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Group Title: Herbert M. "Tippen" Davidson, Jr.
Title: Additional Files
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Series Title: Herbert M. "Tippen" Davidson, Jr.
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Full Text

Samuel Proctor Oral History Program
University of Florida


Interviewee: Tippen Davidson
Interviewer: Julian M. Pleasants
Date of Interview: November 15, 2000

Tippen Davidson
FNP 53

Tippen Davidson recounts his early years and background, followed by details on his grandfather's
purchase of the News-Journal on page 1. This is supplemented by the early years of newspapering
during the Florida land boom and subsequent Depression (page 2). He talks about his early
development as a newspaperman on page 3, as well as how the News-Journal diversified by
acquiring radio stations. Page 4 and 5 contains Mr. Davidson's thoughts on the use of technology in
the newspaper business, particularly with offset printing. Page 5 also contains specifics on the News-
Journal's expansion and resultant profitability (page 6).

Mr Davidson comments (on page 8) about the goals he set for himself upon becoming publisher and
how well he achieved those goals, particularly discussing the shift to morning news from a twice-
daily paper. Page 9-10 contains his thought about the differences between a family-owned paper and
a chain newspaper. Page 10 also has Mr. Davidson's reflections on being city editor, and page 11,
the News-Journal's influence on community issues, particularly the arts, and racial integration in the
1950s and 1960s (page 12). He also discusses the military's influence on Daytona Beach, as well as
the important functions of newspapers in general (page 13).

Mr. Davidson expresses his opinion on USA Today on page 14, and with regard to his own paper, the
change in readership over past decades (page 15). He talks about the changes in newspapers and the
challenges from different types of media on page 16, as well as how he deals with accuracy and
errors in news reporting (17-18). He shares his thoughts on how Daytona Beach has changed,
particularly with reference to crime and education (page 17-18) and later, with regard to Daytona
Beach's national image (page 30-31)

He elaborates on his belief on a newspaper's "moral obligation" on page 19-20, and dwells on his
paper's use of investigative journalism (20-21) and attempts to clean up city government (22). He
talks about his newspaper's procedures in dealing with letters to the editor (22), comic strips and
editorialist (25), obtaining more women and minorities on staff (28) and meetings and assignments
(26-27). He reflects on the election of 2000, both in Daytona Beach and statewide on page 23-24,
and articulates his opinions of former Florida Governors Reubin Askew, Claude Kirk and Bob
Graham. He also voices an opinion on the great journalists of his era, as well as the comparing of
Florida newspapers today (30-31).

Interested readers should also consult Mr. Davidson's opinion on the greatest contribution of his
paper (30), his take on unions at his paper (33) and his quoting of statistics for his newspaper sales,
as well as his feelings about his main competition in for newspaper readership in Daytona Beach



Mr. Davidson, currently the publisher of the Daytona News Journal, was born in

Chicago, Illinois on August 10, 1925. His grandfather, Julius Davidson, and father,

Herbert M. Davidson, jointly acquired the Daytona News Journalin December, 1928.

The paper was a small evening paper with a circulation of only 4,400. Davidson's

parents were both graduates of Columbia Journalism School. He attended the local

schools in Daytona, but did not work on the paper until he was in college.

Tippen attended the Juliard School of Music with the intention of becoming a

classically trained musician. He then married Josephine Field, gave up his career as a

musician and returned to Daytona Beach in 1947 to work as a reporter for his father. He

learned the business quickly and worked as city editor, managing editor, general

manager and in 1985, was named publisher and co-editor with his wife.

As of 2001, the Daytona Beach paper employs around 850 people and has a daily

circulation of approximately 100,000 with 119,000 on Sunday. It is, after the St.

Petersburg Times, the second largest independently owned newspaper in the state.


During his interview, Tippen Davidson talks about how his grandfather and parents

took over the newspaper and the difficult times they faced during the Depression. He

mentions his fathers' impact on the county's decision to go with voting machines and

signature verification to cut down on graft and corruption at the voting box. He also

FNP 53 Davidson page 2

explains that the paper was the first to go to offset printing, was innovative in its use of

color and constantly invested in the latest technology.

Mr. Davidson takes pride in the fact that the News Journal has managed to remain

independent despite many offers by chains to buy the paper. In discussing his career,

he fondly remembers the challenges of being city editor, "my idea of a really great job",

and delineates the paper's strong financial support for community activities- the

Daytona Playhouse, the new auditorium, the Museum of Photography, Stetson

University, Bethune-Cookman College, the Ormond Beach Museum and the bi-annual

visit of the London Symphony Orchestra. In addition, the paper gives a Medallion of

Excellence to the 30-40 outstanding seniors in the county's public schools.

Mr. Davidson makes insightful and often tart comments on USA Today;

environmental concerns; Bike Week and other events that draw tourists to the area;

letters to the editor; crime; Governors Reubin Askew and Bob Graham; the 2000

presidential campaign; comic strips; Jackie Robinson's integration of baseball; editorial

cartoons; and labor unions. Mr. Davidson contends that his newspaper is the

conscience of the community and did great service for the city by advocating

cooperation between the races during integration of the schools and also by improving

sanitation at local restaurants and opening hospital board meetings to the state

Sunshine Law.

Tippen Davidson was interviewed by Julian M. Pleasants on November 15, 2000 at

Daytona Beach, Florida.

FNP 53 Davidson page 3

P: Talk a little bit about your early background and your schooling.

D: My parents brought me here in 1928 when they came to manage the News

Journal. My grandfather and my father jointly acquired control of it and took possession

of it in December, 1928. I grew up here through the Depression. I am a product of local

schools and was underfoot at the newspaper all during my formative years. I did not

have anything actually active to do with the newspaper until after high school. While I

was in college, I worked in the newsroom in the summer. I was not intending to be a

newspaperman. I was intending to be a professional musician, so I was really just

making the most of a summer job. Then when I left school, I wanted to get married, so I

gave up the idea of being a professional musician and hit my old man up for a full-time

job and became a reporter here.

P: Explain why your grandfather bought this newspaper.

D: He bought it because my father wanted him to. My father was the newspaperman.

My father and my mother were both graduates of Columbia School of Journalism, both

great newspaper people. My grandfather was a businessman. His training was in the

import/export business.... My father always wanted to have his own newspaper, as

many newspapermen have. They looked around. They looked at papers in California

and New Mexico and other places, and then this one became available and they bought


P: Discuss the difficulties your father faced in the early years of the paper. During the

Depression, I suspect, it was difficult for everybody in Florida, since the Depression

here started a little bit ahead of the rest of the country.

D: Yes, actually, that little dip after the Florida boom. The bust of the Florida boom

FNP 53 Davidson page 4

was really responsible for the existence of the News Journal as it is today. The boom

shattered, leaving two small papers in Daytona Beach, the Journalin the morning, the

News in the afternoon, both in desperate straits. Somebody with money arrived, Mr.

Eugene C. Pullium... and he and a partner bought the two little papers and combined

them and proceeded to try to build them back.... During the boom, they [the two papers]

ran pages and pages... of full-page advertisements of the real-estate speculators, and

nobody ever thought of asking anyone to pay for anything. Their credit was good. Then

their credit suddenly was not good... and I think that both of the papers were really up

against it when Mr. Pullium arrived. At any rate, he acquired the properties and put

them together and... did succeed at putting it back on its feet. When my father and

grandfather showed up, it was a going concern, not a rich one, not a gold-mine, but a

going concern.... Of course, they had an excellent [year in] 1928, made money. That

was the last profit they saw until after World War II. It was pretty desperate.

P: How did they keep the paper going all that time?

D: They kept it going on that money that my grandfather made in the bulk-materials

business in the Midwest. He had a few hundred thousand dollars put away, and that

sufficed to keep them going. They had a competitor starting in 1933. The politicians

here convinced Mr. Robert Gore, the proprietor of the Fort Lauderdale Daily News, that

this was a fertile field and that there would be no trouble running us out of it. There was

a great deal of trouble running us out of it....

P: Discuss your early years on the paper as a reporter and how you developed your

skills as a newspaperman.

D: You have to understand that this was a newspaper family. My father and mother

FNP 53 Davidson page 5

both worked on the paper. My father was the editor, wrote the editorials, and when that

was done, he sat at the desk and served as news editor and, in fact, did everything in

the newsroom that needed doing with a very small staff of help. My mother was

everything else. She was the Sunday editor, the women's editor.... But newspaper was

talked incessantly at home. It just became a language. It became an atmosphere in

which I was included.... Along with everyone else who has ever learned to be a reporter,

I had to learn the rudiments. I was not given any special treatment by my mother, who

did most of the early training. She was tough, but fortunately I was brought up speaking

and writing pretty good English and I managed to survive.... My late wife took up

reporting,... she was absolutely delighted to find out there was a job in which the main

thing you did was stick your nose into other people's business. That was her idea of

heaven. She became an absolutely marvelous reporter. I mean, one of the great ones,

one of the intuitive ones.

P: One of the things I have noticed about this newspaper is that you have reinvested

money over and over again into new technology. Perhaps you could explain your

decision to go to offset-printing.

D: Yes, indeed. We were one of the first newspapers in the country to do that. We

started up.... the first four-plate wide press in a daily newspaper in the Southeast....

P: When did you go to color?

D: We went to color back in the letter-press days. As I told you, we were doing

processed color by curving the photo engravings and scotch-taping them to the blanks,

printing color that way. We had been doing color separations in this place since the

early 1960s.

FNP 53 Davidson page 6

P: Let me ask you about the expansion. You begin purchasing some weekly


D: Let me put these in order for you. We had an offer of a shopper in west Volusia

[County], the DeLand Pennysaver, a very well-run profitable shopper. The man came to

see me and said he would like to sell. He wanted to get out and write novels.... So we

met this man's price and took over the DeLand Pennysaver. It did well from the very

first.... At that time, we bought the Flagler Tribune from them [ Florida Times-Union]

... and the Halifax Reporter... We started the Palm Coast News, in competition with the

Tribune.... The Halifax Reporter... served no useful function at all, since it was not a

very good newspaper and did not carry that much advertising and was losing money.

So, we laid it to rest, but we took the little shopper... and put a little fertilizer and a little

water, and it has done fantastically well, the Daytona Pennysaver, and now that has

branched out and we have a Flagler Pennysaver as well.

P: How do the Pennysavers make money?

D: It is fairly profitable. It makes money very nicely. The problem, of course, is when

you own both the shopper and the daily is to find some arena of agreement that will

permit them to coexist, and we just have sort of a gentleman's agreement. We do not

knock each other. Everybody is free to do as he pleases. We do not destroy the value

of Pennysaver advertising, and they do not have anything to say about daily newspaper

advertising. We have gotten along fine. Both sides have been able to sell. The only part

of our operation that has perhaps been affected is liner-classifieds. The Pennysaver

does vacuum those up somewhat. To finish up the Pennysaver story, we started the

FNP 53 Davidson page 7

Pennysaverin New Smyrna Beach. That did not do well at first, [although] it is doing

fine now. We started a Pennysaverin St. Johns County, and that had a long period of

limping and it is doing fine now....

P: How many weekly papers do you now own?

D: That are not actually associated with The News-Journal itself, there are six little

weeklies. They are Daytona, Flagler, New Smyrna Beach, Deland, Palatka and the St.


P: Are all of those profitable?

D: Five of them are. The Putnam one [Palatka] is in and out, but we feel it is a

worthwhile property to hang onto.

P: Are those are run separately from the Daytona News-Journal?

D: Those are [a] completely] separate corporation... they are printed here, their

plates are made here and the technical computer stuff is all supervised from here, so

there is a good deal of interlock. But the staffing, the sales, the management and so on

is completely separate.

P: At one time, you owned a printing company. Is that still part of the corporation?

D: No. We had to close that. We were losing so much money at it that we closed it.

The loss, generally speaking, was because... we were doing all right in the printing

business, no great shakes, and I, the great businessman, employed a nationally-known

consultant to come in and advise us to what we should do.... They came down and

spent a week and charged us an arm and a leg and wrote us a report and told us

everything we should do. We did it, and it was all 100 percent wrong, equipment

selection, market selection, staffing, everything wrong, wrong, wrong! So, we got in

FNP 53 Davidson page 8

difficulties, and we finally closed down.

P: In 1985, you were named publisher and co-editor with your wife. Why co-editor?

Isn't that rather unusual?

D: Yes. That is a good question. I guess it was just that we thought I should have

some standing in the editorial part of the paper. I mean, having come out of the editorial

side of the paper.... I have always been a thorn in the side of the editorial department

whenever they split an infinitive. My being co-editor really meant that when she wanted

somebody to help her say no, she could call on me. That is essentially it. I have to tell

you that my home was just like my parents' home. A lot of newspaper got talked over

the dining room table, and witness the fact that both of my children are working here

now. My daughter has a graduate [journalism] degree from Columbia University,

following in her grandparents' footsteps, and my son is running the Internet part of it.

P: When you started as publisher in 1985, what were your goals, and do you feel, in

retrospect, you have met most of those goals?

D: I think so. We have a five-year plan and a ten-year plan and that kind of thing, but

essentially, our goal-planning is like a Persian carpet unrolled in front of you. We

planned some territorial expansion. Well, we have done that. Also, when I became

publisher, we had some cutting to do. We had some areas which were not working out,

and those had to be closed down. We have done that.... I had a complete newsroom to

build because we had gotten behind on pay scales and whatnot, and we needed some

frontrunners in the newsroom. We had a couple of years of intensive search and hiring

and building staff back. Then we needed to completely redesign the product. It was just

one thing after another. I cannot say I had any grand overall goals. We always looked

FNP 53 Davidson page 9

for the day when we averaged 100,000 in circulation. We have done that. The next one

is 200,000, and I will not be here for that....

P: Why did you eliminate the afternoon paper and move to just a morning paper?

D: It was for purely economic reasons. Remember that the afternoon paper was quite

a serious paper. It had its own staff, it had its own editorial page, it had its own areas of

distribution. It was costing money, and circulation descended from the 55,000 area

down to the 25,000 area. Advertising, also; people were just not buying the combination

anymore. For a long golden time, from the end of World War II on, very seldom did

anybody buy any single-paper advertising. We made the combination rate very

tempting, and people would just buy the combination rate [meaning the advertising ran

in both the morning and afternoon paper]. It got to the point where people would say,

well, I know it is only 20 percent more, but I am going to save my money and spend it

on inches. So, the advertising in the Evening News went way, way, way down, and it

was quite obvious we were losing money on it, as well as readership. It just came to the

point where we had to make a decision. It was a tough decision. All hands cried a lot. A

lot of the people around had come up through the afternoon paper, me [too]. I started

as city editor of the afternoon paper. But we made a business study, and like every

good business study, it says what happens if you do and what happens if you do not.

What happens if you do was so much more promising than if you do not that we

decided to go ahead.

P: Explain how this newspaper has remained a family owned newspaper, when

practically every other newspaper is owned by a conglomerate like Knight-Ridder or


FNP 53 Davidson page 10

D: It has to do with a trick you do with your head. You move it gently from left to right

and back, like that [as in shaking his head to refuse a buy-out offer]. A week does not

go by that somebody flies by with an offer. There has never been any drop in people's

interest in acquiring this paper. We have a big chain minority here. The minority stock is

owned by Cox, and it is a large minority. We are very fortunate it has been Cox

because they have been good partners ever since they came aboard. When John Perry

owned the minority, he had buzzards flying around this place, trying to trick us into

selling the stock or get us in the position where we would be forced to sell the stock. It

was a relief when the Cox people took it because they became good working partners

and have remained good working partners.

P: Do they have much influence on your editorial decisions or running the paper?

D: No, no influence whatsoever, nor do they seek any. Such influences they may

have has been to help us. There was a special rate on the Cox wire. When they were

negotiating low prices of newsprint, they just included us in....

P: How would this paper change if it were taken over by, let us say, Knight-Ridder?

D: I have no idea. I am sure they would cut the expenses pretty drastically. This

paper is heavily involved in the community. It gives away a lot of money. It gives away a

lot of time and attention to community things. We not only countenance but encourage

staff to participate in community things.... I feel sure they [a chain publisher] would not

do it as much as we do, anyway.

P: They would be more interested in the bottom-line.

D: Yes. But it is not their habit to do this kind of thing even in cases where the bottom

line is not affected, as, for example, employee participation in community affairs....

FNP 53 Davidson page 11

P: Discuss your days as a city editor. What is the most difficult job of a city editor?

D: City editor is my natural home. It is the best job on the paper, the most fun, the

most excitement, the most challenge. You have to know the city, geographically and

personally, like the back of your hand. You have to have a sense about what is going

on. You have to understand the movers and shakers and just who they move and

where they shake. You have to have your staff deployed in such a way that things do

not escape you. You have a constant problem, especially on an afternoon paper, which

is what I was doing, with the clock. I just enjoyed it.... Every day was better than the


P: There would be a tremendous amount of pressure, I would imagine.

D: Yes. Thrived on it. I thought it was great. I am not sure at my age now if I could

take the pressure.

P: I would like for you to talk about some of the issues that the paper has been

involved with. For example, the paper has supported the annual music festival and has

brought the London Symphony Orchestra [LSO] here and you have supported the

Playhouse and the new auditorium....

D: Having an orchestra like the LSO here every year was a feather in the town's

cap.... The community has really rallied around this magnificently. [The] News-Journal

has not been heavily involved,... we are just... one of the contributors.... The community

raises this enormous sum of money, one million dollars, every other year to bring the

orchestra. We support all the arts.... We also support the museums, the Museum of

Photography at the college, the Ormond Beach Museum. We have a... list [that] fills up

an entire page in eight point with the names of all the charities to which we have given.

FNP 53 Davidson page 12

Small gifts and large. We support Stetson University in a meaningful way and also

Bethune-Cookman College.

P: Discuss your relationship with Mary McLeod Bethune [African-American education

leader, political activist and founder of the college that bears her name].

D: I did not have any relationship with Mary McLeod Bethune except that she once

stepped on me when I was a little kid. I walked in front of her, and she bumped into me.

She was a personal friend of my mother's, turned to my mother for advice.... [M]y father

was on the Bethune-Cookman board. He was a very strong advocate of Bethune-

Cookman College and the work she was doing. Helped them tremendously when they

had Mrs. [Eleanor] Roosevelt here. I remember that, and I was just a child....

P: Did the paper take a position on Jackie Robinson's attempt to integrate baseball?

D: Oh yes. That is an interesting story. Bernard Kahn, our wonderful sports editor,

was practically Robinson's PR [public relations manager]. He wrote stories, and

because he had many friends in the sportswriting business, he tipped off a lot of people

to come and talk to Robinson. He was heavily supportive of Robinson. He was one of

Robinson's pals when Robinson was first here. You can say that we had a hand in

Robinson's success, mostly because of this one sportswriter.

P: Was there a strong negative public reaction to the integration of professional

baseball in Daytona Beach?

D: No, there was not strong public reaction. I have to tell you this about the

community. My father always did interracial work, not only Bethune-Cookman but he

was [also] the director of the Southern Leadership Conference and was considered a

leader in interracial work. [He] hosted and chaired many interracial activities in the

FNP 53 Davidson page 13

community, with the result that, at times of crisis, for example, when the school

integration became the rule of law, the day came when the courts ruled that the

schools had to be integrated,... the schools in Volusia County were integrated without a

murmur. The buses ran and the new kids showed up. They did not even have a

playground fight in Volusia County because the principals had been so thoroughly

briefed and had briefed their staffs and had briefed the student bodies as to what was

going to happen and what they could expect. Everything went smoothly. In St.

Augustine, they had riots on the same thing. Again, the rule was passed that hotels

could no longer discriminate. That was a huge relief to Daytona Beach because the

hotels here had not discriminated for years. They quietly took black business, and they

lost, sometimes, a convention or something because somebody would go in a motel

and see a black guest.... The difference between us and the counties to the north and

to the west is striking in terms of the peaceful way in which these integration

movements took place. I am very proud of that. Of all the things that he did, I think

maybe that is the greatest.

P: Was there any backlash in terms of advertising?

D: Our community had come to recognize us as hopeless radicals. There was not

any backlash.

P: But this is still considered in political terms, a liberal newspaper, correct?

D: Yes, unashamedly.

P: Another important development was the increase in the military stationed in

Daytona Beach in World War II. There were a lot of WACs [Women's Army Corps]

stationed here... and a naval base. How did that change Daytona Beach?

FNP 53 Davidson page 14

D: Kept it from starving to death. Claude Pepper [U. S. Senator, D-Florida] was the

fellow who wangled the WACs for Daytona Beach because my father told him that the

town was going to dry up and blow into the ocean. It was a little winter tourist town, and

what was going to happen to tourism during the war was, it was not going to exist. So,

we got the WACs and the NAS [Naval Air Station], and when the WACs were finished,

an army convalescent hospital....

P: What do you think are the most important functions of a newspaper today, and


D: ...I do not think the newspaper's function, which is to inform the public, has

changed a bit. It is still the only function we have. We do it a little differently in the light

of our electronic competitors. We are more thorough, and maybe we are a little less

hooh-ha than we would be if we did not have this competition.... But we cover so much

news that the broadcast people do not cover. You know, like twenty, thirty stories to

one, daily, every day. We do a really thorough job of informing our public, as the very

best we can.... Our job is to do the best we can to note the sparrow's fall in our area. No

one can be God, but we have to try to do the best we can....

P: What is your view of USA TODAY?

D: ... I will tell you, I think it is a brilliant idea. The idea has perhaps the most imitated

thing in the last ten years.... Every newspaper has some USA TODAYideas in it. From

that standpoint, from the design standpoint, from the mass-production standpoint, the

way it is mass-produced all over the country, [it is] admirable in every way. My objection

to it is that in doing this, they have made it a little vapid, a little uninteresting.... It has

been pre-digested like these patent cereals that have no taste at all anymore. They

FNP 53 Davidson page 15

have been ground and re-ground so many times. USA TODAYis so good in so many

ways that it is a shame it cannot have a little flavor....

P: How has your audience changed over the years, your readers?

D: The town has become increasingly retired. The average age is getting older. For a

newspaper, that is probably a good thing, because even as they curse us for being so

liberal, they renew their subscriptions. They do need their newspapers, use their

newspapers, respond to their newspapers, which is very gratifying. We have the same

readership pattern as every paper in the country, the dip in the eighteen-to-twenty-fives

and the mysterious rise in the twenty-five-to-thirty-eights, as though people got to the

age of twenty-five and starting reading newspapers. It must be.... And then the fairly

satisfactory readership figures when you get to forty-five-and-up.... The newspaper

evidently is a tool of maturing people.

P: Do you think the readers are less sophisticated? Do they read for television

listings or ads or sports? Is there a reader who concentrates on news and editorials?

D: Oh yes. There is a reader who concentrates on news. There is no question about

that. What is more, there are readers who concentrate on local news. Our paper is

highly local. It is our life-blood. We got the Orlando Sentinel as a competitor to the west,

[with] more pages, more sports, more color, more this, more that. People take our

paper because we run their socks off on local news....

P: Do you see an end to printed newspapers? Will people get their news off the


D: No, I do not think so. I tell you what, I see... a possible end to printed newspapers.

When the large advertisers lose confidence in us and stop using us, we will fold. It

FNP 53 Davidson page 16

cannot live without advertising.

P: But you do not see that anytime in the near future?

D: I have not noticed any trace of it so far. Certainly, some types of advertising have

exited the papers, groceries. I have a Thursday food section that has no food

advertising, not a line....

P: How would you rank this paper in comparison with other papers in the state?

D: I have to say it is the best. This paper, in doing its duty, which is reporting the

news of its area, it is the equal of anybody. I think it is very good. Otherwise, I would say

the paper is well in line with its size. It is ninth or tenth in circulation in the state. I would

say that it is excellent for its rank....

P: What makes an outstanding newspaper?

D: I guess good news coverage and some sort of sense of honesty. This package

goes together. You have to have a certain amount of moral standards to do this job. It is

not like selling peanuts in the park. You buy the peanuts from a wholesaler for $0.50,

and you sell them for $1.00. It does not require any morals to do that. It takes a certain

amount of moral energy to keep this engine going. One has to think it is worth doing.

One has to have a sense of accomplishment and a sense of duty in order to really

make a newspaper valuable to its community....

P: One other standard might be accuracy. Do you believe that newspaper reporters

and newspapers today are less accurate in reporting the news than they used to be?

D: In some ways, but most of the inaccuracies are technological ones.... Most

reporters, I hope, when they actually understand what is going on, are as accurate as it

is humanly possible to be. I know my people care a great deal about it....

FNP 53 Davidson page 17

P: What happens when you do make a significant error? How do you correct it, and

where in the paper is it corrected?

D: It depends on the nature of the error and to an extent whose ox is gored. We try to

make corrections at least as noticeable as the errors, and we always try to explain what

happened, and we always apologize....

P: When you look at Florida in general, and I realize you concentrate on local news,

but in your fifty years, how would you evaluate the changes that the state and Daytona

Beach has undergone?...

D: ...Everybody has grown, grown, grown. Everybody. Go to places that were

crossroads, and they are metropolises. Fly over to Naples sometime. Fly over those

acres of new housing. Miles of it. Unbelievable. One of my innovations as the general

manager was to buy an airplane for the company and arrange to have a pilot.... We

used it to fly people to and from football games, the reporters and photographers, and

used it for business trips and sales trips....

P: You mentioned that Daytona Beach has changed. The population is older. How

else has it changed, in terms of the environment, in terms of crime, in terms of


D: I should say we are a little better than average here with respect to the

environment. There is a lot of environmental consciousness. Of course, there are

always... developers, and there is a constant conflict,...but you are speaking to the

editor of a paper in a county which has just passed an eighty million dollar bond issue

for buying endangered lands and protecting the watershed, with our enthusiastic

approval, of course.... It passed by a 62 percent vote, of which we are very proud....

FNP 53 Davidson page 18

Crime, we had a bad few years here when we were having early motorcycle

troubles.... But actually, the last two or three years, the violent crime statistics have

been going down. There is still too much violence here. A lot of it comes out of this so-

called event tourism that we have, where thousands of people come to the town for the

weekend [like] at this thing Biketoberfest, a weekend without an event. It is an invitation

to all the motorcycle people to come to Daytona Beach and raise hell. Four people were

killed in three days in motorcycle accidents. To that extent, violence is unchecked [but[

violent crime is better.

Now, education. We have been very, very fortunate in this county. We have had a

very determined and enlightened school board for a good long period of time and three

very good school superintendents in a row, all... different in outlook and different in

method, but all determined to improve the quality of the schools. I would say our school

system is pretty good. It is not world-shaking. We did for some reason have some

schools that did not quite pass the recent tests, schools [in which] I know very excellent

work is being done. Schools are one of my enthusiasm, and I keep an eye on this part

of it.... The newspaper, by the way, is a big booster of public schools. We give an

award, called the Medallion of Excellence, every year to those seniors in the public

schools, the public schools only, who show remarkable excellence. We invite them to

apply. We put out a poster and applications ... and they do apply, through their

principals. Their principals recommend them, and then we have a really bad day and a

half when we have to go over the several hundred really terrific applications and choose

thirty or forty.... Then we give it a big play in the paper, and that is a big boost to public

education because it shows the quality, fabulous quality, of youngsters who come out of

FNP 53 Davidson page 19

the public school system....

P: Let me go back to something you said earlier that intrigued me. You mentioned

that, in running the paper, you have a moral obligation to the community and that the

newspaper was the conscience of the community. Could you give me a specific

example of that?

D: I think the things I told you earlier about the way the community responded by its

actions on integration. The newspaper's insistence that it was the community's duty to

obey the law was the voice of conscience reminding the community what the law was.

That was why, when push came to shove, the people in this community obeyed the law.

That is what I mean by the conscience of the community. It is a lot more than just

sticking your nose into public accounting and catching shortages at the dog pound and

that type of thing. It means that the editorial board [and] the editorial board supervisor

have to be conscious of what is going on in the community and whether it is beneficial

or not. We have to comment, and we do comment. It is our stated policy to keep

comment as heavily positive as we can, to push rather than pull, to use the old phrase.

P: Do you do a lot of investigative journalism?

D: Sure.

P: What would be some of your more successful investigations?

D: Successful? We did a shocker a couple of years ago that resulted in a shakeup of

the way restaurant sanitation is handled in this community. Restaurant sanitation used

to be handled by the department of public [health], the county health officer and his

people. Now it is done by the state. The county health officer has no power to do it

anymore, and the state, we found, has not closed a restaurant in years and years and

FNP 53 Davidson page 20

years. Some of the ratings were awful. We went and visited the restaurants, and they

were [makes fainting sound], but they never got them closed. So we ran an expose on

that and made every restaurant in town sore at us. Lost a lot of restaurant advertising. I

think it did some good because I think people went to these restaurants and said, you

better clean up because until we see that A [superior health rating] on the window, we

are not coming back. I think that is an example of the kind of thing that we can do.

We are suddenly and explosively interfering when it comes to violations of the

Sunshine Law, so investigative reporting has been carried out in the sunshine around

here for a long time. We carried out a case against our hospital, carried it all the way to

the Supreme Court twice, in order to force our public hospital to open its board

meetings. They were having token meetings in the sunshine and then doing everything

else privately, so we called them on it, brought the suit. They defended the suit, [and]

they lost. They lost all the way up to the Supreme Court. Now, we have a lot of hospital

board meetings open....

P: How often would you have subscribers cancel the paper or advertisers cancel

because of a stand you took, an editorial you wrote?

D: Not more than two or three times a day. Right in the center of election time, we got

a lot of stir. Canceled, a handful, six or eight. Letters and telephone calls, just

incessant. Dear Ann [Larson, Davidson's administrative assistant] gets most of the

brunt out there. She picks up the phone carefully to see what flames are steaming out

of the receiver.

P: Well, if you did not get any complaints, you figure you would not be doing your job,


FNP 53 Davidson page 21

D: That is right.

P: But advertisers would not cancel?

D: I have not had any problems of that kind in many, many years, and then it was a

personal thing, an officeholder whom we opposed for re-election pulled his advertising

when we opposed him. It was not a very large amount of money, and we thought to

ourselves, well, it is too bad because he needs the advertising to keep his business

going. But those breaches often are healed within a matter of weeks after they take


Mrs. Kaney and I both answer a lot of complaining mail, and we find that if we write

a person back and say, well, we disagree but this is how we arrived at our conclusion,

and that we would like to hear how you arrived at your conclusion, and please stay with

us because thinking readers are our most important possession... I have turned away

an awful lot of wrath with letters of that kind- ...thank you for your dissent, it keeps us on

our toes. I have to write pretty often to defend our editorial practices, which are strictly

ethical. I have to defend the work of the editorial board and our practice of endorsing

political candidates.... The standard defense is that we have the chance to put these

people on the griddle and talk to them, explore not only their campaign promises and

their appearance, but also the way their greedy little minds work. This is a chance that a

voter seldom has. When we endorse somebody, we have looked at him pretty closely.

Occasionally, that argument will turn away wrath from somebody who is objecting to an

endorsement. Not often. That is where the pie is thinnest and the skin is sorest, when it

comes to your political spaces.

P: Do you get many letters to the editor and will you publish unsigned letters?

FNP 53 Davidson page 22

D: We never would publish unsigned letters. We always required identification of the

writer. In my father's day, we permitted people to use pseudonyms, provided they gave

us their real name and address. In my time about ten years ago, we quit doing that. We

just said, okay, if you have something to say, sign your name to it. We do not give out

letter writers' addresses except the city. That seems to please the readers. We have

more readers than we can say grace over, and readers' editorials, certainly no


P: How have letters to the editor changed over the years?

D: They are all signed now, [and] ... it is my impression that we do not get nearly as

much hate mail as we used to. We used to get stacks of it. As a matter of fact, we had

a file, a box at the back of a file drawer, which was called the nut hoard, we would drop

these letters in. Every once in awhile, the FBI guy would come by and ask to have a

look, and once in awhile, he would find a familiar face, a familiar typewriter or

something in there. I think we still have the nut hoard, but I do not know how full it is. I

hope we are not becoming less exciting.

P: Do you think when you recommend candidates and issues that the readers

respond favorably?

D: They obviously do. Our endorsement is worth a chunk at the polls....

P: I saw the editorial in the paper today about the Florida Secretary of State,

Katherine Harris. What is your general assessment of the vote counting [for the

November 2000 presidential election. This interview took place on November 15, 200,

in the middle of the recount issues in Florida] in Volusia County?

D: In this particular election, it was excellent. The mechanism that we have now,

FNP 53 Davidson page 23

which is a fairly sophisticated electronic mechanism, worked very well, is understood

and trusted by the public. That did not prevent our elections office in De Land from

making a bunch of stupid errors, losing ballots and you saw it all. I think this is just loose

management. Certainly, we are not in any of the desperate trouble that they are in West

Palm Beach with that strange ballot. In one, they have many tens of thousands of

wasted ballots and people who punched twice. If you punch twice on our system

[optical scan], the collector and the tabulator in the precinct will spit the ballot out and

say this is not a legal ballot. Then the elections board points out the error to the voter

before he can move, and he has the privilege of having a fresh ballot if he wants it. That

saves a lot of trouble. We could not get into the kind of thing they had in West Palm

Beach with that chad [the slip of paper remaining when a ballot is only half-punched]

and whatnot. We had that for two years, in two elections, drove everybody insane....

P: Is it possible to recount all the votes in Florida?

D: Sure. Somebody said the other day on how long it would take, about eleven days I

think it was. An objective that we seek in designing a better election system should be

the truth. We really want to know how people voted. This Democratic bias or

Republican bias, the motives of Mr. [Ralph] Nader [consumer advocate and Green

Party presidential candidate in 2000], all of those things are secondary. We have to

have a system which will create a truth, a dependable truth. I think that one of the

penalties of this whole presidential election nationally is going to be an erosion of public

confidence in the electing process. I hope that will help people swallow the cost of

FNP 53 Davidson page 24

modernizing their vote-collecting systems....

P: How do you choose your syndicated columnists?

D: Well, we look for a variety of outlook and a variety of style. Syndicated columnists

tend to run around like scared ponies, all in the same direction. We try to find some

who will not shift that way, who will write about different things. Our mainstays are the

best in the business, people like David Broder, and Molly Ivins for laughs.

P: What about comic strips? Who chooses those, and what part do they play in the


D: I do not know what part they play. They amuse everybody and create a

considerable amount of contention.... I like to have a certain amount of sophistication. I

like to... carry the popular things, and we do. I also like having a couple of sophisticated

ones to keep the people who like that sort of thing from being bored.

P: Do you mean like Doonesbury?

D: Well, yes. Doonesbury, of course. A lot of people read Doonesbury....

P: I notice you have an in-house editorial cartoonist, and I looked at his editorial

cartoon today, which I thought was quite good. What is his basic purpose, and do you

tell him what to do or approve what he does?

D: He uses the old classic format. His purpose, of course, is to give us a chance at

cartoons on local area and Florida subjects which we cannot get from the syndicate.

But he does national subjects as well. He comes to the morning editorial meeting with

three ideas, which are passed around, and they sort of agree. He has a favorite. Almost

FNP 53 Davidson page 25

always that is the one they agree on. With supervision of the editorial page editor and

the executive editors at that meeting, too, and the news editor, they sort of agree on

one. Then he goes back and inks it. If we like two of them, we may give him a day off

the next day and run the second one....

P: How do you decide main stories, headlines?

D: ... There is a preliminary editorial conference at 11:00 in the morning and another

one at 4:00. That is when the paper is laid out and the space allocated and the bad

news about... circulation department problems and whatnot is passed out, and then

each of the interest editors has a chance to speak up for his requirements and what is

coming up [in the] world, what is coming up nationally, what is coming [up] local.... That

is a newsroom conference.... [T]he editorial writers meet at 10:00 every morning to talk

about what they want to write about. Matters of policy, generally. That is under the

supervision of the editorial page editor.... Writers come in with their own ideas. If you

come in with an idea and defend it with the others and they approve, then you write it.

There is no question about that.... The editorial writers generally, in a vague sort of way,

develop areas of interest and expertise. One person finds himself doing more of the

foreign ones and national ones, and then another finds that he is concentrating on De

Land.... We let those things happen naturally, let the editorial writers sort of find their

own sea legs....

P: Do you use a lot of local columnists?

D: As many as I can.... We have an old- timer. She is not so old, but she has been

FNP 53 Davidson page 26

with us a long time on the desk.... As a little girl, she was a cracker kid running around

barefoot and half-naked. She has an interesting local point of view, and she does

columns about what it was like in the old days. We had a most marvelous [columnist],

rest his soul, John Carter. Referred to himself as the jug-eared kid and wrote an

absolutely marvelous column about cracker Florida, with a lot of humor in it....

P: Explain how the role of women in newspapers has changed. Obviously in your

case, there was a female co-editor at a very early time, but what about the role of other

women in the newspaper?

D: Since World War II, if you are talking about reporters and editors, they have

expanded from a limited range of things to an unlimited range of things. There is not

anything that women do not do around here. Nothing. I even have a lady sportswriter,

and she is tops.

P: How have you encouraged minority participation?

D: All I could. They are hard to get. You find that you get a talented kid... but most of

the really talented ones will find themselves on the Atlanta Constitution, or some[place]

like that, for twice what I can pay them....

P: How would you evaluate Reubin Askew as a governor [1971-1979]?

D: I thought he was okay, very good. He knew his own mind and was a very moral

person... In those days, he was not highly sophisticated; [he is] much more so now. But

it is nice to have somebody in the governor's mansion whom you feel is really honest

and really a good person.

FNP 53 Davidson page 27

P: Your views of Bob Graham.{Governor, 1979-1987, U.S. Senator, 1987-present]

D: Bob Graham is a person I like very much, personally.... It is so hard to judge.

Certainly, his heart is in the right place. He did a good job as governor. It is hard to

judge a Florida governor on the basis of performance, because his performance is so

hedged in by the antique cabinet system.... I think Graham has showed up well in

Washington, too. I think he is an intelligent senator. Lawton Chiles was an enthusiasm

of mine from the first. He was a remarkable, remarkable man. Not un-flawed, but a

remarkable man.

P: When you look at the history of this paper, you in some ways already discussed

this, but I would like for you to focus once again on your greatest contribution to your

community. You talked about integration, but I am sure there are other areas where you

feel you made a significant impact.

D: There are a number of things that we have interfered in. I think my father's major

role in bringing voting machines in to this county, and then fifteen years later, was it, we

got the signature recognition. In promoting that, that certainly had a profound influence

on local politics. The signature recognition, we finally got it where they cannot vote the

graveyard, they cannot steal the election. When my father came here, there was one

precinct down in New Smyrna Beach that always came up with enough votes to carry

the county for the County Ring candidates, the De Land political ring, even if it was

more votes than there were registered there. The election machinery at least is keeping

it honest; pretty well stamped [voter fraud] out. I do not know, maybe there is a new

FNP 53 Davidson page 28

technique of diddling with ballots in Deland. But as far as the precincts are concerned, it

is fairly hard to do the kinds of things that were done in those days...

P: One of the images of Daytona Beach in the past has been sex, sand and suds. Do

you want to change that?

D: Oh desperately. Terrible, terrible image. The event mentality which hinders the

entire working life of the tourist community on bike week and motorcycle races and

spring breaks and auto races and that kind of thing, huge crowds which come and go...

I am talking about the big events that bring in people in the six figures, leaving] a sea of

trash and broken hearts behind them. A segment of the motel industry thinks this is the

way to live. They do not care how badly their hotels are torn up. The insurance

company pays for that. Our city council is getting to be very irritated about this. The bill

they got for cleaning up Biketoberfest has come... to several hundred thousand dollars

worth of damages and garbage collection and the biggest mess you ever saw. Some

people are getting disenchanted with this. That is one reason that we have worked so

hard on cultural things. They serve as a kind of counterbalance for that, and quality of

life things serve to persuade a different type of person to migrate here to live. It is a

continual argument that goes on between the event people and the non-event people.

P: The events provide a mass infusion of money into the community, but the cost of

police overtime and all that makes it much more problematic, does it not?

D: Yes, so the city says. They are now pointing out that these two-day events with

the disaster figures in the $200,000 or $300,000 level are hardly worth doing, as far as

FNP 53 Davidson page 29

the city is concerned. The city gets very little, cannot charge admission, and gets a bill

for $230,000 or whatever Biketoberfest cost them....

P: Other than your newspaper, what would be the best newspapers in Florida?

D: I think it has to be St. Pete [Times] haute concours.[highest contest- best in a

public competition] I do not see anybody else... in the picture. There are some other

people doing pretty good work. Sarasota is doing some good things. FLORIDA TODAY

does some good work. I guess if I had to pick a second paper after St. Pete, probably

West Palm Beach [Palm Beach Post]. That is a pretty good newspaper. I do not think

the others are outstanding. I think the wonderful Miami Herald of twenty years ago is

now just a ghost of itself....

P: Is the tendency of newspapers, then, toward the Miami Herald which is owned by

a chain, rather than the independent St. Pete Times?

D: You are only going to have a St. Pete Times when you have a management which

is really trying to do something.... It is hard when you have a chain which is handed over

to a CPA [Certified Public Accountant] to run. It is hard for him. The whole idea of

spending money on improving news coverage, spending raw money to add sports

pages and add local pages and that kind of thing, just waste, production waste. He is

brought up to make widgets square and no rounded corners, so a lot of things that have

happened to a lot of the [newspaper] chains are perfectly logical from the business

standpoint. You make them all as alike as peas....

P: Have you ever had any difficulty with unions?

FNP 53 Davidson page 30

D: I had unions for a considerable period of time. I have had some difficulties with

unions. No one has unions without some difficulty. But I would say that our union

relations have been peaceful and constructive, largely, even when we had the

typographical union and they were rambunctious. They were always susceptible to the

argument that we were in it together. My father, who dealt with them in the early stages,

and I later, always took the attitude that whatever they asked for that we could give

them, we would give them without argument, and that they were entitled to a share of

what we made, what we were. So that was a little bit disarming for some of these guys

who came in with their fangs bared. The only one I was never able to figure out was the

Guild. They are so aggressive and so abusive. We had an awful time with them. It only

lasted thirteen months. Employees voted them out.

P: Is there anything that we have not discussed or I have not asked that you would

like to comment on?

D: We covered a wide field. No, I do not think so. I think it is most interesting that we

will hear this kind of narrative from every paper in the state. That will be interesting. I will

be interested to know what some of my colleagues say, and I will be interested in other

cases to know what excuses they have for what it is they put out.


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