the evening paper had about the same amount of
circulation. It was a different time. We did not have television, none of that. Then,
you began to see the decline of the afternoon numbers. Advertisers preferred the
morning paper because they had more circulation. I fought for years to keep the
afternoon paper alive, tried everything I could to salvage it after I became editor.
So, it was about 85[,000] on Sunday, the News Journal, and the p.m. paper, the
News, was 35,000 to 40,000. Now, by 1985, when we were forced to close out
the afternoon [edition], the circulation [had] dropped to about 12,000 or 14,000. It
was not viable anymore.
P: That was pretty true around the country, was it not?
B: Yes, it affected everybody. Afternoon papers just no longer had a purpose.
Everybody tried everything they could. What I did with the Pensacola News [was
to] turn it into a total local newspaper. The St. Petersburg Times had done that
with the St. Pete Independent after they bought it. The entire paper was local
news, except on the back page [for] national [news], in total contrast with the
morning Times, so I said we are going to do that here. We tried, but people's
time and recreation had changed. Neighborhoods had changed. Television
began to dominate. One of the saddest days of my life was when I read that
television is now the dominant source for news. That was sad for me.
P: So, in effect, people would not read the afternoon paper. They would come home
and watch Walter Cronkite [anchorman, CBS news].
B: Right. The afternoon paper was old by then. All you could do in the afternoon
paper was develop stories which were interesting featurized stories, in-depth kind
of [enterprise] that they could not get on a thirty-minute telecast. That was the
only hope for it.
P: From 1964 to 1966, you were the editorial page editor for both papers. What
primarily were your duties in this position?
B: I [wrote] the editorials and designed] the editorial pages. Now, we had another
person on the News. He and I shared. I had the Journal, he had the News, but he
died with cancer and I had to take over both. That was quite a chore. I had to do
morning editorials and afternoon editorials.
P: You wrote all the editorials?
B: Yes. The Journal had a stack of, I think, three editorials. [For] the News, I
redesigned the page so I did not have to write quite so much. I wrote one long
one and one short one for the News. That was a chore. I did that for eight
months, both newspapers. You still had all the editing chores in the old hot-type
[process]. You had to pick [the] cartoon and select your syndicated columns and
lay them out and edit them, make them fit, and then write the editorials, and I
[was] still doing the cartoon, but I was a lot younger then and having a lot of fun
with it. It was quite a chore, and I learned a great deal. I found that editorial ideas
come to you, playing] off the news. I did not use much canned stuff. A lot of
papers would look to editorial services, which are frowned on totally. I looked at
some of those but I said, good Lord, that has nothing to do with Pensacola and
Florida; we do not need that in our paper. So, I tried to write them, and I tried to
keep them as local as possible.
P: What is the hardest thing about writing an editorial?
B: Getting the idea. Writing it is, to me, fairly simple. When you have a problem,
what is the problem, what is the solution, what is the recommendation? But
finding ideas, and you have to go through [the] newspaper every day and pick up
ideas coming out of the county commission, city council, environmental issues,
even plain neighborhood issues, clean water, and find a new angle to that, and
develop your policy. You [must] have a policy, principles that you believe in.
Ours, fortunately, on a medium-sized community newspaper like the Pensacola
News Journal [was primarily] local. We had [an old expression] called
Afghanistanism, where you could take an issue in Europe or in the White House
or on the West Coast and just have all kinds of fun criticizing it or criticizing the
president for not doing something or criticiz[ing] the [Nikita Sergeyevich]
Khrushchev [former Soviet Premier] or [Muammar] Qaddafi [Libyan leader], and
your voice is not going to reach that far. But where is your area of influence? It is
here in the proximity of your readership, proximity being one of the elements of
news. If you can be persuasive toward your own home town, then that is the
value of a newspaper editorial. Many newspapers, even larger metropolitan
newspapers today, have understood that. I mean, the Washington Post and the
New York Times write national and international editorials daily because they are
recognized [as national publications]. But most newspapers, even the Miami
Herald, probably the Times Union, if you read the editorial pages, many of those
topics are on Florida and regional issues.
P: Would you write an editorial on the Elian Gonzales [Cuban refugee youngster]
B: Yes, [such] issues [warrant comment]. You cannot ignore certain bigger issues
that [affect public affairs]. You also write about Social Security, you write about
the military, because that affects everyone, even local[ly]. You look for military
topics because we have a tremendous military establishment here on the Gulf
Coast in Pensacola and Fort Walton Beach. Any kind of issue about military, pay,
armament, [training, budget] can be localized, can be adapted to [activity] here.
So, you always look for those, yes, but you cannot ignore the bigger issues. I
mean, a war in Bosnia, you would have an editorial. You would have something
to say about that because even Pensacolians are very [affected]. But, you do not
just daily, routinely, criticize what Congress is doing, although a lot of times there
is an opportunity to criticize Congress about issues that might pertain to our area.
So, you look for those angles.
P: Would you consider yourself, at this time, conservative or liberal?
B: I sometimes call myself a Jeffersonian. I believe in absolute individual freedom. I
believe in small government. I am pretty frugal and conservative when it comes
to spending the taxpayer's dollar. I am very liberal on human rights and civil
rights. I used to be more conservative in the sense of the Goldwater/Reagan era
conservative. I was more into that at a certain time, but I am [also] a strong
environmentalist. So I could not say that I am a true conservative. A lot of things
that the true liberal does, I do not want to be a part of it. I believe in family values.
I believe in the American system. I believe in free enterprise. I think the
perception was when I ran the editorial pages is that I was probably more
conservative than I really was. I always stood up for the black American rights,
even in the early days. In the 1960s, the paper was pretty progressive in that. But
we believed in free enterprise, respected it. An editor has to sometimes be
cognizant of the fact that in a newspaper, you do not do it because the
newspaper has to survive and flourish, but you have to [consider] the total
community. Many editors have publishers who believe that the advertiser needs
a little attention. I never had that problem, and I worked for five publishers; the
only time we would ever take on business was if it was a legitimate issue and it
rose above the [perception of] just [taking] care of the advertiser. I never had that
problem. You do have to be sensitive that business is important to a community,
but so [are] the people's rights, so is the environment, so are governmental
controls that prevent overbuilding and [serve] people's interests. So you have to
do a balancing act. I would never consider myself a right-winger. I have done a
lot of patriotic editorials on holidays, the duty editorial that so many editorialists
detest. They do not like to write a Fourth of July editorial or a Memorial Day
editorial or on the [anniversary] of Pearl Harbor. I loved those because it gave me
an opportunity to take an issue about America and talk about it. I would consider
myself more moderate, if that could be. A lot of people would say you are muddy,
wishy-washy. That is not true at all. You have certain principles. I think you can
study [Thomas] Jefferson, and he did not think government ought to do
everything. He thought people ought to do that, and I agree with that. I think
contrary to what happened in research on him in recent years that he really
believed in freedom in his own context, the individual, and he also gave us the
First Amendment, he and others, which is treasured by all of us, the right to
speak, assemble, religion, and certainly the press. It is certainly not a press
amendment. It is just freedom, the linchpin; we all have to work to protect that.
P: Let me ask you some specific issues and get your response. What was your
reaction to both the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965?
B: I thought both of them were needed, had to be.
P: Did you get much criticism for taking those stands in the panhandle?
B: Well, yes, a little. In this area, as conservative as it is, we did not have that kind
of turmoil that you had in Mississippi or South Alabama. Pensacola, being a
harbor city, has always had a little bit of sophistication to it in that regard. Out in
the rural areas, you have a lot of heat. Those things were necessary, and we
recognized it. Even before Brown v. Board of Education [1954 desegregation
case], my predecessor, Marion Gaines, was advocating desegregation, and we
carried that on. No question, we criticized Dr. [Martin Luther] King. We thought he
might be going too far, but we were not alone in that. Everybody was saying that.
You look back on it now and say the man really did a tremendous [service] for
this nation, but at that time, the idea of people protesting and walking in the
streets was a little bit foreign to us. Our paper thought protest and that sort of
thing just was not the way to go. We preferred more sitting-down and working-out
[dialogue], which was not going to happen. You need that kind of agitation from
time to time to make things happen, but I think generally, overall, we were pretty
supportive of that.
P: Did you comment on St. Augustine in 1964 or Birmingham in 1965, or Selma?
B: Yes, we did.
P: Did you think those demonstrations were extreme?
B: Not really. I cannot recall whether that was that big an issue here at that time.
Now, we kept calling for both sides to calm down and sit at the table and work it
out. The violence that occurred in Birmingham, yes, we hit that hard. Of course,
anytime children are killed at church, you have to [object]. We did not get much
criticism on that. We had some local marches here led by a civil rights leader,
and we met repeatedly with that group, trying to work it out. The paper was trying
to be a mediator, and we never had any real violence. We had the lunch counter
sit-ins at first, and one of our hospitals was not hiring blacks. We had a problem
at Escambia High School over the Confederate flag. They had opened a new
high school, and their nickname was the Rebels and they had the Confederate
flag. For that, I did a page one editorial saying that we have to end this. We
almost had a real violent confrontation at that school. Guns were flashing. We
had a couple of old politicians who jumped in, including Senator W. D. Childers.
[We] said, we have to stop all this. I was part of a group here in town that
mediated that, kind of called off the dogs and got those people out of it. The
courts later ruled that the flag had to come down, and they changed the name of
the school. I think they are the Raiders now. That all smoothed over. What I am
saying is that we were trying to find a middle ground to bring the blacks and
whites together. I reviewed a book several years ago. These old editors were
liberals in the South, including [Jonathan] Daniels [editor, Raleigh (N.C.) News
and Observer] and Hodding Carter [editor, Delta Democrat-Times (Greenville,
Mississippi)]. There were about six editors of this book, and I reviewed it for the
Florida Historical Quarterly. These people preceded] me. They were my
predecessors. Marion T. Gaines was an Alabamian from Mobile, and he was
perceived in his career as a very liberal [editor] because he pushed a lot of
things. Before that time, he was a very close ally with Leroy Collins, in those
early years. What I found out was that those so-called liberal editors of that time-
and they did not call themselves liberals, they called themselves moderates-
wanted peace between the blacks and the whites. They did not necessarily want
an integrated society, but they wanted equal rights for everyone. When Dr. King
came along, they did not like him. They thought he was an agitator. Their
perception of equality was still grounded in the Old South idea, that we ought to
have a separation of races. It was interesting. Then, a later generation comes
along and realizes that we have to have a melting pot, that we have to come
together, that we need a colorless society. I wrote an editorial about what King
said about a color-blind society. We need that. So, I guess my editorial thrust
was moderate to liberal at times and somewhat conservative. Al Neuharth
[founder, USA TODAY], the president of our company, used to say the editorial
page should never be predictable. If they know you are a right-wing newspaper
and what you are going to say every day, you are playing to the choir. You have
to be unpredictable and be loose. Think about the issue. Let the issue determine
what you are going to say about it, as long as you keep a common thread to
[basic editorial principles].
P: Did the paper always make recommendations in political races?
B: Yes, they did during my time. As a matter of fact, they started it, really, back in
the 1950s. I always advocated that very strongly. There were times when we
thought that maybe we were not adding anything by adding our voice to it, and
there were movements to kind of say, why don't we get out of this business?
Especially after Watergate, when some of the Florida papers, including John
Knight and the Miami Herald said, we will never endorse a candidate ever again.
They do now. I never thought that because here is my theory: if you, as a
newspaper, have a voice, have a page devoted to opinion, and you take a
position on whether to build that parking lot over there or whether we ought to
have a park over here or whether we ought to save the bayfront or whether the
sheriff is getting out of line and is a little bit too loose with shooting criminals, if
you take those positions daily, when it comes for the time for your people living in
your local precinct or local governmental unit, state or national or whatever, they
have to make a decision to pick their leader. The newspaper ought to have the
backbone to come out and say what it thinks about these candidates and make a
recommendation, not an endorsement. I used to call them endorsements. In the
early years, publishers and editors would endorse a man for governor or
president, and he could do no wrong. They stayed with him, and they were either
Republican newspapers or Democratic newspapers or Whig newspapers or
whatever. I always thought that we would just take it within its course. Today, we
say X ought to be president, or we recommend him, tell the reader why, and
move on. The next day, if he does something after he is elected [that] we
disagree with, we take him on. That relieves you of this burden of having the
allegiance connection to the political candidate. Now, the News Journal, under a
new editor now, Randy Hammer, I think, is determined that they will not endorse
political candidates again. They are just going to get away from that. I disagree
with that. I serve on the editorial board still, and I explained to them why, that you
have to have the stamina to do it, and you get heat. It is a crazy period in political
seasons. If you do not endorse a candidate, he rips you, you know, you are
slanted and all that, but you have to do [stand on principle]. All you are doing is
making a recommendation. Now, readers perceive that wrongly. They think you
are in bed with the candidate you are endorsing, and you do all kinds of ways of
trying to prove you are not by offering the opposition space on the editorial page
to sound off. We always did that. If it was a two-candidate race, we
recommended [one] person, and [the other was given] equal space, 400 words,
and we [printed the response]. That helps. Then, we opened up our Letter to the
Editor page to let people talk about candidates.
P: Do you think your recommendations had much impact?
B: On certain races, they had a lot of impact. For instance, judicial races, which are
often non-political. People would run for judge in Florida, and about all they would
tell you was where they went to school and who their wife is and their basic
biographical [information]. They cannot say a word about political issues under
their code. I found through the years that we used to elect more judges than we
do today. In the large election in November, usually, you had a pretty large
selection of circuit judges running or county judge. We found that our
recommendations were [effective] a lot of times, because people do not perceive
those races as being partisan or political and they look to the newspaper
[knowing we had] researched them, and [they will follow our] recommendation.
Now, if you get a hot sheriff's race in this county, the newspaper might not be as
influential as that because that gets awfully partisan and bitterly brutal
sometimes, and other factors carry it. That should not deter you from taking a
position, a logical sober analysis of what the person can offer in the office.
P: Let me go to a specific race, 1966, Claude Kirk and Robert King High [former
mayor of Miami]. Do you remember who you endorsed in that one?
B: We endorsed Kirk.
B: We were taken with him, and I got to know Claude later on. I mean, gosh, what a
character. We thought he had some good things to offer Florida. He was a new
voice. King High [came] to Pensacola, but we did not know much about him. Kirk
struck me as being someone new, and Republicanism was coming on in that
time. That is the reason we went for him. King High was South Florida. He was
also pro-labor, and my publisher at the time was anti-labor because we had
problems with the ITU [International Typesetter's Union], and he was a strong
businessman. So, that was the reason. We got to know Kirk. He visited us quite a
bit, and I thought he had a lot of strengths. I wrote, I do not know how many,
columns about him through the years. He was funny, a stand-up comic. It was
unbelievable. I wrote a column recently about him. He wants to be buried on the
Capitol grounds in Tallahassee, and I saw a little squib in the paper. He said, me
and Andy Jackson [sic] belong there, and it just gave me an opportunity to spell
out all of his [comic episodes as governor].
P: He told me he wanted to be up there so he could keep an eye on them.
B: Yes. I [wrote] in the end of a column that he needs his own little spot of ground
up there. He is funny.
P: When you look back at his years as governor, how do you assess him?
B: Of course, we opposed that teacher strike in Florida. The teachers really took us
on. We were not against education. Our newspaper was [always] strong with
public education, but we did not like the idea of teachers walking out at that time.
It caused a lot of grief here for us; the teachers would meet in our auditorium and
rip the newspaper. Kirk did not do anything to try to mediate that. He flew off to
California during that teachers' strike. He [became] a comic figure. We later got
to know Kirk and were critical of some of the things that he did, a lot of things.
Then, along comes Reubin ...
P: Well, Kirk was a strong environmentalist.
B: That is one of the things. He brought Nat Reed [Kirk aide and pro-environment
figure] into the government, and I liked that. I got to know Nat later, a wonderful
man. Yes. As a matter of fact, there is a University Press book out on the Claude
Kirk years that I read and reviewed in a column. We got a whole different
perspective of Claude Kirk. There are a lot of things that are now [standard] in
Florida that Claude Kirk introduced: Wackenhut [private detective firm] he hired
to be his police force. You know, everybody perceived him as Nixon's guard and
all that, but now it is the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. The
environmental movement. So he did a lot of things.
P: What about when he fired the superintendent and took over the Manatee County
school system? What was your reaction to that?
B: Well, I thought that was terrible. A good friend of mine [Bill Maloy] was sent down
to run it. Maloy [later served] on the Board of Regents. Claude goes down and
sits in the superintendent's chair and says, we are going to take over this school
system, and Bill was his aide. Claude gets up out of the chair and says, you take
over, and he went back to Tallahassee. Bill said he just sat there trying to do
something, and it was crazy. Yes, he did some crazy things, and I acknowledge
that. He got a lot of support here because I think here at the paper, the
Goldwater era was changing attitudes, and we liked some of the things that were
said in those days. Things began to change and along comes Kirk, who was
sounding that same [theme]. In a later time, Claude went absolutely off-balance.
He came here and [spoke] to the Panhandle Tiger Bay Club, advocating creating
a new state, to be carved out of south Georgia and south Alabama and west
Florida, and he would be the emperor and he would have his own horse marines.
I mean, for an hour, he [mesmerized] the audience with these wonderful stories.
But we did like him in the beginning and, of course, a lot of people did.
P: If you had to assess how politics has changed from the time you started writing
editorials today in this area, what would you say? Is it, for example, more
Republican now than it was?
B: Oh yes. The registration in Escambia County, I believe, is still a Democratic
majority. Now, our neighboring counties, Santa Rosa and Okaloosa, where Fort
Walton Beach is, and the Air Force influence, is all Republican. It has changed.
But, these Republicans are old Democrats. See, Florida used to be a Democratic
state. It was really a no-party state. Everybody just happened to be [a] registered
Democrat. You know the old theory, your granddaddy will turn over in his grave if
you vote for a Republican. There were very few Republicans here when I came.
Only a handful. Today, just about everybody is calling himself Republican, but
they are really not any different. They are not Rockefeller Republicans. They
loved Goldwater and they loved Reagan, and that is really what has changed it.
They are no different. They are little more conservative. They do not want
government to do quite as much. They want to change everything. They want to
come up with these vouchers for schools, which I disagree with.
P: A good example would be W.D. Childers, who changed to the Republican party,
but he has not changed his philosophy at all, has he?
P: From 1966 to 1969, you became editor-in-chief. Number one, how did you get
that job? Number two, why did you take that job?
B: I got that job because when Marion Gaines retired after a twenty-[six] year
career, I told him I would love to write editorials. I was news editor. He said, go
see the publisher, Braden Ball. Braden was not a journalist. I would say he was a
businessman. He said, son, the job is yours. I worked with Mr. Gaines a few
months. Mr. Ball loved my editorials. I was a little more middle-of-the-road
conservative than Mr. Gaines. Gaines had broken with Ball because he was
more LeRoy Collins moderate-to-liberal than the publisher was. In those days,
our publisher, Braden Ball, was a part of that faction in North Florida with the old
Ed Ball empire. They were not related, but they were very close friends and
Braden had the power-of-attorney over his holdings in this area. He was very
close to him. So I had to walk the line to my career with that, although I resisted
it. But I wrote his editorials for about a year, and he liked them. They had taken
the management of the newsroom away from Mr. Gaines-now, he is my
predecessor-and they made him just editorial page editor because the publisher
did not like his editorial [philosophy], and that is the way he got around him. He
created an executive editor's position, and he picked a fellow who was really the
managing editor of the Journal, Harold Stokes. Harold was not grounded in
editorials; he was just news. But, he drifted away and became, really, kind of an
alcoholic, and the newspaper slid along for about a year. So, one day, Mr. Ball
called me into his office and says, can you run that department over there? I
said, sir, I can try. He said, you are the new editor; you go back over there and
call them into the conference room and you tell them that you are taking over as
editor. I was thirty-four. I went back, and I got them all in the newsroom
conference room, and I told them, Braden Ball just named me editor-in-chief of
this newspaper. All these guys I had worked with, some of them had been there
longer and they thought they might have a shot at that job one day, and there
was a little coldness there for a few hours but it [subsided], and I took over as
editor. That is how I got the job, because he was so pleased with the work I had
done, first on the news, winning some awards, and then writing editorials--some
of them got into the Congressional Record, and I had won some awards with
them, and he liked what I did. I later had to fire this guy who had been executive
editor, so when I got to be editor-in-chief and told him and we went back to the
newsroom, he went back to his office. I went in and sat down with him and said,
listen, you run the newsroom and I will just write the editorialss, and we will just
operate like we were doing before. He said, okay, I will try to help you; I
understand; it was not your fault. Well, a few months later, he kind of bombed out
on a project we had. I had asked him to do something, and he did not do it. He
went hunting instead, and he had lost interest. So, the next Monday morning I
came in and told the publisher what he had done. He said, you go over there and
fire that son of a bitch right now. By the time I got back to the newsroom, he was
cleaning out his office. He knew he was finished. He relocated and worked on the
desk of the Miami Herald for awhile, and then he got a job as managing editor of
the Montgomery Advertiser and stayed up there until he had emphysema and he
P: At this point, who owned the paper?
B: Gannett bought us in 1969, but when I became editor, John H. Perry. Perry's
father bought these papers, including the whole newspaper here, in the 1920s
and put them together in the News Journal Company in 1924.
P: What influence did he have on the paper?
B: Very little. Now, the older Perry, John H. Perry, Sr., was a Kentucky libel lawyer.
It was almost Scripps-Perry [instead of Scripps-Howard]. He [considered joining]
Scripps [but] Perry went out independently and began to buy newspapers. [He]
saw a frontier in Florida and came here and began to buy [other] smaller papers
that did not have any money, a lot of them [with] Ed Ball's [financial support].
[Perry and Ball] were close. He died in 195. I came here in 1952, so I never
knew the [senior Perry]. Braden Ball had been one of his publishers here and in
Panama City. [He] went to Panama City to develop that paper. John Jr., as Mr.
Ball called him, grew up partially working here, learned to fly an airplane in
Pensacola, and he looked on Braden Ball as a father figure. But John lost
interest, or had no interest, in the newspaper business. By 1969, he started
selling off his newspapers. Ours was the first to go, to Gannett Company for
$15,500,000, which sounds like very little money today, and then all the others
began to split up. Palm Beach went to Cox, and Freedom Newspapers bought
Panama City and Fort Walton Beach, and, Ocala [went to] the New York Times
now. Anyway, John had twenty-seven newspapers in Florida. The reason I knew
that the end was coming [was], we had a Perry managers' convention in Palm
Beach [in 1968]. [As] the editor, I had to write the publisher's speech. They had
us all go to Palm Beach. Perry comes in, and he was supposed to speak to us as
newspaper people, media people, and his whole thrust of his speech was all
these charts and graphic things he was showing us about his submarine [and
P: That is what he was working on, inventing the midget submarine.
B: And Braden Ball, one time he actually said, John, what are you really interested
in? He said, well, I am interested in plumbing; I like to put pipes together. Well,
he went on with the oceanographic [research and development], and by 1969, he
decided to [sell] his newspapers and we were the first to go, I think. At one point,
the publisher here, Braden Ball, thought that he and I and some other people
around town might buy it independently, but I think Perry [preferred a proven
media company]. Gannett made such a bid, and we joined Gannett Company in
1969. I was very pleased with that.
P: How did things change under Gannett, and what influence did they have on you?
B: They had a lot of influence, of course, but they did not change much, other than
they instituted a better financial reporting system to the new corporation. Perry let
his publishers pretty much run the paper like they owned it. Everybody in town
thought Braden Ball owned this paper. They never heard of John Perry. He never
came to Pensacola, and he let [Ball] operate it. Gannett was becoming a public
company, and they owned a lot of newspapers and were buying [in] Florida. They
put in new rules in that regard. I anticipated what they might do here, and I
redesigned the paper, based on the paper TODAY AT COCOA BEACH, as it
was called then, later renamed FLORIDA TODAY. They had opened the four
front sections to all news, sports, local, living. We did not have the press capacity
to do what they did with that paper down there, but I got the press people
together and I said, can we open up this newspaper? But, we did not have those
four sections. We had two big sections. Sports was inside. It was jumbled up,
and I did the best I could to straighten it out. So, Mr. Ball-and I called him Mr.
Ball because he was like a father to me-told me, you have been fussing to me
about that, and he said, we are going to try to do that. So, with angle bars on the
press, we were able to get the four-section newspaper, in both the morning and
afternoon, by the time Gannett got here to talk to us, and they were impressed
with that. I had read everything about Gannett and some of the things they were
doing, and I was making sure we were on the ball team. They were very good to
me. They were good for [our] company, a large corporation providing] resources
for a medium-sized newspaper. Perry probably would not have been able to do
[so, and we had an expanded press] operation by 1974. They built a new
pressroom, expanded the building, began to put in [computers to replace] the
hot-type operation in the 1970s, [with] all new equipment.
P: How many papers did they own at that time?
B: We were the [second] in Florida. They later bought Fort Myers. I forget the
number. They have about eighty-five now, and they have twenty-something
P: But, then, they were not that large, right?
B: No, they were beginning to move. They bought the large group in California
about the time they bought us, San Bernadino and the Spiedel newspapers.
They were acquiring them pretty regularly at that time, so they had about sixty, I
think, at that time.
P: What was Al Neuharth's position at this point?
B: He was executive vice president for the company when they bought us, and Paul
Miller, who was the very revered son of [an] Oklahoma Methodist preacher [and]
who was president of the Associated Press [was chief executive]. He knew every
publisher in America [as] president of the Associated Press. [As] president of the
company. [He] had hired Al Neuharth [as] his heir-apparent. Al had made a name
for himself in Detroit and Miami. He was the senior city editor of the Miami
Herald, but he had gone to Detroit under Lee Hills. Al became CEO in the
1970s, and immediately started expanding the company and [taking] it public. He
is also the one who, [when] Braden Ball ended his career, sent Jim Jesse here
as publisher. Prior to that, he chose me to be associate publisher with the goal of
taking over the News Journal when Braden retired.
P: I am interested in what you think of USA TODAY as a concept for a newspaper.
B: I think that USA TODAY, now, is a solid good-reading newspaper. I take it in my
home and read it every morning. At first, I thought it was a bit flamboyant and
flashy [with less than quality] content--not much worth beyond the headlines. For
a commuter newspaper sold in airports, it might have been fine. But it has settled
into being a real strong newspaper, as its circulation indicates. The concept of a
national newspaper has merit, [but its] problem is [a lack of] base. It has no
home, other than the nation. That, to me, lends itself to having lost something. In
the newspaper business, we live in a city, in a region, but [TODAY] is a
newspaper that talks to America. Used to refer to "we"--"we" are drinking more
coffee than we used to. I thought all those things were very silly. A lot of that was
Neuharth's influence; he was trying to be totally different from what his good
friends on the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal were doing. He had
an idea which first manifested in Cocoa with TODAY, and he just took that
[concept] and, with the help of a lot of people, brainstormed an idea that they
could launch a newspaper that could be sold all over America. The technology
was there with the satellite to feed out of the Washington area [to printing sites
around the country], and it worked. Now others have refined what he started and
turned it into a household word, as far as newspapers are concerned.
P: How important were things like the graphics, the colored weather map and things
like that? Did that help circulation?
B: Those were very helpful in the beginning, and the pioneer was the St. Petersburg
Times. Back in the early years when television was coming on in very vivid color,
newspapers had to find ways to be more attractive. St. Petersburg Times really
was a pioneer of the early graphics in America, as far as I can determine, at least
certainly in Florida. But I think they were probably too gaudy, too much, wasted
too much space. Now, they are more modest with graphics. Pictures are better
than graphics. Graphics [must have] a purpose. [USA TODAY] did have a [large]
splashy weather map; then suddenly every newspaper in America was
emulating. But I notice [most] have gone back to smaller maps. All of that was
not necessary, but it was an effort to create a newspaper like it was a television
screen, in print. I cannot fault it. I do not totally agree with its design. As a
[student] of newspaper design, there are a lot of things I would not do, [but] they
seemed to enjoy [experimentation]. But in the graphics age with computerss, you
can [create effective images], column rules and borders and everything. I spent
the early part of my career, in the early 1960s, getting rid of all those column
rules and opening it up to what we call white space between the columns. Now,
they are putting all these rules back in, borders and ribbons, because it is so
easy to do with the computer. It used to have to be done manually, and printers
resisted. I tried to clean it up. That concept changed because of all the
electronics, the technology. But USA TODAY, to answer your question, is, I think,
a very valid and important element to American journalism in its time. It took
some adjustment. I have often wondered, it has no base; you read the editorial
page, you have to deal with worldly issues, and, really, the nation is their base.
Whereas the Wall Street Journal is a business newspaper. The New York Times
has a New York base. The Washington Post is a political capital of the world.
They seem to be home-based, not in a provincial way, but at least they have, you
know, the Washington Post, the New York Times. That, to me, might be a little bit
of a handicap for [USA TODAY]. They have colorful writing. They have some
good writers. They have helped enterprise a lot of [stories] that other newspapers
now follow, [like] writing tight short stories. I do not always like that; sometimes
you get too cryptic [and] miss [elements of the story]. You read a good strong
story in the Miami Herald and the Washington Post about an issue, and you have
a full understanding of it. You read USA TODAY, and you get the cream off the
top of the milk, so to speak.
P: One of the criticisms is that it is now "McNews." People do not read newspapers
very much, and this is really a lesser form of what we might consider a regular
newspaper. So, a lot of critics do not like USA TODAY because it is too short and
too lacking in information.
B: And that was its design, a quick read, you know, the McPaper and all the
criticism of it at the time, and it won the top award for the best paragraph, that
sort of thing. But it put Al Neuharth and Gannett on the map. Gannett had some
image problems. They ran small-town newspapers, and [USA TODAY] gave
them [stature]. So, USA TODAY is a new dimension to the printed word at a time
when some of us in the back of our minds have fear that the day is coming when
the printed page is going away and it is all going to be electronic.
P: Will there be a day when you will get your newspaper on the computer and you
will not actually have a physical newspaper printed out?
B: I do not anticipate that until, maybe, another generation. I think the printed word
is going to be around a long time. We are so attuned to that, picking up books
and newspapers. It is going to take a long time. My granddaughter [works] on the
computer, and she can find anything. She may, by the time her children come
along [see] her children reading electronic books. I think it is going to be awhile,
but it has changed the whole concept. Newspapers are different today. They are
going to have to be different. That is the reason for USA TODAY. We are looking
for new angles. Public journalism is coming [in vogue], getting back to your
community, getting involved with your community. Get close to the readers, and
ask them what they think. There are all these kinds of devices that editors have
been trying throughout my career, to find the key. At one point, we were
concerned with writing. I recall years ago I was excited about this. All the editors
go to American Society of Newspapers Editors in Washington or wherever, and I
always talked about [how] we have to improve writing. Well, we should have
improved writing all along, but we were improving writing because we wanted
people to read these stories because they had television and everything was
instant news, radio, a car radio and all that. You have to do something. You have
to write your story so that they are so compelling, people have to have them.
Well, that was a good move.
P: What were your greatest media competitors? Obviously, television, but was radio
also a competitor to the newspaper?
B: In Pensacola, we had one radio station. As a matter of fact, our company owned
it. It was called WCOA, [for] Wonderful City Of Advantages. It had a real good
news staff, three or four or five reporters who were out covering the same things
we were, had several newscasts a day. They were our principal news
competition, along with Channel 3 here, WEAR television. For a long time,
television, in its beginning, they piggybacked off of us. As a matter of fact, we
had an agreement with [WEAR-TV once]. They could use our newspaper for
news. They would give us credit. A[n anchor] would end his newscast by saying,
this is from the News Journal. They never did invest much in a news staff. It was
usually one or two people. Really, the competition for news was not
[bothersome]. We did not have a monopoly, necessarily, because people did
listen to WCOA radio for local news and they read us and they would listen to
Channel 3. We did not have a situation like, say, the Tampa/St. Pete area, where
you had competition everywhere, or other parts of Florida. The Mobile Register
next door would try to come into our market but not with much success. It was an
Alabama newspaper. That is another thing in this area. We are sitting here in a
corner of West Florida. We have to go east across the panhandle to find readers,
a sparsely-developed, mostly rural-county area all the way to Tallahassee. We
cannot go west because we run into Alabama. The Register has the same
problem with us when they try to come into Florida; they are an Alabama
newspaper. Now, the News Journal has tried through the years to cover
Alabama. We used to have an Alabama news page, because the county
between Pensacola and Mobile Bay is Baldwin County, one of the largest
counties east of the Mississippi River, a huge geographic area. A growing area,
and those people trade in the Pensacola area. So, we did develop a market in
that county, so we would carry Alabama news as best we could to try to attract
those people. So, that has been a hindrance for us. Back to your question on
competition, that is probably all the competition we have, other than the
shoppers, the weeklies, the little giveaway papers that spring up from time to
time, but they were not a real threat. As far as competitive edge, news-wise,
WCOA did not affect us that much, it was still radio and newspapers.
P: And because of the physical location, you were not in competition with the St.
Pete Times or the Orlando paper.
B: No, we did not have those papers coming into our market. It was not feasible for
them to haul a newspaper that far. You used to find the Times Union for some
reason. I do not know how they do it with the new ownership, but when I was
growing up, the Times Union just saturated North Florida. Even the Jacksonville
Journal, which no longer exists. My dad took the Jacksonville Journal. You do not
see those in the market anymore, and it would not make much sense for them.
We cannot even do well in Tallahassee. It is so far away, and it is costly to get
the papers there. We must look at our immediate readership because the
advertiser knows that these are the people buy[ing] his products, and he buys ad
space from us. So, we have to serve him more than to go out and try to get these
large numbers of circulation, which are not profitable from a standpoint of the
newspaper. You just settle into your region, and most newspapers, I think even
the Times Union and maybe the Miami Herald, all have just carved out their little
P: When you took over, what specific goals did you have as you started out?
B: My goal, number one, was to be the dominant newspaper of the panhandle. We
were the only morning-daily in the panhandle at that time. Fort Walton was a
small daily. Panama City was afternoon. The Tallahassee Democrat was an
afternoon at that time, or they may have gone morning by that time. I cannot
recall the year they went morning. They finally realized, like everybody else, that
morning was the way to go. But, to try to be the dominant and best-read and the
most influential newspaper in west Florida, because we were the largest. We had
an opportunity to go out across the panhandle all the way to Tallahassee, or the
Apalachicola River, and serve all of those counties. I was a little naive in those
days. I thought you could do that easily, but it turns out that the economics of
hauling newspapers to Apalachicola and St. Marks [is not profitable]; you might
get it to De Funiak Springs and Fort Walton Beach [in nearby counties]. That is
okay, but getting all the way across the panhandle...we used to have strong
readership of our newspaper in Quincy, Florida. We were the only morning
newspaper serving them, and they could get [night] baseball scores. They could
not even get them in the Times Union in Quincy because they sent out that
earlier edition. Tallahassee was afternoon. The Dothan [Alabama] Eagle, which
comes into the panhandle and that part of the country, was afternoon. They were
all afternoon newspapers. Now, they are all morning, and we, at the News
Journal, had to finally realize that our area is from Walton County west. We have
to fight now with Fort Walton Beach, which has a pretty good little daily
P: And Panama City as well.
B: Yes. They have pretty good circulation, and they are right on our doorstep here.
In those days, we did not have that problem. We owned the Fort Walton paper.
We had the radio station here, and the TV station was about the only news
competition, but we never looked at it that way. I never thought of us [as] hav[ing]
a monopoly and it [would] not matter [about coverage]. I wanted the [region]
covered because I wanted to improve the quality of the newspaper, to make it be
in demand of the readers of this area. That was really my overall goal.
P: When you took over, were there some specific problems, either financial or in
terms of circulation or editorial, that you had to deal with?
B: I had to straighten out a lot of things in the newsroom. I had a lot of people who
were not competent. Some were alcoholics. We had a lot of that in those days.
That is not a factor anymore. I began to try to recruit a better-educated reporter.
The problem I had with that was, again, economics. I could not pay them as
much as the Miami Herald. I use to hire people out of, like, LSU [Louisiana State
University], they always loved to come to Pensacola because of the beaches.
They would come to work for us, and in six months, they were working at the
Miami Herald, because the Herald in those days was always looking for good
people and they could hire them from us [with higher salaries]. We just could not
afford to pay them that way. That is no longer as much of a factor with the paper
here. It is [under] Gannett, and we got the salaries up to be competitive. I still do
not think they are quite what, maybe, the Herald is paying, or the St. Pete Times.
That was a problem, to get that level up. Number two, I did not have the
newsroom structured properly to run two newspapers. I had a managing editor I
had to fire on the Journal, and I had a managing editor on the News, and I let him
just take over as the overall managing editor, over both papers, and created
under him two news editors to run the morning and afternoon [editions]. That
worked pretty well. I began to expand the sports staff. It was small. I put in a
photo department that the newsroom had never really had. This sounds really
old-fashioned, but we had one photographer and an assistant, so we began to
expand that. We did not have an art department or a graphics department, and I
brought in a graphic artist directly from Cocoa, who had helped develop TODAY
there under Jim Jesse. His name was Bob Meagher, and he began to get us into
the computerized graphics. I made a lot of revolutionary changes on this
newspaper when I took over. First of all, one of the things [was] we were
identifying people with race. You know, John Jones, Negro, arrested last night. I
stopped that. We had the old women's page, called Women and Their Interests,
and we had a Society editor. She had been here for forever. Her name was
Hortensia Sublette. I had to retire her. She was getting old and was ready to
retire. I changed the Society pages to what I called at that time Living. I call it Life
now. It changed the whole concept of Society, got away from running all these
weddings in big huge photographs and trains of dresses and all that, that was
just dominating the page, and you could not get into the pages unless you were
somebody. It was kind of a limited thing. I got rid of all of that and began to make
it more about a light feature section. I got rid of all the segregated parts of the
paper that was still the old residue from the past, even though this was the
1960s. They still were identifying people by race, and I just quit all of that. We
began to [respect] the civil rights movement, the concern for blacks. We had a
debutante cotillion here that was kind of a social [event], and they always got a
big spread with their daughters coming out and it was all-white. By that time, the
blacks decided they would have one, too, and they could not get in the paper. I
gave them the [same] space as the white. That caused me a little grief among
the social gentry here, but that was the right thing to do. We broke those barriers
in covering things that the paper really had never done before.
P: How did the role of women change, during the thirty years or so you were editor?
B: Tremendously. The News Journal during World War II had a most-all women
staff. All the men were at war, and Don Hogan [ran the staff]. Anyway, [when I
became editor] we did not have many women in the newsroom. [But] we did have
a couple who were very popular. One named Pat Lloyd wrote a social column, a
people column, and she was very popular in the newsroom. They had mostly just
women [working on] the social pages. There were not any over on the other side.
So, we began to change that, and I hired several people to come in and be
reporters and cover City Hall. So, that began to change. Now we have about as
many women as men in the newsroom.
P: In administrative positions?
B: Oh yes.
P: What about hiring of minorities?
B: I hired, I guess, the first black reporter, a woman. I forget the year. The problem
we had and still have is you cannot keep them. There are not enough. They
come here and stay a short time, and the Tallahassee Democrat or a Knight-
Ridder will grab them, or some of the other larger papers. The News Journal now
has [several] minorities. The assistant editorial page editor is black. He is from
South Carolina and is a very good man. That is no longer a factor, but it was
tough to find [qualified minorities]. I hired that first [black in the 1960s]. But it was
hard to find them. We could not get them out of Florida A&M and Grambling. The
first woman came from [Grambling], but she did not last long. So, we always had
the opportunity for it, but we did not do it probably as well. Hiring minorities is still
a concern in the newspaper business. That is the reason all the newspaper
companies pump so much money into Florida A&M's journalism school. They are
trying to groom young blacks for our business, because we have to realize that
there is a black community which should be covered just like the other, and black
activities. I remember Bob Haimen at the St. Pete Times talking about how we
have to learn how they live down in the ghetto, what kind of language they speak.
We do not know anything about the way those people live. If we are going to get
in there and get involved, we need to know that. Now, of course, that is different
P: How have reporters changed over the period of time?
B: Reporters have changed tremendously. I used to have some old-timers, three or
four of them, who could come to work in the morning...I had a guy who come to
work on that afternoon paper and he would write you a feature story that would
stand up for the edition. By noon, he would have it ready. He would go down to
the Coffee Cup, a favorite restaurant, find some character, develop it into
something, tie it to the day's news, and he would have a nice feature. Then he
would come to the paper and get on the phone, and he would take police stories
and write them up. He would write ten, twelve stories during one news cycle.
Today, you are lucky if a reporter writes two stories a week. You give them an
assignment, and they have three weeks to enterprise. In the old days, I had
reporters who could turn out those stories in hours, and that is still a frustration to
me, why we cannot do that. Newspapers are not as immediate as they used to
be. I find editors saving stories to Monday's edition because Monday is a light
day, I am saving this story. I cannot believe that.
P: Are the stories any better?
B: No, not really. Well, yes. Say you are doing an environmental story or a story that
is a little bit investigative. Sure, you have to have time for that. I am not talking
about that. I am talking about just grabbing a story for morning edition that would
be soft, reflective of something tied to the news. I do not see that much anymore.
I used to have people, a guy named Ira Brock, who won the national headline
award for feature-writing one year while he worked for us. This guy had honed
his skills at the Toledo Blade as a rewrite man. He told me, all I did was stand
there with those headphones all day taking stories from police stations. The
reporters were all out forming these stories. I would get them together in a hurry.
[He] learned my craft. I just always thought he was an ideal news guy. He could
take any story. The thing about it-we wrote with typewriters in those days-he
would type that, and he used these real short paragraphs. It was good-looking
copy when you got it. You did not have to lay a pencil on it because it was there.
Of course, today, writing on computers, they can do the same thing. But I have
noticed that, and I am not trying to denigrate this generation of reporters. I think
the system has just lent itself to giving them more time to think it out better and
make sure it is right. That is good if you have the numbers of people to do it. I did
not have that many.
P: Part of it has to do with lawsuits. You really have to be pretty accurate.
B: Yes, you have to double-check it. You have to check with lawyers, and you make
sure. You have to go through a series of editors if it is a sensitive story, but I am
talking about just routine stuff. A police story that might be just kind of interesting
with the angle it takes. He could do that in a few minutes. I do not sense we have
that anymore. I have always made a point of not criticizing the younger
generation because I think some of them are much better than anything of my
time. Better-educated. More interested, I think. So many times in the old days,
we had a lot of cynicism, and people did not have the background. They were
good writers. They had been schooled through the school of hard knocks on a
newspaper, where you learned to put together a noun and a verb, and you could
pretty soon put together a pretty good story. That is good, but they did not
have...most of these kids today are college graduates. Unfortunately, so many of
them are discovering that the newspaper way of life is not what I want. I want to
go out and do something that I can make more money out of. It is one of the real
problems of the profession today.
P: A lot of them are going into things like public relations instead.
P: How has the newspaper audience changed over this period of time?
B: They are more demanding. I think, today, you can see that in the focus groups.
They have these groups that come through the paper still that tell them what is
wrong. The sophistication of the reading audience is much higher. I think what I
am saying is that, in an earlier period before television, people who relied almost
entirely on the local newspaper for their news were forced to take what they got.
Today, they have so many choices that they can quickly tell where they want to
have that newspaper or whether it is satisfying their needs. As you know, as
more research is done, maybe the day will come where the newspaper will be
more specialized; if you want sports, you get this. Yes, but the general reading
audience is a lot more sophisticated today than it was when I started.
Newspapers, I guess, are the last mass medium, and that is our only hope for
them, in that television is so fractured with cable and radio is all talk and music.
The Internet, of course, is a new one, and newspapers have tried to figure out
how to get into that and make any money off of it. That is the new way. I always
tell students, you know, radio came along and scared the devil out of the
newspaper business. Here suddenly, you can hear the news instantaneously.
And, it did not happen. I mean, radio went on and had its heyday, and the
newspaper is still going. Along comes television, and suddenly they say, well, we
are not only going to hear the news but you can see it instantaneously, and that
is going to cut [us out]. Well, the radio panicked, and radio had to adapt. It did. It
went to talk. It went to music, I guess, information you still hear on your car radio.
Newspapers kept going and sliding along, about the same thing, and it is still
there. Then television began to fracture up into cable channels, and radio no
longer was news, although some stations are all news, kind of the CNN of radio,
but not local news, in our area anyway. But the newspapers have been steady
there. Now, we have come into this total new electronic [age], you know,
instantaneously printing electronic books that are printed out like this book here. I
do not know what is going to happen beyond that, but it is still the last mass
medium. You still read the crossword puzzle, the comics, the death notices,
about what your local government is doing, read a little bit of the social news
pertaining to your neighborhood. You have all that in one package. Unfortunately,
it is printed on paper. I always go back to this phrase that I remember reading
that Ted Turner said, and it was in the Columbia Journalism Review, one of the
breakout paragraphs at the top of the article, and he said, the newspaper
business is the only business I know where you have to cut down a tree that we
need to keep us warm, to print the news that is old on the day it is printed. That is
true. It is cumbersome, all the way from a tree in Canada or a forest in Canada to
a mill to the News Journal's off-set press, and we are grinding it out and
delivering it on your lawn. Here, you have an electronic medium that can pop [a]
column [and news report] onto the Internet right into your home and probably
down the road onto your television set. So I do not know what is going to happen
there, but I do not think anything has changed as far as journalism is concerned.
Our role is to keep the public informed and, in a sense, to guard democracy. We
are in the business of looking after democracy, if we do our job as journalists.
Now, that is a role we probably have traditionally developed for ourselves; we are
the watchdogs. I do not think that is going to change. The newspaper, in my
estimation, is still the place where a lot of that happens, because I have seen
television do more and more entertainment. It was not news. It has come around
and is a great thing. There is nothing better than when you have a tragedy in
America, and you turn on the TV and there it is occurring right before your eyes.
They can do a marvelous job of covering those or sporting events or whatever.
You cannot get better than that, but not the day-in-day-out information that
people need to guide their lives and pay their taxes. I am not sure that television
always supplies that because it is not very sexy, to use a phrase everybody uses
today, to talk about taxes and county commissions and garbage pickups on
television unless it photographs well. So, you have all these elements, to me, that
still says that some form of the printed page is probably going to be with us a
long, long time.
P: You mentioned two major functions of the newspaper, to inform and to preserve
democracy, the First Amendment. What other functions does the newspaper
B: Entertainment. You look at a newspaper, and it has stories about people doing
things, achieving things, or maybe humor. It has comics. The lightness of the day
is oftentimes achieved through the newspaper. So, information more than
anything, but certainly entertainment.
P: How would you rate your paper compared to papers of comparable circulation? I
do not know, would the Gainesville Sun be a little smaller than you?
B: I think Gainesville might be a little bit smaller than the News Journal. I do not
know their circulation. The News Journal's circulation now is about 85,000 daily.
It may be pushing 100,000 on Sundays. So, I do not know, but I would compare it
with the Tallahassee Democrat, maybe the Gainesville Sun. It is difficult to say
one does a better job on this or whatever. It is hard for me to say because I look
at the Democrat in Tallahassee, and it looks to me like they are covering Leon
County very well. I look at Gainesville and it's a university town. I cannot really
judge whether ours is any better or any less effective. I think you have to judge a
newspaper on how well it serves its area, not what press judges say about it and
award winners and all that. It is important to our business and we all love those,
but it is really circulation [that] works for you. I do not see any weak papers in
Florida anymore. They are all great. I mean, I think Florida is really blessed with
some great news. You know, the [Miami] Herald, of course, and the St. Pete
Times. You look at all the others, the old Fort Lauderdale News and the Sun-
Sentinel. Really great newspapers. The Tampa Tribune. Then, you get into what I
call the medium size newspapers, Tallahassee, Gainesville, maybe Ocala, all of
that level. They are all attractive newspapers. None of this old. Technically, they
look good because they are printed on off-set presses now, as opposed to the
old letter-press. We had a letter-press throughout my career until the year I
retired, [when] we brought in, finally, an offset press from San Bernardino,
California, [built] to print USA TODAY. We moved that press here and rebuilt it
on-site, and now we are off-set just like everybody else. For so long, we were
letter-press, and so was the Times Union. We [produced papers with a] muddy
look to us. Today, all of these papers are [going off-set]. It took years for the off-
set process to get to where you could use it in a major newspaper run. Off-set
was okay for a little suburban weekly or daily where you had a small run. Today,
every newspaper in America is on off-set. So, I cannot make a judgment on
which might be serving better. I really think a newspaper has to be styled for its
P: How have the letters to the editor changed over this period of time?
B: Much more literate, less vitriolic, although what you do with letters to the editor,
you still get them from all kinds of people and you do not publish those kind.
P: You do not publish them if they are not signed.
B: No, we always require a signature. They have to be willing to have their
signature. Now, we used to run their addresses, and I quit that because people
were concerned with privacy. We said, as long as we have it on record and we
verify the letter, yes. Anonymous letters, we throw away. We might look at them,
but we do not print those. Letters have gotten better because in order to get it
published, you have to stick to a topic rather than [rambling without making a
P: Do you cut them or do you print them in full?
B: We have a word limit, like 300 or 400 words, and if it is a few words over there,
we still go ahead and run them. If it is too long, we send it back and say you have
to cut it down.
P: But you do not cut it?
B: If it is too long, if it is two pages and you have one page, that might be too much
to cut. If you ran half of it, the guy would complain that you cut my stuff and my
main message was in the second page. If it is just a few words over, they go
ahead with it. We have another vehicle at the newspaper I developed years ago,
called Viewpoint, on the op-ed page. If you write a column about an issue, say
500 to 700 words, and you run it with your picture on it, we offer that to people
who head organizations, voluntary or even politicians.
P: So anybody can write ...
B: Yes, who might disagree with our editorial position. We call them Viewpoints, and
they are columns. That has given the community and the community leadership,
or people who might oppose what the newspaper says, an opportunity to have its
own viewpoint on the same page. My view of the editorial page is that it is a
melting-pot of ideas, our voice is on the left-hand column, but everything else on
those pages is somebody else's view, either syndicated columns, cartoons,
letters to the editor, or viewpoint articles. I figured it up one time, and we run far
more words from other people, the local voices, than our words. After Watergate,
I go back to that, and it seems to me that everybody [felt] guilt that we had
brought down a president. Here at the newspaper, you know, we have to change
our ways. Then, we had to open up the editorial pages for everybody, and all
these editorial boards started developing. Bring in the best minds on the
newspaper, and let them think out issues, which we did too, along with the other
papers in Florida. Open up the editorial page, and have more voices to it, kind of
a melting-pot of ideas and not so much dominant where the editorialist is going to
tell the people in town how to think and what to do.
P: Did you get more letters over the years?
B: Yes. When I took over, we had a page of letters we ran on a Sunday because
you had to gather them all up and save them to run on Sunday, and we did not
have any space during the week. I started [publishing] them daily, like all papers
are doing now. Yes, and then on Sunday, the op-ed page is filled with nothing but
letters, and people want articles on pros and cons.
P: Who chooses the letters?
B: The editorial page editor.
P: Based on?
B: Based on first-come, first-serve. At a paper our size, we try to be fair to
everybody. If you write a letter and it is reasonable and it conforms with the rules
we have laid out-we do not tell you what to write-you will get in the paper. If you
have a letter that libels somebody, if you run a letter that libels the guy, the
newspaper is responsible, too. You have to be careful in that regard, and you
have to be sensitive to other issues. And make sure it makes a point. People
sometimes like to write a religious sermon or poetry, so you have rules against
that kind of thing. But we try to get everybody in, and that was another problem.
We [had] so many letters coming in, they got backed up and would run late.
P: How often did you use syndicated columnists, and how did you choose which
ones you would use?
B: We use them daily. Most syndicated columnists [write] three a week, and you
pick and choose from those and run them on regular days. You always try to get
the ones that were popular and representative of a variety of viewpoints, whether
liberal or conservative. You try to get a balance and not let all of them be
conservative [or] too liberal. The idea is you really need both sides of the issue in
the paper. That works pretty well as long as you can convey to the reader that
you have been fair about it. Make sure they are good writers. They recently
added Molly Ivins, who writes a humorous column out of Texas, and they added
Walter Williams, a black conservative. He writes an interesting piece, and that
gives variety. I always add James Jackson Kilpatrick, a beautiful writer. He was a
true conservative but just a good writer, a constitutionalist. We always had
[William F.] Buckley and Ellen Goodman and various others. Dave Broder, the
best political reporter out of Washington. So you choose them based on not only
their skills as reporters and writers, but make sure that you have a variety of
political persuasions on the page.
P: But you chose them, and not Gannett?
B: Oh yes. That is another thing. Gannett used to have a slogan, we make a
business of not running newspapers. Even though they inherited me in 1969,
never one time did Gannett ever tell me what to write, not in my entire career. I
was fortunate in that regard. Editors really have to be sensitive to what the
company is, but as far as the editorial position that the News Journal took during
my career, that was under my direction. In the latter years after we had
developed an editorial board, which I chaired all those years, composed of the
publisher, who frequently sat in or sometimes chose not to, the editorial page
staff, perhaps the managing editor, a lot of minds came to work on developing
about what we would say about issues. We would meet a couple of times a
week. We did not meet daily. Most of that was in my hands and the editorial page
editor. We would together, come in and talk it over, based on what the editorial
board had discussed. That is the way we operated daily. We had to choose the
columns, and I was responsible for that, working with the syndicates and the
same way with the various cartoonists. I had a whole stable of cartoonists that
we ran, ran those daily. Mine ran usually on the weekend. That was under my
P: Did you have any problems with advertiser discontent with your editorials, and
would that affect what editorials you ran, or advertisements?
B: No. I never had any direct situation where an advertiser might have been upset
over what we said editorially. They may have disagreed with us, and probably did
a lot of times. We were probably a typical liberal position, and they were coming
at it from a business standpoint. I never had that problem. The only problem with
advertisers [was] sometimes we would get a story that had the wrong slant to it,
and they would be upset, that you ought to put my position in, or, where is my
side of the story? That would be something newsroom would do, and that
happens frequently. You get a story that is just not all complete, and the some of
the advertisers would get upset. We had the car dealers all upset with us, and
they had a boycott here a few years ago.
P: Did they pull their advertisements?
B: Yes, not because of anything we did editorially, but it was some stories that we
were running. It was strange. We ran them about the environmental concerns of
automobiles, AP stories mostly, wire stuff. It was not our enterprise. Then, we ran
a story that was developed locally about one of these companies that will sell you
a car almost by mail, and you can get it much cheaper doing that. Here was a big
spread they ran one day on the business page, and the publisher at that time
tried to encourage them not to run that story, to hold it for a day or two, and he
was absolutely right. They ran that story and did not worry about it. In a story like
that, you got, I can buy a car cheaper by this process than I can going out to one
of the lots in Car City. It stands to reason, in my view, let us get Car City's view of
this. You know, if I can buy a car cheaper than you can sell it, what do you think
about that? They did not get both sides. And when it came out, they [the car
dealers] got real upset, and one of them led a little boycott. It did not last long
because they needed the advertising. I never had the editorial part of it, and I will
tell you why I think that is true. I think most people who understand how
newspapers operate understand that the opinion page is opinion. They say, well,
I did not agree with it, but you have a right to say it. The reason I think we did not
have any problem is that we were always very careful in an editorial not to make
the grievous error of misinformation or casting people in a bad light
unnecessarily. Cast the issue in a bad light, maybe, if you need to, but not the
individual or the commercial concern or whatever. Most editorials dealt with
public issues, not necessarily advertisers. You know, you are dealing with county
commissions making public actions on taxes and that sort of thing. Now, we did
have a lot of opposition for some of the things we stood for in this county, like
consolidating government. We tried to consolidate city and county. Back in those
early years when I was first made editor, that was one of my first [campaigns],
and we just lost like crazy because people did not want to change their form of
government. I think three times during my era as editor, we tried to [establish a]
charter government, which failed each time. And, at least three times, we
advocated an appointed school superintendent, which failed each time. One
time, it came within one vote in this county of passing. Strange. It came back a
few years ago, and it failed pretty bad. Now, I think there is another thrust to try
to do that because it is really, you know, I think that is the way to go, have a
political body that is elected by the people as your board of directors and then
have a professional administrator. Those were the things, and there would be a
lot of opposition to that, mostly political opposition, not necessarily business or
advertising opposition. I found through the years that many people who
advertised stayed as far away as they could from public issues, because they
were concerned with satisfying the customer and making money for their
company, more so than they were interested in public issues, which very well
may have been one of the problems in a community like this where the chief
leaders, the giants of enterprise, just are not as involved in public issues as
maybe they ought to be. They let, sort of, the dregs, to use a phrase, run the
courthouse. [But] not so much City Hall because we have always had a very
progressive and a very clean and workable City Council. This city is well-run. It
always has been. There is not much political partisanship. They do not run by
political party. It is a city charter, and they have a professional city manager. That
is the reason it works so well, as opposed to the county commission which
[continues] the old style. It brings a lot of people into the local government who
really ought not to be there, and they make a lot of mistakes and create a lot of
editorial fodder, which I thought of for years. But I have not had that pressure
from advertisers. The only ones I have had is when some reporter would goof up
a story so badly that it affected an advertiser. I had a guy writing us a consumer
column one time. He went out to get his car fixed, and they messed it up. He got
into a real argument with them [and returns] to the News Journal and [criticizes]
people who repair cars and just brutalizes them in a column, in kind of an oblique
way. The guy called up and he was really upset. It turned out that the reporter
would not pay his bill, and we had to fire him. So, when you take an issue like
that and make it personal in the newspaper, you can get yourself into real
trouble. I tried never to be personal or involved in anything like that.
P: Is there any advertising you would not accept?
B: Yes. There is a lot of stuff that is turned down all the time by the newspaper.
There are rules, and there are principles.
P: Can you give me an example?
B: Well, some of the sexually-oriented stuff, although now they have a classified
section, you know, of couples meeting. But, I think they have had some issues
like that where people [with] fly-by-night products come to town and want to plant
an ad, and it is not credible. They have turned some of that down. Yes, I think
advertising people really have some of the corresponding rules that [editorials]
have had. In the newspaper business, a lot of people come in or telephone and
have all these odd products that are off the wall. USA TODAY printed some of
them when they first started, and they were scams. You have to be careful in that
regard. As far as the voice of the advertiser to sell his product, I do not know. I
can see some things that I would not want in the newspaper, in the interest of the
public more so than whether we made revenue from it.
P: What about the relationship with the Florida Press Association or the Florida
Society of Newspaper Editors? Have you been heavily involved with either of
B: I was involved. I was, I guess, the second president of the Florida Society of
Newspaper Editors. I went to the Florida Press Association when I became
editor. The Florida Press Association is composed of not only weeklies but
everybody. I think some of the editors, [like] John McMullen of the Miami Herald
at that time, suggested we get together and try to form our own society, sort of
like the American Society of Newspaper Editors, which I also was part of, and we
met in Gainesville and formed it. John was elected president, and I was elected
vice president. The idea was to get him in Miami and me in Pensacola. John,
about mid-year, or not too long after that, was suddenly sent to Philadelphia.
Knight-Ridder bought the Philadelphia Inquirer, and they sent him up there as
executive editor. He called me and said, I am leaving Florida, so it is yours. So, I
really was, that first year, the president. So, yes, I have been involved. I went
through the years to it until, actually, the last two years of my career. I did not go
to much of those. We had an executive editor running the newsroom. I was
running the editorial page by that time. I was really editor and vice president. I
worked closely with the publisher, and so I let them start, the younger guys in the
newsroom, to go to those things. The paper was very supportive of the Florida
Press Association through the years. I think they still involve themselves in the
Florida Society of Newspaper Editors. They win a lot of awards from that society.
P: Did you cover the legislature very closely?
B: In the early years of my career as editor-in-chief, I was fortunate to have the
dean of political writers in Florida, named Maurice "Moose" Harling, who will be
remembered as Reubin Askew's mentor and also his press secretary for the
eight years he was governor. Moose had a knowledge of the legislature and
covered it thoroughly for us, and he was the only newsman I ever knew who was
honored by both houses of the legislature for his long service [in] covering the
legislature. We covered it that way. When Gannett bought us in 1969, Moose
was still there, but he was getting ready to retire to go join Reubin. We created a
Tallahassee bureau through Gannett, and then they began to cover the
legislature for the three papers in Florida. That has been a source of concern to
me and to the people who followed me at the News Journal. For years, we
would send our own reporters to Tallahassee to cover our delegation and the
legislature directly with daily stories and a legislative page. We have gotten away
from that, and now we depend on a bureau with two or three people there,
representing Fort Myers and FLORIDA TODAY. They cover all these
delegations, and they do not get too close to either one of them. I think we are
doing a disservice in that regard. That whole idea of political coverage has
changed tremendously. People soured over government and politics. I go back to
Watergate, to the beginning of that era where the president was thrown out of
office, or forced out of office, because of misdoing. People just were disgusted,
and a lot of the editors said, people just really do not care about politics anymore,
and they do not care about sitting in long-winded meetings in Tallahassee or the
county commission and detailing every little action they take; let us be more
selective in what we do; when they have a big issue, we will cover it, otherwise
forget it. We have gotten away from covering the major [action] that affects
people the most--laws affecting your taxes. We have gone more to what we call
people news, and what are people doing? That is good. I do not disagree with
that, but we do not have that solid political coverage that I thought was important
in my time. I look back on the Herald, the Tampa Tribune, which when I was at
Florida State as a student was the Florida newspaper to read. Everything that
was going on politically in Florida was in that paper, and it was really popular.
Most of it in the Herald in those times. Then, of course, St. Petersburg does a
good job today. They all are more oriented toward Florida topics than probably
we were, although we covered this North Florida part pretty well and then kept
our ear to the ground of what was going on in Tallahassee because we had
important individuals in the legislative process. We had a very effective
delegation that got a lot of things done, manifested by people like W.D. Childers
today, who is out now, and then Reubin Askew as governor and Dempsey
Barron of Panama City, a powerful dean of the Senate, [all] from our region. So,
we would have kept our ear to the ground with what was going on politically. I
think that coverage of the legislative process leaves a lot to be desired in our
newspaper now. I think even the editors there [now] would agree with me
because you have a bureau situation that is not as effective as it could be unless
you covered it direct. When you say I am going to cover the legislature this year
directly from the News Journal, that means you have to take one of your
reporters and send him to Tallahassee. You have to live in Tallahassee, and that
is expensive. That is the reason a lot of them have gotten away from them. We
will do it by bureau.
P: Describe your relationship with Reubin Askew.
B: Well, very close. He and I were at Florida State together. He was president of the
student government when I was on the Florida Flambeau, and we got to know
each other then. My wife took an economics class with him. He came to Florida
State after I did. He had been in the Army. I knew Reubin, in those early years at
Florida State, he denies it today but he used to sit around and we all knew that
he was going to try to be governor of Florida one of these days. He said, no, I did
not do that, but he did, I remember, and he was on his way. He was very popular
as a campus figure. He [returned] to Pensacola. I was here in sports, but he was
a young lawyer. I used to see him occasionally. He ran for the House and won.
Then, when one of the senators, Phillip Beall, who was not very progressive, he
took him on for the Senate, and at the News Journal, the old editor I have
mentioned so many times, Marion Gaines, liked Reubin, and Moose Harling, our
political reporter, thought Reubin had a lot of potential. They supported him, and
he won. Then, when he got to be governor, I became very close to him, used to
talk to him a lot, and we were very close friends. I did not always agree with
Reubin, totally, on all of the topics. The News Journal did not endorse him when
he made his first run.
P: For governor?
B: Right, and that is a source of embarrassment to me in that my publisher would
not allow it. He did not like Reubin Askew.
P: Did they endorse Earl Faircloth?
B: No, we endorsed Jack Mathews from Jacksonville. I tried to mediate that as best
I could. My publisher just said no. We had joined Gannett, by the way, at that
P: It was 1970.
B: Yes, and he said, we will be no part of it. So we said okay. Mathews matched up.
Then Reubin made such a strong run in that first primary. Al Neuharth, the
president of Gannett, called up the publisher and really shamed him, said good
Lord, Braden, you did not even support the local boy for governor. Well, we came
back in that second primary, and I wrote a glowing editorial about how we had to
have Reubin as governor. I would have supported him, even though I had not
always agreed with some of the topics that he advocated at that time. I am not so
sure that Reubin was all that liberal. He was in the LeRoy Collins school.
P: Certainly on race.
B: Yes. Reubin was not as strong on the environment as I was. I do not think he had
a great grasp of it at that time. He is starting to change now. As a matter of fact,
when I was talking to him recently, he sounded more conservative than I have
ever heard him.
P: Askew gives a lot of credit to Pensacola for boosting in his career, not just his law
partners but the raising of money and also the newspaper. Do you think that is
B: Yes. Reubin never mentioned the fact that we did not endorse him in the first
primary. I think he understood what happened there. Braden Ball was part of a
faction here, was a more old-time conservative throughout North Florida. Reubin
was perceived as [too liberal]...he supported Robert King High. I saw an
opportunity, too. Here was a guy who was coming out of North Florida. I did not
think he had a prayer.
P: Nor did he.
B: I recall, we had an event at the old Martine's Restaurant, which is no longer here,
honoring a guy who was dying of cancer. Everybody came and did a little
testimony. Reubin was there, and we were leaving the place. [We] chatted briefly
and I said, how is your campaign going? It had just started. He said, oh terrific.
He pulls out this little notebook out of his lapel pocket, and, just see there, I am
doing well. He had about six names there and they were local people, $25, $75,
and I am doing well. Okay, [but] you better hit it for more than that. Then I went to
the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors meeting in Fort Lauderdale, and we
had all the gubernatorial candidates lined up for introduction and interrogation.
Reubin was late, and he eased in the side. He sat off of the edge. You know, all
these guys ready to go, and there he was, late. I was looking and I said, well, he
is going to run late in this primary, but it was amazing. He raised a lot of money.
That is what got him going. I found out later that some of these older people here
in Pensacola, [who] thought Reubin was a little liberal [supported him financially].
They liked him, and they gave him his boost. Harvey Cotton, an insurance man
here today, was one of his boosters, and, of course, Moose Harling, who was
sort of like a father figure to Reubin. As soon as Reubin announced, he came in.
He was a couple of years beyond retirement age, anyway. He told me, I am
going to have to retire, and I am going to join Reubin's team. He went to
Tallahassee with Reubin, and while Moose was an older man, he represented
him in everything and did a good job and came back here and died a few years
ago. He lived to be about ninety years old. Reubin used to come back over here
and visit him all the time. He has a great affection for this town. He grew up kind
of poor. He had to work hard. I have written several profiles of Reubin. I always
said a person from Pensacola probably cannot ever be governor because he is
going to be perceived as being too local, too provincial. Reubin, from the very
beginning of his political career, had a total Florida concept, to everything he did.
He was concerned with all areas of Florida. He was not an old West Florida
"Porkchopper" who was going over there to protect all this. He never did do that,
and that caused him a lot of grief over here because they said, oh, you are
representing Miami and Orlando; you are not representing us. But he came
across with that image of being an all-Florida candidate. He went south, and he
had a pleasing personality. They picked up on him real well, and he did a
marvelous thing. I mean, no one else had ever done that. He had a concept of
the total state. He was not a provincial.
P: How would you assess his two terms as governor?
B: I think he did some great things. I look back at LeRoy Collins, who was a
segregationist, but he had this progressive attitude toward moving Florida into
the modern period and concern with what the courts were going to do with the
schools and had a persona about him that led Florida, really, into a new era.
Reubin came along at a little later time, after Kirk. As a matter of fact, he took
some of the things Kirk did and refined them and improved them. I think he had a
good career as governor, and he finally did some of the things a lot of people in
this region thought he ought to do. He completed Interstate 10, which was not
completed before he was governor. It had been languishing for a long time, and
he finally got that completed. So, I think he had a good career, and I think he was
a popular governor. I also have great respect for Bob Graham, who followed him
and who, I think, just did a marvelous job as governor. LeRoy Collins, Reubin
Askew and Graham, to me, represents what I would consider the modern era of
transition in Florida in the capital, in Tallahassee. W.D. Childers, [who followed
Reubin to the Senate] was a little squeaky-voiced guy on the edge of town who
ran a store and who kind of made a little bit of a local reputation of selling Hula-
Hoops. When Reubin ran for governor and abandoned his Senate seat, he
announced he was going to run for the Senate. I remember a guy telling me,
W.D. Childers is going to run for it. I thought, gosh, what is he thinking? We did
not know W.D. Well, W.D. is a Florida State University graduate, he used to be a
schoolteacher, and he is a brilliant guy. He ran for it and won, playing this old
country cracker. I remember after he got in the Senate, Reubin told me, he is one
of the best senators we have; he reads those bills, and he knows what is going
on; he knows how to operate. W.D. was a great admirer of Askew. He
modeled a lot of what he wanted to do after Askew. So, I think Askew had
a lot of influence on this region, and this region had a lot of influence on him.
P: I am certain that you believe that editors need to be not only community leaders
but involved in community affairs.
B: Yes, definitely.
P: Let me point out two or three areas. One would be the development of the
University of West Florida. Talk to me a little bit about how you perceived the
importance of having a university.
B: That was 1967 when the university finally began. I thought it was a real
breakthrough of ideas that was going to help this region more than any I could
think of, in that we needed higher education. We had Florida State in
Tallahassee and we had Tulane in New Orleans, and that was about as close,
and we did have Spring Hill in Mobile, a little Catholic college, but we did not
have any higher education. We did not have a research library in this region.
Here was an opportunity to provide higher education for this part of the
panhandle. You always had to go to Gainesville and Tallahassee, although that is
not all that far in today's standard with our kinds of transportation, but it had been
a hindrance. Here we were going to have our own university which would be a
part of the university system. So I editorialized [and drew lots] of [supportive]
cartoons, visited the campus with Harold Crosby, the first president, when the
first bulldozer was on the campus, served as a president of the foundation for two
terms, and have been very close to that school, not only as an editor but as a
community activist. Yes, it is one of the big breakthroughs of my time. It changed
the character of this area. Unfortunately, the University of West Florida has not
grown like we thought it would in the projections. Some reasons for that, of
course, is that we have not grown population-wise like the rest of Florida, we do
not have the curriculum maybe like you do in Gainesville and Tallahassee, and
students are attracted to those bigger schools. But it has 8,000 students now. It
needs some attention. It is getting more attention in the community than it was
before. There were days when we had to struggle to get people to support the
foundation, but that is coming now. It is going to change. As far as my newspaper
business, the relationship of the university to that was really one of the first
breakthroughs. I attribute a lot of things that have happened here in this town to
the coming of that university. It changes the historical program. In the beginning
of the university, we had a little history department out there. A story by Bill
Coker, who was first among the first [historians who] got involved with [research]
and [the findings] culturally changed the community. From the very beginning, we
had an excellent library at UWF. Jim Servies, who came here from William and
Mary College developed just a great research library, almost from the beginning.
Great historical collections in those early years, which no one had ever done. So,
it changed us, and I was proud to be a part of the campaign that brought it here. I
was made editor in 1966, and I was in on the ground floor of writing editorials
about trying to get it finally finalized. Some had gone back several years, and
they had not been successful in that. It was originally perceived that they would
take Pensacola Junior College and expand it into a four-year school, and then
people like Reubin and others said that is not going to work; let us go for the
university. We had John C. Pace, who was probably one of the more affluent in
Pensacola, on the Board of Control. He said, let us [develop] a university. And
that is how it happened. It was a great breakthrough.
P: Discuss your role as a leader in the development of Pensacola's historic
preservation and how that has impacted the city.
B: When I first got into the news part of the business, first started as news editor
and then as editorial page editor, I [developed] an interest in history, and I saw
Pensacola as an old historic city with a lot of landmarks that were falling apart
and not recognized. I began to write about it and how we were missing out on
what could be perceived as tourism because we were not preserving what we
had here, an old 400-year-old city that had some Spanish and early American
landmarks that really needed [preservation]. I wrote so much about that, had so
many columns on Sunday about it, how the forts were deteriorated, and, finally,
the City Council decided that they wanted to do something about this. We had
discovered that the old Seville Square was Spanish and that we ought to try to
save that neighborhood. They appointed a historical advisory committee, and I
was the youngest guy on there. I was chairman of it. We started with that, and it
led to a survey being done of Pensacola to show that we had a lot of resources
that had not been developed. About a year later, that board was expanded, the
mayor took over, and it led to the creation of the Historic Pensacola Preservation
Board through the legislature, which we were able to get because of Claude Kirk.
He was the governor, and one of his chief allies was a fellow by the name of Pat
Dotson from Pensacola who served on the Regents and also was a Bicentennial
chairman. He died from cancer, unfortunately, several years ago. Pat was an
advertising executive with a lot of vision for the city, and we came up with the
idea of a preservation board modeled somewhat after St. Augustine and Vieux
Carre in New Orleans. We studied all of those. We went down into St. Augustine
and hired their director, stole him. His name was Earl Newton. Anyway, that is
how that started, that preservation board which came into being about the time of
the university. We came up with the Gulf Coast History and Humanities
Conference. I was working on that because that was going to bring scholars here
to look at our town, write books about us, and get us going. I served on that
charter board of Historic Preservation and I was the second chairman, but as an
editor, I thought I had to move on. You know, you cannot stay with everything, so
I went onto the board of trustees of PJC [Pensacola Junior College]. My good
friend Felton Harrison had become president and he said, I need you on the
board. The junior college board of trustees had just gone over from the little old
county [control] to an independent. So I served on [the PJC board] for three or
four years. In 1982, Bob Graham appointed me back to the [preservation] board
finally, and I was made chairman [that year]. I have been chairman ever since.
Part of my responsibility in that board is to serve on the architectural review
board. Two of us members of the board have to serve on it. I became chairman
of the architectural review board [in 1982] and have been chairman since. All
through the years, I served as president of the Historical Society for eight years, I
have raised them $500,000-1 did not myself, but I led the campaign to raise over
$500,000-to endow the Historical Society so they could survive. They were
depending on a little stipend from the city and county, and they did not have any
money. They were just struggling. Now, they have their own museum and their
own building. As a matter of fact, they have two buildings, and they were doing
very well. I was involved in all of that, and I wrote the history of Pensacola. I just
kept a lot about that in the front. I wrote a lot of editorials about the importance of
history and the city and news coverage of the bicentennial and the coming of the
150th Anniversary of Jackson bringing Florida into the Union]. We had a big
celebration here for that. [Then there] was the Galvez [Celebration in] 1981. I
was chosen chairman of that commission. We got $225,000 from the state and
put on another bicentennial, and we restored all these areas that pertained to the
Spanish, the park and everything. That was a lot of fun. We brought the H.M.S.
Bounty here from St. Pete for a week. Most of what we did was community
improvement projects. It was not fun-and-games in the streets. All of that, I have
just been close to it all through the years. I did not overuse the editorial voice of
the paper for the history, but every time I had the opportunity to write something
about the importance of history to this area, I did it, not because I would get any
monetary gain out of it, but because it is important to the character of this city.
Most of my early work, and the thing that I really the proudest of, my crowning
achievement as an editor, was Gulf Islands National Seashore. Now that was
really a fight. It was all part of the historical movement, in that Fort Pickens was
in terrible shape. Fort Barrancas had a fence around it because some kid had
gotten trapped in there and almost died. The Navy fenced it off. He almost died.
Pitiful. So, I began to write about that, the assets we were losing. We had started
here in the 1960s for the Civil War centennial. I started it, the Civil War
Roundtable of Pensacola. They were popping up all over the country, in Chicago
and New York. The one in Chicago had been going since 1939. I was taken with
that. Here was an intellectual study group. You know, you do not wave the flag;
you just listen to speakers. I started reviewing books for the paper-I am sort of a
Civil War buff anyway-and I began to write about how terrible Pickens was. Ed
Bearss, who is now a retired chief historian of the National Park Service, was a
chief historian at Vicksburg. He came here and spoke to our roundtable because
he had written three wonderful articles in the Florida Historical Quarterly, just a
detailed account of what occurred in Pensacola Harbor, the footnotes are longer
than the article. He had just really gone into it. I figured he knew, so he spoke
here and was a really nice man. I called him [in Vicksburg] one day and said, we
need a national park. I said, Ed, how do you go about getting a national park? He
said, well, it is not easy. He said, if you are talking about Pickens and Barrancas,
you are going to have all kinds of problems, in that the National Park Service has
more old masonry forts than they can maintained; Congress cannot give them
enough money to keep these forts up. But, he said, you have some of the best
beaches down there in the world. I said, are you talking about a National
Seashore? He said, yes, that might work. I started it. So I wrote an editorial,
about how we need to turn this into a national park. That came out [on a] Sunday
[and] Bob Sikes, our congressman, called me from Washington [the next week]
and said, I read your editorial and I like it, so I am putting a bill in. It started then.
The community liked the idea at first, thought it was wonderful, and then we had
the hardening of the opposition, mostly businesspeople and real-estate people,
people who did not like the federal government. Even the Chamber of Commerce
came out against us. I stayed right with it. We covered it thoroughly. I said, you
will give the opposition their say in the paper, and we finally won with the help of
many good people in this community, environmental groups, garden clubs,
university faculty, average people who thought we ought to have a national park
rather than just destroying our beaches with overbuilding. That was my proud
editorial campaign because it really was a campaign. I made speeches, and I
also wrote editorials, drew  cartoons. But we finally brought the people to
our side and won, and Sikes got the bill passed. It was signed by Nixon in 1971.
P: Talk about how Pensacola Junior College has served Pensacola and Escambia
as a different institution from the University of West Florida.
B: It is a very popular community college with a fairly high enrollment, both in
regular students and part-time students and adult students in the technical areas
and also liberal arts. A lot of people in this town have gone to PJC, and then they
have gone on to other universities. Many of them today go on to UWF. So, it has
served us well in recent years. It has grown to three campuses, one here, Milton
and a west Pensacola/Warrington area campus. The student enrollment
[exceeds] 20,000 [along] with the adult high school they have. Throughout the
growth of PJC, it has always been a source of supplying the workforce in this
area, particularly through its technical and vocational areas, nursing and dental
assistants and [other technicians], and, in early times, auto mechanics and the
vocations. So, it has a vital role [serving] the community well. Now, it is
perceived, probably, as a more community-friendly institution than UWF. UWF
has suffered through the years with problems of not being as close to the
community as it could be. Some of it has to do with its geographic location north
of the city. That is something that they are trying to change. Now, at one time, the
two presidents of PJC and UWF got together and said, why do we not just
merge, put them together, join them. They were shot down in Tallahassee
because, I think, the Board of Regents and the community college organization
did not want to see that happen.
P: Because they might start doing that everywhere, right?
B: Yes. So, there were efforts to put them together in a friendly way. At one time,
they thought they might convert PJC. As Reubin said, that would just become
another teachers' college [and the region] needed at the university. So, I think
jointly, they seem to do a lot of work together now. A lot of students I teach at
UWF come directly from PJC. So, they work in harmony fairly well. Being a
community that needs a workforce, a lot of businesses and engineering firms are
always looking to PJC to supply that. So, it fills that aspect, as well as senior
P: What are the benefits and the negative aspects to the relationship between the
community and the military, particularly the naval air station?
B: The benefit is that the Navy is a strong economic component to our community,
as well as cultural. They have been here a long time, as you know. The old Navy
Yard, since 1825, and the flying aspect in 1913, [continuing] today. The Navy is
steady. It is there. It is a government payroll that provided jobs all through the
Depression. It has always been there. We always had fears we might lose some
of it, as all communities do. It is a sophisticated Navy. It is all flying. It is not what
they call the deep water Navy, which has a reputation. Pilots marry girls from
here, you know, and we are known as the mother-in-law of the U.S. Navy. So,
the relationship is almost a love-in between the business or community and the
Navy. I always make the cynical remark that we love the United States Navy. We
love that federal dollar from the Navy. Then, the Congress will do something that
violates the rules of these old-time conservatives, and they get all bent out of
shape, but they do not mind having that Navy that brings the dollar here. It is that
almost hypocritical attitude that you find anywhere. You probably found it in
Charleston where that Congressman [L. Mendel Rivers] up there protected it so
long. But, that lovefest with it, I always said that Pensacolans love the United
States Navy and hate the federal government. I mean, not totally, but we do have
that attitude. What has happened is that the negative (if it could be perceived as
the negative) is that we have spent all our talent and energy and resources trying
to protect the Navy than the other aspects of legitimate organic growth of the
community, whether it be business and industry or culturally or educationally with
the university, we let that suffer, trying to protect the Navy. Some of that attitude
has changed in recent years. We finally realize, well, the Navy is there, but we
have an opportunity to be a tourist destination, if we work at it. We might be able
to recruit some high-tech industry here, if we work at it. That has changed. [I see
the Pensacola economy as] a three-legged stool. We have the military, tourism
and a small amount of industry, although that has diminished a lot. That is what
makes this town click. We no longer have the lumber element in our town. Our
port has diminished. Really, we are down now to mostly the flying [in]
Pensacola, Whiting Field in Milton and all these auxiliary fields around here. We
have civilian payroll out there [that] feeds this community. So, we have that love
relationship with the Navy, and it very well may have diminished our ability to
diversify our community through new enterprises.
P: Comment on some of the great journalists of your era, people whom you either
worked with or admired, not just in Pensacola but the whole state.
B: [One of] the old-timers in Florida I looked up to was Jim Clendenin in Tampa. I
modeled my editorial page operation sort of the way he did at the Tampa
Tribune. He was a good writer. He had a sense of Florida. The other one was
Malcolm Johnson in Tallahassee who was an old-time editor, kind of a legend.
He was Canadian-born and grew up in Jacksonville, but he had about as good a
sense of North Florida as anybody. He was a little older than I. He wrote a great
column. He was kind of a legend in Tallahassee. He was an AP reporter who
became, in his later years really, editor of the Tallahassee Democrat. He had a
sense of heritage and thought Tallahassee ought to be a green city. I was
coming along at the same time, and I thought that was the way we ought to go.
Those are two in Florida. Of course, I had great respect for John McMullen at the
Miami Herald. He had a great newspaper. John Walters in Jacksonville was a
good, dear friend. An LSU graduate, he was about as down-to-earth as anybody
I have ever seen. He edited a pretty good-size newspaper, and you could talk to
him. He just had a wonderful feel for people. The people on his staff were loyal to
him. Those are the ones who really meant a lot to me in Florida. Fred Pettijohn in
Tallahassee when I was a student. Fred was a great writer whom I did not know
well until I began to hang around the Democrat and do a little work for him, just
as a clerk.
P: He also started out in sports.
B: Right. He used to, as sports editor, write a poem. His whole column would be a
piece of poetry about a ball game that occurred the day before, or something to
do with the Gators. I was just intrigued with Fred's ability to do that very quickly.
He was a very personable, nice-looking man who had gone to the University of
Florida. Then, at a later period of his life, he wound up in Fort Lauderdale running
that operation, and everybody in Florida greatly admired Fred Pettijohn. So, he
would have to be one of my early models. I do not know anybody nationally. I
admire a lot of great writers who came out of the newspaper business.
P: Let me finish with one major question. What did you want most to accomplish in
your journalistic career when you began, and do you feel like you did so?
B: I indicated to you earlier that I wanted to put out the best newspaper in the region
of my birth, where I had grown up and loved. That was it, a real quality
newspaper. In a sense, during that period of thirty-one years as editor-in-chief of
the News Journal, I became, kind of, two people. I was an editor, and I was out in
the community. My publisher said, son-he used to call me that-you are an
excellent speaker; get out and lead this community; you can do it. I took him at
his word, not to go out and lead it, but to set forth principles and projects that I
thought were important to this region, to help put us on the map and help us a
grow, the seashore, historical program, university, downtown redevelopment,
bayfront redevelopment, modernizing the local government. All of those things, I
thought were important. I not only wrote about them, but I participated in them,
not in a political way. I never participated in any political operation at all, never
gave a dollar to any political campaign or anything like that. That was not the
issue. But I did serve on boards that were appointed by governors, to make
things happen. That is a little bit frowned upon today in the journalistic profession
in that you need to be standoffish a bit from these things, although attitudes
change from time to time. I was an active, hands-on, community-minded editor. I
hesitate to say what happens today, but I do not think you are going to find many
editors who do those kinds of things. They do not serve on committees or chair
boards, but I always thought that was important because it gave me a profile in
the community, it helped me understand the community, it gave me ideas to work
for as an editor. I was active. A lot of my younger colleagues would come along
and say I do not know about that, chief, I would rather stand off. I used to have
people work for me who would not even join the Rotary Club because they might
be accused of having a special interest or something. That never bothered me
because that really should not happen. Your service is for the community, not for
your own personal gain. I like to think that I achieved both to a certain extent, not
me totally, myself, but with a staff. I think we improved the paper. Also, I think
some of the things I have done really have improved the community, and I am
very proud of all of that. My name is on a building downtown. My name is on a
road on the beach of the National Seashore. I was given my honorary doctorate
by the University of West Florida for my writing and my work in the community.
You know, at least that attests to what Dizzy Dean [baseball player] said, if you
done it, it ain't bragging. That is the reason I mention those things. I think in a
sense, in my own estimation, both objectives to a point, because I did modernize
the Pensacola News Journal, changed the whole design of it, and added to the
staff. At the same time, I was able to get out into the community and do things
that actually became reality with the help of a lot of good people, providing that
kind of leadership. I will go back to what my old publisher said, get out and lead;
you can do it. Lead, I thought that was my role as an editor. Now, at first when
Gannett bought us, they saw a lot of this and they did not know about that, where
I was overly involved in the community and maybe not spending enough time in
the newsroom. But they were wrong. In the community was kind of after hours,
and it kind of worked. I am proud of that. I would not take anything for having
done it. I do not think I had many enemies at the end of my career. It has been
pretty hard. There were a lot of tough issues in this community through the years.
It was time to smell the roses and it was time to hit them over the head with a
sledgehammer, and I think we did both.
P: Let us end on that note. I want to thank you very much for your time.
[End of the interview.]