Interviewee: Fred Hartmann
Interviewer: Ralph Lowenstein
Date: April 24, 2002
L: This is Ralph Lowenstein interviewing Fred Hartmann in Jacksonville, Florida, on
Wednesday, April 24, 2002, at the Times-Union building on Riverside Avenue.
[It's] a nice sunny day outside so we'll begin the interview. I want to say first of
all it's Frederick William Hartmann. Fred is the retired executive editor of The
Florida Times-Union. Fred, welcome to this oral history project and I'd like to
start off by asking where were you born?
H: I was born in Wilmington, Delaware.
L: What year?
H: February 3, 1928.
L: Were you educated in public schools there?
H: Public schools, then the University of Delaware for a year before I went in the
L: What year did you go into the Army?
H: I went in 1946. The shooting war was over but the GI Bill was still available. My
freshman year strapped my parents financially, so it was pretty obvious that if I
was going to get a college education, I had to go in the service to get the GI Bill,
and that was true of a number of my friends. In fact, my college roommate and I
both enlisted, along with some other friends from high school in September of
1946. We were discharged in 1948.
L: What did you do in the Army?
H: I was a company clerk for a while and then I had a very interesting experience. It
was at Fort Knox, Kentucky, Third Armored Division, armored infantry. I was a
company clerk, and [one day] we got a call from division headquarters saying
that every company in the division had to send a man to a meeting. The first
sergeant didn't know what the meeting was all about, so he sent me. We met in
a big hall and there were maybe 150 people there and one of the officers got up
and said, anybody who can't swim can leave. This was in February and what
they were doing was selecting people to form a swim team. They asked a lot of
questions and probably narrowed it down to about twenty of us, and next thing
the first sergeant knew and the company commander, Captain Drake, was that I
was on special assignment to division headquarters to take swimming lessons at
the YMCA in Louisville.
L: Could you swim?
H: Yes, I could, but you had to take Red Cross. You had to take lifesaving courses
and courses that taught you how to teach other people how to swim. So it was
quite an interesting summer, and I was on the list at my company, Able 77,
because I had, they thought, a lush job of being in the swimming pool all
summer. It was very interesting.
L: That's better than being in the motor pool.
H: Right. When I came off the assignment in the fall, we were in a training company
and the trainees had finished all of their work except the last bivouac. There was
a fairly steep hill at Fort Knox called Agony Hill and part of the thing was this
forced march, including going up Agony Hill. So the company commander, as
some sort of punishment, made me the guide-arm bearer and told me what the
pace should be. I was in pretty good shape from a summer of working out, so I
kicked the pace up a little bit and pretty soon, some of the troops were starting to
drop. Anyhow, that was probably the highlight of my Army career. Next fall, the
fall of 1947, there was a football team at Fort Knox and one of my friends was an
assistant to the football coach and it so happened that this team was composed
entirely of African-American soldiers. Another friend of mine in the next company,
Baker 77, had played freshman football at Iowa and I played freshman football at
Delaware. Roger Pedersen, who was the aide to the football coach, knew that.
The team suffered some injuries, so the guy from Salt Lake City acted as a go-
between and said, are you interested in playing football for the football team?
Ray Glancy, who was from Davenport, Iowa, and I both said sure, and they said,
well, it's an all-black team, does that matter? And we said, hell no, we just want
to play football. Captain Drake, my company commander, later got word that
after a summer in the pool, I was going to spend the next month or so playing
football, so that didn't go over very well either. But it was really fun and one of
the running backs was Billy Anderson, who is the son of Rochester Anderson,
who was Jack Benny's [radio-era comedian] sidekick on the radio, and Billy had
been an Olympic sprinter, at least that's what we were told. He was very fast, so
as a lineman, I started off playing a guard position and later played center, but as
a guard trying to open a hole for Billy Anderson it was pretty easy. All you had to
do was brush the opponent and you could hear Billy whizzing by.
L: You don't look very big for a job like that.
H: Things were different in the 1940s. Linemen were not 310 pounds, as they are
today. But that's so much for the Army career.
L: So you got out in 1948?
H: Got out in March of 1948.
L: You spent that whole time at Fort Knox?
L: So when you got out, then what did you do?
H: I worked that summer of 1948, for a construction company and we were putting
in curbs in a development.
L: In Wilmington?
H: Yeah, in Augustine Hills. Then in the fall of 1948, I went back to the University of
Delaware where I'd been a freshman in 1945, 1946.
L: What was your major?
H: I started off as an English major. I had a creative writing course and I wrote some
things that the instructor took issue with, I'm not sure what it was. I know the
subjects were irreverent and the technique was like Jackson Pollock [artist], kind
of throwing words and trying to do something different, and he didn't appreciate
that very much. His name was Dunlap and another English teacher told me that
Dunlap sat on the oral [exam committee]. The final exam for an English degree
was an oral exam and it was a pass-fail grade, and this teacher told me that
Dunlap would fail me, so I ought to switch my major. I switched to a history
major, and to do that, I had to take a couple of courses in summer school. The
history majors wrote a thesis and I wrote mine on the Russian Revolution. Then,
when I graduated from the University of Delaware in 1951, I applied at Columbia.
L: Can I go back for just a minute?
L: Did you do any publications work in high school?
L: What did you do in high school?
H: I was the sports editor of the high school paper.
L: Did you work on the newspaper in college?
L: What was the name of the paper?
H: The Review at the University of Delaware.
L: What did you do there?
H: I started off as sports editor and in my senior year I was editor of The Review.
L: You were editor of the newspaper?
L: So you really had an interest in journalism?
H: Right, I did. Also, one of my English teachers urged me to apply at Columbia, to
the Graduate School of Journalism, in New York, and I did, but I was too late for
the class of 1951-1952.
L: You would have been a classmate of mine.
H: Yeah, right. If I had applied earlier. I got a nice letter back and they said that
they liked my credentials and if I was still interested the following year, to apply
earlier. I got a letter of application ready and mailed it on January 2, 1952, and
said, is this early enough in the school year?
L: Did you have any encounters with Richard Baker when you were applying?
H: Oh yeah. Not when I was applying. When I got out of Delaware and knew I
wasn't going to be able to go to Columbia that fall, I still had some GI Bill left. So
I applied at American U[niversity] in Washington. There were only one or two
journalism courses that were available at the University of Delaware, one was a
history of communications or something like that. There was no hands-on
journalism except at the student newspaper and, of course, we didn't have any
instruction with that, we were just students running the newspaper. I thought if I
had been accepted at Columbia, I would be going there with very little hands-on
experience, other than the student newspaper, at least no formal training. I had
a couple of friends in Washington who were going to law school and they let me
know that if I was enrolled at American University, I could share their apartment.
So I enrolled and was accepted. I worked in a restaurant in the daytime and
went to American University at night and took three or four journalism courses.
One of them was taught by a guy named Sam Zagoria, who later worked for The
Washington Post. It was an interesting experience and I think it helped prepare
me for Columbia. I guess that was the summer of 1952, because I started at
Columbia in the fall of 1952 and graduated in 1953.
L: Did you have a good experience at Columbia?
H: Overall, I would say yes. I was a little older than most of the students, having
been in the Army. Our class was about twenty-five or twenty-eight students and
there was only one other student who has been in the service, [Ernest B.] "Pat"
Furguson [Jr.], who had been in the Marine Corps.
L: He was a classmate of mine in high school. Pat and I went to high school
H: Yeah. He later became a reporter for The Baltimore Sun and ended up being a
columnist for The Baltimore Sun.
L: I see Pat at all the high school reunions. We went through twelve years of school
H: Is that right?
L: Small town. Did you have any exceptional experience at Columbia, as a student
H: Our big project at Columbia was an assignment to go to a newspaper and find
out what the newspaper thought its best story was of the past year, and then do
an analysis of how the newspaper handled that piece of exemplary journalism.
They assigned me The Washington Post. Well, I was working at a restaurant at
night in New York, McGuinness's at 48th and Broadway, and my problem was
how I would get to Washington and back. I wrote Ben Gilbert, who was the city
editor of The Washington Post, a letter [and] told him about this project, told him
I'd like to come down to Washington, visit with him and talk about what The Post
had done in the previous year. What I did was, I had a little bag that had the
University of Delaware seal on it and I had lettered in soccer at the University of
Delaware, so I had a blue sweater with a great big D on it. I tried to look as Joe
College as I could and made a cardboard sign that said D.C. on one side and
N.Y. on the other and it folded in half so I could put it in my bag. I went down to
the Lincoln Tunnel and stood there with my letter sweater on and my little sign
that said D.C., and that's how I got to Washington. I had those friends who were
still going to law school, so I bunked with them and then I went to keep my
appointment with Ben Gilbert, and Ben said, well, there are two stories. One was
a story involving dumping potatoes at sea to keep the price of potatoes up. He
said that would be really easy, that was basically one story with a couple of
follows, he said that would be a really easy one. The other one was a story
about how The Post exposed and led to the arrest of Catfish Turner, who was the
biggest drug king in Washington. Here was Ben Gilbert saying to me, do you
want to take the easy story or do you want to take the tough story? I thought to
myself, I might be asking this guy for a job someday and he'll remember if I took
the easy one, he'll say, this is a guy who took the easy way out, I don't want to
have anything to do with him. So I said, I'm going to take Catfish Turner, the
tough one. He gave me the names of seven or eight reporters who had worked
on that story and I set about writing to them and trying to set up appointments to
them and he gave me permission to use the morgue and to go through all the
files. They had written dozens and dozens of stories. Many times after that, I
regretted that decision, because it really was a complex deal.
L: While you were really going to school full-time.
H: Going to school full-time.
L: And you're all day there.
H: Right. All day and then work at night and then hitchhike to Washington. I think it
was eight or ten weekends in a row that I hitchhiked to Washington. One night a
car pulled up with three drunken soldiers in it. Two of them were passed out in
the backseat and the driver could barely walk and he said, [we're] going to
Washington and he said, you drive. He took the passenger seat and fell asleep
and before he fell asleep he gave me five dollars to pay some tolls and things, so
I drove to near my friend's apartment in Washington and woke him up. What
happened [then] was really fortunate. I got a ride from a nice guy, coat-and-tie
guy, who was very friendly and asked me where I was going to school, asked me
a lot of questions and bought me a meal on the New Jersey Turnpike. Finally,
nearing Washington, I said, you know everything about me, I know very little
about you. He said, well, I come to Washington every weekend. I'm an FBI
[Federal Bureau of Investigation] agent stationed in New York, but my fiancee
lives in Washington. He said, if you want me to, I'll just stop at McGuiness's at
midnight. I'm off-duty at midnight and that's when you get off work, so if I just
stop at McGuiness's at 48th and Broadway, [I'll] pick you up and take you to
Washington. Then 6:00 Sunday evening, I'll stop by The Washington Post and
pick you up, take you back to New York. His name was Harley Williams. I'll fast-
forward maybe twenty years, twenty-five years, I was the editor of the
newspapers in Wilmington, Delaware, and a Rotary Club in Elkton, Maryland,
which is maybe forty miles from Wilmington, asked me to come and speak. I
went and did my shtick and talked about what our newspaper was trying to do
and talk about daily journalism. After the thing was over, some of the organizers
thanked me and this man walked up and said, [do] you remember me? I'm
Harley Williams; I'm a real-estate agent now in Elkton and a member of Rotary
Club. The guy who had driven me back and forth from Washington to New York
and vice versa was now a real-estate agent in Elkton, Maryland. I couldn't
L: When you graduated from Columbia, how did you choose which newspaper you
would go to work for? You went to work for your hometown newspaper, right?
H: No. I decided that I wanted to spend one more summer at Ocean City, New
Jersey. I had been a bartender at Sommer's Point, which is across the bay, and
the owner of the bar said if I ever wanted the job, just to come on in. I decided I'd
take one more summer off, because that would be the last free summer of my
life. I went to Ocean City, New Jersey, and tended bar for that one last summer.
I had a plan. My father was a close friend of a man named Gregson, who was
the manager of the Hotel Du Pont in Wilmington. Gregson, our father's friend,
was a close friend of a Hollywood producer [who] did the Cavalcade of America,
which was a Du Pont Company-sponsored television program. He also did The
Lone Ranger and Private Secretary with Ann Sothern [actress]. I had written to
him to see if I could get a job as an apprentice screenwriter and he invited me to
come to California. He said he would do what he could. Another friend and I
drove to California. I'm struggling to remember the producer's name. It was like
in October, and he said that he thought he'd have opening in the middle of
December. So I got a job with a finance company, repossessing cars, and hung
on until December and then in December he said it would be after the first of the
year and then after the first of the year he said it would be spring.
H: This was already 1954?
L: Yeah. 1954.
H: Because you graduated in 1953.
L: Yeah, after the first of the year in 1954. That was all I could take, so I went back
to New York and roomed with a classmate who was working at The Newark Star-
Ledger. I went to the placement people at Columbia and they gave me some
leads. I didn't know it at the time, but they gave me a name at McGraw Hill. It
turned out it was the president of McGraw Hill and I made an appointment and
went in to interview him. I got the impression that it's pretty lonely at the top.
There wasn't a thing or paper on the man's desk. It was a huge office, and he
was a little fellow behind this gigantic desk and he made a few phone calls and it
ended up that they didn't have anything or he didn't think they had anything. He
said, what kind of writing would you like to do? I said, well, most of my
experience is in sportswriting. I said, do you know anybody in the business in
sports? He did, he gave me a couple of names, one was a writer at Sport
magazine. I called the two names he gave me and I got interviews with them
and in either case they didn't know of any jobs, but each of those people gave
me two names. That process went on. Every time I got an interview, I didn't
leave empty-handed, I got a name or two and in about a week I was so busy I
had to run around Manhattan in a cab. One of the names I had gotten was a
man named Jack Aspenwal, who worked for the Associated Press. Jack hired
me as a summer intern in February of 1954. It was the only money he had
available and he wanted to hire me, so he gave me a job on the radio rewrite
desk. We would take a-wire copy and local news and turn it into radio copy, and
then eventually, in a matter of some weeks, I was assigned to do a five-minute
newscast that would be used every hour, on the hour, by radio stations. It was
an all-inclusive newscast, it would have the weather, stock market, international
news, Washington news, etc. So it was a balanced report.
L: Were you doing the audio or you were just writing it for them?
H: Just writing it. It sounds like it would be easy to do five minutes worth of news
every hour on the hour, but it turned out to be quite a grind to freshen it, to keep it
fresh, and to keep it interesting.
L: This was going to radio stations?
L: How long did you do that?
H: I did that until May of 1954. I'd gone to Columbia and gotten my master's degree
on a student loan, and the previous summer I'd saved $600 and when I got to
New York, I took $300 to registration and put the other $300 in the bank, so I'd
have it for the second semester.
L: It cost $600 a year in those days?
H: It was more than that.
L: Was it more than that?
H: Oh, yeah. When I finished, I owed them $2,000, but I had it on a student loan
and the interest rate was 1 percent on the student loan and a commitment to
send Columbia 10 percent of my take-home pay every payday. I was working at
the Associated Press [AP] for fifty-nine dollars a week, and by the time they took
out the federal tax, the Social Security, some Manhattan employment tax, and
some New York state tax, I was left with forty-two dollars. The AP headquarters
were in Rockefeller Plaza, there was a post office substation down by the ice
rink, we'd go down there dutifully every Friday and buy a money order for $4.20
and send it to Columbia, performing my commitment under which I'd gotten the
student loan to send the 10 percent of my take-home pay. One day I sat down
and figured out that if I never got a raise and if everything stayed the same, I
would be 108 years old when I got my student loan paid off. So I decided that
living in New York just was not practical. My share of the rent was ten dollars a
week, which was forty dollars a month, the apartment was eighty [dollars] a
month. Anyhow, I just decided the whole thing was not going to work. I was very
uncomfortable owing that much money and not being able to pay it back at a
greater rate than $4.20 a week. I decided to move home, my home was north of
Wilmington, Delaware, in Bellefonte, and live with my parents. I thought I would
be obligated to give them something.
L: What did your father do, incidentally?
H: My father was a pastry chef at the Hotel Du Pont.
L: Did you have siblings?
H: I have one, a sister.
L: Older or younger?
H: Younger, who's now deceased.
L: So you moved back home and began looking for another job?
H: Actually, I started sending out resumes and application before I left New York,
and a radio station in Wilmington expressed interest and I went to WDEL, which
was the NBC affiliate in Wilmington. [I] ended up, I think, starting in late May or
early June, as news and sports director. That was a really good preparation for
the work ahead. It was a one-man news operation, which taught me how to do
everything. When I would leave at midnight, I would write a five-minute newscast
for 8:00 a.m. and the next major newscast was a 12:15 p.m. It was a fifteen-
minute newscast, and then 6:00 was another fifteen-minute newscast, and at
6:15 I had a fifteen-minute sports program that I did myself. The news writing
was all for other announcers to read, but I had the fifteen-minute sports program.
The days would be eighteen-hour days. If there was a breaking news story,
they'd call me and get me in there to handle the [story].
L: No overtime in those days?
H: No, no.
L: What is the name of the Wilmington newspaper?
H: News Journal.
L: How did you go from there to The News Journal?
H: I got to know some of the reporters from covering events, and they were urging
me to come over to the print. Actually, the morning paper was The Morning
News and the afternoon paper was the Journal Every Evening, that was the
name of it, and it was later changed to The Evening Journal.
L: Who owned that paper?
H: Christiana Securities owned the paper, which was a holding company of DuPont
L: That's right, DuPont actually owned the paper.
H: Yeah, that's the way that was translated. DuPont owned the newspaper.
L: That was the major industry in town.
H: Yeah, in the state.
L: When did you go to work for them?
H: I worked at the radio station for a couple of years, and actually I broke a couple
of stories that they had to follow, so the radio station got credit for breaking a
story. I didn't, the radio station did, but that sort of paved the way. I guess they
sort of took the position, if you can't beat them, join them, or something like that.
But anyhow, at the urging of my friends and colleagues, fellow reporters, I got an
interview with the managing editor of the morning paper and got hired as a
beginning reporter. I started, oddly enough, on April 1, 1956, April Fool's Day,
and did a lot of different things. I did a lot of general-assignment reporting to
begin with, and cop reporting, and ended up being assigned to City Hall, covering
the Wilmington City Council.
L: And that's for The Journal?
H: No, that was for The Morning News.
L: How long did you work there altogether, at The News?
H: The two papers merged, the staff of the two papers merged in the mid-1960s and
I became metro editor of both papers. I had been an assistant city editor, a city
editor of the morning paper, and when the staffs of the two papers merged, I
became metro editor of both papers. Wilmington did not have a Sunday paper.
The market was given over to The New York Times, The New York Daily News.
L: How big was Wilmington in those days?
H: About 100,000. In the northern end of the state, it was about 400,000.
L: It was a six-day-a-week paper?
H: It was then, yeah.
L: You'd worked there for ten years by the time you became metro editor?
L: Then what happened? How much longer did you work there?
H: Until 1980.
L: Actually, you worked there from 1956 to 1980, a long time. At the end, were you
H: Yeah, I was the executive editor. One of the really significant things that
happened in Wilmington was the creation of a Sunday newspaper. The publisher
of the paper assigned me to work with an MBA [master in business
administration] to investigate the feasibility of a Sunday newspaper in
Wilmington, and Delaware for that matter. Those papers were statewide
newspapers. This guy, Joe Lentz, and I worked for about six months to
determine whether it would be possible for The News Journal papers to publish a
Sunday newspaper. We concluded that it was. We got a list of about fifteen
Sunday newspapers that had been started in the last five years. Then we
proceeded to interview and tape-record people who played a key role in the
establishment of those newspapers. We had so much data, we had to use a
computer, and this was like in 1973, 1974, and computers were just beginning to
come on. The whole project could be summed up with an interview that we had
with a man named Gordon Craig, who was the head of the Booth newspapers in
Michigan and that part of the country. He asked us what was the daily circulation
of the Philadelphia papers, The Bulletin and The Inquirer, [and] The Daily News,
in Wilmington? What was the daily circulation of The New York Times, The
Baltimore Sun, etc? We got all that data together and called him back and rattled
off these numbers. He said, the paper that dominates daily will dominate on
Sunday. Then he said, who's the timid one down there? We put that into our
report and in early 1975, Norman Isaacs, who had been in Louisville for many
years and had retired from Louisville, was named publisher of the papers in
Wilmington. Norman Isaacs does not fit the description of a timid one. We'd
finished the report in 1973, somewhere in there, but nothing happened.
Management either didn't believe the data or was timid, or didn't want to do a
Sunday paper, didn't want to take a chance. But when Norman got there in
January of 1975, our report even said the best time to start a Sunday newspaper
was in September, after Labor Day, because life gets back to "normal."
Vacations are over, school starts, stability returns, and that's the best time to
start a Sunday newspaper. That was a consensus we had reached from talking
with all these people about when they had started their Sunday newspapers.
Norman said, okay, by September of 1975, I want a Sunday newspaper. We set
about fulfilling those instructions and on, I think it was the 8th of September, 1975,
we published our first Sunday newspaper. We also had a computer model that
produced the break-even point. We knew exactly how many papers we had to
sell and how much advertising we had to generate to break even. We could
plug-in [a number] like 80,000 circulation and tell you what the bottom-line would
be. We could plug in 100,000 and tell you etc., etc. It was an interesting project
in terms of early use of a computer.
L: Was the paper successful?
H: Oh, yeah. It far exceeded initial expectations. What is it now, twenty-seven
years old? [It started in 1975]. This fall it will be twenty-seven years old.
L: At some point, Gannett came in and bought those papers. What year was that?
H: The deal was closed in the fall of 1978 and Gannett took over in late January of
L: Did the change in ownership have any effects on you? By that time you were
executive editor, right?
H: Right. I actually had a title of vice-president.
L: What year were you named executive editor?
L: The year you started the Sunday paper?
L: There was no problem with you and Gannett, was there?
H: Not initially.
L: Did something develop?
H: Yeah, some friction.
L: Over what?
H: Al Neuharth [founder, USA Today, president, Gannett Co., Inc., 1970-1989].
L: He was president of Gannett?
H: Right. He had an obsession about the quarterly earnings of Gannett and that
they increase every quarter for forty-four, forty-five, fifty consecutive quarterly
earnings increases. In early 1980, Gannett had a television station in Rochester
that it sold for nine million dollars, [but] I'm not sure of that. Some time when the
Gannett annual report came out in the spring of 1980 and Neuharth announced
again that Gannett had reached fifty-plus consecutive quarters of earnings
increases, one of our business writers looked carefully at the Gannett annual
report and discovered that the nine million dollars from the sale of the television
station was not included as extraordinary income as the SEC [Securities and
Exchange Commission] requires.
L: In other words, it was just listed a regular income.
H: Right, making it possible for Gannett, for Neuharth, to say that the consecutive
earnings increases in business quarters was continuing.
L: And without that, it wouldn't have been, right?
H: Without that it wouldn't. Out of Gannett's fifty some newspapers, one, The News
Journal in Wilmington reported that Gannett's earnings streak had been broken.
Nothing happened immediately. There was a regional meeting in June of that
year. Probably a month went by, six weeks went by, and when we reported that
there was trepidation among the senior editors. We knew we were writing
something that Neuharth didn't like.
L: Was that picked up by anybody else after you?
H: I don't think so, no. There was a regional meeting in Somerset, New Jersey, in
late June or early July of 1980. What happens at Gannett regional meetings
normally is that the top officials of each newspaper meet privately with the
Gannett brass, except when we got to Somerset, the announcement was made
that the meetings would be open to all the other newspapers. [End of Tape A:
Side 1] The regional meetings had always been one-on-one with the Gannett
brass and representatives of the newspaper, the publisher, the editor, the ad
director, circulation director, human resource people, etc. At Somerset, it was
announced that all the meetings would be open to all the other Gannett officials.
The Gannett brass had a raised dais and down below were the members of the
newspapers, so that you're kind of looking up.
L: I've heard about that.
H: Our presentation went normally and questions were asked, and finally at the end
of it, Neuharth said that he wanted everybody dismissed except the publisher
and the editor. The publisher then was Joe Lyons and I was the editor. The rest
of the people, the production director, the ad people, all stepped away from their
chairs and Joe and I were left there looking at [Douglas] McCorkindale
[chairman, 2001-present, president, 1997-present, CEO, 2000-present, Gannett],
who's now the president of the company.
L: He was then vice-president.
H: Right. And Neuharth [was there also]. Well, they proceeded to work us over. I
remember Neuharth saying: does the News Journal know more about business
than The Wall Street Journal? Does the News Journal know more about
business than The New York Times? The specific fact that we reported that the
consecutive earnings string was broken never surfaced.
L: It was just beneath the surface.
H: Yeah, it was just beneath the surface, and it was pretty obvious. He was furious,
you could tell. What it was was a public flogging, a verbal flogging of us for
having dared to report [that]. I stood by the report. I told him that in the crush of
business, reading annual reports, newspapers like that New York Times and The
Wall Street Journal had to take the news release at face value. They didn't have
the time to go into each annual report and dig the way we did.
L: That probably made him madder.
H: Yeah. It happened coincidentally that at the same time that this meeting was
going on, I was considering an offer from The [Florida] Times-Union [in
Jacksonville]. I had started to negotiate with The Times-Union in late spring.
L: What made you decide to consider leaving?
H: My wife's father and brother lived in Keystone Heights, which is about fifty miles
from Jacksonville, and we had vacationed there. We had been to Jacksonville
many times and liked the city. It was kind of a dream to maybe someday come
to Jacksonville. They initiated the approach, except I didn't have a lot of
experience job-hunting, because I'd been in Wilmington for so long. I had been
given a couple of other offers while I was a city editor. The Miami News offered
me a job as a city editor, but I had been to the Republican convention in Miami,
when [Richard] Nixon [U.S. President, 1969-1974] chose [Spiro] Agnew [U.S.
Vice-President, 1969-1973; Maryland governor, 1966-1969], and I knew what the
prices were like down there. I didn't have a lot of experience negotiating and so
forth; I just was interested in the benefit [for] my family and the initial offer from
The Times-Union was not attractive at all.
L: By this time you'd been at the Wilmington papers almost twenty-five years.
H: Right. The fact that we got a tongue-lashing from Neuharth wasn't the principal
factor in the decision. The folks at The Times-Union came around and improved
the offers two or three times until it finally was an offer I couldn't refuse, and I'd
like to think that even if the thing with Neuharth hadn't happened, I would have
taken the final offer that The Times-Union made.
L: That was to come here as editor?
H: As managing editor of The [Florida] Times-Union, the morning paper.
L: By that time, there was an afternoon newspaper, The Jacksonville Journal.
H: Right. They had a separate staff at that point.
L: You didn't consider that in any way a sideways or a come-down, since you had
been executive editor in Wilmington, to come here as a managing editor,
because the paper was much larger, right?
H: Yes, it was. My parents were both deceased and I had wanted to try my wings in
L: Is Mary Lu, short for Lucille, from Jacksonville?
H: No. She was born in Chicago, but her father worked for DuPont and that's how
he ended up here.
L: So in 1980 you departed and came down here?
H: Right. I started in September of 1980.
L: What type of situation did you find? What was your evaluation of the newspaper
on the month or the year that you arrived? What were its needs?
H: Its copy-desk operation was dismal. The paper was loaded with typos and
incorrect spellings. I guess it can best be exemplified by [the incident where] one
of the first headlines I read when I got here had Yom Kippur spelled Kipper. That
just made me want to tear my hair out.
L: At that time the paper was still owned by the railroad right? The name of the
H: Seaboard Coastline. The copy desk was wanting. The executive editor, Bob
Clark, would bring in a Sunday paper and he would mark all of these
transgressions with a red-tipped pen and some of the pages looked like they had
been splashed with blood.
L: Clark had not been here that long by the time you arrived, had he?
H: He had been here about a year, maybe going on two years.
L: Was he the person who hired you?
L: Was he really interested in improving the paper quite a bit?
H: Yeah, he was.
L: Was he the executive editor of both papers?
L: Then there was a managing editor of each paper?
H: Of each paper, yeah.
L: I know you want to tell a little bit about an incident in Wilmington and then one at
The Times-Union too, so why don't we do that before we continue with The
H: This happened in 1970 and 1971, and we decided as a group of editors in
Wilmington that our task would be to identify the ten busiest heroin pushers in the
state, either to have them arrested or to have them flee, leave the state. We had
two reporters, Ralph Moyed and Jay Harris. Jay Harris is an African American
and Ralph is a Caucasian reporter. It was around the time of Brian Piccolo and
Gale Sayers [former teammates on the Chicago Bears football team and basis
for the famous sports movie Brian's Song], so Ralph and Jay were our Brian
Piccolo and Gale Sayers. Anyhow, they worked for about eight months without
writing a word and they gathered so much information that we had to rent a
computer and computerize the data. Finally, we ran three stories in a three-part
series on heroin dealers in Delaware. We published the ten that we found to be
the busiest heroin pushers and, within twenty-four hours, police had arrested
eight of them. One group of pushers used a McDonald's [restaurant] and we
thought McDonald's would end up suing us, but they didn't. [Interruption in tape].
The upshot of that was in 1971, The News Journal won the APME [Associated
Press Managing Editors] public service award, which a lot of people regard as an
equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize. That was a high mark in the 1970s for The News
Journal papers in Wilmington. One of the things that Ralph asked me about
earlier was my impression of The Times-Union when I first got here and I
mentioned the copy desk. I also learned rather quickly that the newspaper had
certain policies and certain rules, but when it came to application of those
policies and rules, it was determined by the feelings of the top administration. In
other words, the publisher, J. J. Daniel, felt that the paper ought to do what he
wanted it to do and never mind going by the rules and regulations. A lot of
interesting situations occurred because of that. One of the rules was that we did
not run obituaries on people who did not live in Jacksonville or in North Florida.
A friend of the publisher, J. J. Daniel, [his] mother died in Topeka, Kansas.
There was a question, and if we followed the policy of the newspaper, there
would be no obituary on this friend of the Daniel family. I reported that to the
executive editor, Bob Clark, and he said he would take care of it. The next
morning, the publisher's secretary called me and summoned me to the fifth floor.
L: The newsroom was then on the second floor, right?
H: No, it was in another building. This was the administration building, it was in the
other building. I came to the fifth floor and confronted J. J. Daniel, who was livid.
He was irate and the vein in the middle of his forehead was standing out and he
pummeled a desk, said he was mortified that the mother of his friend would not
get an obituary in The Times-Union. The tirade lasted probably twenty minutes.
Then the president of the paper, John Tucker, came in and when the publisher
was spent, Tucker took over. All the while, I kept my mouth shut, I had done
what I was supposed to do. I reported it to the executive editor, and several days
later, Tucker came to my office and said, boy, you've got balls of brass. I said,
what do you mean by that? He said, you had a perfect out. You could have just
said you told Bob Clark and [that] Bob Clark neglected to tell the publisher. I
said, I'm not accustomed to stabbing my boss in the back, so I'm glad you found
out what really happened. That was kind of an introduction, and I guess hadn't
been here more than about a month or two months or six weeks, and there was
that flare-up because of the policy of the paper. Of course, after that, it was kind
of touch-and-go and I was asked later if I would still follow that obituary policy,
and I said, as long as it's a written policy and everybody knows it's our policy,
yes, I would do it again. Gradually things evolved and worked out, but it wasn't
L: Before you came here, there was a famous Columbia Journalism Review piece
on The Times-Union, in which it was stated in the article that Jacksonville was
the only city where trains did not run into cars, but cars ran into trains. It was
implying that the stories in the newspaper were written to favor the owner of the
newspaper, which was then the Seaboard Coastline Railroad. This sort of idea
permeated the paper. Here was a railroad that owned the newspaper and that
the newspaper was really a subservient to the railroad. Did you find that kind of
reputation awaiting you when you came here?
H: I knew about the Columbia journalism article, but I also had been told that the
newspaper, because of the Columbia journalism article, was in a mode to
improve itself. In retrospect, it was easy to see that the Columbia journalism
article alarmed the railroad, because the newspaper was regarded as an
investment by the railroad, and it wanted to protect its investment. It wanted to
improve the quality of the newspaper. I believe this follows sequentially: the
Columbia journalism article appeared in about 1975 and J. J. Daniel became the
publisher, I believe, in 1976. The railroad reacted immediately to the negative
impact of the Columbia Journalism Review article and the first step it took was to
put J. J. Daniel, who was regarded as a powerful figure in Jacksonville society,
L: J. J. Daniel was a lawyer, I believe, a prominent attorney for a firm that handled
H: No, he was a mortgage broker with Stockton, Whatley, Daven.
L: I'm sorry. So he was a mortgage broker?
H: Which was a big mortgage house, the biggest in Jacksonville.
L: But he was also a member of the old Board of Regents. What you would call the
Board of the Regents of the Florida State University System, so he was very
highly respected. He didn't come up through the newspaper ranks, is what I'm
really trying to say.
L: He was pulled from outside the newspaper industry to become publisher of the
H: He had no background in journalism whatever and frequently did not understand
why we did this or that. He sort of felt that the paper ought to do what he wanted
it to do and that was the bottom-line, and if he ran into any argument he didn't
like it very much.
L: Did he ever fire anybody because of that?
H: No, but reporters were reassigned, sent to bureaus. I don't know if he ever fired
anybody or not before I got here, but he didn't fire anybody while I was here. I
heard stories that reporters who wrote articles offensive to him were sent to
L: What else did you find when you came here? The editing was not good, but
what else did you do to change things in the newsroom?
H: I finally persuaded Bob Clark to provide me the funds to hire a copy desk chief
and I found a copy desk chief in Lexington, Kentucky. I hired Henry Wright
largely because I felt he would be a teacher and we began the very slow process
of trying to improve the copy editing at The Times-Union. We began very careful
hiring practices to raise the standard on the copy desk. Some of the people who
were marginal talents improved because we were raising the standard and
demanding more and following through. If an error got into the paper, we tried to
figure out why it got into the paper. As a result of that, I think that over a period
of a year, a year-and-a-half, two years, the copy editing improved markedly.
L: How about the coverage itself of the city?
H: The process I described on the copy editing end was similar to the reporting end.
We were very careful about hires, we screened applicants very carefully, and we
just tried to raise the standard so that there was a gradual improvement in the
reporting of the newspaper.
L: Bob Clark used to have a seminar once a year in which he would bring people in
to speak to the reporting staff, if I remember correctly, something like that.
H: That's right, it's called Journalism Week. He brought in a lot of big names in U.S.
journalism. That was another step in the process of trying to improve the
professionalism of the staff, trying to develop its self-esteem, and trying to let
staff know that they were important enough for these celebrities in journalism to
come to Jacksonville and talk about the newspaper business.
L: In those early years, are there some things that stand out other than the one you
just mentioned about the obituary? Were there incidents within the city itself that
the newspaper was involved in, maybe what you could call dicey situations that
called for extraordinary reporting? Did you have to withstand negative pressure
from politicians because of things that you did?
H: Not per se, but we sent some politicians to jail in the mid-1980s when we had a
very strong investigative reporting team. We also gained some recognition
around the state, because we began to win a number of awards from the Florida
Society of Newspaper Editors and from the Florida Press Association. In terms
of our reputation among Florida journalists, I think they realized that the paper
was on the move and was definitely improving and became competitive with
many of the larger newspapers in the state.
L: How long were you managing editor?
H: I came in 1980. We should have been able to see the handwriting on the wall
because, in the first quarter of 1982, Seaboard Coastline Railroad experienced
severe financial losses and at the same time, actually in November of 1981, the
railroad filed with the SEC [Securities Exchange Commission] to merge the
Chessey system with Seaboard Coastline Railroad.
L: Chessey stood for Chesapeake and Ohio?
H: Yes. Those two railroads planned to merge and it took almost a year for SEC
approval. By the end of 1982, CSX Railroad was created and the newspaper
was owned by CSX Railroad by the end of 1982. [There were] extreme financial
losses in 1981, and then the second-period performance was not much better. In
August of 1982, the railroad announced that the newspaper was for sale and that
bids would be taken from interested parties through Morgan Stanley in New York.
The bid process lasted until mid-November of 1982 and there were four bidders
to buy The Times-Union. The successful bidder was Morris Communications
Corporation, Cap Cities was second, Gannett was third, and The Washington
Post was fourth.
L: Actually, Gannett thought they were going to get it, didn't they?
H: They sure did.
L: And you would have been working for Gannett again?
H: Back to Gannett.
L: How much was the winning bid for?
H: As I understand it, it was $211 million and the second bidder bid $175 million,
that was Cap Cities. Billy Morris [of] Morris Communications took over the
property on January 1, 1983.
L: Was there any trepidation at all about a new owner coming in? Did anybody
have concerns about that?
H: We lost some people. I mentioned Henry Wright, the copy desk chief. As soon
as the bid was announced and as soon as Morris won it, he filed an application at
St. Pete and joined the staff at St. Pete [at the St. Petersburg Times]. As far as I
know, the reporters were bad-mouthing Morris as a newspaper owner, the local
TV stations talked with journalism professors and generally the reaction was
negative, that Morris did not practice good journalism.
L: Billy Morris was the president of Morris Communications?
L: The CEO of Morris Communications. They owned newspapers where else?
H: In Georgia, in Augusta. The home office is in Augusta, Georgia. They owned
[newspapers] in Savannah, they owned in Texas, Amarillo.
L: This became the largest property ...
H: Of Morris Communications, and remains to this days the largest Morris
L: They were badmouthing Morris Communications.
H: Morris got off on a bad start, but I think in the next several months, things
remained pretty much the same. A new publisher came in, Jim Whyte, and there
were some initial blunders.
L: I think Jim Whyte came from Amarillo, didn't he?
L: What do you mean by initial blunders?
H: He ordered the news operation to write what amounted to a back page of the A
section of the paper, packages of goodwill information, warm and fuzzy stories
about the quality of life in Jacksonville. Generally, [they were] Chamber of
Commerce-type concoctions that were accurate factually, but were just warm
and fuzzy advertisements for the community.
L: Good news.
H: Right. But really Chamber of Commerce-type stuff, and that really went over
poorly with the staff. When he was proposing this, we said it was going to be a
morale problem, some people on the staff might resign, some might refuse flat-
out to write that kind of baloney. He had done that in Amarillo when he got to
Amarillo and he said, what's good for Amarillo is good for Jacksonville.
L: What was the reaction to it in the city?
H: I think that the informed newspaper reader wondered what was going on. Here
were these fluffy, happy stories about all the wonderful things occurring in
Jacksonville. They weren't marked as advertisements. The way they were
displayed, it looked like it was supposed to be a news story, and everybody knew
L: How long did that go on?
H: Forty days, consecutive days.
L: What finally put an end to it?
H: It ran its course. It wasn't designed to go on forever.
L: It wasn't supposed to be a permanent [thing]?
H: No, no. It was just a project.
L: Did Jim Whyte do other things like that?
H: None spring to mind, but on that issue, some time in about May or June of 1983,
in the first months of Morris ownership, Morris Communications organized a
meeting in Augusta, Georgia, and editors and publishers of all Morris
newspapers were invited to attend this seminar. One of the speakers was
Norman Isaacs, who had been publisher in Wilmington and in fact had named
me executive editor of the Wilmington papers. We get to Augusta and I'm with a
couple of people from my staff, and I ask them if they'd like to meet Norman
Isaacs. They said they would, so we arranged to have dinner with Norman. In
the course of the dinner, I said to Norman, what do you think about a publisher
who would ask a news staff to write these commercials, these Chamber of
Commerce fluffy pieces about the wonders of Jacksonville, what would you think
about a publisher doing that? Norman said, ask me that at the seminar
tomorrow. I didn't think anything of it. I said, okay, I'll ask you tomorrow.
L: Jim Whyte was not present?
H: No. This was a dinner with four people, Norman and myself, and two people
from my staff.
L: And you were still managing editor?
L: Bob Clark was still executive editor?
H: Bob Clark was gone. He left when Morris purchased the newspaper.
L: Who was executive editor? Or was there one?
H: I don't think we had one at that point.
L: Please continue the story.
H: The next day with probably seventy or eighty people in a meeting room, Norman
was up there holding court and talking about the good and the bad of Morris
newspapers. He had a critique ready and he did a mini-critique of this paper and
this paper's front page and he was talking on and on. Then he opened the
seminar to questions. There were a few routine questions and then
remembering what he had said at dinner the night before, I asked the question
about having the news staff writing what, in effect, was advertising copy.
Norman waxed eloquent and at the same time was devastating to the process,
he just tore it apart. He said that shouldn't be done, and in no uncertain terms,
he said that was unethical and if the journalists that were asked to do that were
upset, they had every right to be.
L: Was Jim Whyte present?
H: Jim Whyte was present. Billy Morris was present. Other officers and officials of
Morris Communications were present.
L: Were you getting ready to pack your bags?
H: I was thinking about it. After I asked the question, you could hear [gasping
noise], a large intake of breath. They had a little reception afterwards and we
had sodas and some cookies and a couple of people I didn't even know came up
to me and said, that was a great question you asked; thanks for asking that
question. Then we were going to break and we were going to go to one of Billy's
plantations for dinner, and as I was going out the door to go back to my hotel,
Billy popped up. He said, Fred, I'd like you to ride out to the plantation with me.
I'll pick you up at your hotel at X time, and I said sure. I thought well, this may be
it for my career with Morris. At the appointed time, Billy picked me up at the hotel
and we started to drive to the plantation and he said, Fred, why did you ask that
question? I told him the story. I said, I asked the question of Norman the night
before at dinner, and he said ask that question tomorrow at the seminar, so I did,
that's the only reason. That was the end of it. Billy changed the subject. We
talked a little bit about my career and Billy was surprised to learn that I was first
generation in this country, that my father was Swiss and became a naturalized
citizen, and my mother was German and also became a naturalized citizen. I
said, if you're looking for long-standing families with deep roots in America, you
got the wrong guy.
L: What about Jim Whyte, did he ever have a reaction to that?
H: He and I squabbled regularly. Boeing [aircraft manufacturer] was looking at
building a plant here, this is about 1984, 1985, and he found out we were working
on the story. By now I think I was executive editor, and each paper had a
L: You were named executive editor roughly [when]?
H: I think in about the middle of 1983 or maybe the end of 1983.
L: Anyhow, he found out we were working on the Boeing story and he called myself
and the two managing editors to his office, and he said he didn't want anything in
the paper about Boeing. We said, we're right on the verge of having it nailed,
that we had it nailed down. He said [that] he understood from the Chamber [of
Commerce] that Boeing had warned the Chamber that if the story got out that
they were thinking of coming here, they would strike Jacksonville. They would
remove it from the list of possible locations and he didn't want the newspaper to
cause the Chamber to lose Boeing. We fought as much as we could, to the point
of falling into further disfavor, but he was unrelenting. So we sat on the story,
much to our chagrin. There was no way to explain it to the staff. I mean, we
didn't run down there and say, he's killing the story. We had some sense of
loyalty to the guy, he was our publisher, but we were very unhappy. Within a few
days, a paper in Oklahoma broke the story that Boeing was looking at sites in
Oklahoma and Jacksonville and so forth.
L: That made the AP wire?
H: Oh, yeah.
L: So you could pick it up now.
H: We ran the story anyway about three days, four days later.
L: And Boeing never came here.
H: No. Some time later, we began a series of meetings with the business
community which were quite interesting. We wanted to try to improve our
business coverage, so the business staff, Jim Whyte, myself and the business
editor, would meet with representatives of the business community on a rotating
basis. At one of those seminars, one businessman said, is it true that you guys
sat on a story when Boeing was considering? Whyte owned up to it right away,
he said, yes, we did sit on that story. Then the businessman said, why did you
do that? Whyte tried to explain, and this businessman said, I thought the
newspaper was supposed to be a marketplace of ideas, and that as a
community, we could depend on it to report what was going on, without fear of
favor. In a way, Jim got his comeuppance more than once. That thing popped
up months later as another black eye for The Times-Union. It came at a time
when the scandal of the Westinghouse Offshore Power Systems was almost ten
years old, the article that the Columbia Journalism Review wrote.
L: There is a very large black community in Jacksonville, and in terms of hiring, was
there a transition in the newspaper, once you were here, in hiring more minority
employees? Has that been a problem for you?
H: Actually, when I arrived in 1980, there were several African Americans on the
staff. I would say that the way had been cleared before I got here and having
African Americans on the staff was quite natural. It continued, but it wasn't
thought of as being unusual. I don't know that we actually represented the
percentage of the population, which I understand is about 28 percent, but we
continued to hire African Americans and, as far as I know, the staff is well-
represented even today.
L: I thought I'd ask that just to see what problems you had to encounter, for
example, with the promotion of women. I'm bringing the things that have been
trends in the newspaper business in the last twenty years or so. Were more
women working for the newspaper by that time?
H: Oh, yeah. Quite a number. In fact, the managing editor of The Times-Union that
succeeded me was Mary Kress, who's a woman, and she was managing editor
for many years.
L: I remember her. And there's always been a really close relationship between
The Times-Union and the College of Journalism and Communications at the
University of Florida. You always got quite a few reporters from there, right?
L: Did you do special recruiting trips down there? What did you do to make those
bonds a little bit tighter?
H: We had a committee of three or four people who regularly visited every spring,
visited the university for copy editor candidates. Their mission was the copy
desk, trying to continue to improve the copy desk. Sometimes we got summer
interns and eventually ended up hiring the summer interns.
L: I remember we had very good placement of minority students.
H: Exactly, sure.
L: The College of Journalism up here also.
L: In fact, you now sit on the advisory council at the Department of Journalism.
H: I do, yes.
L: How long have you served on that?
H: I just started. I went to my first meeting last month.
L: That keeps you tied in a little bit better. You've taught journalism or you're about
to teach journalism, right?
H: Yes, at Florida Community College of Jacksonville.
L: What else went on during the years you were at The Times-Union that stands out
in your memory as things that are really worth noting? Things that were
landmarks for the newspaper or in your career itself? After all, you were either
managing editor or executive editor for how long?
H: Almost eighteen years.
L: You retired what, in 1998?
H: Yes, May of 1998. One project that stands out in my memory involved the
Fleeing Felon Law. There was a year in the mid-1980s when an inordinate
number of black teenagers were shot by Jacksonville police. We put a couple of
reporters to work on it. This was before the Fleeing Felon Law was declared
unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.
L: Why don't you explain just very briefly what the Fleeing Felon Law is.
H: Basically, the Fleeing Felon Law allowed police to shoot anybody that they
thought was caught committing a crime and was trying to leave the crime scene,
and a lot of these young blacks were shot in the back. Some of them were as
young as fifteen, as I recall. I don't remember the exact numbers, but about the
middle of the year our number exceeded twenty. It just seemed something was
terribly amiss with this practice. These reporters gathered information all across
the United States, and as it turned out, Jacksonville had more of these casualties
as a result of the Fleeing Felon Law than any other city, bar-none. There wasn't
a city in Florida even close. We published a series of stories about the law itself,
and we tried to review every incident, and used the names of these more than
twenty young black people who had been shot and killed by police. [End of Tape
A: Side 2] The issue became moot within months when the U.S. Supreme Court
declared the Fleeing Felon Law unconstitutional. I know we won some state
awards, awards from the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors, for that particular
series. I think the staff derived a lot satisfaction out of that, feeling that we had
accomplished something significant and that helped perhaps in some way to put
the public's attention on that law.
L: The Times-Union actually doesn't just cover Jacksonville, of course. It has a
very wide area that it covers because of the sparsely populated area. There are
no other big cities nearby. What is your circulation area?
H: It goes into Georgia, seventeen or eighteen counties in Georgia, and twenty or so
counties in Northeast Florida, and we feel that Tallahassee is well within our
coverage area. It's a north Florida-south Georgia newspaper.
L: How many bureaus do you have?
H: I'm not sure anymore. I know there's at least a couple in Georgia and we have
[one in] Tallahassee. There's a bureau in St. John's County and there's a bureau
in Clay County, there's a bureau at Fernandina Beach.
L: Did that wide-ranging area of coverage create any particular challenges for you
H: Not really. Not in this day of computers, not really.
L: How large was the newspaper [staff] when you were the executive editor?
H: Almost 200.
L: That's a pretty large news staff. How large was the news staff in Wilmington?
H: About 130, 135, 140.
L: So you moved up to a considerably larger newspaper.
H: Right. Actually, at one point it was over 200, it was [about] 217, somewhere in
L: What do you see as the ideal relationship between a newspaper and its city?
Newspapers everywhere in American are virtually monopolies. There's only one
daily newspaper in every city in the country, and it maybe gives you special
opportunities, special privileges, but also special responsibilities. What do you
see as the ideal relationship between a newspaper and its city?
H: I think it's a matter of trust and it's a matter of reputation. It takes years, perhaps
many years, to build a reputation, but that reputation can be destroyed quickly,
under the right circumstances. In a situation where a newspaper withholds
legitimate news ...
L: Such as the Boeing thing?
H: Such as the Boeing thing, such as the Offshore Power System Westinghouse
scandal in the mid-1970s.
L: That wasn't here, though.
H: Yeah, that was what the Columbia Journalism Review wrote about, that the
newspaper protected Westinghouse and didn't report fully on its plans for
offshore floating atomic power stations. That was one of the things that the
Journalism Review article talked about, that the papers were homers, that it was
a pro-hometown operation that didn't always tell the whole story.
L: That it played a PR [public relations] role for the city, rather than a watchdog role
for the city.
L: Other than those two incidents, do you think the newspaper fulfilled that role for
the City of Jacksonville, reporting the news without too much interference from
H: I think day-in-day-out, absolutely. I think that the quality of The Times-Union has
gotten better over the years and continues to get better. I think the job it does is
thorough and accurate and there's a growing recognition that the success of a
newspaper in any community depends, in large measure, on its quality. I think
there's recognition among owners and publishers that a newspaper is most likely
to succeed based on the quality of its work. There is a relationship between the
financial success necessary for a newspaper to continue publishing and the kind
of work that it does and the type of insight and understanding that it brings to its
readers and its community.
L: I know that you weren't in charge of the editorial page, but was there ever, in the
eighteen years that you were associated with the paper, any clash between the
editorial side and the news side, or between the news side and the advertising
department? Can you think of any incident that caused friction between the two?
H: If there were incidents where there [was] animosity, they didn't last very long and
it was largely because of a lack of understanding of why the editorial board was
taking this position or that position. Frequently it would be our hope that the
newspaper would take the stand thus-and-so, and eventually it did. While we
didn't have control of the editorial page content, frequently our suggestions were
heard. The same with advertising. Back in the 1970s and 1960s, I think that
there were walls between the advertising department and the editorial
department and perhaps the editorial writers, but by the 1980s those walls were
torn down and there was a willingness to listen.
L: The newspapers always tout the fact that there's a complete separation between
editorial and news and you're suggesting that news gives some ideas for the
editorial page that they ought to listen to. Give an example of just one of those
things that you're talking about.
H: We would frequently go to, for instance, the Fleeing Felon Law, [and] go to the
editorial writers and say, we're going to run this series next week. Why don't you
take a look on it and see if you'd like to comment on it editorially? There would at
least be coordination between the publication of the series and the editorial
response. Sometimes they would do it while the series was running, sometimes
they would do it immediately after the series. When I talked about walls between
departments, I was talking about in terms of communication.
L: Sometimes I thought the editor should have an even stronger play in the fairness
that exists. I know this is unpopular, but that the editor is in a better position to
have some control over the fairness of the editorial page, the selection of
syndicated columnists, and sometimes the editorial department itself. It's
considered that you ought to be completely separate, but sometimes I think the
editor has more experience in terms of fairness, what is really fair, than a lot of
editorial page directors. Did you ever get any feedback? The average reader
doesn't know the difference between the editorial page and the news page. Did
you ever get any feedback from things that were done in the editorial section?
H: On occasion, yeah. I'd get calls of complaint about a certain editorial position
and I would have to field [those]. I'd rather handle it than say, oh, that's not my
responsibility, call so-and-so. I would just accept a role and try to discuss it with
the reader as well as I could.
L: If you were giving advice to people to go into journalism today, would you still
suggest that they go into this field?
H: Absolutely. After forty-four years in the news business, I can honestly say that
no two days are alike. Perhaps that's what I appreciated most over the years,
that I was not ever in a situation that I thought was boring or that I wasn't
challenged or that the business itself, the newspaper, wasn't challenged. The
challenge every day was to go out and make the newspaper better than it was
yesterday. As a beginning reporter, I always tried to do my best and I think that
just sort of became a way of life. I think that somebody going into the business
should know that you have to work hard, you have to be accurate, you have to be
a neutral observer to the extent that you humanly can, and that there are certain
other ethical considerations. As long as somebody understands all that, and
they're still willing to go ahead with it, I certainly would encourage them to go into
L: What role, if any, do you think professional journalists, especially editors, can
play in the direction of journalism education? The editors are the ones that hire
these people. Should they play any role in the educational institutions
themselves, such as schools of journalism?
H: I think that from the days when you invited me to be a visiting professional at the
campus in Gainesville, probably 1982, 1983, that established a relationship
between myself and my newspaper and the University of Florida that I don't know
existed before. I think it's alive and well and flourishing. I still have fond
memories of those three busy days where I visited five classes a day for three
days. I think you got your money's worth.
L: Just like the professor's work.
L: Should editors play any role in the curriculum of journalism school? I don't mean
by demanding this or that, but in giving advice on the curriculum.
H: If the school wanted to consult with an editor, I think most editors would be willing
to give their advice, in terms of how and what subjects are being taught and how
journalism schools can best prepare journalists for the work ahead. I think most
editors would be willing to do that. I think it probably would be valuable input.
L: During your career, there have been radical changes in the profession of
journalism. In technology, for example. When you first came into newspapers
they were still using hot-type, undoubtedly.
H: Glue pots and scissors.
L: They changed to cold-type and now computers, front-end systems, all those
things. You know all that and you've seen it. Where do you see newspaper
journalism going in the next ten years? If you had to predict, will The Times-
Union and papers like it look very much the same ten or twenty years from now?
H: I think they will probably be more streamlined than they are. They'll find ways of
presenting the news in a more condensed product. I think it'll be maybe more
specialized and I think they'll probably be aimed at a certain segment of the
market and it will probably be a little more expensive than they are now.
L: Do you mean different copies of the newspaper aimed at different segments of its
overall audience? Everybody in Jacksonville wouldn't see the same newspaper?
H: Right. I think that you'll be given an opportunity to state your interest level, what
items [and] areas you're interested in, and the paper would be sort of tailored to
your interests. Not that there would be 100 editions of it, but there might be five,
six, eight, where the emphasis on the news would differ. I think all would get the
main news, all would get, in the judgment of the editors, the most important news
of the day, but I think other aspects of the coverage would be tailored to your
L: When you went to journalism school, and certainly in the first half of your career,
and maybe more of it than that, objective journalism was the goal and the ideal.
In recent years, there is much more opinion in the form of the featurization and
soft news and things like that. For example, the anecdotal lead, which is much
more of an editorial-type lead. How do you feel about that trend in newspapers?
H: I think that depends on the subject matter. I saw a story on the front page of The
Times-Union recently that cried out for an analysis sig. It should have been
labeled as analysis because it was not a news story, and a lot of the reporter was
in that story. I think labeling is important. The anecdotal lead, you would never
use that on a story about a train derailment that kills four people and injured 160.
That story calls for the traditional hard-news story with a hard-news lead. It
depends on the subject matter, but I see the need for labeling a story that has
that soft Jell-o journalism, [as] we used to call it, that could be interpreted as a
personal opinion. I think then it needs to have an analysis slug or something to
distinguish it from masquerading as a news story.
L: One does see more and more of that, in newspapers.
H: You see it on television too, especially.
L: I just wonder where journalism is going to go. You have the Internet, the
electronic newspapers. Every newspaper has an electronic edition. What kinds
of changes do you think we'll see as a result of that? Do you think that there is
going to be a final whittling away of the paper newspaper itself?
H: I certainly hope not. I think that there will continue to be a variety of sources for
news, and it will be up to individual taste. I think there's something mobile about
a newspaper. It's there when you want it, you can take it with you, it's got that
quality to it that will forever appeal to some people. A lot of young people say
they get enough news on television and that maybe true for a while, but I think
when their lives settle down, when they get married and raise a family, their
views about what they need to know about their community will change. When
you have children going to school, you care a lot more about the school system
and its quality than you do if you don't have children going to school. I think it will
depend on the age of the reader, but I think there will always be newspaper
readers. There will always be newspapers and there will always be newspaper
readers. I remember in the early days of television in the 1950s, when I was
going to graduate school, there was a lot of speculation that television would end
up killing newspapers. There was a lot of self-flagellation in the industry about oh
woe, alas, the end is near, television's going to take over everything. Probably
the same thing was true when radio came on, I imagine. Then as the
development of the Internet has come to pass, there were some nay-sayers
predicting that newspapers would die out. I think the newspaper business is
flexible enough that it's going to be able to adjust and survive, no matter what
comes along. If there's a decision to be made to turn a daily into a tabloid, so be
it, that can be done. I think that the newspaper business will be ingenious
enough to survive anything that comes along, including the Internet, including
Palm [Pilots], computers, etc. But I think that there will always be a newspaper
and there will always be newspaper readers.
L: Thank you very much, Fred Hartmann. We've really enjoyed the conversation
with you very much today.
[End of the interview.]