Interviewee: Anne Saul
Interviewer: Jean Chance
Date: August 7, 2001
C: We are in Washington. Actually, we are across the river, across the Potomac.
We are at the Gannett Corporate Headquarters. The interviewee is Anne Saul.
Anne Saul is a graduate of the University of Florida. She received her B. S. in
journalism from the College of Journalism in 1966. Anne, let us start with the
basics of good reporting. Would you please spell correctly, for the record, your
S: Anne Saul.
C: Let us back up a minute and be sure that we are getting the right level of
information and that we are getting this all on tape correctly. Could you give a
brief summary of what brought you to the University of Florida?
S: I was attending college in Virginia, Lynchburg College, my first two years. In my
sophomore year, I took a class in copyediting. It was taught by my freshman
English teacher, whom I really liked. I am not quite sure why I took copyediting,
other than she was teaching it, and I really had never thought about going into
journalism. I had thought about the University of Florida, because I went to high
school in Florida in Jacksonville, but I had not thought about majoring in
[journalism]. In fact, I had started out majoring in chemistry, and then I switched
to French. So, I take this copyediting class, and then all of a sudden I decide,
gee, this is kind of fun; maybe what I want to do is to go into journalism, and
Lynchburg College did not have a journalism school. But the University of Florida
obviously did, and I knew that, plus I was familiar with the University since I had
been down there. So, I applied and transferred in upper division.
C: Before the Lynchburg College experience, what had you thought you would do as
S: Initially, I thought I would go into medical technology, and I think that probably
happened because my father was a doctor, and I found out that I really hated
chemistry. I liked the lab part, it was like cookbook stuff, but the theory was just
awful. In the meantime, I was taking French, and I had a wonderful French
teacher at Lynchburg. I was really learning French very well, and I always liked to
travel because I had lived in different countries anyway. I thought I would maybe
be an interpreter or something like that. But my second-year French teacher was
terrible, and I did not have any choice. It is amazing the influence that teachers
have on you in terms of what you decide to do with the rest of your life. But it was
pretty clear to me, when you consider the changes that I made in my major, that I
was totally clueless, but I was eighteen years of age, and how many of us know
at eighteen what we want to do the rest of our lives?
C: Also, at that particular juncture, this was not necessarily a time where women
were necessarily being urged, by families, by friends, by society, to seek careers
as much as it was, well, you are preparing for marriage, and you will be a good
wife and mother. Did you have that influence on your life at all?
S: No. My father's goal in life was to educate his three children, and I was the
oldest, and have us leave home and support ourselves. No. My mother stayed at
home when we were younger, and then she went back to work later on.
C: What was her field?
S: When we were living in Ireland, she initially had worked in accounting. It was a
clerical kind of job, I guess, in a bank. She later started selling real estate, after
we finished school, after we got older.
C: When did you live in Ireland?
S: Well, I was born in England, and I lived between England and Ireland until I was
C: Was your father in the military?
S: No, he was an Irish citizen. Both my parents are Irish, and he was actually
practicing medicine over there. They have socialized medicine, and what he told
me was that it was so difficult to practice medicine under those circumstances
where you would go into the office everyday and have forty patients you had to
see, and you really did not feel like you could do them justice. So he decided that
he wanted to come over. I do not know whether he wanted to initially come to the
States or not, but what he did was he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force
because he had a wife and three kids, and the Air Force paid our way over. So,
we lived in Canada for six years, and he ran a small base hospital in southern
Ontario. Then he decided that he wanted to do a residency and pathology, and
that is when we came to the States. So, I guess we sort of snuck in the back
C: Did he come to Virginia directly?
S: No, Baltimore. Initially, we were in Baltimore for a year. Then we went to Florida,
C: Did you have early schooling in England and Ireland?
S: England and Ireland, and I was eight when we came to Canada. I was in Canada
through the ninth grade, and then I was in tenth grade in Baltimore, eleventh and
twelfth grades in Jacksonville. Then I worked a year after high school. I had
skipped a grade, so I graduated from high school when I was barely seventeen. I
had just turned seventeen, and I worked for a year. That was partly because my
father said, if you are really serious about going to college, then you have to
contribute financially to it. I had to pay half my schooling, so I worked for a year.
Then in the meantime, they moved to Lynchburg, and that is the reason I went to
college there, because I could live at home and obviously I did not have much
money for college, so I had to live at home.
C: Did you work in college?
S: I worked in college, not in Lynchburg. I worked in college at the University of
Florida. I worked in the main library filing federal documents in the stacks-talk
about a boring job-where you would take out one version of a bill and file a new
version. I did that for, I think, the better part of my junior year. My senior year I
got a job working for John Thorn, who taught cinematography at the College of
Journalism. My job there was to shoot and process slides for the TV station [UF's
TV station, WUFT]. You had these stills for different things. I did not do the video;
somebody else was doing video film. I did the stills. I liked that job. John was
great to work for, and plus I was working sort of in my field, even though the
photos they were shooting were very staged. They were intended to be that way.
Sometimes it was shot inside in a studio where you were supposed to shoot a
product or something like that and then process it. But it certainly contributed a
lot more to my career than filing federal documents in the library.
C: At the time that you were doing this for WUFT, it was a school rather than a
C: And was located in the west wall of the [football] stadium.
S: That is right.
C: Do you remember things about that facility? You had a studio there.
S: More than anything, I think I remember the photo lab, which was right at the head
of the stairs when you came out, because the college was on the second floor.
You walked up the stairs, and the photo lab was there. It was so small and the
enlargers were lined up on either side of a wall, and when you are trying to focus
an enlarger, you often have to bend down. Well, the problem there was if there
was another student behind you also bending down, you would generally hit each
other. It was so narrow right in there. I remember that lab very well because I
took photojournalism in the summer under Buddy Davis, and I spent hours there,
hours, between shooting and printing. Everything we did then, of course, was
black-and-white film. We did not do any color.
C: And you used all the chemicals for the development process.
S: All the chemicals and boxes of paper, boxes of paper and film. We did it all the
hard way, but it was a great class. Of course, Buddy was my favorite teacher
anyway. I had to get everything I could from him.
C: I knew we would talk at some point about Buddy Davis, so this is a good segue
into the impact of some of the teachers you remember. You have spoken about
the French teacher. Talk about Buddy and his impact on you.
S: Buddy was the kind of professor you either loved or hated, and I was one of
those who just loved him. This would embarrass him if he heard it, [but] he was
like a real city editor. I think that he taught me what journalism was really about. It
was interesting because after I left and got my first job, I actually worked in
Pensacola. We had two newspapers, a morning and an afternoon, and I actually
worked for both of them, so I had two city editors. Both of those guys were just
C: When you say just like Buddy, some examples?
S: Well, Buddy's favorite class, I guess it was the advanced reporting class, where
your final exam [was,] he pretended he was a reporter out at a plane crash or
train crash-I think it alternated one year to the next-and he would call in the
facts, and you were a rewriter and you had to put this story together, and he kept
calling back in and changing things. Now, understand we are not on computers
then; we are manual typewriters. It did not mean that we rewrote it all, that we
had to write the information back in, and then about five or ten minutes before the
"deadline," he would call in and he would change everything. Then he would
come bounding in the door wearing this old torn shirt with dirt and everything
smeared all over him, as if he had been on the wreck himself. He was quite a
showman in many respects. In terms of my other city editors, they were very
abrupt, I guess is one word for it. Not in a negative way, but we are on deadline
here, we have got to get this information in, we have very little time to play
around with, and get the facts straight. All of them really pushed for accuracy. I
think those were some of the similarities. Ed Asner [actor who played Lou Grant,
the boss on the "Mary Tyler Moore Show" television sitcom], I guess, comes to
mind sometimes when I think of Buddy and a couple of my former city editors. I
found that as I got into journalism, anytime I was dealing with an editor who was
not totally up-front with me about anything, I had a really difficult time with them
because I was having to read their mind. So, I appreciated the fact that they
handled questions and asked you things the way they did. So, maybe that was it
more than anything. I took every class I could from Buddy, everything that my
schedule would allow me to take that he taught. He was teaching advanced
reporting, he was teaching photojournalism.
C: Was he teaching editorials?
S: I do not know if he was teaching editorials. I think so, yes, because that is what
he won the Pulitzer Prize for, so obviously that is one of his fortes.
C: Do you still stay in communication with him?
S: I have not in several years, but I did go up to the University once when I was
working in Brevard County. I went up as a visiting professor, one of those three-
day things, and Buddy was the one who invited me to come up there and he was
the one I spent time with. He took me out to the restaurant up there where
Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings' house was.
C: Right. The Yearling, which is now closed. Used to be known for its catfish.
S: We had a great time just talking about things. It is interesting because when you
are talking to a professor when you are an adult, it is a different kind of
relationship than when you were a student. When I was a student, I think I was
half-terrified of him. I will never forget when my photojournalism final was due,
end of the summer. It was hot, as it always in Gainesville in the summer, and I
just wanted to get out of there and have a break before classes started again in
the fall. I went in with my negatives. I had been over to one of the old buildings
where they were and had shot some photos trying to capture light or something. I
went into his office with this roll of developed film so he could take a look at it
before I started printing. He held it up to the light, and I will never forget this.
Now, understand something: my final is due, I think the next day. It gets a little
fuzzy; it might have been two days or maybe over the weekend. He looks at it
and he says, are you really going to turn this in? I wanted to die. It must have
been on a Friday because I did have the weekend. Obviously, I had to go out and
buy more film, I had to go and find something else to shoot, and I only had the
weekend to do it because Buddy did not let you miss deadline. I think that is also
one of the things that I learned. He was so strict about deadlines, and justifiably
so, and so strict about accuracy, that if you spelled somebody's name wrong in a
story you got an automatic F. Those were skills that I really learned to appreciate
when I got into journalism, especially when I became an editor. But anyway, the
VA Hospital was under construction at the time-that is how far back that was-
and I went over there and shot some shots. I guess I did okay. I think I got a
decent grade out of the class, but I will just never forget how unsettled he was
about my film.
C: Are there other faculty members at the time you remember? It was fairly small.
How big was your graduating class? That would be class of 1966.
S: Does 300 sound right? Does that sound too big?
C: Compared to today, it sounds like a drop in the bucket. I remember my class,
which was 1960, was about 150.
S: Obviously, I do not really remember.
C: Were there many girls in your class? Because my recollection is it was
disproportionate, the men to women.
S: Yes. I do not remember exactly what the proportion was, but clearly there were
far fewer than there are today. When I go down to the University today and I am
speaking to any classes, it is at least 50-50 [male-to-female ratio]. I mean, it is
not even a factor.
C: You stayed active in communication with the college and you have been an
active member of the advisory council, and we will talk about some of those
things a little later. But as you approached graduation, what were your thoughts
about a career?
S: Going to work for a newspaper.
C: Did you do an internship as a student?
S: Yes, sort of. Internships were few and far between back then, and yet I knew that
I really needed to get one. I am not quite sure whether they were as big a part of
the job process as they are today. Today, it is how many internships have you
had. Back then, it was if you had one, then you had a leg up versus a candidate
who did not, but it was also very difficult to get them, because this was not
something that newspapers did. A friend of mine who was majoring in journalism
at the time got an internship at the Tallahassee Democrat, and I talked them into
hiring me as a proofreader and then doing some freelance work for them on the
C: Was this about 1965, the summer between your junior and senior years?
S: Yes, the summer between my junior and senior year. So, Judy and I got an
apartment together in Tallahassee.
C: And who was Judy?
S: You know, I do not even remember her last name now. We totally lost touch after
school. My parents at the time were living in Chattahoochee, which is not very far
from Tallahassee. My dad was a doctor there. Judy got a job there. Well, we both
did, but my job was a proofreader, but they said that I could write articles, feature
articles, for them on the weekends. I am not even sure I got paid for those. I did
not care. I just wanted the clips. The one thing I learned as a proofreader is I
spent a lot of time in the back shop because I worked kind of at nights. I spent
time in the back shop, and I learned about setting type and all those things from
the guys who worked back there. They used linotype machines back then.
C: So, this was hot-type.
S: Hot-type. I learned how to [read] type upside-down, when it was in the galley. I
learned about the whole process of printing, which was really very valuable,
because I daresay that you can go into an awful lot of newspapers today and ask
a reporter, of course there is not any hot-type, but ask them if they have ever
been in the press room, ask them if they have ever been back in the production
department, spent any time back there learning what those guys do, and they
have not, I am sure. When you see that press run, you have a whole appreciation
for what a deadline means and how important it is to get that newspaper out the
door and delivered on time. Anyway, after I wrote these stories, then I had to go
back to the college and convince the dean, who was Ray Weimer at the time,
that I should get credit for this internship, which really was not an internship,
except that I had some clips to prove it, and I got credit for it. So, I was able to
claim that I had an internship.
C: And you had clips.
S: I actually did. When you think about it, even the proofreading part of it, even
though that is not a typical kind of internship. The whole idea of an internship is
to contribute to your education in the real world, and I certainly learned that.
C: Did you work on the student newspaper, the Alligator, when you were?
S: No, I did not. See, I was working for John Thorn at the time and I needed the
money there. It was easier for me to be able to do that job plus go to classes. As
you know, the Alligator is very demanding, and the difficulty there is being able to
do that and to maintain a full class schedule. I finished school on time. I did my
college in four years.
C: Were you a good student, good grades?
S: I think in journalism I was probably pretty good, but when it came to things like
botany, I do not know what my GPA was. It was not huge, no, certainly not by
C: I was going to say, compared to this generation, is there a greater consideration
about a grade point average to get hired for an internship, to be hired out of
S: No. I hate to tell this to colleges, but no. In all the years that I was an editor and
hired interns and hired college graduates, the grades really did not mean much to
me. Their clips did, their internships, the interview, how well they handled
themselves-those kinds of things were far more important to me than the grades
were. Maybe I just think back to my own grades, which were not the greatest,
and yet I think career-wise I turned out pretty good. So, to me, the practical
experience and the kind of experience I got in Buddy's class was far more
important than whether I got a 3.5 or whatever.
C: What about, now, your first job right out of college?
S: I consider myself really lucky because I only sent out about a dozen resumes.
C: Where, for example, did they go?
S: Florida newspapers, but I remember I also sent one to the newspaper in, I think,
Utica, New York, which was a Gannett newspaper and still is. I do not know why.
I had never been to Utica. I do not think I had ever been to New York. I have no
idea where I heard about this job. I also sent one to the Tampa Tribune and
Pensacola News Journal and probably some others. Back then, you could
actually get a job at the Tampa Tribune right out of college. I interviewed in St.
Pete also, took those tests that they were famous for, the psychological tests.
C: The psychological tests. Not editing and writing.
S: No, no, the psychological tests.
C: The touchy-feely tests.
S: Yes. I got called for an interview at the News Journal. Earle Bowden was the
editor at the time.
C: Now, who owned the News Journal at that time?
S: Not Gannett.
C: It was a family-owned paper.
S: It was owned by John Perry, who also owned the Palm Beach Post. They were in
the middle of a strike that had gone on for four years. The two newspapers had
been involved in a strike that had to do with automation of typesetting.
C: Which is pretty rare in Florida newspaper history. There had not been ...
S: Oh, absolutely. Especially for that period of time.
S: I will never forget when I went in for the interview, I mean, they still had a few
C: So, it was a pressman's ...
S: It was actually production. Pre-press. It had to do with they started punching
tape. So, I guess they were linotype-operators who were going to be losing their
jobs. I did not really understand an awful lot about it at the time, but I remember it
was a very long strike that had gone on for a long, long time. Anyway, I went over
for an interview. This was probably around the time that I was graduating, and I
was panicking because I did not have a job and I was graduating. The thought of
going back home and living off my parents I mean, not that they would not have
accepted that, it was just...you just did not do that. When you got a college
degree, you went off and you worked.
C: And at that time, also, was it not a pretty much standard goal that you did this in
S: Oh, yes.
C: It was not a seven-year bachelor's degree, which is common now.
S: No. As a matter of fact, you asked me about my grades, and I remember now.
This is terrible that I would admit this, but it is easy to admit it now. The first
semester of my senior year, I moved off campus into an apartment, and I had a
wonderful time. I had such a good time I did not make my grades that semester.
C: Which would be probably a 2.0, a C average.
S: Yes. I had one semester to go, and if I did not make them the next semester, I
would have been out. I guess you had to stay out for a year or something. I do
not know. I thought, oh my God, I cannot do this; I have to finish school. So, the
last semester of my senior year it was nothing but work; party time was over. But,
you know, the University of Florida has always had a reputation as being a party
school, and it is a reputation well-earned, I might say. But, yes, my grades were
not all that great, but I really did buckle down so I could finish on time. So, I went
to this interview, and it was a very informal kind of thing, unlike today. I basically
went in and sat down and talked to Earle. He looked at my resume and looked at
my clips from the Tallahassee Democrat and whatever else I had done. I
remember my clips, even including obits, for God's sake. I mean, you just saved
everything; it did not make any difference. He offered me a job on the spot. The
job was in the society section. There were no women working city side. So, it was
in the society section, which, of course, was not what I wanted to do. I wanted to
cover train wrecks, plane wrecks, exciting stuff like that. But it was a job. He also
offered me the grand salary of $70 a week. I will never forget this because I
bargained for $85, and I got it. It is still a terrible salary when I think back, but you
got to remember this was back in the Stone Ages. So, I started work there on
Memorial Day. Now, he told me to start on Monday whatever the day was, not
realizing it was Memorial Day. So, I showed up for work on a holiday, but
obviously there were editors there. I told him at the time that I would take the job
in society, but what I really wanted to do was to work as a news reporter, and so
if I did a good job, could I be considered for the first opening that came up on the
city desk? He said he would. But then about six weeks after I started work, I got a
call from the Tampa Tribune, and the Tribune offered me a job. They made no
bones about calling me and stealing me from another newspapers; they did not
care. Their salary offer was $100 a week. Now, I had just started, and $15 a
week back then was a lot of money. I was trying to buy my first car and all that
sort of stuff. So, I went into see Earle. I was too naive to be brash about it. I went
in there very innocently and said, I do not know what to do; I have just had this
offer for the Tampa Tribune to work in a bureau. I cannot remember what county,
but it was in one of their bureaus, and it was covering news, and it was $100 a
week. I said, I just do not know what to do.
[End of side Al; side A2 is blank]
C: Okay. You had a dilemma. The Tribune offer was wonderful...
S: Yes, so I went into Earle and told him about it, and he said that he would match it
if I would stay. So, I stayed. So, I went back to writing my Heloise headlines. A
short time later ....
C: So, your work was basically doing editing.
S: Well, no, I wrote. Back then, you did everything. I laid out pages, I edited, I wrote
feature stories. You did it all. The staff was really quite small. The reporting part
was clearly the most fun because you got to get out and meet different people,
but it was still very soft kind of stuff. Their feature sections on society, it was truly
soft features. We did not deal with issues like many of our feature sections do
today. Anyway, a job did come open on their city desk. It was the federal court
beat. I applied for it, and I got the job. So, my first hard news job was covering
the federal court, which I did for a while. I only worked at the News Journal for
about a year and a half. They did not have an education beat, and I thought this
was something that was important. So, I convinced them to let me cover
education. The reason I mention that is because, in my later career, I covered
education for several years. I guess if you develop an area of expertise as a
reporter, you know, some are environmental reporters and mine was in the area
of education, although I had covered cops and courts and all other kinds of
things, too, just like any other reporter has. But that is what I did, and I really liked
that part of it that much better.
C: At that time, was there not quite a bit of desegregation in the schools as issues?
Do you remember?
S: Yes. Actually, one of the first big stories I covered in education when I was in
Pensacola, there was a teachers' strike, which also was unusual because we are
talking Florida here. There was a teachers' strike, and that was the first time that
I had ever been exposed to that level of emotion. Understand that I am twenty-
one years of age, right out of college and still had that typical student view of
teachers, and I am hearing them yelling at each other and saying things that I
might have expected from a truck driver but certainly not from a teacher. It was a
very vitriolic, hateful period. I cannot remember how long the strike went on, but it
was certainly interesting and there were stories breaking every day. There was
an interesting thing that happened with my two city editors. Remember I
mentioned we had a morning newspaper and an afternoon newspaper but one
reporting staff. I would come into work at 7:30 in the morning, and I was working
for the p.m. [newspaper] at that time. We had a couple of deadlines before 11:00
a.m. or noon or whenever it was that the paper had to go out. So, you were
somewhat scrambling to get some things, and you did sort of anything. Even
though my beat was federal court, I am obviously not writing a federal court story
at 8:00 in the morning. You would do cop things and, you know, anything that
had happened early that morning or overnight. When I was working on a project,
my editors would compete against each other. My afternoon editor in other
words, the one I worked for in the morning would take us out to lunch. He was
one of my favorite people. Unfortunately, he died a few years ago, but he was
absolutely a fabulous guy.
C: Now, this was not Earle Bowden.
S: No. This was a guy named Bodie McCrory. I saw him later on. Actually, he ended
up working for our newspaper in Monroe, Louisiana, years later and before he
retired. But back in those days, I worked with people who were your stereotypical
newspaper people. Now, nobody had a bottle of whiskey in the bottom drawer,
but they might have had it in the glove compartment in the car, and when you
went out to lunch, it was not unusual to have a couple of drinks when you had
lunch, which, of course, would be unheard of today. So, Bodie, especially if you
were working on something really big, wanted to keep you out as long as
possible so that you would be less productive for the a.m. paper, which was his
competition. Then you had to come back in and write stories for the next day's
paper. My guess is that you would write on an average of two or three stories a
day. Now, we are not talking long-project kinds of things. We are talking about
pretty much breaking news. My afternoon editor was different. Well, I am telling
you, they were similar in some ways. Was gruffer than Bodie probably.
C: What was his name?
S: [Art Cobb.] I was scared of him. But I never will forget one day, he came over to
me with a story I had written, and he sat down with me and worked with me on
that story, and I had a whole different outlook, I guess, from then on about him. I
was not scared of him anymore. I did not hesitate to go in and ask him questions.
I found that he and also some of the more seasoned reporters, and there were
some there who had worked there for many, many years, most of whom did not
have drinking problems but some did, who were wonderful reporters, who loved
what they did, who got genuinely excited about a big story even after all those
years. They did not want to retire back to the editorial page, they wanted to
chase the ambulances and all that sort of stuff, and they were terrific people to
learn from, especially for a twenty-one-year-old kid who had no idea what she
was doing. But both my editors were like that. It was kind of fun to be in that kind
of competitive [environment]. You were competing against yourself and the
tactics that they used to keep you from doing something for the other newspaper.
C: I think it is an interesting time which that reflects, two newspapers operating out
of the same building, owned by the same company.
S: Same newsroom.
C: It is that instinctive competitive feeling.
S: Absolutely. I mean, there was not any other competition in town. It was like a
great many newspapers back then, and there was an a.m. and a p.m. version of
C: What about television and radio as competition?
S: They were not really factors, not at all. I never got that sense.
C: So, the next job, now, is Orlando?
S: In Orlando. When I was in Pensacola, I had gotten married. My husband was a
reporter, and he got a job.
C: And his name was?
S: His name was Cecil Foister. He got a job with the Miami Herald running the
bureau in Brevard County, and so we moved down there. I did not have a job, but
I had also just gotten pregnant, and back then, I do not know whether anybody
would turn you down for a job, but they might, especially a reporting job. So, I did
not work for those months. We were living in Rockledge, Florida, at the time,
because the bureau was in Cocoa. Then, after our son was born, [my husband]
had just gone to work for the [Orlando] Sentinel. The Sentinel had a large bureau
in Cocoa at the time right down the street from what was then a real fledgling
newspaper called TODAY. This was in late 1968, early 1969. What is now
FLORIDA TODAY; it started in April of 1966. Anyway, we both went to work. I
went to work for the Sentinel also, in that same bureau, large bureau. It was a fun
time because it was during the Gemini and Apollo era, although we were not
allowed to cover the space shots. When [there were] launches, the [Sentinel]
would [send] over the first team from Orlando, which really irked us because we
thought we were just as competent and we certainly knew the area better than
they did. But that is just way the Sentinel did it. I am going to say some
unpleasant things about the Sentinel, but it was under a different ownership and
different people. After several months there, TODAY at the time was hiring a lot
of people, and they were willing to pay the money. They would hire people from
the Miami Herald or wherever. Bob Bentley was the executive editor then, and
my husband was offered a job down at TODAY. Next thing I know, I get a call
from the guy who headed up the bureaus for the Sentinel, very concerned that
my husband was going to work for the competition. Now, I was covering
education for the Sentinel in the bureau at that time, and there was a woman
covering education for TODAY named Norma Jean Hill, who was an ace
education reporter and had more contacts in the Brevard County school system,
and I was up against this woman. But competition was really nothing new to me
since I had been in a competitive situation in Pensacola. I thrived on it, and I
remember one time I beat her on a story. I was so excited that I actually got
something before she did, because she was so good and had contacts that I
could not develop at that time.
C: Prior to that time, she had been at the Tampa Tribune, I think.
S: She had been at the Tampa Tribune. She had a lot of experience. Anyway, this
guy came over from Orlando, and he was very concerned that my husband was
working for the competition. He did not come right out and say I had to leave. I
am sure that he wanted me to say that, but I would not. But I did not understand
this. We were not even covering the same things. I covered education. And as
competitive as I was, do you think that I was going to tell my husband what I was
working on so that he could go and tell this Norma Jean? No way. I said, if
anything, I would be pumping him to find out what Norma Jean was working on.
Not that he would necessarily know. So, anyway, the guy went back to Orlando,
and he said he would get back to me. I guess they had to go back and discuss
what they were going to do about this "situation." So, there was a bar across the
street from TODAY, as there was across from any decent newspaper back in
those days. I probably give people the impression that we did an awful lot of
drinking back then, but I guess we did. I met my husband for a drink after work,
and Bob Bentley was with him. I was telling them this story, because I was so
astounded that my employer would expect that I was going to quit because my
spouse was working for the competition, like I was going to talk in my sleep or
something. The next day, Bob Bentley called me up and asked me if I would
come down for an interview, which I did. I went down for an interview. The
reason was Norma Jean was going to Tallahassee to run the bureau [there], if I
remember correctly, and so that job came open, her job. Her job, the woman I
was competing against. So, they offered me this job, and I went back to the
Sentinel. I did not say anything right away, and it was the same week that they
were supposed to "get back to me about my situation." The guy called back and
said they had discussed it, and they decided that, okay, I could stay. I did not say
anything. I sat down and wrote out my letter of resignation and turned it in that
day, and I got great delight out of it. This was before the Tribune owned the
Sentinel. It was not, in my view, a very well-run newspaper at that time. It
certainly, when the Tribune bought it, changed dramatically and is a very
reputable paper today. But, you know, many things change. Anyway, I went to
work for TODAY in 1969 as an education reporter.
C: Education was your beat.
S: Education was my beat, and I worked there for the next thirteen years.
C: Did you stay on the same beat the whole time you were there?
S: When I was a reporter, I did. I covered education for four years, which is a long
time on a beat. In fact, I think it was probably too long, you know, having since
then been an editor. You become a real expert at what you are covering. I mean,
you know all kinds of things about education, and you know the people, and you
know the politics, but the problem there is that you can also get too close to it. I
am sorry, I am going to back up. I did not cover it all that time. I covered it the
first four years, and then there was a job change that involves much that I will get
into. But I think that you can spend too much time on a beat, and I think then you
can get a little bit too close to it to where you sometimes cannot see the value of
a story. That became very apparent to me later on when I became an editor and
moved into a community and would say to the reporters, I just saw such and
such over the weekend, and they would say, oh, we did that story five years ago.
I would say, well, do you know how much the population of this area has
changed in five years; that may be an old story to a few people here but not to
the majority of people who live here. So, I covered education, and then they
wanted me to run a bureau. I had to figure out what I wanted to do, whether I
wanted to be a reporter for the rest of my life, given the salary that reporters were
paid then, or whether I wanted to move into editing. I was not really crazy about
copyediting, even though that is what got me started in journalism. I did not really
want to stay inside. I really liked being out in the community. Anyway, they had a
bureau opening in Melbourne. I went down there, and I ran the bureau down
there, and I covered the city-I use the term loosely-of Palm Bay, which at that
time was this tiny little community with a lot of land and very few people, sixty-
four square miles. I will never forget this.
C: Which is to the west, going into the interior off the coast?
S: Well, no. It is south, south of Melbourne.
C: Going west off the beach.
S: Well, yes, but I was not on the beach. See, Cocoa is on the mainland. You just
go straight down U.S. 1, and you hit Melbourne, and then you hit Palm Bay.
Melbourne and Eau Gallie, both existed as separate towns at that time.
Melbourne was the biggest city, and Palm Bay was just a handful of people. In
fact, when they posted the results of the election, they just stuck them on the
door of "city hall," which was a room not much bigger than this. The reason I say
that [is], today, Palm Bay is a huge city. I mean, huge by standards of Brevard
County. That has been the fastest-growing area, the Palm Bay area, more so
than Melbourne. But back then, it was not. Brevard County is, I do not know,
eighteen separate municipalities, strung one onto the other, especially over the
beach. Their consolidation was a big issue back then. There were lots of
consolidation votes, and the only one that actually went through was Melbourne
and Eau Gallie. The rest of them did not want to consolidate. I ran that bureau
down there, and I covered all kinds of things, as you do when you are in a
bureau. We did not have that many people. I was still living in Cocoa, so I went
back and forth every day. I cannot remember how long I did that, but I did that for
a while. Then they opened a bureau in Titusville, which is the county seat. I went
up there, and I ran that bureau. I did that for a while, and then I came back down
to Cocoa. They had an opening for an assistant city editor. I decided that I did
want to get into editing. I guess it is like a teacher making the change from
teaching to administration, to becoming principal or whatever, and maybe I
thought of it that way because I used to cover education. But I became an
assistant city editor. I liked working with the reporters on their stories and on
assignments. I particularly liked working on special projects, and I would
volunteer to do those. I did not really care very much for the copyediting part,
which, of course, we had to do. Today, at a lot of newspapers an assistant city
editor does not copyedit, per se. They [focus] only on the content side, and then
there is a separate copy desk, but back then you sort of did it all. We laid out the
B section and all the rest of it. It was good experience. Every job I have ever had,
even if I did not particularly like doing it, I always chalked it up to experience. I
knew that I was not going to be doing it for the rest of my life, anyway. So, I did
that for a while, and then I became city editor. I was the first woman city editor at
C: Who were some of the staff members at that time?
S: Ron Thornburg.
C: He was editor?
S: He was my city editor when I was assistant city editor, and then he became
managing editor. Then he left and went to Fort Myers. He is now in Ogden, Utah,
as the editor of the paper there. I know this because I run into him about once a
year. Barney Waters was the managing editor when I was city editor. Buddy
Baker [was the executive editor]. Both of them, unfortunately, are now dead. Kent
Freeland was there. I think he left and went to San Diego. I do not know where
he is. But I remember when somebody mentioned to me that I was the first
woman city editor there. I did not really think an awful lot of it, except that I had a
couple of women come up to me and say that was just terrific [and] how much it
meant to them. I never saw myself as a mentor, and I really did not want to be,
but I guess I started paying attention to what was happening in the industry with
women. It was a valuable lesson because of what was happening, what came to
happen, generally with the women's movement throughout the country. I thought
to myself later on, one of these days, we will not have to say that somebody was
the first woman or the first black or the first anything, that it will become an
accepted part of our society that you have women and minorities who are doing
the same things that other people are. I think we are darn close today. We do not
make a big deal out of women going into space anymore. The first woman in
space was a big deal. So, I was city editor, which really was the hardest job, I
think, I ever did. Managing a group of reporters, some of whom behaved
themselves, some of whom did not. Even when I was assistant city editor, I really
did not have to deal with the personnel issues. When I became the city editor, I
did. With the exception of my two editors in Pensacola, and maybe with the
exception of Ron, my experience with my city editors is that I worked for a couple
who were not really very good. I do not want to name them, but I did not think
they were very good. They did not challenge, and they did not challenge people
on the staff, and they did not have an awful lot of imagination. They just sort of
came in and they were like drones and just did their job. I was not going to be like
that. I still loved getting excited about a story, and so when I was city editor I
would still get excited about stories. Again, the neat part about it, then, is that at
TODAY, I got to cover the space program, too. I got to go to the launches. I got
to go and interview well-known people. We used to go out to the VIP stands,
which were just bleachers. The trick was to try and interview some celebrities. A
lot of celebrities used to come to the launches back then. It was a big deal. The
problem was NASA [security]. I remember one guy doing an interview with
Johnny Carson from underneath the bleachers with Carson leaning down talking
to him between his feet. This was a guy named Charlie Reid who did this. Charlie
was one of my city editors, one of the city editors I thought a lot of.
C: Who was a UF grad.
S: Who was a UF grad, yes, and who is also no longer with us. Then NASA got
wind of [what we were doing], and so then they would rope off the back of the
stands so you could not go there anymore. Then what we would do is [Al]
Neuharth had a VIP badge. He would come down from the stand, give us his VIP
badge. We had our press badges on, which we would hide, and we would go up
and sit down and just interview these people.
C: What was Al Neuharth's relationship at this point to TODAY?
S: He was president of Gannett. He had a house, he built his house down there at
Pumpkin Center, and so he would have a lot of VIPs over there for pre-launch
brunches and those kinds of things. He spent a fair amount of time there, and he
would come in. They were in Cocoa at the time, rather than in the new offices in
Melbourne, so there was no real meeting place. In fact, I am not even sure
whether Pumpkin Center was built at that time, so they used to meet in our
building. So, he was over there. He would come in. I want to tell a story about a
hurricane one time. This was later on in my career, and it was really kind of funny
because it involves Dan Neuharth, so do not let me forget it. [Al] was in the
building a lot, so he knew all of us. He would loan us his badge, and we would go
up [into the bleachers in the VIP stands] and interview these people. You know,
even though Al became a media mogul, so to speak, he was still a reporter at
heart; he still liked that part of it. So, even though he could not do it, he would
help us do it, which was really great. Of course, your main goal in life was to
outwit NASA, anyway, to deal with the kinds of restrictions and everything and try
and get around them. I remember one time John MacAleenan, who [was] a well-
known reporter for TODAY, dressing up as an astronaut and hitchhiking out to
the Space Center and actually managing to convince people that he was an
astronaut and needed to get out there [for the] launch. Just goes to show you
how naive people are, I guess. I guess he must have kept his helmet on because
John had long hair and a beard. He was a hippie, and still is. How he got by with
that, I do not know. But we would test the security of NASA sometimes. Let me
back up a little bit because I did city editor and then when I became managing
editor there, which was the next jump up, after Ron [Thornburg] went to Fort
Myers, I would still go out [for the launches]. So, I was there through the first four
shuttle launches. That was my space program experience. I loved them. I loved
the launches. People still say today when they are down there that even though
they watched a zillion of those things that they still get a thrill out of it. The
biggest thrill, obviously, is being right out there three and a half miles away from
the launch pad.
[End of side B1]
C: All right. We were talking about the shuttles.
S: Yes. They were just thrilling to cover. It was really an exciting time, especially
when everybody was really, you know, when everybody thought this space
program was just such great fun. The first launch I ever saw was Apollo 11. I was
not working at the time. I will have to check my dates on that. I may be wrong. I
thought it was Apollo 11.
C: What are the astronaut names that you remember?
S: Well, the original seven, of course. You knew who the astronauts were back
then, because there were so few of them. I would be hard-pressed to name some
of the ones today. That was always a concern near the end of the Apollo
program. Actually, [before] Apollo 13, at that time fewer and fewer people would
come. Apollo 13, even though it was a mission that almost ended in tragedy, in
some ways gave the space program a jumpstart. People all of a sudden were
more interested in it again. I suppose it is like the Challenger [space shuttle that
exploded on January 28, 1986]. I cannot imagine that anybody would ever want
to go out there and see something go wrong with a mission. I guess that is why
people go to car races and stuff, I do not know. But it was always a struggle.
There was also another thing that happened back then. Mission Control, in the
earlier days, you have seen pictures of it where you have got all these guys in
short-sleeve white shirts looking like IBM people, and they would be three or four
deep, because one had to monitor what the other one was doing because they
did not have all this computerized stuff. When NASA became quite
computerized, they had massive layoffs. There were people walking off and
leaving their homes in Brevard County. Many of them worked for the contractors;
they did not work for NASA, but they worked for Boeing and some of the
contractors. So, some of them did go to Seattle. Some people I knew decided
they really wanted to stay in Brevard and went into business themselves doing
some other things. But the economy took a real hit back then, a real hit, and it
really hurt all of us. It was one of these situations where you wondered if it was
going to recover. Well, clearly, it has. There are an awful lot more retirees there
now, many people who did not want to go down to Palm Beach and Miami as
those areas grew. That actually is a much more stable environment
economically, because the NASA thing was always up and down as to what was
happening with the space program-how many launches there would be and how
many people they would need and all that sort of stuff.
C: Was there an impact on the newspaper financially?
S: Probably, but I do not notice it the way I notice what is going on today with the
economy the way it is, and I was not as involved in that aspect of it, in terms of
how it impacted our bottom-line. I do not know that it was necessarily huge, but it
had to be. If you are losing people who are buying things, then obviously it is
going to affect your advertisers. But it is not like the employment advertising as
the thing that has really hit us recently, initially because the unemployment was
so low. Then when the layoffs started, particularly in the dotcom industry, now
nobody is hiring, so they are not buying employment ads. It was not anything like
that. It was probably more in other kinds of areas. But it was a great time to be in
newspapers and a great time to be in newspapers in Florida, I think. You know,
one of the things that you love about working at a newspaper is when a big story
breaks. That is when you are working terrible hours and you are exhausted and
all the rest of it, but it really gives you the adrenaline rush. It is great fun. There is
nothing worse than working for a newspaper in a community where nothing is
happening. There was always something happening in Brevard County, still is,
but back then you were always guaranteed, because there was always a launch
coming up. There was an awful lot of preparation that went into covering that. Not
on the chance that it would be successful [but] on the chance that something
[bad] might happen. We actually had people, we would send people to the
hospitals. We would have them there [just in case]. See, the problem back then
was we did not have computers to be able to transmit our stories from the Space
C: No cell-phones.
S: No cell-phones, no way to transmit film, pictures, and we often put out extras.
The launches were very often early in the morning, so we would rent motorcycles
for the photographers to get the film [back to the newspaper], because once the
launch was over, the main road out of Kennedy Space Center was jammed. The
motorcycles could get around the cars, and that is how they got back. For the
reporters it was a lot harder. We had telephones, regular phones, because the
press center there, the press bleachers, I guess, all had phones. So, the
reporters who were covering the main part of the launch could actually call in
from there. The rest of us who were doing the color, we had to wait until we got
back in, and that was a little harder. But, yes, we had no way of getting that back
in, so if there was going to be an accident, we would have had to have people
everywhere because when you think about the geography of where the Space
Center is, you have to cross causeways to get to the mainland, which
automatically restricts how you get in and out. So, we did. The worst assignment
that you got was being stationed at a hospital during a launch. Nothing ever
happened, but you had to have somebody there. You could not just say, well, it
was just going to be the hospital in Titusville because that was the closest. If the
incident was large enough, they would need all the hospitals. So, we had to have
a big disaster plan for dealing with all of that. But when you are in Florida, you do
that because of hurricanes, anyway. You have to. You have to think physically
about how you are going to deploy people around and how you are going to get
your stuff in and how you are going to publish your newspaper.
C: I had forgotten about the film issue, because that would be the time where you
would use Greyhound buses a lot if you were in a bureau, to put your film on the
S: Oh yeah, you did. That is how we got our film from Vero Beach. We knew the
Greyhound bus schedule, and fortunately the bus station was like a block away
from our office. We would send a clerk over to get the film. I remember one time
we did not get the film from the bureau because somebody dropped it and the
bus ran over the cassettes. Those are the kinds of things we had to deal with in
order to get stuff in the newspapers. But, yes, getting out of NASA, even in a
normal launch, motorcycles were the answer.
C: I had never heard that story. That is great. You have a hurricane story.
S: I have a hurricane story. I was managing editor. At that time, I was living in
Cocoa Beach in a condo over there. My son was maybe ten or eleven. I was
divorced by then, so there were just the two of us, and I could not leave him over
there, even with friends. I did not want to leave him over there. I do not know
whether they had a forced evacuation or not, but I brought them over to the
mainland, and he stayed with some friends who lived in Cocoa, which was great
because I knew I was going to be at the paper virtually twenty-four hours a day.
Anyway, Neuharth evacuated also, and the difficulty was trying to find a place to
stay and all the [motel] rooms [were] taken. We had a room. It was not really a
meeting room. It was a room where the publisher would meet with people, a very
nice living room kind of room.
C: Like a sitting room.
S: And Al was married to Lori Wilson at the time, and they came over and camped
out back there. Jan and Dan Neuharth were in school at the time. Al was in the
newsroom. Again, he could not stay out of it. I mean, why would he stay out of it?
He was sitting down rewriting headlines and all that sort of stuff, and he was
loving it. But he came to me and he said, put these two to work, meaning Jan
and Dan, which I did, and they helped us, worked the phones and all this sort of
stuff. As it turned out, we never really did get a hurricane. We had some winds
and rain and all the rest. It was like a lot of them on the east coast-they do an
awful lot more damage when they come in on the Gulf. Anyway, they camped out
there for a day or so. The problem was Lori was not a journalist, so I could not
put her to work, but Lori went around and emptied the trash, bless her heart.
C: Now, was she a [state] senator at the time?
S: She was in the state Senate at the time. They were camped out, they were stuck,
and she wanted to contribute something. I will never forget her walking through
the newsroom with a plastic bag emptying trash, and we had lots of it because
people were virtually living there. We were having food brought in and those
kinds of things. It seemed like it was forever, but it was probably only a day or so.
It was at least an overnight. I did leave at one point and go over to my friend's
house and get a couple hours of sleep, but not very much, because the phone
kept ringing with things going on. I said, to heck with this, and I went back down
to the office. But those are the kinds of stories, when you have got something,
even though you would not want there to be terrible damage or anything like that
to the community you live in. Those are the stories you remember about being in
journalism, because they are the ones that are really the fun ones, not the boring
ones. But Neuharth wrote the lead of the main story. We had lots of discussions
about the headline. Later on when I went to work at USA TODAY during startup,
Al Neuharth was still right there writing the headlines. So, I had seen that when I
was in Florida when he would come in and do that. I mean, obviously that was an
exception to have him come in and do that sort of stuff. But, you know, he was a
journalist, and we needed all the help we could get. And he was willing to do it,
so it was fun. It was a lot of fun.
C: During this period, was this about the time that Carl Hiaasen got his start? His
first job, really, was with TODAY.
S: I was a reporter when Carl started there, so we have to back up a few years. I
cannot remember what year it was, but I was a reporter and Carl was barely out
of school. He was twenty maybe. He went to work in the features department.
We had a magazine then, and he wrote for the magazine.
C: It was Sunday magazine, came in the Sunday paper.
S: Yes. I remember reading his stuff then and thinking I wish I could write like that.
Actually, you know, I might have been an assistant city editor. I am not quite
sure. You would have to check the dates with Carl. Carl is younger than I am,
C: Probably was early 1970s.
S: Yes. I was at TODAY from 1969 to 1982, so it was probably in the early 1970s.
But I just remember marveling at his writing, particularly as young as he was, that
he had that kind of talent. Of course, even back then, he had that same acerbic
kind of sense of humor that he has today. He was not taking on the developers at
that time, obviously. He was just writing different kinds of stories. But, you know,
he was one of those you knew he was going to go on to great things some day,
which, of course, he did.
C: So, in this evolutionary process of getting to where you are today, looking out
over the nation's capital, do you remember how you first got wind of this USA
S: Oh, yes. I was managing editor at TODAY.
C: By this time, you are down in Melbourne? The new Melbourne office?
S: No. I never worked in the new building. I always worked in the old building. I had
been managing editor there for about a year and a half, and Buddy Baker was
the executive editor. One day, Buddy called me into his office and said that he
had gotten a call from, it might have been Nancy Woodhull, it might have been
Ron Martin, I do not know. Nancy and Ron were both at USA TODAY, which was
not really a paper at that time. This was in the summer of 1982. They were
putting together the start-up team. They had done four prototypes, so they had
figured out the design and the content and those types of things, and now it was
a matter of going throughout Gannett and finding the people to be the start-up
staff. The idea was that you would come to Washington and be part of the start-
up team from July to the end of the year, and assuming that the newspaper had
not folded by then and that you were a good fit and that you wanted to stay, then
you could possibly stay at the paper. Everyone who was hired was overqualified
for what they were hired for.
C: What was your position?
S: My position was called news editor. Let me back up a little bit because there
were actually five us, I think, at TODAY at the time. I do not know whether they
had actually given Buddy specific names or just talked to him, but I was the
managing editor, so I cannot imagine that Buddy would have said, take my
managing editor. Because they could not fill the jobs, see, for the time that we
were supposed to be up there. So, it was entirely up to us, and four of us
accepted. One of those was Caesar Andrews, who is now the executive editor of
Gannett News Service. Caesar at that time was very young. He was certainly
younger than me. And there were a couple of others. One person turned it down.
I am not going to name him, but I am going to tell you a story about him. After I
agreed to do it, I called Nancy Woodhull. I talked to her about the job, and there
was just no question in my mind about doing this, none, because it was exciting-
why not? I had no idea whether the paper was going to make it or not.
C: So, that was not really a factor.
C: It was just making history.
S: In my mind, it was going to, because when I came up here, even though I was
"on loan," because I had a son, we moved. I had an apartment. We were just
renting down in Cocoa, so we did not have anything to sell. I moved up here. I
figured if it did not work, then I would just move back. [It] never occurred to me
that [USA TODAY] would not make it. Anyway, this guy came in, the one who
had turned it down, and he said, I was really surprised that you agreed to do this;
I mean, you are the managing editor here; why would you want to do this? Your
job is news editor, which meant that I was in charge of everything after content,
which meant in the A section, copy desk, weather page, page-one layout, that
part of it. That was my job. He said, why would you want to go from managing
editor at this newspaper to that? I said because it is new and it is different and it
is exciting, and why would you not want to do it? I think all of us who came to
USA TODAY at the time felt that way. This was not a job for people who were
conservative about their thinking. There was security. We worked for Gannett.
The idea was that if either you did not make it or you decided that you did not
want to stay, your old job was still there.
C: So, you did not see yourself as a risk-taker, necessarily.
S: It was a risk in terms of having to uproot my little family and have my son change
schools, and it was hard for him because he was thirteen at the time and just
starting high school. It was a very, very hard move, and moving into a community
where I did not know anybody except for the people I was working with-that was
hard. So, in that respect, there was that risk, but career-wise, no, there was not a
risk, unless I just totally bombed. Now, having said that, in the start-up of USA
TODAY, especially after we started publishing, there were days when I thought I
was going to have a heart attack. The pressure was enormous. So, it was not a
situation in which I thought I am going to lose my job, but there was the pressure
there that, if I did not do well, that might hurt me from moving up, I would go back
to Cocoa, and maybe there would not be as many other opportunities. I did not
know at the time how much pressure everyone else was going through. I did not
know, to be honest with you, with a lot of them until I read Peter Pritchard's book,
The Making of McPaper. None of us did because we did not want to admit it. We
did not want to admit to ourselves that this was hard. I mean, we had been
running our own newsrooms, you know? This was very, very hard. The pressure
was that Nancy Woodhull would come over to me, sometimes at 8:30 at night,
and say they-meaning the gang of four, as we called Neuharth, John Curley,
Ron Martin and John Quinn. They sat over there, and they were like the page
one headline writers-they did not like these two stories that we were going to put
on page; we better scramble and find two more. We went through this. I was
thinking back to myself, well, you know, you really got a big thrill out of all the
shuttle launches and the hurricanes and all the rest of it, and here you are just
putting out a newspaper every day, and only five days a week. We did not even
have to do it seven, and it was a much smaller paper, physically, than it is today.
But it was just as thrilling in many respects and terrifying in a lot of respects. But I
learned so much from it, because the difference in the kind of journalism that
USA TODAY does and what I did back home was the amount of work that went
into a ten-inch story, the amount of reporting, the thoroughness of reporting,
making every word counted, because literally we counted in words. I had a pica
pole that, on the back of it, I taped the measure for lines, that came off the back
of a dummy sheet, because we measured everything in lines. Our space was so
tight, and the layout and everything was so precise they had to put in there that
you really learned to be a good editor working at USA TODAY. Even though I
had many years of experience as a reporter and an editor, I learned how to be a
much better editor as a result of the experience at USA TODAY.
C: What about the criticism of that journalistic style at the time within the media?
S: I know, and then they stole all our ideas. Everybody had color weather-maps
even when they did not make sense. It did not faze me. I guess maybe I worked
for Gannett for so long and I was so used to hearing people Gannett-bash. [it's
the same] today, I was just looking at the finalists for APME Freedom of
Information and Public Service and there were eight Gannett newspapers, more
than any other newspaper company in the country. I rest my case.
C: It was worth the wait.
S: It was worth the wait. No, I did not [doubt that USA TODAY would be successful],
really. I knew what it was like because I was inside and I was there, and I
watched an awful lot of very good journalism taking place that the people out
there were not aware of. One of the great things, obviously, about it was that we
did not have to worry about money. Whatever it took to get the story. This was
the other thing that I learned, is that it never occurred to me when I worked at
USA TODAY that, if we were working on a story, that we were not going to get
that story. You know, as editors, we have all been in situations. A reporter comes
in and says, I am not going to be able to get this story today because so-and-so
is out of town, so-and-so is not available. I say, well, do they have a telephone?
Where are they? I used to know what bars the politicians hung out at so I could
go find them when I needed them. It never occurred to us at USA TODAY [that
we wouldn't get the story]. It might not be the story we thought it was going to be,
it might be a different story, but we would get the story. Failure was just not an
option. It was never an option. I remember one time I was editor of a story. This
was during the savings-and-loan crisis. I was working in the cover story section
at that time, and we sent a reporter out to Ohio. Savings-and-loans were
collapsing all over the place, and I sent her to this small town-I cannot remember
which town it was-and we thought there was going to be a run on the banks. Sort
of a throwback to It's a Wonderful Life, I guess. It was amazing, she went out
there and she called, and she said, that is not what is happening. I said, what is
happening, Carolyn? She said, it is like A Wonderful Life; this little town is
standing behind their bank; they are not going to [make a] run [on] it. It was a
great story, but it was not the story she went out there to do. So, it was not a
situation where we would say oh, no, that is not the story. I never worked at a
newspaper in my life where I had people, bar none, tell me they loved the paper.
I always worked at newspapers where you go to a party or something and
somebody would find out you worked for the paper and they want to talk about
their paper being wet last Sunday, or they would criticize some content in the
paper. I never heard people say that. When I worked for USA TODAY and I
would tell people I worked for USA TODAY, they would immediately tell you how
much they loved that paper. So, to me, the readers loved the paper. Isn't that
what is important? They are the ones who were buying it. And, of course, it was a
phenomenal success. The other thing is that they kept saying, well, it is not
making money, keeps losing money. Well, how long did it take Sports Illustrated
or People Magazine to start making money-a lot longer, years. Obviously, it has
paid off. So, the critics, I did not pay much attention to that. That was another
great experience. I was there for three and a half years. I went from being on the
news desk to working in the cover-story department. Those are the longer stories
that run on each section front, and they were all done out of one department at
the time. We worked with different departments. The nice thing about that was
that when I worked in the news department, I really knew pretty much only the
people in news. Now, this is the biggest newspaper I had ever worked out, and I
did not know a lot of people in sports or business and everything. When I went to
work for cover stories, I really was able to expand my horizons. I started an awful
lot more in pulling together things like photos and graphics and all those other
pieces that come together for the story. I did not work one-on-one very much with
reporters on stories, except for the one savings-and-loan [story]. Most of the
others, it was really all the artwork and that kind of thing that I worked on. So, I
did that for a while, and then, now, I went to work for Gannett News Service the
last year-and-a-half that I was up here as regional managing editor for the South,
which made sense. So, my people were the folks who worked for our bureaus.
Also [I] worked] with the newspapers that Gannett owned that were in the
Southeast region to get the stories that they were doing so we could put them out
on the wire. I am trying to think. Charles Overby was the editor at that time, and
then later Nancy Woodhull came over there. She left-left, well, we are all in the
same building-she came down to the tenth floor, and then Nancy was my boss
for a while.
[End of side B2]
C: Okay. Gannett News Service.
S: I worked at Gannett News Service. Charles had moved over to be vice-president
of news, which I guess is Phil [Currie]'s job now. They have done a little bit of
restructuring in there, but I guess that is what it was. Anyway, Charles always
had a great way of approaching you about a job. Oh, yes, he had been executive
editor at TODAY in Cocoa at one point, so I worked for this man two times. He
had a great way of approaching you about a job, because he would get you into
his office and he would say, I have got a great job for you! I really got wind of it
after a while, and so he called me in and I said, now, what great job do you have
for me this time, Charles? He said, how would you like to be the executive editor
in Pensacola? I had to interview with the publisher, who was Paul Flynn at the
time. Paul was in Boston for a meeting, so I interviewed with him at Logan Airport
in Boston. I had known Paul before, because I had been with Gannett for so long,
so I knew who he was. Anyway, so in 1987, I went back to Pensacola, this time
as the executive editor, and I was there for three years. Was in the same
building, although it had been renovated, but same building as when I had
worked there before. Earle Bowden was still there. In fact, Earle was running the
editorial page. The editorial page did not report to the executive editor then; it
reported directly to the publisher. It does not anymore, but it did at that time, and
it does at some other newspapers, too. Sometimes, they separate it, as you
know. So, Earle was still there, and, quite frankly, so were a number of other
people, particularly in the back shop, who had been there when I was a young
reporter right out of school. They were still there, and a few reporters even. It was
amazing because I had moved around a fair amount myself, and I just could not
imagine working in [the same place all that time]. Of course, I thought thirteen
years in Cocoa was a long time, and it was, even though I had a number of
different jobs there. That was an astoundingly long period of time, especially for a
Gannett newspaper, because we do move around a lot. So, I stayed down there
for the three years, as I said, and ran the newsroom. Want to ask me how I got
C: Hm-mm [yes].
S: I had been on a task force for Gannett taking a look at where things were going
with technology and newspapers. We were looking at a lot of different things. I
was on [the task force], and there were different people, people from different
disciplines. Out of that, we determined that in order to help editors deal with
technology which really was very, very different .... Things had happened in
our industry, going from hot-type to cold-type and scanners, rudimentary front-
end systems. The technology was changing, and we did not really know how to
deal with it. That was not where we came from, and yet we were having to adapt
to it because it was a matter of producing the newspaper, getting it out to
subscribers earlier and having later deadlines so you could get later news in. You
could not do that with manual typewriters and linotype machines and all that stuff
anymore. So, we decided that one of the things that was needed was somebody
who worked in the news department at the corporate level, who had a news
background and also understood technology, to be a "systems editor" for the
Gannett newsrooms, and that person needed to work in news, not in systems.
We created that job. We created a lab. It was not really a lab. What we do is go
out and find out what was going on in technology. It was a different department,
but I worked very closely with the guy who ran it at the time to find out what was
going on in newspaper technology or in technology in general that you could use
in newspapers, and we actually found some good stuff out there. I was still in
Pensacola. I had no intention [of applying for the corporate systems editor job].
My first computer was when I went back to Pensacola as executive editor. All we
used in USA TODAY was an Atex system-"dumb" terminals. We did not really
use computers, per se. They were nothing more than word-processors. So, my
first computer was when I went down to Pensacola, and I had to do a newsroom
budget, which I had never done before. I did it with a calculator, and I never, ever
want to do that again. I mean, I am somebody who cannot stand balancing my
checkbook and I am having to do [a] payroll [budget] for seventy-five employees
and all that sort of stuff. So, I knew nothing about computers, and the controller
said, well, why don't you do it on this? And he is showing me a floppy disk, and I
said, what is that? He said, you could get a computer and do it on a program
called Lotus. I said, yeah, right. You know? And I found out there was a guy who
worked in circulation who knew how to use Lotus, because they had to do all that
for the routes, and he showed me how to use it. My first computer program was a
spreadsheet program. He showed me how to use it, and then at night-I still did
not have a computer-I would go over to the production director's office because
he had one, and he would let me work in there at night doing my budget. So,
finally, I got a computer in the office, and then I ended up getting one at home, a
286 running DOS. This happened after I had been on this task force, and I used
the computer out of necessity. I had to do this budget, and I had to get it done in
a way that was not going to eat up all my time so I could still be the editor of the
paper. I was sort of forced into it. I really did not have that much interest in
technology, except that I was on this task force. Anyway, the person who had the
[corporate systems editor] job had been at USA TODAY. I do not remember how
long Karen [Howze] was here, and then she left, and the job was vacant for many
months. Then one day, Phil [Currie] called me and he said, look, I am having
trouble filling this job; you know this job better than anybody because you created
it; will you come up and do it? I had not thought about leaving Pensacola. I
thought when I went down there as executive editor that I like Pensacola, it is
one of my favorite areas in Florida, that that was where I was going to stay. But I
also found that after having lived in Washington for five years, I missed it. I
missed the city. I missed living in a metropolitan area. Now, some people hate
Washington. There were some people during the early days of the USA TODAY
startup who went back to their communities because they did not like
Washington. But I happened to love it, and I did not really take advantage of all
the things we have here when I was here before. Then all of a sudden it is gone,
because you sort of figure, well, I will go to the Kennedy Center later. So, to have
this opportunity to come back and do that, and by that time I had developed
somewhat of an interest in technology by virtue of the fact that I had to do it, and
I started to get a little more interested in computers. Of course, you know, the
production director [in Pensacola] at the time was trying to get me to get
interested in pagination. I did not want to do it because that meant more
production work for the newsroom. So, I came up to this job as news systems
editor really not knowing a whole hell of a lot about news systems. I worked with
a guy who was in production who really taught me an awful lot about all that, the
vendors and all that sort of stuff. Since that time, I have seen it go from that to,
now we use very high-end PCs [personal computers] and pagination and digital
photography and computer-assisted reporting. It did not just deal with the
production part of technology. I would not have been interested in that. This had
to do with how you use that as a tool to make yourself a better reporter and a
better editor, particularly on the reporting end, because we went through one
period where we traveled around the country a few years ago and did sort of a
crash course of three days or two days teaching computer-assisted reporting to
people in our newsrooms. I worked with a guy, David Milliron, who is a Florida
C: Our grad, a UF grad.
S: Who at that time was doing computer-assisted reporting work initially in Fort
Myers and then had gone to Gannett News Service. He is now at the Atlanta
Constitution. David was my primary instructor, and we taught spreadsheets and
we taught database work. I did not know any of this until we started doing it,
except for the spreadsheets. The spreadsheets, I knew, but I did not know how to
do databases. I am basically self-taught on computers. I really have had very,
very little formal training. But I began to realize very quickly how [important it was
becoming]. Then, of course, the Internet. That just changed everything for
reporters. I cannot imagine being a reporter today and not having the Internet. If I
was covering education like I used to years ago, I would think, oh my God; this is
like being in Brevard County and having the U. S. Department of Education right
there on your desk. I never had access to any of that kind of stuff. This is just
fabulous. I can go on the Internet now and find out how much my neighbor's
property is assessed at. It is wonderful as a reporting tool, and the same thing
with dealing with database That is truly original reporting, to be able to get
those public records, thousands of records, and be able to analyze them. It is
hard work, and a lot of reporters do not really want to have to deal with it.
C: But it used to be a lot harder. It was always out there.
S: I remember having to analyze the school-board budget with a calculator and
trying to calculate differences in one year over the next. Boy, you can just do that
so quickly now with a spreadsheet that it is just wonderful. I am sure the public
agencies do not enjoy it as much, but we certainly do as reporters. So, in this job,
I have been able to work an awful lot with the newsrooms. One of the things I do
now is I am much more involved in what we are doing with our Web sites.
C: I was going to ask about that. Is this the next phase of your career?
S: This is the next phase. It is still the same job. I still have to do all the other stuff,
which is really holding a lot of hands of the top editors in our newsrooms who are
still struggling in dealing with technology, but because I have worked for Gannett
for almost thirty-two years now and I know those editors so well because we
used to work together, they do not hesitate to call me. They feel confident calling
me to ask me something that they think might be stupid, that I am not going to
say to them, that is really stupid. And I like seeing them make that kind of
progress because it empowers them when they know this. They are no longer in
a situation where they have a production direction or an IT [information
technology] director or a vendor telling them something that is not true, or maybe
it is not a lie, but maybe they just do not understand how a newsroom works, how
a copy desk works. I can help the editors ask the questions. I was out in
Cincinnati just last week meeting with a vendor in the newsroom, talking to him
about what pagination was going to mean to them and how they needed to get
ready for it. So, that is still part of my job. When we did all the upgrades because
of the Y2K issue [fear that computer systems would melt down world-wide
because of a programming flaw resulting from the turnover to the year 2000] we
actually replaced an awful lot of old systems with newer ones that I would have
had to been dealing with now. So, we are probably not installing quite as many
systems now as we were before, because some of them are newer anyway and
are PCs or Macs [Macintosh]-we do not have as many of the old legacy, we call
them, dumb terminal-type systems left anymore. Plus, a lot of our newspapers
also have their own systems, which is really, really good, because they are right
there. These were all people who came out of newsrooms and understand those
kinds of things. Now, what we are trying to focus on is trying to improve our Web
sites, and particularly the news content on our Web sites.
C: What about now this move from this building to Tyson's Corner [Virginia], a brand
new corporate [and] USA TODAY [headquarters]. For the future, how is this
going to affect your job?
S: It is not going to have a huge impact. The thing that we will be able to do that we
cannot do now is, we will all be on a wide area network with our newspapers
once we are out of there. Let me back up just a little bit because I want to
mention something about the Web sites and what we are doing. Right now, we
are getting ready to roll out a training program. The newsrooms traditionally have
not been as involved in the Web sites. It is generally the on-line department that
does it. They have become more and more involved in it now because we are
now updating news throughout the day, and we want them to understand how
different presentation and writing is on the Web than it is for newspapers. Mindy
McAdam, of course, knows that probably better than anyone. Mindy actually
came up and did a writing session for a group of editors. We had two groups in.
Because our company is so big now, we had to split the group. We had the top
editors and the online editors from each of the newspapers come in. There was
one session with half the group in October and another one in November, and we
talked about writing and editing for the Web. Now, this training is for the next
level down, which involves mid-level editors, some reporters, photographers,
artists. We were originally going to travel around and do the training regionally
and then have the newspapers that were within that area come in, because that
cuts down on the expenses, rather than having them all come here, plus you can
get an awful lot more of them. When the economy went down really bad and we
had to cut back an awful lot on travel, not so much for the four of us who were
involved in the actual training, but for the newspapers; we started doing an awful
lot more things remotely than we ever did before. It has been an interesting
experience. One of the things we have had to do is our newspapers submit
requests for capital expenditures, equipment, and we have to review all that.
Then a group of people virtually travels around to each of our regions-Gannett is
divided into geographic regions-to sit down with the regional presidents and the
regional controllers and go through all the requests for their newspapers. Well,
this year, in order to cut back on expenses, we did it all by conference call. The
nice thing about that, first of all, nobody had to waste time traveling. We found
that we accomplished it just as well doing it by conference call. Now, admittedly,
one of the conference calls went five hours, but that is a large group. There were
twenty-five newspapers in that group. I think we will probably end up doing it all
the time that way, rather than wasting time traveling around. The other thing is
that I normally did not make those trips, so I was not involved in the two-way
conversation. This way, I could be, and I could ask the questions myself, which
was helpful to the vice-presidents who were involved in it, too. So, we have
learned as a result of these restrictions, because of the economy, we have
learned how to do things probably a lot more efficiently.
C: So, distance-learning may really work.
S: The distance-learning thing, well, I had a little experience with that a few years
ago with API. We developed a program for some distance learning.
C: That is the American Press Institute.
S: Right, in Reston [Virginia]. I was on a project to teach computer-assisted
reporting with Neill Borowski, who is a computer-assisted reporting editor for the
Philadelphia Inquirer. Neill and I developed this distance-learning program, and I
actually taught a spreadsheet in a chat environment. I had not intended to as part
of this. We were originally going to be teaching a lot more theory and public
records, that kind of discussion, but we found out halfway through the course,
which was six weeks, that some of the [students] really wanted to learn this. So, I
said okay, I am going to try this in a chat environment. And we did it. I would not
have tried to do a database program that way. Spreadsheets are easier because
all you have to know are the four math functions-add, subtract, multiply and
divide. The other main thing that reporters need to know is percent change,
which most reporters do not know how to calculate. Once you learn how to do
that, then the rest of it is really pretty easy. It was a fun experiment. It was an
awful lot of work putting it together. It was a different way of learning, obviously.
Anyway, how all that leads up to what we are planning on doing now when we
had to cut back, now we have to try and teach Web design and writing and all
that in a distance situation, so we are going to do it with a conference call and
Power Point [presentation software]. We are not going to do it on the Web
because [some] of our newspapers [don't have high-speed Internet access, and
we are trying to train most of our papers].
C: Now, how many newspapers today are there?
S: Ninety-[seven], [in the U.S., plus fifteen dailies in the U.K.] Anyway, some of
them do not have direct connection to the Internet, so they will have to have
somebody there who actually runs the Power Point, and we will do it by
conference call. We are going to do it over two days, because to do it all in one
day would take too many people out of the newsroom. But the nice thing about it
is the newspaper can have up to twenty people if they want. They will be sitting in
a conference room. We will do two up to three-hour sessions. We are going to do
a pilot in a couple of weeks involving three of our papers, and then we will
actually start. Assuming they do not totally dump on it and trash it and tell us it is
never going to work, we will start rolling it out in October. I would not tell you for a
minute that distance-learning is any substitution for a one-on-one classroom kind
of thing. I know there has been an awful lot of discussion with universities. There
was something on TV the other night about what Phoenix is doing.
C: I saw that. 60 Minutes did it.
S: Yes. I think you can do it for some things, and they do actually, even in Phoenix,
bring the students together periodically. I think when you are dealing with adult
learners, the difference there is that they are generally self-motivated. There is
no real risk there. It is not like when you are in college, where the only real
pressure is to get out of school so your parents do not have to support you
anymore. When you are an adult and you sign up for a class, the motivation is
you want to really learn something that might further your career or something
like that. I am not saying that college kids today are not motivated. Many of them
are, certainly, but distance-learning just works better for those situations in which
people can work independently, but you give up an awful lot. We did an awful lot
of chat when we did the computer-assisted reporting one, and even that was
difficult because it is still not voice. You miss that kind of communication that can
go on when you are actually talking to someone.
C: Not as instantaneous when you have got a problem.
S: Not as instantaneous. Plus, quite frankly, as we have learned with e-mail, people
can misinterpret what you are writing. The emphasis is not there; there is not the
inflection that you have in your voice to be able to emphasize certain things.
C: And no eye contact.
S: And no eye contact. So, I do not think it is any real substitute, but it was either
that or not do anything at all until the economy got better. I think if you sit there
and say, well, I am going to wait until the economy gets better and not do
anything .... Did you ever read the book Who Moved My Cheese, which is on
the bestseller list?
C: No, but it sounds wonderful. I read the reviews.
S: Which is a great little analogy when it comes to helping people deal with change.
When you read it, it is sort of hokey because it is about mice, but it is also about
people and how they adapt to change and whether you are going to sit there and
wait for somebody to bring the cheese back or whether you are going to go off
and find some new cheese or a new source of cheese. It is the same thing with
the economy today. It is very, very tough. It has got to be very tough for editors
out there in newspapers having to struggle with not having any job openings and
trying to make their newspapers better. Yet we were able to do that and get eight
nominations for the APME at a time when the economy had already started to go
down. I think that as far as the Web is concerned, this is becoming more and
more important to the way we do business.
C: Do you see the interactive role of, say, the on-line function of newspapers now
being a new era?
S: I think so. There are so many things that you can do. It is not going to replace the
newspaper, although some people would tell you that it is. But it extends the
reach of it. You can do things now with the Web. For example, let us just say you
got some big story that broke that is related to some issue that took place several
years ago. You do not have enough newsprint to be able to go back and reprint
those articles, but you can put them on the Web. You can put original documents
on the Web. One newspaper had a story about a guy, a very wealthy old man
who had a dysfunctional family, who apparently when he died left nothing to his
children and everything to charity or some such thing. They put his will up on the
Web. They got an amazing number of hits, people wanting to go in there and
read those documents, which they would never be able to read otherwise. In Des
Moines, Iowa, where they have a database of all the state salaries of all the state
workers. 100,000, I do not know how many there are. The highest-paid state
worker, not surprisingly, is the [basketball coach at] the university.
C: I was going to say the football coach.
S: I am sure if they did it in Florida, Steve Spurrier [UF head football coach] would
probably be number-one. Those are things that you cannot do in print. You can
put audio and video [on the Web]. Our newspaper in Phoenix, actually, and it is
there all the time, has a live police-scanner on the Web site, and you can listen to
the police-scanner twenty-four hours a day in Phoenix. That gives the public
access to their government, to the things that are really important to them that
they never were able to have before, not to mention the interactivity that they
have with their newspaper, with each other, and with their government officials.
You know, it opens up the whole world to you all of a sudden. It is a wonderful
educational tool in terms of being able to read. [You can] read foreign
newspapers, which you would never be able to. Visit places. It is like a mammoth
Discovery Channel. So, we are seeing an awful lot more of that at our
newspapers, plus we are also seeing many more of them updating news
throughout the day, and the public has come to expect that. This puts us into a
competitive environment with radio and television that we never had before. I
remember so many times at USA TODAY before usatoday.com was there, an
amazing number of major stories broke on a Friday, which is the worst day for
that, and they would have to come back-well, they still do in print-on Sunday for
Monday's newspaper, two days later, and make that story fresh, put that forward
spin on it so it looked to the future of what did all this mean, which USA TODAY
still does the best job of. What does all this mean?
C: Do you think USA TODAY is ever going to go seven days?
S: I do not think so. That is a question really for Tom Curley, but I do not think so,
because even though home delivery has been very, very successful, the primary
purchaser of USA TODAY is still somebody who buys it out of a rack or at a
store, a traveler. The only way you really make it work on the weekends is home-
delivery because people just are not out and about, especially in cities, buying
newspapers out of racks and things like that.
C: So, you think the Web development of usatoday.com ... ?
S: The Web development of usatoday.com has really enabled them to be virtually a
twenty-four-hour news machine, which they were not able to do before. It has
virtually for any newspaper. You do not have to wait twenty-four hours to get the
news in, and this is really important. I was looking at the Pensacola News Journal
over the weekend because of the threat of the hurricane, and they were updating
it throughout the weekend. I guess it was supposed to hit, like, Sunday night,
early Monday morning, and when I got up on Monday morning, they had an
update at 5:30 in the morning. As it turned out, of course, nothing happened, but
they were ready for it. They were prepared. Now, a couple of years ago, they had
the same situation, and they were not. That is part of our training process. We
also critique the Web sites, and then we have conference calls with them.
Pensacola was one of those, as a matter of fact, and they have really improved
that Web site considerably and in responding to breaking news.
[End of side C1]
S: We went through this period where a lot of newspapers were concerned about
cannibalizing the newspaper-oh, my gosh, if we start doing that-they are over
that. They realize now that this is really important and this gives them a real
edge. Many of the papers that are doing this on a regular basis really are rather
enjoying it. I had an interesting conversation with an editor at one of our papers
in Greenville, South Carolina, in which he said, as a result of their reporters
routinely doing updates throughout the day for the Web site, their stories for print
are much more focused. The front-end editing takes place, which, of course, we
all talk about how important front-end editing is, but editors get so rushed for time
that we are still doing too much on the back-end. He said, there is much more
front-end editing that goes on as a result of reporters preparing stories for the
Web site, plus the reporters turn their stories in earlier because they have half of
it written for the Web, and then it is a matter of developing the rest of it for the
next day's print. So, it has actually helped the print product in a way that we had
never really anticipated.
C: Does it matter, particularly for the final product, I guess, that there may be a
problem with delivery of electricity, of power? That with your print product
somewhere down the road, in a disaster situation, there will be that product. On-
line, is this something that Gannett is looking at, at a corporate level? Is there an
energy crisis that is going to impact the delivery of information?
S: I was not really thinking about an energy crisis as much as I was if there was a
hurricane that wiped out your electricity.
C: Right, or the rolling [electrical] blackouts in California.
S: Yes. Now, our newspapers for the most part do have generators, and the
generators generally will produce enough electricity to be able to run a press
and, usually, a front-end system. A computer does not really take an awful lot of
power. So, it is not as much on that end of it as much as it is the general public
having access. If you have a natural disaster, an earthquake or a hurricane, in
which thousands of people in your community lose their power, then obviously
they are not going to be able to get on their computers. Very often, the people
who look at those Web sites are not the people who live there so much as the
friends and relatives who live somewhere else and want to know, and they, of
course, can get [on the Web]. I think also with Palm Pilots [portable mini-
computers] and those kinds of devices, WAP phones that rely on cell-phone
technology and things like that, in some ways that makes it a little bit easier,
depending on where that first connection is. If I can get that first connection, then
it does not matter that I am running all over the country because they have got
electricity. Sometimes cell-phones do not work in those situations, and
sometimes they do. But I think we are getting beyond that a little bit more. Yes,
there is always that possibility that if your community loses power, then they are
not going to be able to get that kind of information. You know, if you think about
radios, you buy batteries when there is going to be a hurricane so you can put
them in your portable radio, because you know that way you will have juice and
you can get a radio signal that goes through the air. So, you are not going to lose
that. That is where they have the advantage over the Internet right now, but I
think as we become more and more wireless, that is going to become less of an
issue there. We can reach out somewhere else. I have been out to uunet, which
is a huge ISP [Internet service provider] for businesses, and they have a control
center out there that would blow you away, with this huge world map. They are
like Air Traffic Control for their customers on the Internet, and if there are
problems in certain areas, they can actually route signals through other areas so
that their customers, who are businesses and government agencies, are not
going to lose that connectivity to the Internet, because the Internet has become
so much a part of the way we do business now. It is not just for pleasure
anymore. We need it to stay in business. Those kinds of things become even
more important. Just like generating electricity, you know, they can route our
electricity from different sources and things like that, except in California.
C: Where do you see your next job environment?
S: Oh, I am fifty-seven years old, and I do not plan on working until I drop dead. I
like all the stuff that is going on with the Web. I find it is interesting, it is
fascinating, [and] it is a fun time to be doing what I am doing because of that. We
still have not figured out a way to make a lot of money off it. I cannot remember
the numbers, but I was looking at something the other day, or reading something
the other day, about the length of time that it has taken a certain number of
people to, say, start using radio or start using television, if you think back to that,
versus the Internet. It is phenomenal when you think about the growth, and the
Internet has been far faster than it was for radio or television or any of the
previous communication technologies, and it is still growing. We still have not
figured out what all we can do with it and where it is going and how we can use it.
So, that is fun. I would not want to give that up. I like things that are changing
constantly. I have been in this job for [eleven] years. I have never been bored
because it is technology and it changes all the time. It is one thing after another.
When we first started with digital cameras, they were very expensive. Now, I
cannot remember what the number is, but I think virtually half our newsrooms are
100 percent digital. We are moving into making all of them 100 percent digital. It
is just a matter of replacing the film that they have got. They have seen how it
has contributed to their ability to be very immediate, which they could never do
before, especially with the Web. You can literally shoot a picture and have it on
your Web site in a matter of a couple of minutes. That gives you a competitive
edge, too. So, I do not know. There are just so many things with technology that I
do not think I would want to ....
C: Do you think you will write, do some books maybe?
S: I do not know. I think I would be much more likely to-I hate to use the word
consulting, because everybody wants to say they are going to be a consultant. I
think I could be more helpful to people maybe in that area, especially in
newspapers, because I have done so many different jobs in newsrooms and I
have dealt with technology that I really have a pretty good understanding of it. I
guess the thing that I still sometimes have trouble coming to terms with is that I
understand it, and therefore sometimes I think other people do, too. Sometimes I
get asked questions, especially by vendors, and I will say, well, no, why would
you want to do that? Well, they really do not know, and why would they? Why
would you really think that is the way you want to go with that? We take an awful
lot for granted about what we know, and we forget that other people do not know
and may benefit from what you do know. It is just trying to figure out what is that,
what is that thing. A book seems like an awful lot of work. You know that far
better than [me].
C: And it is going to get outdated in your field if you are looking at the technology by
the time you finish the book.
S: It really does. That is the problem with dealing with technology. You almost have
to do it on the Web so that you can keep it updated. I really do not know.
C: It sounds as if you do not have any long-range time-table-I am going to retire X
date, and then I am going to go to Acapulco this date.
S: No, not right now.
C: That does not sound like that is on your horizon.
S: At one time, I started thinking a little bit more about that, and then the stock
market went down and my 401(k) and all the rest of those things. I will tell you
what it is I started thinking about, because I could certainly afford to retire. My
son is grown.
C: Did he go into communications?
S: No. He is in technology. He works for a company that installs networks, fiber-
optic and cable and all that sort of stuff, phone systems.
C: What is his name?
S: Quentin Foister. He is thirty-two. He lives near here. He was named after the
main character in The Sound and the Fury. His father was a real Faulkner fan.
Right now, he works out of [NASA's] Goddard Space Flight Center all the time,
even though his employer is a contractor, because that is where their projects
are. He really knows computers, much more so [than me]. It is interesting
because years ago, the first computer we ever had was one of those little
Commodore 64s, where you actually had to be a programmer in order to be able
to do anything on it. He was a little kid at the time, and I remember him sitting
down there doing this "go to" and all this sort of language that I did not
understand at all. Then when he got older and I got the computer, I became
better at computers then he did, and now he has leaped way past me in terms of
his knowledge of computers and what they can do. He is a very left-brained kind
of person. He can look at things and take them apart and figure out how to put
them back together. No, he had absolutely no desire to go into journalism. But he
expresses himself really very well. He used to write a lot of his papers on my
computer, and then I would read them. He [had no trouble putting] a sentence
together [and did a nice job of it].
C: Do you think he might pass a Buddy Davis test?
S: Yes. He reads a lot. He reads newspapers, which is really very thrilling when you
consider that he is as young as he is. But sometimes we travel together on
vacations, and he will fly out of Dulles [Washington D.C. airport] and I will fly out
of National [Washington D.C. airport], and we will meet in Atlanta. It is more
convenient. He lives out near Dulles. He gets off the plane and I will meet him at
his gate, and he has two newspapers wrapped up that he has been reading. He
is much more interested in world news. I am thrilled that he has such an interest
in what is going on in the world, and has been; ever since he was much younger,
he has always been very curious about things like that. That is good because
sometimes I am hard-pressed to find someone who is [younger] than thirty-five
who reads a newspaper or reads news or cares about it.
C: What is the solution for this?
S: I think the Web is helping a great deal. We have got studies that have shown
that, while the younger people under the age of thirty-four are not reading
newspapers the same way of people fifty and older, they do go on the Web, and
they are reading newspapers on the Web. They may not be reading them as
thoroughly as somebody who might sit down with a print newspaper where they
are, but they still want information, and they still want information they can trust.
That is where the newspapers are so important. I think people have found out
from going on the Internet there is an awful lot of information out there that is
plain junk and stuff you cannot trust.
C: Do you think the issue is selection, that the younger the reader is the more they
want to be very focused in what they select to read?
S: Yes. They want to read things that are a particular interest to them, much more
so than older people. But in reading the things that are interesting to them, they
will come across some of these other things that will be equally interesting. I think
people also are getting information in different ways. My administrator
coordinator is twenty-four. I asked her how she gets her news. She listens to
NPR [National Public Radio] when she is coming into work in the morning or
while she is getting dressed. She reads the newspaper here when she is having
lunch. I have seen her do it. She reads a news magazine that we get here. She
goes on the Internet to read her hometown newspaper, which is the Wilmington
News Journal. She never mentioned getting her news from television, which I
thought was really interesting. But she spends an awful lot of time getting
information on the Web. So, people get different kinds of information in different
ways. I do it myself. I listen to the radio in the morning when I am getting ready
for work, and I read a newspaper at night. I used to read it in the morning; now I
find myself reading at night. I even have a telephone that allows me to check the
scores and the stocks, which I do when I am caught in a meeting somewhere
and the Gators are playing. I actually did that. I was at a computer-assisted
reporting conference one year in Lexington, last year I guess it was, and the
Gators were playing Tennessee, and it was on TV. I actually toyed with the idea
of skipping the session and watching the game, but I did not. I could sit there in
this conference and pull the antenna up on my phone-there is no ringing or
anything-and check the score. It was a very close game, as you remember, and I
really wished I had watched it now. So, you get your information in different
ways. I check the stock prices and things like that on the phone sometimes. It is
whatever works. Now, I am not going to sit there and read a twenty-inch story on
my phone. I am going to read the newspaper, or I might print it off the Web or
something like that. So, I think that people use whatever device makes sense for
that particular time. I want to see video of storm damage; the best place to see it
is on television, so that is where you watch it. It is still not good enough on the
C: Two questions come to mind that I know I have forgotten to ask you, and then I
am going to say what have we not talked about that you think we should have.
You said your place of birth was in Ireland.
S: Actually England.
C: In England, and then you moved to Ireland. And date of birth?
S: June 8, 1944. I was born in a little town called Beaconsfield, England, which is
outside London. We did not live there, we lived in London at the time, but back in
those days they did not have birthing centers, [but] they had nursing homes. A
nursing-home was not a nursing-home for old people; it was for women who
were going to have babies. I was the first-born, and it was during the war, and we
were in England at the time because my dad was in the British Navy during the
war. The next year, we went over to Ireland because that is where my
grandparents lived, and my brother was born over there. Then we came back to
England, and my other brother was born in England.
C: So, you initially were an English citizen?
S: No. I was always an Irish citizen until I was naturalized, in Pensacola. I was
naturalized in Pensacola when I was twenty-one, after I got out of college. But,
no, we were Irish, Irish citizens. Just physically, we happened to be in England.
C: So, your maiden name was ... ?
S: Saul. I never changed my name professionally. I just changed it legally. There
were a couple of reasons for that. One of them was that my husband was a
reporter, too, and it was easier in dealing with your sources to be able to
separate the two. You did not run into a situation in which you would have to
carry messages for one or the other, and we did not want to do that. I actually
remember the sheriff in Brevard County one time saying to me, I had no idea that
he was your husband. I said, good. Because we did not, you do not want to be in
that situation. That can happen in any environment where you have a couple that
works together. I just never changed it, and then when I got divorced it was easy
enough to take it back. So, I still have my real maiden name. Of course, today it
is no big deal. There are plenty of people who never change their names.
C: Are your parents still living?
S: My mother is. My dad died two years ago. My mother is living and lives in
Atlanta, where one of my brothers and his family live. My other brother lives in
C: Is there anything that you want to go back and delve into or introduce something
that I failed to ask you?
S: I do not think so. I did not really know that I had that much to say, three hours.
C: It is always a surprise.
S: Especially when you think about how long ago it was that you worked in Florida.
C: Would you do things differently? Is there anything?
S: Yes. There are lots of things that I would probably do differently. Obviously, if I
was a reporter, I would do things differently simply because I have more
available to me. As far as how I went about reporting and cultivating sources, no.
You cultivate sources by having them trust you, by being accurate, by being up-
front with them. I do remember dealing with public officials who thought that
because I was a woman I need not be taken seriously. I remember in Brevard
County, I had to go and cover the county commission. I knew those people, and
they knew who I was. They took me lightly, one time. It was harder back then,
and they would try to take advantage of you, in terms of being able to fool you.
They would make sexist remarks, things that would be totally intolerable today.
There was that difficulty in dealing with that. I think it is much less of an issue
today for women reporters. I could not ride around with the cops in their cars. I
could not do some of those kinds of things because I was a woman. But it is
interesting because even though you get up now, we have women publishers
and presidents of major corporations and things like that and it is less of an
issue-this is interesting, a friend of mine is a president of a major newspaper
computer company, one that develops front-end systems. She still runs into this.
She will go to a meeting where there are a number of CEOs of companies in the
same gig, but there still are not that many women who actually do it. I only know
of two. And they will have some committee thing, and they will want her to do the
operations part. She refuses, but she says I am still dealing with that today in
2001. That is a shame. So, I think that would be different. I think that my
resources would be different if I was a reporter. I do not think, though, that I
would be different. I think I would be a better reporter. I would be more thorough
because I would have so much more information available to me. But I do not
think my basic principles would be different. As an editor, that is a little different.
As an editor, when I think back to when I was managing editor, I did not have to
worry much about budgets or anything. That is what the executive editor did. The
managing editor job is really kind of great because you can focus on the content
of the paper and not have to worry about the other things. Then I had the five-
year break before I became an executive editor. I was really not prepared to deal
with things. I had never done a newsroom budget before. Things that I had to do
management-wise because of that five-year difference, there was that break
there that I wish I had been better prepared in that area when I went into being
an executive. I would have done things differently. I will tell you that the
experience of working here with corporate, and we do have some people who
work in corporate jobs and then go out to newspapers, to the field as we call it,
and they are so much better prepared because they know what goes on here at
this end. I would be able to better present proposals.
C: It is almost backwards, isn't it?
S: It is backwards. If I had been able to spend a year or two working at corporate,
then going to a newspaper would have made a world of difference, especially
with Gannett, because Gannett is a very tightly-run company, much more so than
some of the other newspaper companies are. I would know what they look for in
my budget. (I would know how to get around things.) I would know how to get
stuff, meaning equipment, much better than I knew. I was clueless as to how to
do that, and there was not anybody I could really go to here to find out how to do
that, that made sense to me. I do not know how to explain that. I do have to tell
you about one of the most thrilling things I was ever able to do, which I could not
do today, is that when I was in Pensacola as [executive] editor-and I am
reminded of this because I was watching something on TV the other night about
people who deal in extreme situations, and there was a story about the people
who work on aircraft carriers. I had an opportunity to go out and land on an
aircraft carrier and spend all day out there and then take off from it. We are not
allowed to do those dangerous things today, but back then we could. It was an
absolute thrill to do that. I went out with my publisher, and he was white-
knuckled. My only regret was I could not see out. I think it was a C-41, although I
am not sure what they call it. You are sitting backwards, and there are no
windows. I could not see us coming in on the aircraft carrier, which is what I
really wanted to do. [My publisher] did not want to do that, [but] I wanted to see it.
It was a real thrill. It was on the Lexington, which was a training carrier at the time
off Pensacola. That was great fun. Brought me back to my reporting days when
you got to do fun, crazy things. There was one other thing I wanted to mention,
and I guess it is more for reporters than anything else. I have seen over the
years-and I do not know whether we do this as editors, force the situation, or
whether it is forced on reporters by virtue of the fact that they have got access to
things electronically-that reporters spend too much time in the office and not
enough time out in their communities talking to real people. I would have
photographers come back in, and photographers obviously had to be out there,
and tell me things that the reporters did not get on the phone because the
photographer was there and saw it. I would say to reporters, there is no news
going on in this room, not at least in the last few hours that I have been in here.
Well, [they say,] I am waiting for a phone call from whomever. Is that for a story
that I have forced on this person, perhaps? Yes, that is a very real thing. Now,
with cell-phones, that should be less of an issue. But when I was working in a
newsroom, we did not have cell-phones, even in my last one. Maybe less of an
issue that someone could go out to a car crash and still take that call from
somebody. But when I was a reporter, the last place in the world I wanted to be
was in the newsroom. I think I mentioned before that I had a couple of city editors
that I really did not care to work for, and one of the reasons was, they were so
unimaginative that they would give you stupid assignments just to fill the paper. I
would leave in the morning, and I would go out, and I would be out all day. I
would call in. They knew where I was. Called in my budget, they knew what I was
working on. And I would come in at the end of the day and write my story. The
last [place] I want to be, because then you had to do the obits and the b.s. kind of
stuff that nobody likes. I cannot imagine why you would want to be in a
newsroom. So, I say to all the new reporters out there, get out of the office, and
go out there and have fun out in the community and see the stuff that is going on.
C: It sounds like you have no regrets about your reporting days.
S: Best job I ever had in a newspaper was being a reporter. Best job because of
that, because I got to do so many different kinds of things and meet so many
different people, cover space launches and murders and lots of things that were
pretty unsavory and stuff like that but never boring, very, very interesting stuff, all
of it. Best job, absolutely. Is that it?
C: That is it. That is a good place to stop.
[End of the interview.]