Interviewee: Leland Hawes
Interviewer: Julian Pleasants
Date: May 20, 2002
P: This is Julian Pleasants and I'm with Leland Hawes in Tampa, Florida. It is May
20, 2002. Give me a little bit about your background, I know you are a native of
H: That's true. I was born here in Tampa in 1929 and grew up in the country about
twenty miles northeast of Tampa in a little citrus community called Thonotosassa,
which was from an Indian word meaning "lake of flint." My father was in the
citrus business so we had a little house on the southwest side of Lake
Thonotosassa and he would go out in the groves every day. I was pretty much
tied to the city from very early childhood on. My mother had grown up in Tampa,
my grandparents on both sides had been in Tampa in the 1890s, one set of
grandparents had both died in the late 1890s, but there were ties to the city. She
had a lot of church connections, organizational connections, she was in the DAR
[Daughters of the American Revolution] and the UDC [United Daughters of the
Confederacy], so we were coming and going to church and into town for nursery
school and kindergarten from early years. I went to grammar school at Gorrie
Elementary in Hyde Park, an old section of Tampa where my mother had grown
up, then Woodrow Wilson Junior High School and Plant High School, so we
would drive in every day, my sister and I and my mother. My sister is thirteen
months younger than I am and we would come in every day. She [mother] would
drive the eighteen miles and while we were in school, she would busy herself
doing the bookkeeping for my dad's citrus business and keeping up with her
organizational things and enjoying herself in town, and then we would all go
home about 3:30 in the afternoon. Fortunately, at that time, we had household
help, a cook, so she didn't have to worry about meals. So things were a pretty
pleasant mix there of city and country.
P: When did you first get interested in newspapers?
H: As a youngster, as early as eight or nine years old, I was fascinated by the L. C.
Smith typewriter, a big upright typewriter that my father had in his little office
building that was near our home under some oaks trees. It had a tin roof and
was just a one-room office, but I was fascinated by the typewriter and was
learning to type, by the time I was six or seven years old, with one finger.
Unfortunately, I still use that technique in typing, I never was able to overcome it.
I was copying segments of newspapers and trying my hand at things fairly early
on. By the time, I guess it was the summer of 1940, I happened to read an
article in The Tribune about a fellow I knew from church, First Presbyterian
Church in Tampa, who was putting out a little neighborhood newspaper in
Temple Terrace, another suburban community, and I figured well, if that guy can
do it, maybe I can too. I busied myself, talked about trying to locate some means
of reproducing a newspaper, had no idea what that would be, whether it would be
carbon paper or just what. My father actually took me around to visit an old
World War I veteran friend of his who had a printing press in his home and he
assured us that fooling with that printing press was something you wouldn't want
to inflict on anybody, that it was just too tricky to get a decent impression or even
tone of ink. He pretty well convinced us that was not the way to go and in later
years, I realized why. He was using handset-type, letter by letter. Eventually I
did take that up as a hobby, but I realized it would have been totally just out of
range as far as trying to do anything. About that time, we learned that there was
a used mimeograph for sale for twenty-five dollars at an office equipment store in
Tampa. So my dad staked me on the twenty-five dollars and started in with what
was called the Flint Lake Diver. He helped me with the name and with the
slogan, which was, The Diver comes up with the news. From a small group of
tolerant people who figured well, they can't go wrong for five cents a month,
which was the subscription rate and it was a weekly paper, they started taking it
and before long, I had about 150 subscribers. A lot of them were relatives who
figured that they would see what was going on and of course I put in a lot of
news of relatives as well as what was going on around Thonotosassa.
Fortunately, I had a very tolerant, friendly lady who was the postmaster and
everyone had to go to the post office to get their mail, there was no home
delivery or box mail of any sort other than there. She would be on the lookout for
news around the community. I was at an age when I really didn't know how to
call up people and ask them, I didn't know how to interview anybody, but she was
very, very helpful and I would take notes every Saturday morning. She was
married to a cousin of ours, whose name was Frank Edwards, and her name was
Ruby Edwards. So I called her Aunt Ruby, which was the custom in those days
for cousins and kinfolk, and she basically made the newspaper possible, along
with whatever my father would run into when he was looking after the groves and
seeing what was going on around the community.
P: When you were at Plant High School, did you edit the yearbook or the
H: I had put out class newspapers along the way. That mimeograph newspaper for
the community lasted for a couple of years, and after that I would do an
occasional newspaper for classes. I remember one was called the 9A-4
Communique, which was a class newspaper in junior high school and it was full
of gossipy stuff that junior high kids put in. Then in Plant [High School], I took the
standard journalism courses and really learned quite a bit there in working on the
student newspaper and edited the high school annual, which was called The
P: Was all of that good background work?
H: It was excellent, and I would have to say that the journalism classes at Plant High
School were as valuable almost as anything I had along the way.
P: Did you take journalism courses at the University of Florida?
H: Before I went to the university, I worked one summer on The Tampa Times. I
had the good fortune to know the managing editor of The Tampa Daily Times,
which was the afternoon newspaper in Tampa at that point, a little underdog
newspaper with circulation that was only about 45,000 compared to The
Tribune's 130 or 140 [thousand], at that point. The managing editor happened to
be my sunday-school teacher and he heard I was graduating from high school
and had been accepted at the University of North Carolina and the University of
Florida. I really thought I'd probably go to Chapel Hill, but when he offered me a
job as being campus correspondent for The Tampa Times, that seemed like too
good an opportunity to pass up. I started out as a sports correspondent, which
was bad news for me, because I've never been a particular sports fan and it was
just like sticking me into a foreign situation altogether. I did what I could to cover
Gator football that first fall, and I was working on The Alligator [University of
Florida student newspaper] as a sportswriter too, but I was a fish out of water
and they soon began to realize that I was a better feature writer than a sports
writer. I was paid thirty dollars a month to be their campus feature writer and
wrote a variety of stories. That was the year that coeds first came to the
University of Florida campus, and there were about 500 women with 10,000 men.
That was 1947, the fall of 1947. I hit the front page of The Times with a story
that women were hitchhiking on the streets of Gainesville; this was unheard of at
the time, that women would be hitchhiking. These were women students who
lived off-campus and were trying to get downtown, where their housing was at
that point. I lived downtown, had to take a bus to and from campus to get to and
from class. So it was good training.
P: A lot of people I have talked to, for instance Fred Pettijohn [sports editor,
managing editor, Fort Lauderdale News], who later went on to be either
publishers, editors, feature writers, started out in sports.
H: That's right. It was really the ideal way for a lot of people to do it. I wish I could
have said the same, but I just didn't have the flair or the background for it.
P: Talk about working for The Alligator. What was that like in 1947?
H: The Alligator was run in a rather informal manner at that point. The editor was a
fellow, [J. Pendleton] Gaines, who later wound up in Tallahassee I believe, and
The Alligator was still very much on-campus at that point and had a Board of
Student Publications. I would go in a few nights a week, do what I could, get
assignments, and happened to write about the weekend the University of Florida
won its first football game in fourteen tries. It had been a long drought there and
finally N.C. State slipped up and lost seven to six sometime in October of 1947.
It was an interesting experience, but I really didn't get that much involved. I was
more involved in doing stories for The Times. I would check The Alligator for
potential story ideas and see what was coming up. [I] had a portable typewriter in
my room. Didn't have a dorm room, because they were too scarce at that point,
but managed to keep a steady flow of stories going to The Times.
P: Did you do many stories about the returning G.I.s, Flavet Village?
H: Yes. The big stories at that point [were] on Flavet Village, the fact that the
campus was full of sewer holes, they were trying to get the campus back in
shape, there had only been 2,000 or 3,000 [students] at most before the war and
the place was just overwhelmed with too many students at that point. A good
many students were staying at the Army air base which eventually became the
Alachua Airport, and I escaped that by sharing some space in a twenty-five-
[dollar]-a-month room downtown. That was the type of stories we would be
P: How did the process go? That was a difficult transition here, not only rebuilding
the university, but the first women students and all these veterans. How did that
mix work out?
H: At first, I was very apprehensive. I figured these veterans would just be
impossible to compete with. These guys were older, they were obviously more
experienced at everything and I didn't see how in the world I'd be able to make
decent grades. But, at that point, they also had what they called a USAFEC test,
which I think stood for something like United States Air Force Entrance. It was a
way of trying to see whether you covered the basic courses, whether you knew
the basic knowledge, and if you hit certain scores it enabled you to get credit for
the course and perhaps not take the course.
P: You could skip a few of the C courses?
H: You could skip a few, but if you made a certain score, you could ease by one
way or the other. At any rate, I managed to get about twenty hours to begin with,
which really helped a whole lot. I wasn't that great a math student either, tried
my hand at it, but dropped out.
P: I guess you also figured the G.l.s would get all the girls too.
H: Well, that's true. With 500 girls there, the competition was pretty stiff. The way
things went, I would come home on weekends and I'd date at home, primarily.
P: When you look at the campus at that time, describe to me the physical facilities
and the classrooms and what was available for students. I guess the old
Alligator Alley was the gym, is that right?
H: That's right. The gym was a pretty limited space and I didn't really get to see
much that was there. I really wasn't that interested in sports, as I mentioned. I'd
see some of the ballgames, in fact quite a few of the ballgames, as far as
basketball was concerned. The gym was mainly the place to take physical
education] and I did that, and took ROTC [Reserve Officer Training Corps] for a
year or too. I heard some of the horror stories about trying to come from the
military field across campus to get into Wild Bill Carleton's [professor of history
and political science, University of Florida] class in time. He was notorious for
shutting the door and keeping you out if you didn't get there right on time. As it
turned out, I never had Wild Bill Carleton and I've since regretted it. I wrote an
article about him in later years, based on the book that he did on his
reminiscences at the university.
P: Did you take any journalism courses and how did they impact your career?
H: I did take journalism courses, almost from the beginning. The journalism
curriculum at that point was very loose in that there were few required courses,
but they expected you to take half of your hours in other routines in preferred
areas such as political science, history, English, all of which I took and enjoyed.
When I entered the university, there were only two journalism professors. The
head of the department was a fellow named Elmer J. Emig, who was a veteran of
World War I and seemed to be sort of an intellectual sort, who was rather irritable
and nervous all the time. The other was an easygoing fellow whose name was
Bill Lowry, who had come up through the more practical side of the business.
Mr. Emig was the type who would cite editorials in The Florida Times-Union and I
think he was writing editorials for The Times-Union on the side, and his favorite
columnist and writer was David Lawrence, editor of U.S. News and World Report
at that point. Bill Lowry had been an old-time printer [and had] a printing press
there and I enjoyed his classes for that. I enjoyed reading the books that were
assigned in journalism, a lot of them dealing with the newspaper magnates of
that period. So, to me, it was a fun routine to be in.
P: Is it necessary to have a journalism degree to be a good journalist?
H: Not necessarily. I think that a good broad liberal arts background is going to be
as useful as anything you could do.
P: When you leave the University of Florida, you go back to The Tampa Daily Times
and begin work as a reporter, is that right?
H: That's right. Actually, when I finished at the university, I got a job offer from The
Tampa Tribune at the same time. I was tempted to take it, because I was
assuming that I was going to get the same pay that I had gotten at The Times,
which was thirty dollars a week when I had worked there in the summertime, and
The Tribune had offered me forty-five [dollars]. When Hampton Dunn, who was
then the managing editor of The Times, heard that I had a competing offer, he
was irate [and] called up the head of the journalism department, Rae Weimer
[dean of Department (later College) of Journalism and Communications,
University of Florida, 1949-1968], who I really enjoyed. He had been the
managing editor of P.M., an experimental newspaper in New York, and he [Dunn]
just raised hell with Weimer, saying, what are you folks doing? He had the
impression that Weimer had gotten me the job offer and indirectly that was true.
Red Newton [managing editor, The Tampa Tribune, 1943-1964] had called up
and had said, are there any promising graduates? Weimer said, yes, a fellow
from your hometown. Dunn made such a fuss that I figured well, I did at least
owe The Times for the years that they had faith in me earlier, so I went to work
[for them]. As it turned out, it was not the wrong decision. The Times was an
underdog newspaper; it put almost-beginning reporters in about every job.
Although I was covering the police primarily and the hospital, the usual beginning
jobs on daily newspapers, they soon had me covering City Hall, hobnobbing with
the mayor, going to criminal court trials, filling in for people and just getting a
wide range of experience that I would not have had opportunity to get, had I gone
to The Tribune. Those two years on The Times proved to be helpful in that
sense. I assumed that I had burned my bridges as far as The Tribune was
concerned, but a couple of years after I had been at The Times, one of the
reporters came to me and he said, Red Newton would like to see you. And I
said, how come? He said, well, he'd like to offer you a job. By then I thought I
had discharged any obligation with The Times and I did start in as a reporter for
The Tribune and became slotted as a police reporter and a general-assignment
P: What makes a good reporter?
H: Curiosity, interest in people, an ability to persist. I had to overcome a degree of
shyness, the idea of knocking on somebody's door, who was a stranger, at first
was difficult for me to overcome, but just being thrust into various situations. I
had never even flown until one morning there was a bombing at a restaurant in
Bartow forty miles away from Tampa, this was on The Times, and the
photographers on that newspaper each had a personal plane, so I got a call at
6:30 in the morning saying, meet me at Peter O. Knight airport at 7:00 and we'll
fly to Bartow. So I overcame any fears of flying rather quickly and it was in one
of those open-air things where you could really see the countryside and it was an
interesting way to get broken in.
P: At some point you ended up being a roving reporter and went all over the state?
H: That took a while, although Red Newton thrust me into a variety of assignments
from the beginning. One was in Sumter County, there was a scandal going on
and he had gotten a call from some of the locals in Sumter County who relied
upon The Tribune as a morning newspaper and they wanted somebody who
would come up and do a little nosing around. Their REA or Rural Electrification
Cooperative had some funny-business going on where the executive was
parceling stuff off to his friends and to his family. That was one of the first stories
that I got into of that nature and it was the beginning of that sort of assignment.
P: Were you generally assigned stories or did you request stories?
H: I was generally assigned stories at that point. Eventually we'd hit on certain
topics that would involve going around the state. I can recall now, Red Newton-
his name was Virgil M. Newton, Jr., but everybody knew his as Red Newton-he
was a fire-eating sort and the kind of editor who tended to know what he wanted
in advance and he expected you to come up with that story and sometimes the
facts didn't always meet his requirements, and you had to do a lot of explaining
to him. He succeeded in achieving quite a bit, in the sense that Tampa was a
corrupt city in the 1940s and into the 1950s. He had assigned reporters to get to
the bottom of the gambling situation in Tampa and before long he was sending
me on assignments around the state. I got chased out of the woods by the Ku
Klux Klan near Macclenny in 1956. Newton had gotten a tip that there was going
to be a meeting of the Klan in the woods near Macclenny, so he sent me up there
by myself on a Sunday morning, gave me directions of how to get there, no
photographer, nobody else along. It was just me. I went through this backwoods
trail through some thick woods and finally came on this barn-like building in the
middle of a field that had a fence around it and at the gate there were a couple of
men who were obviously checking credentials of everybody who was there. I
figured well, there's no point in trying to conceal who I am. I don't have any
credentials, I'm not a Ku Klux Klansman, so I was just very frank. I said, I'm a
reporter from The Tampa Tribune, I've just come to report what's going on.
There was this sudden silence and they started running towards the barn and I
could overhear in the distance they were singing the Old Rugged Cross, the
hymn, and all of sudden the hymn singing stopped and I was surrounded by
about fifty or seventy-five red-faced people. One man in particular seemed to be
running things. I later learned he was the brother of the state senator for that
county, I think it was Baker County. He started hollering at me and calling me
every name under the sun and I thought surely they were going to string me up
the way they were talking. Basically, he said, well, get out of here! So I got in
my car and started trying to turn around, got stuck, had to get some help getting
out of a ditch, went back through the woods. I think it was three or four miles
down the road to Jacksonville and two carloads of Klansmen forced me off the
road and I figured now it's coming. They were really hostile. Essentially, though,
what they wanted to know was how I had learned of their meeting site. Well, I
had a good idea, but I could truthfully say I didn't really know. There was a
dissident Klansman in Hillsborough County that I knew had been giving some tips
to the paper, but we kept going on in this vein and they kept asking my name and
I thought surely any minute they were going to just leave me a pile of grease on
the highway there. Finally, there was one of them who kept asking my name and
he said, are you kin to Old Captain Hawes in Elberton, Georgia? And I said, yes,
as a matter of fact, he's my great-uncle and he raised my father when he was a
youngster. That sort of changed the climate. My great uncle in Elberton had
been a lawyer and a state Senator there and I had no idea whether he was ever
in the Klan, but in the years he was in the state senate, in the early 1900s,
conceivably he could have been. My father had gone with him as a page to the
Georgia Assembly, I guess they call it. At any rate, by the time we wound up the
conversation, these guys not only gave me their names, they said they wanted
me to send them a copy of the story. I went on to Jacksonville to the George
Washington Hotel and wrote an article on the portable typewriter. In those days,
everything was night press-rate collect. You'd go to the Western Union office and
there was a press rate that you'd give them the typed copy and they would go
from there. So that Monday morning, I wrote it as a third person story, just as a
Tribune reporter, and then I stopped in the woods in the middle of a Klan meeting
and just basically wrote what happened, and basically I told them, I'm here to
write what takes place. Of course they sounded off about the Brown v. School
Board [U.S. Supreme Court decision, May 17, 1954, declaring segregation in
public schools unconstitutional]. This was the period when school desegregation
was very much the hot issue and of course it was what had led to the resurgence
of the Klan. I let them sound off in print too and basically that was the story. I
went on and my assignment from there had been to meet some undercover
agents with the State Beverage Department in Jacksonville to do an expose on
the sheriff of Duval County who had been there for many years, Rex Sweat, who
was rumored to have been on the take from the gambling interests of Duval
County. I went out several nights with some of these Beverage agents who were
in the [LeRoy] Collins [Florida governor, 1955-1961; Florida state senator, 1940-
1942, 1946-1954] administration. By then, LeRoy Collins was governor and was
trying his best to clean up some of these counties and he was cooperating with
the newspapers, hopeful that the newspapers could be helpful in exposing some
of the situations in some of the counties that he had reason to think things were
not right. So I wrote a series of articles out of Jacksonville. This was the kind of
assignment I had when I was a roving reporter.
P: Sounds like it was a little bit dangerous.
H: It was kind of scary at times.
P: What was The Tampa Tribune like at this time? What was the circulation? I
understand that, as you've indicated, they did a lot of investigative journalism.
H: That's true. It was a growing newspaper. The thing that had put The Tribune on
the map in that era was the fact that Red Newton was able to get a state staff
started. Even though he had a sparse newsroom budget, he managed to put
people into strategic spots and he found good people. He had the first full-time
bureau of any state newspaper in Tallahassee. In 1948, Fuller Warren [Florida
governor, 1949-1953] had just become governor and Red Newton had known
Fuller Warren at the University of Florida. They were both students at that time,
and I don't know that there was any bad blood between them. Fuller Warren had
assumed that he would get The Tribune's endorsement when he was running for
governor, but he didn't. Dan McCarty [Florida governor, January 6-September
28, 1953] was running and the newspaper was convinced that Dan McCarty was
a clean candidate and some of Fuller Warren's backers-there were reasons to
question some of his backers.
P: As a matter of fact, wasn't Fuller Warren a Klansman? I've heard that charge.
H: As I recall, I believe at some point in his career he said that yes, back in
Blountstown when he was a young man just starting out in politics, he had been.
But I don't think that had any bearing on this situation. He had three big backers
who had raised about $40,000 each, which in that era was unheard of, as far as
contributions to the governor's race. One of them was the owner of several dog
tracks around Florida, a man named Johnston. Another was a citrus man named
Griffin, as I recall.
P: Was that Ben Hill Griffin?
H: No, it wasn't Ben Hill. It might have been Griffith. At any rate, I think the third
was the shipyard man Lou Wolfson in Jacksonville. About the time that Fuller
Warren took office, Red Newton assigned a fellow named Jim Powell to set up
an office in Tallahassee, and he said, I want you just to go through the records.
He was a big believer in just going through the records or the lack of records that
were filed with the state auditors and otherwise, just seeing what was going on
and covering what was happening. Of course, Fuller Warren had gotten into
trouble fairly early on. He'd run on a campaign against having a state sales tax
and then had to back down and go with the 3 percent sales tax, which was the
first in Florida. Jim Powell soon started receiving all kinds of tips from all over
state government. He was getting all kinds of information [like] the fact that Road
Board members were building roads to their own property. There was still a lot of
gambling going on in Florida. Okaloosa County especially, in Northwest Florida,
had some open casinos going in the vicinity of Eglin Air Force Base and Fort
Walton. The sheriff was pretty much hand-in-glove with the state senator and
they were all big backers of Fuller Warren. Fuller Warren had pledged that any
time anyone was caught gambling, he would remove them from office, but here
he was caught with some of his biggest backers who were in the thick of it. Jim
Powell and some of the other reporters had done stories in the late 1940s about
that. I wound up going there; it was one of my first assignments at The Tribune
with another reporter. We sort of were gumshoeing around between Pensacola
and Fort Walton and didn't run into anything particular at that point, but this was
kind of a constant thing going on. The Warren administration had its problems all
the way through and basically Fuller Warren started setting up counter-attacks on
The Tribune and he would come to Tampa and accuse The Tribune of being
owned by a foreign corporation and what he was referring to was legalistically
correct. The Tribune was owned by a corporation in Richmond.
P: Is this Media General?
H: At that time it was not Media General. It was just members of the Bryan family
who had not yet gone public. It was jointly-owned by two families, one in Chicago
and one in Richmond.
P: So any state other than Florida would be foreign, right?
H: Legalistically, that's it.
P: There were also, I understand, some really good writers. Jock Murray, Paul
Wilder, Hampton Dunn. He had established a good group of writers.
H: Hampton Dunn was not a writer for The Tribune.
P: Was he an editor?
H: He had been an editor for the afternoon paper, The Tampa Daily Times, and it
was very much a competitor of The Tribune as long as The Times existed. Jock
Murray was a fellow from Nova Scotia, he was a seasoned newspaper man and
he was old-time Scotsman-type who was just a real burrowing newspaperman.
He was responsible, if any one person could be given the credit, of helping set up
the Minimum Foundation Act of 1947, which was the first state financing for
schools of any consequence. LeRoy Collins was in the state Senate at that point
and he and Murray sort of collaborated on what they could find. Mr. Murray went
to each individual school that he could find in Tribune territory, which was pretty
broad-ranging at that point, and pointed out all the slip-ups, the way the schools
were basically falling in at that point. Just terrible sanitary conditions, just awful
things going on, so he pretty much laid the groundwork for that Minimum
Foundation Act and he was also the lead person in the gambling campaign, the
anti-gambling campaign in the late 1940s that brought the Kefauver Committee
[Carey Estes Kefauver, U.S. Senator from Tennessee, 1949-1963, chaired
Special Committee on Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce] to Tampa in
December of 1950. The Kefauver Committee was a U.S. Senate committee that
was investigating gambling corruption around the United States. They'd been in
Miami and The Miami Herald had brought them there, and The Tribune laid the
groundwork for the Kefauver Committee to come to Tampa. As a result of two
days of hearings there, virtually every public official, locally in the city and in the
county, became identified in some form of payoff with gamblers and within a two-
year interval there, everyone with the exception of the mayor was out of office.
The mayor had managed to scramble loose from it, but the sheriff, the state
attorney, they were all changed.
P: I seem to recall that you witnessed a confrontation between Adlai Stevenson
[Illinois governor, 1949-1953; Democratic candidate for President, 1952 and
1956] and Estes Kefauver.
H: This was later on. In the presidential primaries ...
H: This would have been later, it must have been 1956 because it was when I was
with The Tribune. They had a confrontation under an oak tree in a schoolyard in
Ybor City, and it was just sort of a dramatic occasion and I was able to write
about it in such a way that that story won the prize for the best spot news article
of that year in the Associated Presses.
P: Both of them at that time were fighting for the Democratic Party nomination.
H: That's right and Stevenson did win.
P: Got the honor of winning and losing, right?
H: Right, exactly.
P: How would you assess the quality of The Tampa Tribune and The St. Pete Times
in the 1950s?
H: At that point, The Tribune was far and away the better newspaper. It was
aggressive, it was state-oriented, it was the newspaper that you had to read if
you wanted to know what was going on in Florida at that point and St. Petersburg
was in a formative stage at that point. I never met Nelson Poynter [owner,
publisher, The St. Petersburg Times, 1947-1978]. I did meet some of the
reporters from that period and I had the feeling, even then, that he was hiring
first-class people and he was paying good money for the staff, he was willing to
invest in the future, and I wish I could have said the same for The Tribune
management at that point. They were still trying to get by on a very tight budget,
but to Red Newton's credit, even though we had a fairly small staff and no one
was making any money to speak of, he was using the staff in a way that you had
a good idea of what was going on. People would line up at The Tribune building
in cars every night at 9:00. The first edition of the newspaper would come out at
that time, which would be the state edition, it would go out in the state, but it was
available for sale on the streets and you would see twenty or thirty cars every
night waiting to see what The Tribune was going to say the following morning.
Reputedly The St. Petersburg Times would get copies of The Tribune just to be
sure that they weren't being outflanked, but at that point, The Times was still
pretty locally-oriented. They were just beginning to start a staff and send people
to Tallahassee. It was in the 1950s that they began hiring people away from The
Tribune. When they saw promising people, they had the wherewithal and were
paying better salaries.
P: How would you evaluate the papers today?
[End of side Al]
H: Today I would have to say that The Times is virtually a non-profit newspaper with
unlimited resources. They probably have 100 more people on their staff than
The Tribune does, they've got 400 while we have about 300 on our news staff.
They have budgets that enable them to send foreign correspondents all over,
they have succeeded in sending people around the country on stories that our
budget restraints don't allow us to do anymore. The Tribune has managed to
maintain a standing. For a newspaper its size, it's still considered one of the best
newspapers in its circulation range, but it's also in a class where it's probably in
the most competitive situation in the country. The St. Pete Times, there are
times when I've wondered whether they're seeking a monopoly in the whole
Tampa Bay area. They have come into Tampa, they have bureaus in Tampa,
they are covering Tampa as if it were a local scene for them. It's really an
extremely helpful situation in one way, you better be on your toes every minute or
your stories are going to get snatched away or it may appear in the opposition
before you get it into print. The Tribune's efforts to ward off The Times have
been fairly successful. They've spent millions of dollars coming into Hillsborough
County over the last fifteen years, and yet their total circulation is in the range of
P: What is the circulation of The Tampa Tribune now?
H: The Tribune's [circulation] is about 200,000.
P: That's interesting, because in 1973 it was 182,000.
H: That's right.
P: Although the population has increased dramatically, the circulation has not
H: There's a good reason for that. In 1973, you could get home delivery
everywhere from Tallahassee to the Everglades and it was the home-delivered
morning newspaper in places like Marion County, Sumter County, Citrus County,
P: This is before The Lakeland Ledger. Now The Lakeland Ledger has most of
H: A lot of newspapers in that period dropped their afternoon newspaper and went
[to] morning instead. Frequently, the situation was that people would prefer to
take their hometown newspaper in the morning. That was particularly true in
Sarasota. Both The Tribune and The St. Pete Times had a very competitive
situation in Sarasota County and when The Sarasota Herald-Tribune decided to
go in the morning, it basically shut out both newspapers. Neither one has any
significant circulation [there].
P: So the circulation area now is pretty limited to Tampa and suburbs?
H: That's pretty much true. Tampa, suburbs, and Pasco County, Hernando County
to some extent. Media General also has small dailies in Hernando County and in
Highlands County, which basically took up where we had local county editions of
The Tribune. Now they have small dailies there and The Tribune does circulate
along with them on Sundays, for example.
P: Let me ask you a little bit about Nelson Poynter and his vision for newspapers.
He set up the Poynter Institute and it's unusual now that The St. Petersburg
Times is one of the very few independent newspapers. How important has all
that been in the progress and achievements of The St. Pete Times?
H: Well, I'm sure it's been crucial. The Poynter Institute has been the key element
there because had the Bass brothers succeeded, you know they attempted to
overcome that with a lawsuit, and some of the Poynter relatives attempted to
overturn the trust or whatever the arrangement was. The Bass brothers of Texas
somehow got hold of their interest and eventually had to be paid off some huge
amount, all I heard was rumors in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, I don't
know how much. The Times setup is not a foundation, I don't think. It's not a
trust, I guess it's the Poynter Foundation. At any rate, they were able to weather
that and since then the Poynter Foundation has become one of the better-known
journalism seminar settings in the country. At one time, Columbia University's
American Press Institute was a key element. You would go there to meet editors
and peers who would meet on issues in the profession, and now the Poynter
Institute, from what I gather, they pay the way for a good many folks who come
down there. One time, The Tribune had a publisher named Doyle Harvill who
just felt that any relationship with St. Petersburg or the Poynter Institute was
poison. At that time we had a bunch of people working on the paper who had
spouses who worked across the bay in St. Petersburg. He told one woman that
he liked her work but he didn't like who she slept with, and essentially he made it
impossible for people to have that kind of relationship. He wouldn't allow
anybody to go to Poynter Institute seminars. Since then, management has
changed and [is] more than agreeable and as a matter of fact, when we had a
redesign recently, a young woman from the Poynter Institute who specialized in
newspaper design came over and collaborated with our art director. So things, at
that level, are on a very amicable basis and they've been very helpful to The
Tribune and it's employees who have participated.
P: But it's still competitive.
H: Not at the Institute level.
P: But at the circulation level.
H: At the circulation level and on the newspaper level, [it's] extremely competitive.
To this extent, which might be of interest here, The Times sells its Sunday edition
for fifty cents in Tampa and one dollar in St. Petersburg, and recently The
Tribune counter-moved and started selling The Tribune for fifty cents on the
streets of St. Petersburg and The Times sent out people from their circulation
department and tried to hire them away. That kind of thing is still going on.
P: If you published a Sunday paper for fifty cents, isn't that a loss leader?
H: Yes. Of course, most newspapers' circulation returns are loss leaders anyway.
P: One point during this time, you wrote an article comparing St. Pete and Tampa in
the 1950s with those cities in the 1920s.
H: Actually, those are two separate series. I did a series comparing Tampa and St.
Petersburg called "A Tale of Two Cities," that was the title of the series that ran
about fourteen articles. This was for Red Newton about 1957.
P: Did you compare the school systems and other aspects of the cities?
H: Essentially it was the demographics, the way St. Petersburg at that time was
primarily retirees. Tampa was a younger population, but more cosmopolitan,
with a more immigrant background. Certainly it had a reputation as being a
gambling [area] and a corrupt place. St. Petersburg had a reputation as a clean
city at that point. There was a lot of competition going on at that point for an
international airport, who was going to get the jetport for the area. Tampa had
the political clout at that point and won out. Tampa's port was predominant and
still is, and St. Petersburg was attempting a rival port at that point for shipping. It
was basically about the competitive scene at that point. I also did a series in that
era comparing the real-estate boom of the late 1950s with that of the 1920s. My
father had been a citrus man most of his life, with the exception of a couple of
years in the 1920s when a cousin had induced him to sell real estate during the
height of the real estate boom. He wound up losing his shirt and being regretful
that he had gotten into it, but it had always sounded like a very colorful period
and it intrigued me. I'd read a number of books that had been written about the
Florida boom and Frederick Lewis Allen in his [book], Only Yesterday, had
included the Florida boom among the other excesses of the 1920s. It'd been a
fascinating period to me, I'd just heard a lot about it and was intrigued by it. I
enjoyed researching that period and comparing it with what was going on in the
1950s, which was another real upsurge of building at that point. The aftermath of
World War II was really beginning to show its full blast. It was an interesting
comparison. Bob Considine, who was a columnist for the Hearst newspapers at
that point, fairly well-known and had a syndicated column around the country,
happened to be vacationing on the lower east coast and he happened to see a
copy of The Tribune that day and he picked up my first story and basically said,
with apologies to Leland Hawes and The Tampa Tribune, I'd like to quote his
stuff, and so he wrote the whole thing. That one did win an award for the best
feature series that year.
P: You've always been interested in writing about history, haven't you?
H: Actually, history was just one phase at that point. That was all to come later on.
I was still covering politics in that period. I covered the race between Claude
Pepper [U.S. Representative from Florida, 1963-1989; U.S. Senator from Florida,
1936-1951] and Spessard Holland [U.S. Senator from Florida, 1946-1971;
Florida governor, 1940-1945] in 1958. Red Newton was always being accused of
being one-sided in his crusading journalism, and his way of countering that was
to say, okay, in politics we will send a reporter with each candidate, we will run
the stories side-by-side, we'll give equal space on the front page, and that's the
way he did it. He would exchange reporters, we'd run one week with one
candidate and one week with the next. It was an interesting experience flying
around Florida and riding with these campaign forces. I remember Spessard
Holland at a TV station in Pensacola saying that, unless he was sent back to
Washington by the forces of segregation, we were in deep trouble. Of course, he
was right, but he wasn't able to do much about it, as it turned out. He was
reelected and Pepper went on to run for the House of Representatives in the
P: You did start in 1982, I understand, writing sort of a weekly historical feature
story. Is that the way it worked?
H: That's essentially it. I'd been through a series of editing jobs at The Tribune from
the early 1960s on, mainly in the features area. I had been the Sunday editor, I
had been the features editor, I had been in charge of twenty and thirty people
writing everything from television to real estate and wound up editing the daily
feature section. I got into a power-play situation on the paper where I was on the
wrong side with the management at that point and was sort of relegated to a
position called night editor, [where] essentially my role was to read the paper
every night and try to catch any errors that might be in the newspaper and be on
hand in case there were any problems on the night side. Well, I was miserable in
the job. It was kind of like a glorified proofreader in some respects and it was
kind of a low point in my career. Strangely, the assistant managing editor, with
whom I had tangled, one day called me in and said, we'd like you to do a column
and I want you to give some thought to the idea and see what you can come up
with. I pondered it and The Tribune had a tradition of running a history page on
Sunday, which had gone from 1946 to 1962. A former mayor, whose name was
D. B. [Donald Brenham] McKay [mayor of Tampa, Florida, 1910-1920, 1928-
1932], had put together a page in retirement for The Tribune and it had drawn
quite a readership in that period and there hadn't been anything after that. It
occurred to me that they said they wanted me to try to work up something that
would appeal to "old Tampa". They realized I was a native and figured this might
be something I could come up with. I suggested that as a possibility, a history
page or a history column. That's the way it started. In November of 1982, when
it began, I was still doing the night editing chores for a while and eventually I told
them, you're going to have to make a choice, I'm either going to be night editor or
I'm going to do the history page. By then it had caught on and was getting quite
a response from readers, so since then, that's basically what I've been doing.
P: What do you use as a basis for your columns? How do you pick them?
H: Well, I started out writing about the hurricane of 1848 and some of the major
events that had occurred over the years, such as the yellow fever epidemic in the
1880s, some other things. I started coming out here to the University [of South
Florida] and got to be good friends with Gary Mormino, who had come in as a
history professor. He was doing immigrant stories out of Ybor City and he was
pointing me in directions and was getting me some good ideas and Special
Collections here in the library was getting manuscripts. [He] gave me wonderful
approaches for stories, diaries from people who had lived in the 1880s and later.
Then calls from readers and letters from readers started pouring in and since the
early point I have usually had between fifteen and twenty ideas that I've been
working on [at any given time]. Right now, I guess I have a dozen ideas that, as
soon as I can juggle things, I'll be writing about them.
P: So you don't run out of material?
H: Don't run out of material.
P: What exactly does the Sunday editor do that might be different from the
managing editor, executive editor? Is that a more difficult job because the
Sunday paper has more pages?
H: No. Essentially, you could use another term. You could use enterprise editor as
well. Sunday is a day that's traditionally slow in news. Ordinarily, weekends
don't have that much hard news breaking, although recent years have sort of
disproved that whole approach. The whole idea is that [on] weekends you do
analyses, you use columns that you don't have room for in the regular daily
coverage. You attempt to start series on Sundays, you attempt to have
enterprise stories that no other newspaper is likely to have. Essentially, it's an
idea brainstorming type [of] job, trying to read other newspapers, see what's
going on, see what the staff is coming up with, and trying your best to give the
Sunday newspaper an element that is lacking otherwise during the week.
P: Sort of like when The Washington Post came up with a Style section, which put a
little different take on what used to be women's news.
H: Exactly. All these things have evolved as the years [have gone by]. The Tribune
had a women's section at one time and now it's called Bay Life and it's [run] daily
P: How are reporters different today than when you started?
H: Most of them are better educated. A good many of them have master's degrees.
We have one editorial writer on our staff who has a law degree, it's not that
unusual. We have some people with considerably more academic preparation
than I did. There were people on the staff at The Tribune back in the 1940s and
1950s who had little or no schooling and were extremely good writers. I
mentioned Paul Wilder, whom I consider one of the best feature writers that the
paper's ever had. Generally, they are more specialized, they might tend to cover
something like social services or higher education. You tended to be more of a
generalist in the old days and of course, there are considerable computer skills
involved nowadays. The atmosphere of the newsroom was considerably noisier
in the 1950s, the clatter of typewriters, wire-service machines, the teletypes.
People could somehow concentrate with the noise as a background. It's more
disruptive nowadays to have a conversation going on over my shoulder than it
was in the old days, because computers don't make that much noise and
conversations tend to be more distractive to me.
P: One of the old reporters I was talking to said, and he started about when you
started, that reporters could turn out sometimes, on a given day, five, six, seven
articles and now they tend to turn out maybe one a day or three or four a week.
H: That's true. Red Newton always told his young reporters that there was a period
when he was a sportswriter that he turned out twenty-two stories a day. Well,
that was one of those exaggerations from way back. He might have been writing
twenty-two one-paragraph stories and there were times when you did have to
grind out a lot of material. When I was a police reporter, obviously there would
be times when you would be writing maybe five or six accident stories or maybe
a rape or a murder or something like that as well. And there were times when
you'd have to work all night. A story would be going on, say a gambling raid or
something and you'd just keep working. Nowadays, that happens on occasion,
but we've got night reporters. Basically, we're covered around the clock.
P: Is the quality of the writing better now than it was then?
H: I'd have to say that generally speaking, it is. We had some excellent writers, but
there was also some pretty mediocre writing.
P: How is the audience you are now writing for different than when you first started?
H: It's totally different in the sense that the audience in the 1950s was basically
dependent upon newspapers for their information, while today, you're hoping to
grab their attention in between all the other activities of television, the Internet,
and the other sources of information that are available.
P: The number of subscribers of newspapers, as a percentage of the population,
has dropped fairly significantly.
H: Of course, we're hopeful now that we're taking up the gap somewhat. The
Tribune is now offering a subscription rate to people who want to get the entire
newspaper on the Internet rather than just little snippets. The New York Times
has just started this in the last few months, where you can take the entire New
York Times by Internet by paying a subscription rate, and that's been one means
of recompensing for lost circulation.
P: While we're on that subject, let's talk about this new concept of synergy. We
certainly see it here where you have WFLA television station, The Tribune, and I
think it's called TBO.com, all three of those are owned by Media General and
they interact. How does that work?
H: Number one, we're all in the same building in the sense that our newsroom is in
the building with the television station. The third floor of a four-story building, our
newsroom is in that building, while the business side of the operation is in a
separate building, where we used to be. Tampa Bay Online is what TBO is and
they rely on material from The Tribune and from WFLA and they do some
enterprise work on their own, for people who use the Internet primarily for news.
WFLA Channel 8 in Tampa is the top television station. Its ratings are higher on
news programs than on the other stations. They broadcast, they say that they're
the first in Florida. Now whether that's true or not, I don't know. I'm assuming
that the markets in Jacksonville and Miami and Orlando are split up to a greater
extent. At any rate, Channel 8 claims to have more listeners than any other
television station in Florida.
P: When you do an article, let's say one of your weekly pieces, that goes on the
Internet as well?
H: It goes on the Internet.
P: Could they use a portion of that on television?
H: If they wanted to. On rare occasions they've called me in and I've been on
camera with some historical background.
P: There also must be something on cross-promotion, the television station can
mention a story and say you can read about it in more detail in The Tribune
H: That's exactly right, that's what they do.
P: Does that help?
H: I'm sure it does. For example, on the 11:00 news they'll give bits and pieces of a
story and they'll say, you can learn more details in an article that so-and-so is
writing for The Tampa Tribune in the morning.
P: The critics of this system argue that all of these three entities still operate
separately, and all that's being changed here is that the material is being
repackaged for another outlet and that the journalism is not necessarily improved
by the synergy.
H: I would disagree to this point. There are times when the synergy is helpful in the
sense that you learn about things going on. The three-pronged effort somehow
enables you to wheel into action a little quicker than otherwise. We used to
monitor police radios and attempt to learn when anything was happening in a
breaking news way. Now that's pretty well-concentrated and the television and
news side cooperate. There are times when you'll see pictures in The Tribune
that were taken by a WFLA cameraman and vice versa. Some of our
photographers will be in a helicopter taking pictures for WFLA as well as The
P: It's certainly a more efficient use of personnel in that sense.
H: That's right. As far as better journalism, as far as the writing is concerned, we've
used articles in the newspaper that have been written by television journalists,
and I'd have to give them credit. Their writing looks good to me. There are
occasions when our people appear on camera, for example our business writers,
there's a certain period every afternoon when they go down and appear on
camera to talk about some of the breaking news stories, business stories for the
P: That's where the TV really benefits, because now they have the use of 300 staff
people and writers and reporters and photographers from the newspaper, which
they could not provide on their own before.
H: The television staff is relatively limited in reporters. I don't know the exact
figures, but I don't think there are more than twenty-five or thirty reporters per se,
maybe fewer. The other television stations are up against it in that sense. They
have to rely on tipsters and [other sources].
P: Associated Press wires.
P: Is this the future, then, of mass media?
H: Conceivably so, depending upon legal rulings that the FCC [Federal
Communications Commission] may or may not come up with. We were
grandfathered into this situation because The Tribune owned Channel 8 when it
was begun in 1952, or Media General did, by then. In television markets across
the country, the question of cross-ownership with newspapers is still in question
in some areas, but it's my understanding that the way the rulings have been
going, they seem likely to open the floodgates.
P: You might worry that one individual who has the money and the power could
then buy up all the media outlets in several major cities, such as Rupert Murdoch
[media proprietor, owner of worldwide newspaper and magazine publishing and
television empire], has done.
H: That would be a prime example.
P: That would create a controlling influence on the news.
H: Definitely. Now Media General has acquired, in the last fifteen years, a number
of smaller newspapers around the Southeast. They've concentrated their
ownership in the Southeast and they own about a dozen television stations in the
Southeast, and they have been starting this same routine in regional areas. For
example, Dothan, Alabama, and Marianna, Florida, are in an area close enough
that they're able to converge to an extent. I can't remember the television
situation there, but Media General owns a television station in Jacksonville, of
course no newspapers there. It's mainly in small areas where there are a
number of newspapers grouped around that are nearby a television station, such
as in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, is another Media General newspaper.
P: The Winston-Salem Journal, they own that?
H: Yes. The three major newspapers that Media General owns are The Richmond
Times Dispatch, The Tribune, and the Winston-Salem paper. The Tribune is the
largest and has been traditionally been, over the years.
P: When we look at the importance of newspapers, I'm reminded of when Dan
Rather, the news anchor on CBS, was discussing embryonic stem cells and in
the process said, television cannot do this justice. You will have to read a good
newspaper tomorrow to find all the details about embryonic stem cells. We don't
have the time to give you the broad details you need. Do you see that more and
more becoming the importance of the role of the newspaper? It's difficult to
compete with CNN in terms of breaking stories.
H: Definitely. This is where you'll gain the analysis, the background. There's a man
named Jim Bellows who has a book out called The Last Editor. He was editor of
The Miami News, The New York Herald Tribune, The Washington Star. He was
the last editor because all these papers have folded. His claim to fame is that he
said he made better newspapers out of The New York Times, The Washington
Post, and The Miami Herald because he had a brand of newspapering that really
put them on their toes and made them better newspapers. His book has just
come out. He wound up getting into television and the Internet as well. He's
eighty years old now, and he was on Jim Lehrer's [television journalist, anchor of
MacNeil/Lehrer Newshour] report the other night talking about his book and he
was asked about the future of newspapers. He said he realized that they were
evolving, but he expected they would survive, although he could visualize that
something like the stock tables for the financial pages would be going out
because that's obviously something that is easier accessed from other directions.
P: Plus there had been some talk, as you indicated earlier, about how to present
your newspaper on the Internet. If a reader is interested in business, sports, and
style, that's all he subscribes to. If you don't want a complete newspaper, you
just take portions of the paper.
H: Conceivably that could be part of the future package.
P: What makes a great newspaper?
H: I think The New York Times is a great newspaper simply because they're willing
to spend their resources on the best reporters they can find and send them
where the stories are happening and give them the time they need to develop
their stories. I'm sure there are times when they spend months working on
articles. St. Pete Times has done that to some extent, a fellow named Thomas
French [winner, 1998 Pulitzer Prize for feature writing] spent a year or two
working on book-length type articles. So there's something to be said for it.
P: What other papers in America would you say were great papers, other than The
New York Times?
H: Mainly the standard ones that are mentioned, The Washington Post, The
Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times. At one time, The Miami Herald would
have been included among them. I haven't been reading it that closely in recent
years, but I'm afraid it's lost its impact to some extent.
P: How would you evaluate the newspapers in Florida? I've talked to a lot of people
who say that maybe other than California and maybe North Carolina, this state
has more good newspapers than any other state.
H: I consider it the most competitive state in the country. All the major news chains
are represented in Florida. You've got New York Times newspapers, you've got
Chicago Tribune ownership in Orlando and in Fort Lauderdale, you have Knight
Ridder in Miami, Sarasota, Lakeland, Gainesville, Ocala.
P: They are owned by The New York Times.
H: Yeah, I'm sorry. Knight Ridder is [in] Bradenton. Oh, Tallahassee Democrat,
Bradenton Herald, and The Miami Herald.
P: Then the Sarasota and the Ocala and the Gainesville papers ...
H: Those are New York Times. I've come to respect the Cox newspapers. The
Austin American-Statesman is very well done, it's edited by a fellow who started
out at The Tribune, as a University of South Florida student back in the 1950s.
The Palm Beach paper is very well done, it's a Cox newspaper. The Gannett
newspapers in Pensacola and Fort Myers are formulized, pretty much. They're
well-run and obviously make money.
P: The thing that astonished me with Gannett is that the average profit is something
like 25 percent, which seems extraordinarily high for any business.
H: It is.
P: Carl Hiaasen [writer/columnist, The Miami Herald; author], I talked with him, he
said, I know some cocaine dealers who don't make that high of a profit.
[Laughter]. If you look at Knight Ridder, and Tony Ridder [chairman, CEO,
Knight Ridder, 1995-present; president, Knight Ridder, 1989-1995] goes to The
Miami Herald and says we want, and got, 27 percent profit last year. To get 27
percent, they had to fire staff, they reduced the size of the newspaper, they cut
back on investigative reporting, they're not going to cover City Hall as much as
they did before. The argument of the critics of that system is that the
newspapers are just not as good as they used to be.
H: I think that's a valid criticism, particularly in these chains that have done that. I'm
happy to say that Media General, we've been through a job-freeze situation but
we haven't had to cut back on staff and we've stayed in a relatively upbeat
condition, where there have been times when expenses have been hard to
justify. As far as I can tell, it hasn't taken any visible toll on the newspaper.
P: Of course there are different views of this. I talked to Diane McFarlin of The
Sarasota Herald-Tribune and she said, well, when The New York Times took
over, we got a new press, we got a new press room, we got new technology.
There were benefits from being part of that chain, but the restrictions in terms of
what you had to meet as a profit goal was pretty clear. We'll give you all this new
technology, but we still expect you to turn a profit.
H: I was impressed by the fact that she had eighteen people in Charlotte County,
the adjoining county, for the bureau that they had there. That obviously was an
investment they were willing to make and The Lakeland Ledger has made similar
investments, but they've also been through periods where they've had to go
through cutbacks. I know The Ledger lost three people out of its newsroom.
P: I talked to Skip Perez [editor, The Lakeland Ledger, 1981-present], he said they
had to fire some, but that was something they hope to ultimately get back, they
hope those are not permanent.
H: Skip started as The Tribune's Gainesville correspondent at one point.
P: Sort of like what you did. When he was in college he was a stringer for The
H: Yeah. Walker Lundy is the editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer [2001-present],
now with Knight Ridder, started as a sports correspondent for The Tribune in
P: How has Media General dealt with the newspapers it owns, particularly The
H: Are you thinking in terms of convergence?
P: Convergence, profits, the whole thing. Do you feel blessed by being owned by
Media General instead of Gannett?
H: Yes. For that particular comparison, I'd feel even more blessed if we were
owned by The New York Times, generally. There are times when Newhouse
[News Service] seems to be putting money in Portland and Birmingham and New
Orleans, so they're putting out good first-rate newspapers, where in the past they
P: Is that part of the key? If you look at the papers, the ones you listed before as
the four best spend more money than any other newspapers in the country.
There must be some sort of correlation between spending money and producing
an outstanding newspaper. Cutting back and producing a newspaper that, like
The Miami Herald, is just not as good as it used to be.
H: That correlation unfortunately doesn't seem to carry through with the publishers.
They still seem to think that, because they're on Wall Street, the analysts require
them to push up the profits every year.
P: And that's a business, that's true.
H: They're under the gun. Now why the analysts feel that 20 to 25 percent is the
expected range in publishing, I don't know. A grocery chain can get by [with] 1
percent to 2 percent.
P: I would think you could take 5 percent off your profit margin, put it back in the
paper, make a better paper and ultimately maybe sell more copies.
H: You would think that would be the case.
P: Is there a limited audience for newspapers? Is it not going to expand beyond a
H: That's a good question and one I haven't really considered, but I suspect that the
answer might be yes, literacy levels and attention levels being what they are. Of
course the thing that disturbs me most is the fact that younger people just don't
seem to read newspapers as much as they once did. [End of Tape A: Side 2]
P: How do we get young people interested in reading newspapers?
H: There have been a lot of efforts to dumb-down the newspapers to try to reach
them. Of course, probably the best way of all is to get involvement from younger
people, either participating by contributing to newspapers, by writing articles and
maybe taking part in particular pages and sections of the newspaper. That's
about the only way we've known over the years and it hasn't been all that
P: One of the things they've been doing in The Gainesville Sun is they pick a book,
like the Diary of Anne Frank, and they try to get everybody in the community to
read that book collectively. They write about it and they have e-mails and letters
and they have actual meetings where people come to discuss it. That seems to
have piqued a little interest anyway in the community to start reading.
H: I suspect it's an uphill battle.
P: It is. I think it is. What's your view of USA Today?
H: I haven't read it regularly, but it certainly seems to have improved in recent years.
It's certainly not the bite-sized stories that it once had. Seems to be making an
effort to get into investigations on occasion and analyses more often. I say
generally it's an improved product.
P: The way they started was to have an article limited to one page and lots of color
and photographs and graphics. Do you think that concept is helpful?
H: That concept has been far-reaching. Virtually every newspaper in the country
has followed in the footsteps of USA Today. Al Neuharth [founder, USA Today,
vice-president, Gannett Co., Inc.] was certainly able to get things rolling in the
right direction. I think we'd be in a lot worse shape had we not gone in that
direction. Some people would argue that USA Today was a ruination, in some
respects, in having everything cut down, but at least in a graphic sense, it's made
newspapers more attractive and more accessible to a lot of people who might not
have looked at them otherwise.
P: I noticed that whenever I travel people read USA Today. Newhart really figured
that idea out. He understood that a lot of people, when they're traveling, at the
airport or something, will pick up the USA Today. It's amazing, they give them
out at all the hotels, a lot of people read them. That's the biggest circulation
paper in America.
H: That's right. I still think highly of The Wall Street Journal. It's a tremendous
P: And they've expanded a little bit beyond just business news.
H: Right, and they've modified their appearance somewhat in recent weeks, but in a
very subtle way.
P: Not too much. When you look at your newspaper career, have you
accomplished what you wanted to achieve in this career?
H: I guess I'm an anomaly in some respects, in that I never had any particular goals,
I just enjoyed what I was doing and every job I seemed to be doing seemed to be
relatively gratifying. There have been some downers along the way, one of
which I mentioned, but generally speaking I've just been sort of wrapped up in
what I've been doing and I'd say it's been a very satisfying career. Particularly
strangely, the history part has been a niche that no one else seems to occupy. I
don't know of any other newspaper in the Southeast that devotes the space that
The Tribune does to local history and nostalgia. It is an area that I've enjoyed,
sort of carving out my own little territory. [I think of it as a news beat]. I try to look
for variety of subject. I do interviews with old-timers in their nineties who have
Last Sunday was [about] a fellow who had researched old-time theaters in
Tampa and had quite a bit of background on Cinerama. The week before was
some people who'd gone around just looking for inscriptions in sidewalks, names
of the contractors. I came across this story this last year that was probably the
most unusual one I've encountered during the twenty years. I had a mail carrier
send me an e-mail from Georgia and he had delivered mail to my parents in
Tampa and he remembered my name and he had seen a column I had done. He
remembered that he had this stack of letters that had been tucked away in a
drawer for years and years that he had found on a bus stop bench back in the
1950s. He wanted me to see if I could find out who those letters might have been
directed to or who had written them. There were only two names in the letters,
they were addressed to a woman named Mary Wallace and they were signed by
a man, whose name I'm forgetting at the moment, but there were two names that
we were dealing with. They obviously involved a woman in Tampa, there were
references to the newspaper and things going on in Tampa. They were obviously
written back in 1932, so they were even further back. Through [a combination] of
circumstances, I was able to discover who those letters had been written by and
to whom they were directed and I found the daughter of the woman they were
written to. A lot of it was just pure luck. Mary Wallace happened to be a
schoolmate of my mother, and I had remembered hearing her talk of this woman,
and on top of that she was the daughter of the editor of The Tribune. She had
this love affair in 1930s with a man in Cincinnati [and] these were his letters. Her
daughter was just astonished when I came up with these letters one day. [The
article] came out on Mother's Day and it was probably one of the most unusual
stories that I've written as a newspaper man.
P: Ben Bradlee, executive editor of The Washington Post [1968-1991] once referred
to his newspaper as "the morning miracle." When you think about it, it really is.
Everybody I talked to still has this extraordinary love of and commitment to the
purpose of the newspaper, which is to inform the public. Do you still see that?
P: With your colleagues?
H: There's no doubt about it. That's one of the reasons I'm still working at the age
of seventy-two, I'll be seventy-three next month. I officially retired five years ago
or six years ago, and I'm a part-timer, I work three days a week. Just the idea of
being around people who are involved there's a vitality in newsrooms. I've had
people sitting near me in the newsroom who've been working on novels, there
are two mystery writers who are published authors now. It's just been fun sitting
around hearing them and talking to them about their experiences. One of them I
was able to assist in preparing his work, some of the background on it, so it's
been a fun career in a lot of ways to me.
P: Although the salaries are not as high, there have been some lay-offs, the quality
of the newspaper is not as high in some cases, there's still a strong commitment
to the profession?
H: I think so.
P: Are young people coming into the profession?
H: Yes. Not as many. Generally, the professors I talk to find that more are going
into public relations and advertising and television. I've dealt with some from the
University of Florida, [the] documentary department there in the Journalism and
Communications School. They were interested in doing a story on an old-time
Tampa gambler that I could give them some background on. It's been
fascinating the way people are branching out in various specialties, but there are
still a number of them who seem to enjoy the idea of the printed medium.
P: Is there a situation in your career where you had written something that the editor
or Media General would have disagreed with and would have tried to stop you
from publishing or caused you to modify what you'd written?
H: The only time that ever happened was under the same guy that really gave us all
the thrust and movement back in the 1950s, Red Newton. He could get intensely
personal in his journalism at times. He was also a very arch-reactionary
conservative, as far as his racial ideas were concerned. I did an interview with a
lawyer who was representing the NAACP [National Association for the
Advancement of Colored People] about 1955 or 1956 when the desegregation
movement was coming underway and here was a case where basically my story
got killed. It had to be modified. [He said,] I'm not interested in that, I want to
know it from this angle, and basically it was just a totally different approach.
That's one of the few occasions. Back when I worked on The Tampa Times, I
once saw a feature story on a woman who was selling watermelons by the side
of the road and I wrote a feature on her and the city editor at The Times [which]
was having [a] rough-go with its advertising and he said, well, we can't alienate
the supermarket advertisers who consider this woman competition, so I don't
think we want to run this story. But those are the two instances out of fifty-two
years where that's happened.
P: Even though it might offend car dealers or something like that, there's been a
tendency to go ahead and publish whatever articles have been properly and
H: As long as you touch all bases on a story. That's the key element. I've never
really had any problems, generally speaking. Those two instances were
definitely the exceptions to the rule.
P: I don't know if you've been involved in this or not, but how does The Tampa
Tribune decide who to endorse in a presidential election of the upcoming
H: We had an editorial board, [but] I'm really not privy to the way it's evolved over
the years. At one time, the managing editor, the editorial page editor, and the
publisher were kind of a triumvirate who would make those decisions and that
may still be the case.
P: But the publisher always has an extra vote, right?
H: The publisher does, but in most instances he seems to leave it to the editor of the
editorial page. We have a very conservative editor and I might add that this is
one of the major elements in the competition with St. Petersburg, the
conservative readers will take The Tribune who are disenchanted with [the] St.
Pete [Times's] editorial policy.
P: At least people are reading editorials.
H: That's right.
P: That's always, I guess in some cases, the most difficult part of the newspaper,
getting them to read the editorial pages, but at the same time, in many ways
that's the most interesting. I'm sure you've gotten a lot of letters, not only to you
personally, but have read letters to the editor, which I've always found a
fascinating part of the newspaper. Can you tell how those letters have changed
over the years?
H: I used to think that the main people who wrote letters to the editor were the
cranks, but I think as the years have gone by, the people who make the
selections have gone out of their way to get representative opinions. At one time
I know The Orlando Sentinel had a period under Martin Andersen [publisher, The
Orlando Sentinel, 1931-1966] where they would put smart-aleck comments at the
end of every letter. The Tribune used to make it a policy to have editorial notes,
usually in the explanatory way, but now we seldom, if ever, have editor's notes in
connection with the letters. It's a full page of letters on Sunday and a good chunk
of a page on regular days, so [it is] an attempt to keep the readers represented
with their viewpoints. The Tribune will also reserve Saturdays for viewpoints
where people want to have longer explanations, where there's a controversial
P: Like an op-ed piece?
P: What have we not discussed that you would like to talk about?
H: If anything, I would say that newspapers have missed a good bet by not doing
more in a historical way. This is an area [where] there is readership and you
have to admit the fact that newspapers do have an older audience and an older
audience does seem to find [historical pieces interesting]. I've had numerous
people tell me that this is the one page they'll read out of the Sunday newspaper,
which doesn't say too much for their interest otherwise, but it can be a means of
interchange with readers. I have a mailbag column that invites questions and
answers, so when people want to add their experiences to those of others, it has
proved a way of setting the record straight in some instances. Even though this
is just kind of a little personal crusade on my part, I think it's something that other
newspapers could find helpful.
P: Jim Clark, a columnist at The Orlando Sentinel has done some of that, has he
H: I know Jim. Yes.
P: With his little vignettes of Florida history, and those have been apparently very
popular as well.
H: Since Jim retired or moved on, there's a fellow doing stuff for The Sentinel who
basically has another job, as I did when I first started, a fellow named Rick
Brunson, who worked here. Rick was the editor who handled my material when
he was working on the Bay Life section. He got his degree in history at USF
[University of South Florida], he got his master's [degree], so he's teaching on
the side at the University of Central Florida and also I believe at one of the
community colleges in Seminole County. He's also writing stuff for The Sentinel,
like a feature article, on occasion. So they're using more material along those
P: But not many other papers?
H: Not that I know of. Eliot Kleinberg [staff writer] on The Palm Beach Post is
another one who is active in the Florida Historical Society and is a very good
historical writer as well as general feature writer.
P: As was Hampton Dunn. Those people seem to be fading away, I don't see that
interest continuing. It would seem to me that the concept of what American
Heritage magazine does, but on a lesser level, would be of interest, but the
newspapers tend not to pursue that, do they?
H: Well, they don't put anybody doing it full-time, and that's what it takes.
P: You just have to find somebody who has an interest and wants to do it, right?
H: That's right.
P: Is there anything else that you would like to discuss or bring up?
H: This is just something that came up in conversation with a fellow on the staff this
last week. It's really esoteric, but newspapers use interns from journalism
schools and it's a good way for students to get a start, as I did, working summers
and otherwise. At the University of Florida, apparently there has been sort of a
slow down in the internship situation in a strange way, in the School of
Journalism and Communications. They are not interested in leaving Gainesville
to go on internships. There's some way that they're able to qualify, through
working at The Gainesville Sun on occasion, that fulfills that requirement,
whatever requirement there is, in their curriculum. We have a fellow on our desk
who teaches part-time in the school up there and he's talked to potential interns
who don't want to leave Gainesville and go to other papers, yet that's the only
way they're going to really get some big-city newspaper experience.
P: Plus, what I've learned from talking to people is that if a major newspaper is
going to hire somebody and they've got two or three different internships, that's a
major factor in hiring them.
H: It's a definite advantage, especially if they've had personal exposure to one of
those interns. It's a perfect way to get a job.
P: Kind of surprising, isn't it?
H: Somebody's slipping up at the university in that sense. The fellow that was
telling me this, Shane Blatt, wrote a critique in the aftermath to sort of let the
people in the College [of Journalism] know that. When I started it was a
department, now it's a College I guess, so I hope it will be of some benefit to
somebody up the line.
P: I do too, I hope they'll change that. They should. On that note, I want to thank
you very much for your time and I appreciate you coming by. Thank you sir.
[End of the interview.]