Interviewee: Margo Pope
Interviewer: Jean Chance
Date: November 2, 2002
C: This is Saturday, November 11, 2002, in Margo Pope's office; in this wonderful
St. Augustine Record's building that is very, very shiny and new. She is all
decked out in her Florida Gators, orange shirt, which probably has something to
do with tonight's fateful game between the University of Florida Gators and the
Georgia Bulldogs. We're going to focus in this part of the interview, Margo, on
the Alligator [newspaper] years. This is a two-part interview for the oral history
project at the University of Florida, as you know. The Alligator is very interested
in developing an oral history project of its own. So, we were linking the two.
So, this first portion of the interview this morning is going to focus on the Alligator
years. But really for you, [we will] go pre-University of Florida [years]. So,
we're going to kind of go back in time. But let's begin with the basics.
Full-name, please spell [it] correctly so that we will try to get things right.
P: Margo Barton Pope. [My] maiden name was Cox.
C: I am Jean Chance and, for the record, have known Margo for many years. I'm
really pleased to have the honor to do this interview. I am looking at a
certificate, Margo, that goes back to 1964. It is from the Sixth Annual High
School of Journalism institute at the University of Florida. I gather that as a high
school student, you had your eyes on the University of Florida. Is that correct?
Tell us about that a little.
P: I decided to go to the University of Florida, Jean, when I was twelve years old
and saw my first Florida football game. My father, J. Edward "Red" Cox, was a
coach [and a] former Florida State league, baseball player. At the time I was
growing up, [he] was the superintendent of the St. Augustine Recreation
Department. Which also covered St. John's county under an inter-local
agreement. He did that for thirty-nine years. So, sports were also one of our
focuses-and particularly football, having a brother who wanted to play football.
So, I saw a lot of sports from all angles, including football games. My dad knew
Ray Graves [head football coach, University of Florida, 1961-1969], and I can
remember going to a football game when I was twelve [years old].
C: Was this in Gainesville?
P: This was in Gainesville, old Florida Field. We drove around the campus ahead
of time. That was back when you could drive all over the campus. We got a
football program and a pom-pom and all the doings, and that was the beginning
of the connection with the University of Florida, and I always told people that's
where I was going.
C: Where did your dad go to school?
P: My dad went to school at Dean College in Massachusetts.
C: So, he was not a [Florida] Gator?
P: He was not a Gator.
C: By birth.
P: He and my mother are natives of East Hartford, Connecticut. Her name is
Angela Mallion Cox. They came here after the war in 1946. Actually daddy
came first. He had been stationed at Chatham Field in Savannah [Georgia].
He was in pilot training, but because of high blood pressure, he was knocked out
of pilot training with the Army Air Corps, which was a great distress to him. He
met Hiram Favor who was then clerk of the court in St. Augustine [Florida].
Hiram found out about his athletic ability and got him on the air force baseball
team. The recreational league that traveled around from [military] post to post,
or base to base. And so, he stayed at Chatham, outside of Savannah. Then,
Hiram connected him with the St. Augustine Saints, and that's how he got to St.
Augustine. Three months later, my mother, who had been with American Red
Cross overseas during the war, came to St. Augustine. They were married in the
cathedral on May 4, 1946, and I was born on February 23, 1947. So, I am a real
C: What about your high school journalism experience in St. Augustine.
P: Well, it really started when I was eight years old. I was in Bluebirds and I was
the scribe. That's what they called it. I wrote the weekly Bluebirds' report and it
was [called] the Wetomachick Bluebirds.
C: An Indian [name and then the] Bluebird name.
P: Right, and somewhere I still have that clipping.
C: Now, doesn't your mother have some roots in journalism that have influenced
P: Oh, she does.
C: In addition to the Bluebirds.
P: Right, she was a freelance writer and when she came to St. Augustine, she met
Ms. Nina Hawkins. Ms. Hawkins was the legendary editor of the Record for
twenty years. She was the first woman chosen as an editor who didn't come to
her job because she was the daughter or spouse of a newspaper owner. So,
she connected with my mother and she hired her to do what then would have
been called freelance articles. Then, through those Record connections, [she
met] Bruce Manning at the Florida Times-Union [who] was then the editor of the
society section [of the newspaper] You know, that was back when men ran
everything. So, Bruce hired her to be the St. Augustine correspondent for the
society section. So, every week she had a column on St. Augustine. She did
that for, I think, about seven years. Every now and then, people find her stuff at
the historical society and call her to pick her brain, which she loves even at
eighty-three [years old]. That's how I started, because I can remember my
mother typing in the middle of the night and then picking us up right after school,
we got out at 2:30 [p.m.]. And then driving us to Jacksonville to the old
Times-Union building on Adams [Street]. Then, if she couldn't find a parking
place, my brother or myself would run the story in. When we couldn't go, she'd
just take my sister, who was still a toddler, and drive up to Jacksonville. I
commuted for eighteen years back and forth after the modern interstate went in.
I can't imagine how she did it, but she did it. That was also when they used the
Greyhound bus and we had a bus every hour. So, if she couldn't get up there,
she'd put it on the bus and somebody from the Times-Union would run down to
the station three blocks away and carry her column in.
C: Do you have any idea what she got paid to do that?
P: No. I'm sorry I don't know, because I'm sure it wasn't a lot but for then [it was a
C: Because I was wondering if that wasn't during the period where stringers were
literally paid by the inch for their string, their copy.
P: She probably was.
C: And it was something like ten cents an inch. I was wondering, in relation to what
it costs for the gas to drive up there ....
P: Well, she put it on the bus because there were no fax machines. I know she got
a check once a month. So, that was my link. Then, my father, as recreation
director, used to write all his own press releases. And the Record let him have a
desk and a typewriter in the old Record building on Cordova Street. He'd go in at
the crack of dawn, because it was an afternoon paper, the editors where always
there by five. Daddy would go in and he would write news for the recreation
department. Then, I started going with him. I'd go with him some mornings and
then I'd walk over to St. Jo's [St. Joseph's Academy]. So, I got to know
everybody there. This was when I was actually in grade school and then in high
school. Actually, it was the start of my freshman year of high school that we had
a Catholic Youth Organization [CYO] formed. The pastor wanted notices in the
paper. So, I volunteered and the Record decided [that] I could have a weekly
CYO news column. The first byline was July 14, 1961. And of course July 14,
little did I know, that my mentor at the University of Florida, that was his birthday,
Buddy Davis's. I didn't find that out until after I graduated, and somehow found
out what his birthday was. So, I always thought there was a link there
C: The Fates [mythological Greek gods that determine human destiny]. The Fates
P: He didn't know it. Now, my parents recognized that I had this interest. So,
when I was twelve, for my birthday, I got a Smith Corona. It was a portable
typewriter. It had been reconditioned. My dad bought it from Standard Printing
and that was my birthday present. I thought that was the greatest thing in the
world. At the Record, my dad told Tom King, who was the managing editor, and
he gave daddy a stack of copy paper for me. So, I was doing all this before I
wrote this C.Y.O. column. Well, the day I went in and they said, yes, we want
you to do this but we're not going to pay you, but you know you'll get your name
in the paper. That was exciting when you're fourteen and just starting out in
high school. They said, now, do you have a typewriter, and I said, oh, yes, I still
have that Smith Corona daddy gave me. The defining moment in this career is
when Tom King went to the closet and brought out a stack of copy paper.
C: You were a professional.
P: Yes and [he] put in a big manilla envelope and said, you're to type this,
double-space [it], make sure names are spelled right, watch your grammar and
turn it in on this paper. And when you run out, we'll give you more. And so I
just thought I was the greatest thing in the world. Now I had what journalists
worked with, real copy paper. So, that was 1961. Then by the fall of 1961, the
editor decided that if I could, I should do a column on the school, "S.J.A. [St.
Joseph's Academy] Highlights." And they sent me down to a professional
photographer to have my picture taken. It ran for four years, I wrote more than
100 of these. I never missed a week.
C: Do you have copies of all the columns you wrote?
P: I do.
C: We're looking at a lot of clippings and scrap books and photos. This is a
collector's/historian's treasure chest on top of Margo's desk right now [laughing].
So, get us to the first day you come to the University of Florida.
P: It's August of 1965 and I'm there for orientation. They have us all outside over
near, I think it was around by Walker Hall, because then they were taking us into
Walker Hall for a big presentation. But we're all gathered out there, and we're all
in groups. You had been assigned a certain group. I always thought it was
alphabetical, but when I went to the Times-Union, I met a guy that was in my
group and that kind of confirmed it because I was Cox and he was Cranford and
he remembered that we had been in this group. So, they gave you the basics.
Well, I can remember writing it all down and taking all the handouts that were
given out, but my only interest was, I have got to find the Alligator office. I have
got to find where the Alligator is [located]. I do remember this shy voice of mine
said, where is the Alligator office? They said they would show us that on a tour
and they would take us over to the [student] union. By the time I came to the
University of Florida, in high school I was not only writing two columns a week, I
worked whenever I wasn't in school at the Record doing proofing, pulling the
exchange papers and sorting them out. I had done that for a year before. I
also worked during the summers. So, I was there during the summer of 1964,
which we can talk about later, the big civil rights movement.
P: Yes, excellent.
C: I also covered high school sports for the Times-Union and you asked about what
you got paid. Well, I got paid $5 a story. The way it worked was, you covered
the game and at the end of game you called collect. And I can remember the
operator would say, Florida Times-Union? Are you paid? If you said no, that
meant it was a collect call. So then you would say no and she would say, who's
calling, and so you'd tell her [your name]. And she would put you into the sports
department and you'd dictate. There are many phone booths in north Florida
that are still there today that were my branch offices and I was so distraught
when the one in St. Augustine that I used to call from Russell's Barbeque, when
the building was torn down and the property was redone for other things, the
phone booth went away and I didn't think fast enough to buy that phone booth.
Because I don't know how many stories I called in from a phone booth. But that
was the way you operated and you learned to be a stringer. And the
Times-Union didn't forget me either, because during college Mr. Bob Price who
was the prep editor, called my father and said, get ahold of Margo. They wanted
me to cover district basketball because of the playoff structure in basketball at
C: There were really not a lot of women who covered sports.
P: Oh, no, there weren't a lot. Mr. Price knew me from a recommendation from the
Record. He'd never met me, he just talked to me on the phone. I had a great
time. I would go to these districts and I wasn't even covering St. Jo[seph's] at
that time. Even in college, I was covering district basketball. You never got a
byline, but you got your report and you got paid. By that time, they were paying
me $20 a story. The Alligator was paying $5 a week because I eventually got to
the Alligator. During the orientation, there was an open house night, and
orientation was like a week. So, I just found my own [way there]. Because when
we went to the Florida Union to see the old Union building, there was no sign
stating, here's the Alligator office, but I did remember seeing it on the board. It
was kind of strange because it wasn't on the first floor, it was down in that
basement. So, I went down there on my own and I met Steve Vaughn. And I
told him that I wanted to work for the Alligator.
C: What was his position?
P: Steve was one of the editors. I believe Steve was the editor or the executive
editor that semester. I would have to really go back and look. He said, well,
what can you write? And so I told him that I could write something about St.
Augustine because it was the 400th anniversary of the city. I had already done
all the stuff that the Record was running on the history for the 400th anniversary
celebration, which was September 8, 1965. But I was in Gainesville by then.
So, he said, okay. So I wrote a little story. No, it is not among my stuff here
today, but it's in a scrap book somewhere. I wrote about that and the Alligator
C: So, that was your first Alligator byline?
P: That was my first Alligator byline.
C: As a freshman.
P: Yes, in September 1965. Then I went back and they kind of gave me things to
do. But somehow I wasn't getting too much attention. You know [what] being a
freshman [is like], and they had all these important people around ....
C: Who were some of the names?
P: Well, Bob Menaker was the sports editor and that's where I met Evette Cardozo.
Now, whether Evette was still on staff or had graduated, I was not sure.
C: Was she writing or doing photography or both?
P: She was writing. I met Benny Casen.
C: He was doing sports?
P: He was doing sports. Was he doing editorials by then? He sat in a different
office from Menaker. The way the thing was laid out, it was it was a long narrow
room. It was a bank of rooms because it had multiple doors.
C: Now, all the student publications at that time were sort of grouped together in a
P: Right, and it was a lot of fun when it rained because then you went to the stacks.
It would not surprise me if someone said, you know we don't have many from
that era, well, I'm not surprised because you went to the stacks when it rained
and you covered the floor with Alligators.
C: As in the newspaper.
P: As in the newspaper, because [of] those windows, the rain would just pour in.
That was a lot of fun. It was exciting. I wrote police reports, but I don't
remember getting too many bylines.
C: Now, the Alligator at that time was not five days a week as it is today. Is that
P: No, no, it was, it was. It was the fall of 1965 when we were daily. I think we
were a daily. I should have checked that out. Anyway, we were writing on daily
deadlines. I wrote police reports and things like that.
C: Do you remember the format? Was it broadsheet or tabloid size.
P: It was a tabloid but it was large. It was that tabloid size that we don't see
anymore. It was a little larger.
C: Who printed the Alligator that year?
P: It was not printed in Gainesville. It was printed somewhere else. I want to say
Ocala, but I think that might have been from when it over in the new [student]
union. But it seems like it was in Ocala.
C: Did you have daily deadlines?
P: Daily deadlines. And I must admit that I was more at home there than I was
over in the journalism school.
C: Were you taking courses then as a freshman?
P: I took 118 which was the "Survey of Mass Communications." Jack Detweiler
was my instructor and Buddy Davis was on TV. That's when I met Buddy Davis,
through TV. That was the only class, but I was always finding reasons to go
over there into that old library.
C: The journalism program at that time was in the stadium.
P: In the stadium. My mother has a picture of me standing in front of the sign out
by the entrance. It's hard to find it now, you know where it is in the general area,
but you still can't visualize it because of all the construction. We were up on that
fourth floor and all the rooms were angled because the seats were right there
and the plumbing was always messed up. But it was kind of a fun place.
C: How many students were in the journalism] school. Do you recall?
P: A couple hundred, maybe.
C: More males than females?
P: Oh, yes. In that time period, there were still more men than women. I mean
that survey class was more men than women.
C: What about at the Alligator?
P: At the Alligator it was more men than women. They needed a tennis writer my
second semester. For some reason, right after the semester started I hadn't
been over to the Alligator. I think it was because I was trying to keep my grades
up, trying to do what I supposed to be doing, which was going to college and get
a degree. So, I got this knock on the door in my dorm room in Jennings Hall and
this woman who was a friend of Menaker's said, they need a tennis writer. Are
you interested? Do you know anything about tennis. And I said, oh, yes, I play
tennis. So, I went back over there and they hired me. And I covered the
University of Florida tennis team for the rest of my freshman year. Spring sports
1966, I instinctively did things like kept scores for the games and all that kind of
C: So, your early training in Bluebirds at age 8 really helped you become a good
P: And then [at] the Times Union stringing sports taught me how to do this stuff
C: When you were at the Alligator, was there a staff of what we would call career
staff, separate from the students such as advertising or circulation, an executive
director? Do you remember who those folks were?
P: You know, my freshman year, I never saw any of those people. You know, I'd
come at 3:30 in the afternoon and I would leave at 7:30 or 8 at night.
Sometimes I stayed later, but that was pretty much the tone. That would be like,
I'd show up Monday nights and I didn't go in on Fridays.
C: What about weekends? Would you go weekends?
P: I didn't go in on weekends. I don't know why, except that I think I probably didn't
really have to be there, so I didn't want to get in the way. Because that place
was crowded. You know it was a traffic jam all the time. You were sharing
phones, typewriters, [and] desks. Because it was just that long narrow area. I
would love to go back to now, what is it, Dauer Hall, and find that location and
take some pictures. I'm sure it's storage now or something else. If it's
anything. But it was home and it was a great place. I can remember hearing
some of the long discussions over the phone that Benny [Casen] and Steve
[Vaughn] would be having with the university staff.
C: Were there conflicts that you can recall between the Alligator editors over
particular stories, say with the administration. Was there friction?
P: I can't pinpoint them, but I can remember arguments and discussions. The
student government people were on the first floor or the second floor, and they
would come down and there would be some long discussions. They were
always at the other end, because they were down in the rooms where the editors
were and we were in the other section.
C: The newsroom was separate.
P: The newsroom was kind of separate just because of the structure. But I do
remember some discussions. I remember, and I probably shouldn't say this but
I will, I remember deciding then that I was always going to be at the Alligator. I
was never going to get involved in student government, except as a reporter.
The whole idea of the power of the press and, you know, the freedom of access
[appealed to me]. Of course, I was there in 1966. We were pre-Sunshine [law]
then. Of course, Blue Key was very important on campus. I do remember that
I was at the old College Inn and I was standing in line and a group from the
Alligator came in and it was a photographer named Evette ....
C: That would be Evette Cardozo.
P: And two other people. It was the same night of the later Florida Blue Key
incident and they asked me if I wanted to go.
C: That incident really had to do with a tapping session, the Alligator deciding they
were going to expose this secret society.
P: They were going out there and they knew where it was taking place, and the only
reason I didn't go was because I had called my house before I went to the C.I.
[College Inn] with my roommate and [found out] my poodle Gidget was having
puppies. She had already delivered one and they knew there were at least three
C: You were not living in the dorms at this time.
P: Yes, I was. I was in Jennings Hall.
C: In keeping with university policy, were you allowed to animals in the dorm.
P: Oh, no, my dog was at home.
C: Oh, okay.
P: So, I was staying by the phone. And you know the phones were at the end of
the hall and so we ran over there to get something to eat and then we were going
to go back. That's the only reason I didn't go. And of course, that Sunday night
I did go into the Alligator and there was great consternation over this thing that
had happened. That was kind of what I remember of it. I don't remember all
C: But you were aware that there was some form of inherent conflict between the
Alligator as an institution at the university and Florida Blue Key as an institution.
P: Yes. I do not think Alligator people were considered their friends, just like student
government. Student government didn't look at us as there friends unless they
wanted something in the paper.
C: So, subsequently to that incident, were you aware as a staff member of the
political conflict that went on within the university? That went all the way up, I
guess at that time, to the Board of Regents or the Board of Control that got
Benny Casen removed from the editorship of the paper.
P: In fact, I came in and there was a great discussion that Benny was gone shortly
after this. That's when I first learned about the Board of Regents, that's when I
learned about Broward Culpepper. And his son was SGA [Student Government
Association] president that year. His son, or SGA under him, initiated those
straw hats with the orange and blue bands. I still have my straw hat. I'll
probably wear it tonight. I mean, I have to keep repairing it, but I remember I
paid $5 for it and it was a spirit hat. You wore it on game day and you wore it
everywhere. You wore it to games and everything. I still get it out and wear it
even though it's getting banged up. I haven't worn it to a Florida game this year,
but I will to the homecoming game. But that is what I remembered of that time
C: At that time, there was a Board of Student Publications. Who was on that
board, including a presidentially appointed chairman that usually was from the
journalism college faculty.
P: See as a freshman, I wasn't involved in that part of it.
C: I just wondered how involved was the Board in the Benny Casen removal.
P: Oh, I think they were very involved, because there were meetings. I remember
seeing people coming into the Alligator that night after this happened. [People]
that I didn't know that were connected with the university. There were these
meetings being held at the other end of the hall and you would get little snippets
[of conversation]. At one point, I think Menaker was running the whole show. I
remember trying to get his attention because the tennis team was getting ready
to go to, I guess it was, their SEC [Southeastern Conference] tournament.
C: Now, did you get to travel?
P: No, I didn't. They were going on a road trip. It must have been this road trip to
Atlanta, maybe. There were two games in Georgia. I did them by phone.
Coach Bill Potter was the coach and coach N. B. Chafin was the assistant
coach. And coach Chafin called me with the results.
C: Were these all men's teams? Was there a women's tennis team at that time?
P: I'm sure there was, but I was covering only the men. I covered the freshman
men with Armstead Neeley and Steve Beelind who is now with the university.
He was on that team [as was] Jamie Presley who is now a lawyer. I covered
the freshmen, but I also covered the varsity [team], which included Steve
Gardner, Rick Chase, and they were quite a force to be reckoned with. They
were a great team. Bill Perrin was on that team. And then on the freshman
team, Armie Neeley was the champion because he had been the 1965 national
junior indoor champion when they recruited him to Florida. And Jamie Presley
had been also recruited and they were both in my class, in my year. He was a
finalist in the Orange Bowl junior tennis championships. So, that was big deal to
get to the finals of that, because that was an international competition.
C: So, would you also string for other papers and maybe do some hometown stories
for other papers besides Jacksonville?
P: I didn't, but I did [provide information for news wire services] like AP [Associated
Press, which] called a couple of times and I was told to call them with the tennis
C: So, was that you first evolution into working with the wire service?
P: Oh, no, that happened in St. Augustine, the summer of 1964. I have a copy of
the first check I every got from AP, from the Associated Press, it was for $3. It
was a story, in August of 1964, on the city forming a biracial committee. I had
been sent down to the city hall, which was down where the Columbia Restaurant
now is in St. Augustine, to get the information. I came back and wrote up a
short story and the Associate Press, Jacksonville Office, F.T. "Fred" McFeely,
called on a Saturday afternoon and asked me to give him my information. Then
he asked me for my social security number and my home address. So, I got this
check in the mail from Associated Press for $3. I don't know what I spent it on,
but my father very wisely made a copy of it on an old copier machine. They
didn't even call them Xeroxes. So, then I just progressed into wire [service
material]. I did some stuff periodically. The wires would call and they'd just call
me and ask me questions. They'd say, we understand something happened.
What can you tell us? They would call the Alligator office and if I was there,
phone calls would get switched to me. I remember a fatality involving two
students and a traffic accident on old [Highway] 90 coming back from FSU. I
had just gotten all the information from the highway patrol and Associate Press
C: So you were doing general assignment [work], it wasn't just sports for the
P: It wasn't just sports, but I was committed, like I knew that every match, I had to
be there. One time I wore a green dress, a lime green dress, it was back when
all those citrus colors were in vogue. I wore a green dress and orange
sunglasses. It distracted one of the players to the point that Coach Potter came
over at the intermission and said to hurry, to move. [laughing] Apparently the
player caught that and it was distracting to him. It was kind of the green on your
shirt; the green on your alligator. So, that was kind of fun. It wasn't like, don't
ever wear this again, but it was like, could you move?
C: To somewhere else.
P: Yes, because I moved and we won. And I remember going up afterwards and
saying something [like], you know, I didn't realize this was going to be such a
distraction. The greatest thing about being on the Alligator was that you were an
insider. You suddenly became an insider to everything. You were this grand
viewpoint, which is what a journalist is. You could go out there. I could walk up
to these superstars on the tennis team and talk to them. And they knew that
telling me things was how their story was going to get out. Menaker wasn't
sitting there, so they were kind of stuck with Margo Cox. But they were nice to
me and I'd get good quotes. When they lost, they didn't want to talk to me. I can
remember running behind them, because you know it was the old tennis field. I
guess it's now where the law school is. That's where it was. They would head
back to the field house, and of course I'd be running behind them saying, what
C: What about evolving out into the Alligator say your sophomore, junior, into your
senior year? What changed?
P: Okay, I was not here as a sophomore. Sometime early in my second semester,
my mother, they found breast lumps. You know, back then there wasn't all this
mammogram stuff. You had a biopsy and you were in hospital for five days after
it. I started to lose focus. In fact, I spent more time at the Alligator, because
people over there I bonded with [more] than in my general education classes in
Little Hall. So, Margo was bumping up on probation pretty quickly. My father
decided that rather than let me come back, that I was going to the junior college
in Palatka. Of course, that didn't deter me from my career, because I jumped
right in over there and started covering things. And I was still doing my
Times-Union sports stuff and still telling Mr. Price, tell them I'm coming to work
there when I graduate. Things like that. So I kept that focus up.
C: Did you stay in touch with people in Gainesville?
P: I had two people that I knew as freshman that I stayed in touch with. And of
course, I stayed in touch with these freshman tennis players: Armie and Jamie.
C: Where there people at the Alligator that you kept in touch with?
P: No, because at that time there was one other freshman. The ones that I stuck
with the most, were the ones who were departing, the seniors.
C: The Steve Vaughns and Menaker and Benny Casen.
P: Yes, Steve and Benny and Menaker and Evette. So those where the people that
I kind of knew. Of course, then Evette goes on to this big career and I start
seeing her in magazines and everything, you know, in writing. And Vaughn was
at the Orlando Sentinel. So, when I got back my father said, you're just going to
finish at St. John's [Junior College] and I'm glad I did because then I had that AA
[Associate of Arts] degree. I was able to get in. Of course, I did have to apply to
College of Journalism, and I did have to go over there and meet with Dean John
Paul Jones. Most of the conversation was not so much about my ability to do
the work. It was about the St. Augustine Record, about the Tebault family that
owned the paper at the time, about Miss Nina Hawkins. The University of
Florida journalism program used to send students to the Record. You know this
connection with the Record goes back to the 1930s because John Paul Jones
told me about it. So, I knew I wasn't going to have any trouble getting in and
then, you know, I got a letter saying that I had been accepted. And then I pretty
much fit right in. And of course, the second day on campus, after I got settled in
my apartment down at Colonial Manor down on southwest Second Avenue. If
you head from Tigert [Hall], that first block, heading east, that four story brick, we
were in the corner on the second floor. I still go by there periodically and just
stand and look up, and I know someone thinks, what are you up to, young
woman. So, I went over there and I met Harold Aldrich, Dave Reddick, Dave
Osher, and Dave Doucette.
C: What year was this?
P: This was fall of 1968 and [I met] Helen Huntley. And it was like, I want to be
part of this group. Carol Sanger was there.
C: Who was the editor?
P: Harold Aldrich. Oh, Raul Ramirez was there. It's a bunch of the people that I still
know today. Of course, Harold is deceased, but it's people that I'm still
connected with today.
C: And most of them are professionally still in some form of journalism?
P: Oh, yes. And that's also when I met Skip Perez. It was like, that first week that
I was back on campus, I met all these people that I email with regularly, I'm on
the phone with, I'm on the journalism advisory council with. It's like we never
lost touch from that point forward.
C: Do you think that's one of the strengths of the Alligator or any student newspaper
for example? Professionally, there is this networking that extends.
P: I think, working for a student newspaper is what you make of it. Before I went to
Gainesville, my freshman year, I talked to two students that were going into their
junior year. Both of them were from St. Augustine. And all the nuns at St. Jo
[said], the last place you want to be is the University of Florida. It's too big. Our
graduating class was forty-eight. I've always told this to others, being at the
University of Florida is what you personally make of it. I always wanted to go to
the University of Florida, I always wanted to be a journalist. My mother said she
never knew what they were going to do if I had never gotten accepted there,
because I applied to one university, the University of Florida. That was the only
school that I applied to. I remember the day the admissions acceptance letter
came. My parents opened the mail. My dad came down to St. Joe and we
were between classes. I'm on the third floor outside my English class and he
yells up. Somebody says, your father's downstairs and he's calling for you.
And he's waving the letter, and I knew exactly what it was. It was March 17,
1965, because we were getting ready to do a presentation on Irish poets.
C: Great day.
P: And we were all dressed in green and I went downstairs and got my letter, came
running upstairs, found my [guidance] counselor, told her, and I don't remember
much else that happened. All I remember doing was, I kept opening that
envelope, and that's somewhere in my other scrapbook, and reading those two
lines, that I had been accepted. So, being on the Alligator was an extension of
all that. What you will make of the University of Florida is what you make of it.
C: So, when you went back ....
P: That was the fall of 1968.
C: Did you feel a sense that you now had a window of two years at the Alligator that
you needed to make the most of?
P: Oh, yes.
C: So, what were your ...
[End of side Al]
P: President Stephen O'Connell.
C: I would call him because I would be there at night and we'd hear something.
This was during the period when .... One of them I remember was when the
judge Elizabeth Kavocovitch. What was she? Was she on the Board of
Regents at the time? Yes, and then she went on to be a judge.
C: She didn't think men and women living in the same dormitory at a state university
campus was a good idea. Do you remember the term that she used?
P: "Taxpayers' whorehouses."
P: And so, I remember there was some discussion on that. And I can remember
calling President O'Connell on some of that. I can remember calling him one
night, in my senior year, when we had heard somebody was leaving from the
medical school, a key medical school person. I wrote that story. We had heard
it as a rumor, and I remember saying to him, I'm calling to confirm this rumor, and
he said, Margo, you can't confirm a rumor. But to his credit, you could call the
president's house and he answered the phone. And he always answered the
phone for the Alligator, whether he liked us or not. I was never in any of those
meetings where the Alligator [staff] went in and sat in his office. You know, like
little sit-ins, because I was always in class when those where going on. But I
can remember sitting outside his office in Tigert [Hall], waiting for him to come
out because his secretary said, well, he's very busy, but if you wait right here,
he'll talk to you when he comes out. And I remember him talking to me. I did
get to cover the Board of Regents while I was on the Alligator staff.
C: Who were the members that you remember?
P: Chester Ferguson, J. J. Daniel, and Elizabeth Pierce and it seems like Burke
Kibler was on the Regents then, too. When I went to the Times Union, by the
time I had been there in 1972, I was promoted to education writer. And I started
covering the Board of Regents and Chester and Mr. Daniel, Mr. [Marshall] Criser,
and Mrs. Pierce, Burke Kibler, [and] Fred Parker from FSU [Florida State
University] were on the Board of Regents. Mr. Hopkins from Pensacola, who
owned a big construction company, road construction, I think, [was a member of
C: Do you remember any conflicts at the time that the Alligator had with the Board
P: No, this was pre- [before] the independence issue. But when they came to
campus, they were always complaining about the Alligator.
C: For what reasons?
P: Just the stories. I always thought of us as independent, even while we were on
campus because we would sitting there at night doing stories, and the editors
would be writing the headlines, and there wasn't anyone standing over us. Now,
Ed was there.
C: Ed Barber?
P: Ed Barber was there and he was a full-time person [employee]. But Ed was
more like one of us. So it wasn't like Mr. Miking. And I knew Mr. Miking, Brent
Miking, who was head [of the Alligator]. This was in the new Reitz Union on the
third floor. So, we were still on campus, but they were in the new Reitz Union on
the third floor. And I remember seeing Mr. Miking two or three times in that
whole two-year period actually in the newsroom. I don't remember seeing a lot
of it there. I can tell you, you know there was a big controversy over the editor,
whether we could have a woman editor. And that involved Karen Ing.
P: And I remember that controversy. I remember Carol Sanger saying to me,
we're all going to apply to be editor, all of us, all the women on staff are going to
C: What year was this?
P: This must have been my junior year, so it must have been 1968-1969, because I
graduated in June of 1970.
C: What was the issue about a woman editor as you recall?
P: I think there was just this general concern about whether or not, you know you
never could pin them down, but I think there was just this general concern about
whether or not ....
C: Was there still a curfew rule at that time?
P: Oh, no.
C: Were there issues about whether women on the staff could work as late as the
men on the staff.
P: I don't remember because I was in an apartment by then and I remember a lot of
times not leaving the Alligator before 11:30 at night, even though the paper was
already on its way to Ocala. Or getting ready to [leave for Ocala]. And I was a
night owl anyway. If I walked out of there and heard a fire truck, I would follow
the fire truck. I mean we couldn't do anything about it that day, but we could
sure do it the next day.
C: Was there competition? Did you feel competition as an Alligator writer with the
P: Oh, absolutely. Oh, yes. And with the radio stations, yes. Because these
people would hang around our office. The Kent State [University] riots [event
following shooting deaths of Kent State students by National Guardsmen], that
was shortly before I graduated. That was in early May. We graduated in June
and the TV stations started hanging around.
C: And these would be out-of-town as well as local [newspeople], and Channel 5.
P: Channel 4 and Channel 12 came over from Jacksonville, and I met George
Chapman who was at Channel 4 and Stan Brantley from Channel 12 and
Howard Kelley from Channel 12. And Howard went on to be GM [general
manager] and George and Stan had long careers. You know, Stan died young.
He died of a heart attack. He came back from a cruise with his wife and you
know. But I knew them. I knew them when I went to Jacksonville, because I
knew them through my Alligator days. And they'd come hang around the office
because they knew if there was going to be a demonstration at the Plaza of the
Americas, which there always was, that we would know about it, and that we
would be there.
C: Now the demonstrations at that time, was it more civil rights or had it moved into
P: No these were anti-[Vietnam] war [protests].
C: During your period, were the civil rights issues, with desegregation on campus for
example, was that pretty well resolved?
P: No. My freshman year, there were two black women in Jennings Hall and their
room was in the basement. Now, I think they got moved, but I remember the
first two or three weeks you're there, you meet all the new people. And I was in
room 2128 Jennings Hall, Jennings West. I would go down to the basement,
because in the basement they had the big commons room and they had a piano.
Anyone could play the piano. And so, you'd go down there, even in the
evenings, and wait your turn to just practice. That's how I knew these two girls
were even in the building, because they were in the rooms that went off the
commons area. I remember early. I don't remember even seeing them, but I'm
sure they were there. But I remember being surprised. And they were in a
basement room in the west section. I don't remember having too many black
C: Any black staff members on the Alligator?
P: Larry Jordan was over there. And that's kind of how Larry Jordan and David
Osher got together and then had a partnership for a while in later years. But
when the riots that we were covering and observing, and I wasn't the main writer
on any of this, I would talk to the cops, because I was covering cops and the fire
C: [Does] that include university police as well as Gainesville?
P: Oh, yes, the campus cops. Lieutenant Holliman, I knew him. I'd go over there.
I'd just stop in everyday. Audie Shuler, I knew Chief Shuler and Courtney
Roberts was the captain at the Gainesville Police Department. Don Powell was
an officer and Don was also the full-time, I mean when he wasn't working as a
cop, the security person for Colonial Manors. So, I got to know Don. But I really
got to know Captain Roberts and Chief Shuler. And so I would be over there.
And so I'd call. You know somebody would come in and say, oh, I heard there's
going to be something at such and such a time.
So, I would call the campus cops and I'd get the detective division, because they
were so clandestine. They would try to blend in like students. I mean Chief
Shuler can never blend in like a student, but the rest of them could. There was
one young detective, and I think he was also going to law school at the time.
And so I'd call him. I'd say, is there something happening on the Plaza. You
know he'd say, oh, maybe you want to be over there about four o'clock. He'd
never say yes or no, but he'd say, if you're going to be in the vicinity of the Plaza
around four, you might want to walk by. Or, I remember all these TV guys were
in because they had gotten a phone call. We had a Tampa station there and all
these Jacksonville guys. And they had gotten a phone call from someone in
Gainesville that there was going to be a major demonstration that night. So, this
was in early May. It was right after the guardsmen shot the students.
C: That would be Kent State.
P: Kent State.
P: I think that we had just found out that one of the those guys was from Florida.
One of the soldiers was from Fernandina or somewhere. And so there was this
big thing. So, we all troop over there from the Alligator. We're all sitting in front
row seats, on the grass, and Channel 4 pans the crowd and pans in on all these
Alligator staffers. Only it wasn't obvious that we were staffers. It just looks like
we were students participating in this demonstration. My mother saw that on the
eleven o'clock news. At two o'clock in the morning, there was a knock on my
door and it was my father and he was going to take me home. What was I doing
demonstrating? [He asked,] how are you going to graduate? Do you expect to
graduate? What are you doing? Are you going to classes? I mean, I can
remember this conversation with my dad at the dorm. I don't know where my
roommate was. I had a roommate at the time, but she wasn't there. I just said,
no, I'm not leaving and I'm okay. I proceeded to tell him that I was never going
to have any trouble at these demonstrations because I knew all the cops
C: Were there panty raids during the period you were there? Was that going on at
P: My freshman year there were some, but I don't remember one at Jennings [Hall].
But I do remember my freshman year there were some.
C: I remember my father being not pleased about that all.
P: I would hear about these things in classes the next day, but I never picked them
up off cop reports when I was doing the police beat.
C: Let me ask about the sort of surreptitiousness of the UPD [University Police
Department], particularly the detectives. Did you feel that [there were]
clandestine activities that endangered, particularly students who were the
demonstration leaders. Was there talk when you talked to your police sources
about the outside agitators? Were they in any way looking at the civil rights
issues? Was the Alligator concerned about defending a sort of overzealousness
of the administrators?
P: Of defending the administrators?
P: I can remember going back over there and asking a lot of questions.
C: Because I think you're father's concern is [in his] saying, you want to get thrown
out of school? And what role did the Alligator play in observing the university.
P: Well, we were observers, we didn't get involved in it. I tried to explain that to him
that night. And I think I succeeded. But we did. We knew we were the
observers. But as far as what we did, I remember talking to Chief Shuler and the
detectives about the issues of access. I don't remember using the word
"access," but [asking questions such as,] are we going to have to have press
badges to get into these things anymore? Are we going to have to show our
student I.D.s? Isn't it enough just to say that we're from the Alligator? I
remember questions like that.
C: Do you remember if the photographers were having any problems?
P: Oh, yes. Oh, yes.
C: Were there injuries? Would their equipment be ....
P: I don't remember injuries, but I remember photographers would come in and talk
about being pushed around.
C: By demonstrators, by police, both?
P: By the police.
C: By the cops.
P: You see there were a lot of police that were in plain clothes. They looked just
like the rest of us. Most people did not know they were campus police, but
because I saw them. One of my first stops before going to the Alligator everyday
was shift change [at the campus police department], and if I didn't make it to shift
change, I was back over there at 7:30 at night when I knew the night crew was
C: Was this both university police department and Gainesville police? Or campus?
P: It was mostly university [police]. I'd go by the Gainesville Police Department. If
I found Capt. Roberts, I'd get everything. If I didn't find Capt. Roberts, or he was
out, they would just show me the reports. And their idea of showing the reports
was, well, you don't want to see this, you don't want to see that. It was like that.
You don't want to see this/that. I'd say, yes, I do.
C: Sort of censored for you.
P: Yes, I mean you sat there at a desk and talked to them. But when Capt.
Roberts was there he'd say, what do you need? And then I also took a
self-defense class from Capt. Roberts. So, I guess that kind of helped him know
that I was not going to do any harm, steal records, tear up reports, that kind of
C: Usually, at the end of the year, there'll be an awards banquet or a recognition.
What did you get recognized at the end of your Alligator career for?
P: I went to the banquet and I went and Helen and I sat together.
C: Helen Huntley?
P: Helen Huntley. Helen and I are solidly bonded as a result of meeting in the
Alligator and I remember going. I was graduating in May. Helen graduated in
December. And so, we were both there. She got some kind of recognition. I
remember they just recognized the ones of us who were graduating. A lot of
people got certificates. I didn't get any kind of awards. But you know, I had my
bylines and by that time I had a job. I was fortunate, the Times Union had a
previous journalism graduate leaving the job. And when they told me in April of
1970, after I went up for an interview, that I had a fine clip file etc., but that they
had no jobs, I didn't know what I was going to do. In fact, I was kind of leaning
towards maybe going to graduate school to be a school teacher at that point.
Because I was thinking, how am I going to do this?
C: Was the job market tight as you were graduating?
P: Oh, yes. Yes, 1970 it was very tight. It was also tight for teachers too, so I
didn't know where I was going with this. Maybe I was going to do PR [public
relations work] for this Florida State Fire Marshal's Office because I knew those
people very well after hammering their report [in my] 100-and-something page
report while I was at the Alligator. That created quite a stir on campus. It
caused a lot of unhappiness because the university clearly didn't want that report
out and, under the public records law, the Florida State Fire Marshal's Office not
only released it to me in December of 1969 ....
C: Did you have to actually use the public records law in a request to get the report?
P: I remember calling the Tallahassee office because we wanted that report. It's
somewhere here on the desk. I remember calling the Fire Marshal's Office in
Tallahassee to find out if the report had been done, because we knew it was
being done. We knew the whole thing had been done. They told me, yes, it
was available. First, they said I'd have to come to Tallahassee. And I said,
okay, I can come to Tallahassee. And then they decided they would send the
fire marshal from Jacksonville, who had done the report, to St. Augustine. So, I
was home on break and I interviewed him with my tape recorder, sitting at my
dad's desk in the city recreation department down at Francis Field. That's
where this report was laid out all over daddy's desk. I went through it page by
page and I had a copy of it. Then, when we resumed publication, I went to work
on getting the story together for us. That report condemned the Flavets [Florida
Veterans Housing--old wooden buildings]. Of course I already knew they were
C: Because they were left over from World War II, correct? Right?
P: They were Camp Blanding buildings. And I had a lot of friends who were
married and who were living in them. I hated going over to those places.
C: They used them a lot for married student housing?
P: Right, it was married student housing. That's what it was. I remember just
being terrified. How could you sleep in one of these buildings at night when it's
cold with that heater running. That thing was a tinder box. And you know, you
knew if one went [up in flames] the whole thing went because they were old heart
C: And later there were fires when they used them in prison camps. Remember?
P: Yes, the prison in Jay, in the summer of 1969, that's a whole other story, burned.
Several prisoners died and they were in old military housing that had been
C: Did you use that as part of your story?
C: That was not a factor?
P: I didn't mention the Jay fire, I don't think. But I knew about it, because I was
working in one of my other summer jobs the night it happened. I was working
that summer for the Florida Peace Officers Association because the Record
didn't have any jobs open that summer for me. So, I went to work at the Florida
Peace Officers Association, which was an organization of law enforcement in
Florida. It was headquartered in St. Augustine. Chief Virgil Stewart was the
secretary treasurer, and I actually did that for two years. And we were at the
Panama City convention and it was the night before the convention. We were
sitting over in a restaurant in Panama City, Chief Stewart and all these officials.
One of the people there was from the Florida State Fire Marshal's Office,
because they had law enforcement people. And I remember while we were
sitting at dinner, a waiter came to the table and told him [a member of the fire
marshal's office] there was an urgent phone call. He took the phone call, came
back and said to Chief Stewart that this had happened. And I remember Jean
sitting there, next to one of the other women who was working at the Peace
Officers [Association], who was a full-time person, and she read my mind.
Because as soon as I heard this I thought, I need to be calling the Times Union.
You know, I mean I had that connection because of my sports. And I thought to
myself, I need to be calling the Times Union. And this women said to me, now
you know that everything you hear at this table is off the record. I had never
said out loud, I need to call the Times Union. I never even wrote anything, I
never did anything. Except, when this conversation was taking place right
across from me, it was running through my mind that those buildings in Jay.
Because I remember asking the question. Then I recovered and I said, isn't that
like the prison at Marianna, the boys prison at Marianna that's all those old Camp
Blanding buildings? Because that's what we called them, being from St.
Augustine and the camp guard.
P: The Camp Blanding buildings?
C: And the Camp Blanding buildings were all over St. Augustine. The recreation
department had several of them left over from the war when the field was a
recreational camp for the [U.S.] Army. I remember this man from the Fire
Marshal's Office just looking at me and saying, how do you know this. And I
said, oh, I've been to Marianna, which I had been, but not to reform school
P: As you're into your upper-division work in the journalism] school now, how did
this blend or not blend into what you were doing at the Alligator? Were there
conflicts as well as harmony?
C: They were supportive of us doing Alligator work. Buddy [Davis] was very
supportive of it, Hugh Cunningham...
P: Buddy Davis was?
C: Buddy Davis and Hugh Cunningham. They supported you, but they never
tolerated you using that as an excuse for not having you assignment for class
done. I mean, there were certain rules that you're expected to abide by.
P: Did that bug you in any way? Did you feel constricted sometimes? Would you
rather be at the Alligator?
C: Yes, I would rather be at the Alligator. I mean, we had the advisory council
pizza party about four years ago. And when all the professionals introduced
themselves to the students, without even planning it, I said, I'm Margo Pope, I'm
with the St. Augustine Record and I'm a graduate of the Alligator. And the room
erupts in laughter. And then I said, and the University of Florida. Then I tried to
correct myself. I got the degree at the University of Florida. I got my degree at
the University of Florida, but I worked on the Alligator. And it just got worse and
worse that night.
C: Do you think this is a common bond that the Alligator alumni share? Is this
P: It is.
C: To what they learn professionally at the Alligator?
P: You did. And you know, you learned it at the Alligator, but you had the training.
I mean, the journalism] school taught you, the professors like Buddy Davis and
Hugh Cunningham taught you about deadlines and accuracy, and separating
fact from opinion, and attribution, and all that kind of stuff. And then you went
over to the Alligator and you used it. And it wasn't practice anymore. It wasn't
sitting there in Buddy Davis's JM301 class writing against his deadline. You
were doing it, and it wasn't just going to be read by Professor Davis the next day.
It was going to be read by 20,000 people at least. That was our circulation,
what our print was at the time. So, it was a great opportunity and it still is.
Even though it's independent now. I mean, more of those students from the
journalism school need to go over there and quit worrying about whether or not
it's a qualified internship or not. My internships were at the St. Augustine
Record, but it was that extra experience. In fact, when I went to the Times
Union, they gave me an extra $5 a week because of my Alligator experience. I
remember Mr. Manning saying, it's because you know how to write on deadline.
My foot got in the door because I had been a prep writer for them. That, and a
wonderful recommendation from Buddy Davis to the Executive Editor John
Walters, which probably really did it. But when I talked to Mr. Manning, the
managing editor, he kept pinning it on, Bob Price thinks a lot of you, the guys in
the sports department think a lot of you, Bill Castels, and everybody you know.
You were always one of the first calls, and we never had trouble with your stuff.
We didn't have to call you back. And so they knew all that.
C: Let me ask a question about the Alligator in its different forms of independence.
What difference do you think it would've made if you had worked for the Alligator
if it had been a laboratory newspaper in the journalism school?
P: Oh, boy, that's a tough question. I guess every story would have been graded
before it got in the paper. And I guess, instead of a student editor saying, I don't
like the way this is worded, I'm going to rewrite it. You'd have a professor
saying, I don't like the way this is worded, rewrite it. Where's your lead?
Where's the nut graph?
C: Do you think there would be an issue of, is publication of this particular story
going to harm the College [of Journalism], the university?
P: I think if Buddy Davis was running the lab newspaper, no. I think he would sit
and he would think about it, but I don't think he would censor it. I don't really
think that any of the professors that I had, while I was there, would have done
that. I think they were clearly uncomfortable sometimes when the president
would call the dean. I don't know enough about it now because I'm not a
student, but I think at that time there was a lot of healthy respect for the Alligator
all over campus, even though nobody wanted to come right out and say it.
Nobody wanted to admit that they were reading the Alligator word-for-word and
reading their students' [articles]. But yet, things would be said in class that you
knew they had read your story. And even over in the president's office. But
you see, that relationship between the dean, it was Dean John Paul Jones, this
was 1968-69, he had that aura around him because he had all the state's
newspapers. They all came, they all sent people. There was never a question,
everybody came and talked to students. I mean they visited with the classes.
Buddy got some grant money from somebody and he did that visiting professors
thing. And the year after I graduated, I was the first student that came back as a
C: All right. Great.
P: Everybody had been editors. I mean even in his little mimeographed thing he
sent out to the faculty about, you know, all the ones that were coming that year.
He said that in it you know, that that's who I was. That I was their first reporter
and student as a visiting professor. So, the administration knew, even when
they disagreed, that there were too many opportunities for the editors of this state
to pick up the phone and say, well, you're dead wrong over there because I'm on
your campus and I see students and this kind of thing. I think there was a lot of
healthy respect, but maybe we didn't see it as much. Maybe all we heard is the
To go back to the Alligator, I do not remember covering any functions that hyped
the university. I remember going to convocations and writing about them. But I
do not remember us, say, covering the announcement of a new building. We
just took the press release. I mean we weren't visible. And you know,
sometimes today when you're in communities like ours, you don't want to run that
ground breaking. But you want to make sure you have a presence out there so
that the next time you make that phone call, when they've done something
wrong, you don't get this, well, you're only here when we have bad news. I
always thought of us as independent. I never had a story yanked. Now, Sidney
Frascus' stories about getting the birth control pills at the infirmary, that kind of
thing. That was happening towards the end of my time at the Alligator.
C: Do you remember the details of who was involved in the monitoring of that story?
Did it come from the Board? Did it come from the president of the university?
P: Well, I don't know because I was a reporter. I was not involved in it. They were
probably holding those discussions with Sidney at the time. I can tell you
another example where I was involved and we did get into [trouble]. Some of
us, and the statute of limitations has run out on us. There was a story sometime
in 1969, I don't think it was already the end of our term, I think it was early, where
a bunch of equipment disappeared out of the library. I mean thousands of
dollars worth of equipment just disappeared. There was a police investigation
and I found the police reports and all this. And some of us devised a plan where
we would test the security of the library and we did.
C: Now that the statute of limitations is out, could you identify the other
P: Well, I haven't asked permission to do that, but I ought to do that at some point.
Anyway, so we did this. We just stayed.
C: How many were involved would you say?
P: Four, maybe.
C: And these are all staff members?
P: All staff members. We just stayed on one of the floors at the reading tables.
We were trying to prove that that stuff could have walked out the door because
people, when they came through to close the library, they didn't do a real security
check. Even we knew at that time period what a security check amounted to.
You walked around, you looked at every table. We were sitting in this reading
C: All four.
P: Four of us. And people were leaving.
C: What time is it?
P: It's about 10:45, they closed at eleven. People were leaving, I remember. And
we just kept right on doing what we were doing. And then, a person came
around, the person who had been there, the room monitor or whatever,
disappears, [and] doesn't say anything to us. Then somebody else comes
through and says, the library is getting ready to close. And we said, okay. And
they left. And then about a half hour later, somebody comes to the door of the
library. This is the old library. This is not all the modern part.
C: Library East? To the east?
P: Yes, I guess now [it] is Library East. And I remember somebody at the door, but
you couldn't see us from the door. And they just came in and turned off the
lights and walked out. They didn't make another scan. And by this time, it's
after eleven o'clock. It seems like we waited for quite a while.
C: Was it all dark?
P: Oh, yes. But you know, I mean there were like security lights on and exit lights.
We had flashlights.
C: How were you dressed?
P: As students.
C: No camos.[camouflage clothes]?
P: No, we didn't look like cat burglars. [We were] dressed as students. And I
remember being a little nervous that, knowing my parents ....
C: I was going to say, does your father know this? Did he ever know the story?
P: No. He never knew it. In fact, the first time I talked about it was last year after I
was inducted into the Alligator Hall of Fame. I figured if I had talked about
ahead of time, somebody would have remembered. But no, at least two of the
other people that were involved are also in the Hall of Fame. But I don't think
they've ever publicly talked about it other than when we wrote the story.
C: So this was a story?
P: Yes, we were there several hours.
C: How did you get out?
P: [We] walked right out the door. I had an early class. The others did not have
early morning classes. I had like an 8 a.m. class over in Norman Hall, because I
was minoring in education. So, I didn't stay the whole night. After a
considerable amount of time, several hours, I had to leave.
C: What did you actually do during those three hours?
P: [We] walked around, just walked around. And you know, [we] didn't touch
anything. I remember that was one of the discussions, don't touch anything
where you leave fingerprints. Don't pick up any books. Don't do anything.
C: But you were seeing examples of plenty of things had you wanted to pick-up
P: Oh, sure.
C: It wasn't just stealing books?
P: Equipment was left out. This was high-tech equipment, for the time, that was
stolen. Then I remember going down and I remember telling 'em I had to leave.
I walked down and walked out the main door.
C: Which was unlocked?
P: No alarm or anything. It had a panic door and it wasn't locked. I have some
recollection that the cleaning crew might have been in there, but not where we
were. They didn't leave all these lights. It was dark, but I remember we had
flashlights. Of course, that's what, thirty-four years ago. Almost thirty-four
years ago now. So the next day then, we went and met with the director, who
didn't like what we had done.
C: Did you have any threats?
P: No, but we pointed out some things. And then, the story was written by one
C: What did the story say?
P: The story basically said that security was lax. I don't know that I saved the
story, but it was a pretty big deal. Quite frankly, we always suspected it was an
inside job because we saw things out. Remember those big old reel-to-reel tape
recorders? But the kind of equipment that disappeared was high-tech:
televisions, like stereos, things like that.
C: Things like the computer equipment.
P: Yes, it would be the equivalent of computer equipment. And that stuff, you
know, there were rooms where you could get into it.
Like the listening rooms, you know they had those
rooms and there was stuff in there. But for so much
of this stuff to just disappear and become the object of
a police report? I just never. And I don't know that
they ever solved it. But I do remember how, when
we got back to the office, and we talked about it the
next day, we sat there and had a lengthy discussion
with everybody. Even after two of us had come back
from meeting with the library director.
C: The editors were involved very much in the discussion?
P: Yes, and you know, what happened? Are you sure? We all had notes and we
all knew where we had been. I remember one of the things that I had done was
taken room letters down. It was like keeping score at a game really. You know
I had L, whatever it was, and then described what the room was and then what
kinds of stuff was in that room. You know, whether books and tables and chairs,
C: Do you think it's a good representative story of one of the roles that the Alligator
has historically taken as being a watchdog at the university?
P: Oh, I think so. I think so. I think the Alligator's most important function was out
there being a watchdog. Most students didn't even know that student
government existed. And we told them about student senate meetings and
about the contentiousness between them. So, I always thought that was
important. There were a lot more criminal incidents on campus then most
people realized. I remember coming into the Alligator once and just saying, if
any parents of freshman knew the kinds of things that are in that police report
every night, they would not let their kids live on campus. Because it ranged from
petty theft to grand theft. And it ranged from muggings to physical attacks and
purse snatchings and things like that. And I keep thinking now, how did we ever
walk across the campus like we did?
C: Is it better today? Would you say the Alligator's coverage on the police beat is
more sophisticated in that area today?
P: I think they cover the main things probably the same way any newspaper does.
And I think the Alligator gets, I was just reading them because they had sent
some [here], the to the heart of the issues. Those students know how to use
public records. They know how to use the Sunshine Law, and that's probably one
of the most important functions that they learn. I mean other than learning
deadlines and accuracy and how to use spell check, which most people already
know how to do, or at least you hope they do. But I think what's really exciting
about being on the Alligator is that whole idea that you're still the window for all
those students who don't have time to be involved and for all the faculty who
wanna know what's going on on campus. Because, with all due respect, there's
only so much that the news bureau on campus is going to reach everyday.
What's the Alligator's circulation, 35,000? I mean, I don't even know what they
produce now. I should ask that question myself. But, you know the student
population and the faculty population.
C: It's got to be over fifty [thousand].
P: Probably over fifty [thousand] by the time you add in everybody. If I was an
advertiser in Gainesville, I'd want to be in that publication every single day
because there is big money on that campus. You want to draw students out.
For example, when we were juniors--
[End of side A2]
P: I remember reading in the Alligator that there was a sale on Villager dresses and
Bass Weejuns [shoes]. Those were the clothes of choice in this time period. I
remember going down, looking at the sale, and figuring out how I could buy three
dresses. I paid thirty-five dollars for the dresses and I paid fifteen for the Bass
Weejuns-which were also on sale. And I thought I was really hot stuff. I wore
those dresses out. I wore them while I was at my first year at the Times-Union.
I got those Bass Weejuns re-soled three or four times, until finally they told me
that they could no longer do it because it was pulling the leather away from the
sole. And the Bass Weejuns were in that cordovan color, which was the color to
have. That was the power of Alligator advertising. I would have never gone
shopping for that stuff, at least not down the street in Gainesville. I would have
never thought about spending my money there.
C: And that's Real World.
P: Real World.
C: That is Real World newspapers.
P: Right. And so that's the power of advertising in the Alligator. Because I
remember several friends also had seen the ad. And we all spent a lot of
money. And I don't know how much those ads cost but it was just a two-column
ad showing a Villager dress. And then the shoe store next door had one
[advertisement], and it said, "Bass Weejuns On Sale."
C: Let's make a transition by backing up just a little bit because I want to now move
away from the university and the Alligator, as being the foundation from your
very, very distinguished newspaper career, now. But I think we have to look at
the historical perspective that you were able to bring because of your presence in
St. Augustine at a pivotal time in the civil rights movement in the country. [In the]
summer of 1964, [in] St. Augustine, Martin Luther King [president, Southern
Christian Leadership Conference, 1957-1968; Nobel Peace Prize winner for civil
rights work], comes to bring the nation's focus, and really an international focus,
on what was happening racially in the United States. You're still a high school
P: I am. I am seventeen years old the summer of 1964. It's [the year of] my first
paying job and I was getting a $1.25 an hour. I do remember that. The St.
Augustine Record, the old building, was on the border between what was
considered [the] white establishment and the black community, which is
C: What was the address at that time?
P: The Record was at 158 Cordova Street, and we were there until October 14,
2001. The building was built in 1906 for the Record. I was seventeen [years
old] and I was a summer reporter. I was a very cub reporter. I was a
proofreader, I read proof, I learned to make coffee, although I wasn't the one in
charge of making coffee, that was the men in the composing room. And I got to
do stories about the city's historic restoration program, Cross and Sword, which
was the official state play about the founding of St. Augustine. I have a picture
of me with one of the lions from Born Free [ television show about African lions
and their keeper], that was traveling the state. I had a picture of me with that
lion sitting in the Record newsroom. [I'm] petting the lion and my hand is there
and the guy who's the trainer has one of those protective gloves on. By the
way, lion hair is straw. It is not soft. It only looks soft. Straw. So, those were
the kind of things I did. I'd occasionally walk downtown and check out what was
going on in the plaza. I talked to shop owners and things. And that was
basically it. And anything that walked in the door that literally nobody else had
time for or wanted to do, came to my desk. I did a lot of rewrites.
But all this is going on while the summer of 1964, St. Augustine, is the staging
ground for the last major test of the civil rights movement. [It is] before the
passage of the Civil Rights Act [of 1964]. St. Augustine was a daily dateline in
the world, literally. They [news reporters] camped out in the Record newsroom.
UPI [United Press International] was our wire source at the beginning of the
summer. We later became AP [Associated Press]. We were dying. We were
on the cusp of becoming this great historic preservation city. Our 400th
Anniversary was a year away, and tourism was drying up because of stories that
talked about the riots. I mean, our mayor went to the Today Show [National
Broadcasting Company morning program] to say it was all staged for the TV
cameras. We would get phone calls telling us exactly where and when these
[altercations] were. And [they would ask,] are you gonna send a reporter? Can
you send a photographer?
C: What were the issues?
P: Civil rights. We still had the back entrance [into white-owned businesses and
homes] for the blacks. We still had "colored" restrooms, the back of the
Greyhound bus was reserved for the blacks. Schools were [racially] segregated.
Those were the basic issues.
C: Were there any black news organizations in St. Augustine, newspapers,
P: No, but the Jacksonville Star covered St. Augustine.
C: And this was a long time ...
P: Long time black newspaper. [It] went all over the United States, but focused on
Florida, Georgia, [and] the southeast.
C: [It] still publishes today.
P: [It] still publishes today [and] has gone through many tragedies and traumas.
Even thirty years later, a big fire that a lot of people believe was not just [the
result of ] an electrical thing [problem]. Because they were still a driving force.
So, they covered St. Augustine, too. There was a black newspaper from
Pittsburgh. I can't remember the name of it. But all these people would find
their way to the Record because, not only were we the daily newspaper, but
because we were practically on top of Lincolnville. In fact, you walk out of the
back parking lot heading west and you were at Washington Street, and
Washington Street was churches and businesses, and then one, two, three
[interviewee is counting streets from memory], then you had Oneida Street,
which was residential. And then you came up to Central Avenue which was the
main street of Lincolnville at the time I was growing up. It used to be
Washington Street, but it had moved to Central Avenue. And Central Avenue is
where St. Paul A. M. E. [African Methodist Episcopal] Church was [and] is, [it's]
still active today, and that was the center. Jackie Robinson [first
African-American professional baseball player in the major leagues], the baseball
player, came and ignited the crowd over there. Martin Luther King came and all
of his lieutenants [in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference], Andrew
Young [mayor, Atlanta, Georgia, 1981-89; U.S. Ambassador to the United
Nations, 1976-79; U.S. House Representative from Georgia, 1972-76; civil rights
leader and clergyman] was there, Hosea Williams [Atlanta City Council, c. 1980s;
Georgia General Council, 1974; civil rights activist and clergyman]. I mean
these were names that everybody new. And then on the other side of town, you
had Halstead ["Hoss] Manucey, who was always considered to be the leader of
the segregationist movement.
C: Were they not publically identifying themselves as the [Ku Klux] Klan?
P: Well, that's true. I could never tell you [who they were] because I could never put
the names with them, but there were Klan rallies. I never went to any of the
Klan rallies, but I remember seeing the marchers. Because they would form at
St. Paul [Church].
C: They were robed?
P: No, this was the ....
C: Oh, the demonstrators.
P: The black demonstrators.
P: They would meet at St. Paul or at First Baptist Church, which was right next to
St. Paul. And they would march north on Central [Avenue] and then they would
turn at the corner of Central and Bridge [Street] and come by the Record and
then go east on Bridge and then north on Bridge and Cordova [Street]. We were
on that corner, our street address, because our door was on Cordova. And then
they would go north on Cordova up to King Street and then head east again over
to the plaza. This was a daily occurrence, day and night. I can remember
Saturday nights at the Record when the composing room would still be there, the
two editors would go to supper, and I would be reading the proof. The sports
editor would be out covering the game or some event, softball. Softball is big in
St. Augustine. They actually covered the games, they didn't just call in the
scores then. So, Saturday nights everybody was out except me. I would be
there with the composing room and they'd lock the front door while they were
gone to dinner. Now, that front door was always open. Of course, you know, it
took five keys to get in and out of that building when it wasn't open for business, I
mean on the weekends. So we would see the demonstrators. I would watch
them out of Hoopy Tebault's office window with anybody else. We'd hear them
because the windows of the composing room were open at night to ventilate.
So, you would hear the marchers coming up the street. You'd know it because
we'd hear right through the windows.
C: What would you say the size of the crowd was then?
P: Oh, there be easily 100 people and it would be men and women and children, I
mean like teenaged, maybe junior high [aged children] and they would do this.
You know, one of the most telling things to me was, there was a black catholic
church in Lincolnville called St. Benedict the Moor. The whole time I was
growing up, St. Benedict was where, during the summer, we'd go to church.
Because we kids could ride our bikes. We could ride our bikes from Marine
Street and South Street, across the dam at Maria Sanchez Lake, and go up
Central Avenue into Lincolnville and head north on Central, and right across from
St. Paul was St. Benedict. And we'd just park our bikes; you never had to worry
about locking your bikes up. We'd park our bikes and we'd go to mass over
there. The interesting thing about St. Benedict was, most of the congregation in
the 1960s was white.
C: So it literally was an integrated ....
P: It was an integrated church. It was run by the Josephites under the auspices of
the Diocese of St. Augustine. The priest was white, the congregation was
mostly black. But there were enough white families [in the congregation] and we
were one of them. I mean, we'd go downtown to the cathedral during the school
year, but during the summer time we could go to an eight o'clock mass. The
earliest mass we [could] go to at the cathedral was nine at that time.
C: So this would be you and your brother and friends.
P: [These were] my brother, the McCarters, and we'd all go. We would ride our
bikes, and we never thought anything of it until that summer of 1964, when things
changed. What happened was, we were riding our bikes, coming back [from
mass]. We had done this through 1963, we started to do it in 1964 and the
deputies were cruising, you know, and they said, you can't do this. Our parents
decided that we weren't going to do it either. But as far as we were concerned,
we were still going to do it because we had done for so many years. I
remember riding my bike over there at twelve [years old] and not having my
mother with me and riding with my brother and our neighbors. [By] the summer of
1964, I was seventeen and I had done it, I guess, for three or four years but not
that summer. It was just a change and we saw this change because pretty soon
Lincolnville became pretty much off limits. There was a local confectionary in
Lincolnville called the Iceberg. It was run by a black man who we called doctor,
but he was a pharmacist, and his wife and he had the best home-made ice
cream. Well, it became a place, one of the staging areas. You know it was
kind of like the Cracker Barrel type deal, and, so, that became less of a white
place to visit. So we didn't do that. There were a lot of things about it. I mean,
I'd walk downtown at lunch time from the Record and I'd sit at the McDonald's
drugstore counter, or at the McCartney's counter, which was the other store next
door, the other lunch counter, the marchers would be coming by. There was this
legendary group of, supposedly, rabbis and rabbis in training. They stayed out
at old Florida Memorial College, which is now in Miami, but was located on West
King Street. And it really was the place where all the demonstrators came to
stay, and they would stay there and then come into town on buses, and come to
Lincolnville. West King Street was predominately black, but Lincolnville was the
heart of the black community.
C: Were you actually writing any stories during that period?
P: I remember writing some. Just taking notes that were ....
C: There was probably a lot of team reporting, staff reporting.
P: Yes, there were the editors. We covered the story, but we didn't cover it like
other places did.
C: How big was the Record staff at that time?
P: Let's see, we had an editor, a managing editor, a sports editor who doubled as a
news editor, a woman's editor, one reporter, two reporters .. maybe seven [in
C: And [what was] the population of St. Augustine at that time?
P: Probably about 8,000 in the city. The county was probably 30,000 at that time.
C: What was the Record's circulation about then?
P: Oh, probably about 4,000 or 5,000. And it was a six day a week publication.
It's now seven days, all a.m.[morning editions], but it was six days then, and the
only day that was a.m. was Sunday. We didn't publish on Saturday. We
worked all day Saturday for the Sunday paper. We ran small stories. We had
kind of a standing head[line], "More Arrests as Demonstrations Continue." And I
always thought it was a standing head[line] because it always looked the same
when it came out. We put these things on our front page. We ran the story the
day Martin Luther King was arrested in St. Augustine.
C: Did you have photo coverage?
P: Yes, but we didn't run a whole lot of photos.
C: In the whole paper or just about this issue?
P: Just about this [issue]. Several years ago, when our archives were being
evaluated over at the historical society, or catalogued, somebody said, it looks
like the paper systemically removed all its photographs of the civil rights
demonstrations. So, I was in the room when this was said, and you know I'm
sitting there as an observer. I say as soon as it's over, I grab the executive
director and I said, you are absolutely wrong. The person that just made that
statement is wrong. Yes, I said, I was there. We didn't run those pictures. I
said, they weren't systemically removed from the archives. We didn't run them.
I can tell you we ran one of the front of the Record building when it was fire
C: That was in that summer of 1964?
P: Yes. We ran a picture of the Monson Motor Lodge, where Officer Billets
jumped in to clear the demonstrators after Jimmy Brock, the hotel owner, had
poured muriatic acid in [the swimming pool to prevent demonstrators from using
it]. We ran that picture, but we didn't run a whole lot of others. There are some
wonderful pictures of the demonstrations etc., that belong to the Jackson family
because Mr. Jackson, John Jackson, was the school principal and the school
photographer and did excellent coverage. Those photos are now being readied
for an exhibit of that era. We've run them in recent years, but we didn't run this
stuff. We ran the stories because that alerted people to what was going on.
There were things like, if you were downtown by the plaza, you were going see
some kind of demonstration. You would see the Woolworth's sit-ins. You would
see the aftermath of it [and] demonstrations in the plaza at night. The city went
under a curfew that summer of 1964. You couldn't be out on the streets after
eleven o'clock at night if you were under eighteen or under twenty-one [years
old]. I remember that it must have been under eighteen, because they cancelled
all the night activities after the St. Jo[seph's] and the St. Augustine High
graduation in June of 1964. By 1965, when I graduated, it was okay again to do
that. The curfew kind of locked down the town. It was between eight and nine
o'clock at night. You couldn't be on the streets, young people. Farris Bryant
[Florida governor, 1961-65] brought in the [state] highway patrol.
C: This was when he was governor?
P: This was when he was governor, and it became almost like a martial law.
C: But this was not the National Guard, this was the state troopers.
P: No. This was the Florida Highway Patrol. There were 300 demonstrators in the
[old] slave market on May 28, 1964, where they confronted a large groups of
whites armed with clubs and tire irons. Police, deputy sheriffs, and state
troopers avoided a clash. Martin Luther King was there on May 18. [He]
promised to bring his nonviolent army to the city. Mrs. Malcolm Peabody had
been there March 30.
C: I was going to ask about it. Her son was the governor of Massachusetts at the
P: Right. Endicott Peabody was governor and Mrs. Malcolm Peabody was the
wife of the Episcopal bishop of that area. And she, along with a number of other
demonstrators, were arrested March 30 of 1964. I remember being in school at
St. Jo[seph's] and going over to the Record after school and hearing of this story.
It was a big deal and [I remember] really being annoyed that I couldn't be
C: Because you had to be in school?
C: Well, let's move now because this is really framing you prior to your college years
and your Alligator years. So now you're ready to launch your career. The job
markets bad. It's 1970. You don't know about, is there going to be a newspaper
job after all this experience and training. Are you going to have be a school
teacher? What on Earth is going to happen? How do you start your career as
a newspaper woman.
P: Well, I was in school when Buddy Davis was constantly criticizing the
Times-Union because of the railroad ownership.
C: And he had actually worked for the Times-Union.
P: He worked for the Times-Union. He actually worked in the capital bureau when
Dan McCarty was governor [in 1953]. He wrote the story of Dan McCarty's
death [in 1953], that I found years later and talked about at his retirement.
There was no question, the railroad weighed a heavy hand over the paper. It
liked owning the newspaper. And you know at that time, because of the railroad
connection, and we're talking about the Seaboard Coastline Railroad, we're not
talking about the Florida East Coast, but the Times-Union was owned by the
Seaboard Coastline Railroad when I went to work there on June 22, 1970. No
one said to me, this is how we deal with the railroad, but it was a given you would
assume it. Trains did not hit cars. If there was a derailment, it got run in the
back of the paper. If there was a fatal[ity], it was on the front of the B section,
which was the Metro [section], but it wasn't on the front page.
C: What about airline crashes? Wasn't there a separate [kind of treatment for
P: Oh, yes. We ran everything about airlines. We were always writing about
airlines' misfortunes. No one ever said why, but you knew why. I can
remember some of the old-timers saying, coming out of the news meeting
because we didn't have wire access, this was [the] pre-computers [era]. I can
remember someone coming out and saying, well, I guess we'll play that one
pretty big, and one of the other old copy editors saying, yeah, well maybe more
people will start riding trains. It was kind of a given that, get these people out of
the air [and on to trains].
C: So it was kind of newsroom humor within the staff?
P: Yes, but you didn't say it too loudly because the editors, the managing editors,
they were socially connected to the people at the railroad. They all were in the
same social circles. I remember going to cover an event that wasn't even
related to [an] accident, crash or anything and being summoned into the
executive editor's office ahead of time, that was John Walters, and being told
who would be there and all of their affiliations: Rotary Club President, Chamber
[of Commerce] President, member of St. Mark's Episcopal [Church], member of
the Florida Publishing Company board of directors. I mean, it was all very
connected. When you got there, it was a given that you would introduce
yourself to the appropriate people.
C: What was your assignment area of coverage at that time?
P: I was a general assignment and my hours were kind of dictated by stories and
time. I have to tell you how I got the job. Mr. Walters had interviewed me.
Mr. Manning was off the day I was interviewed and Mr. Walters told me this was
very nice and I came highly recommended. Then Mr. Manning, when he called
me, told me how the sports guys loved me so much and what a good job I had
done and all this. But Mr. Walters had told me that they didn't have any
openings right now. That was in April and, well, you know, April, June, there's
two months there. So I remember coming home and being a little, you know,
deflated. But Hoopy Tebault, who owned the Record kept saying, well, you can
come to the Record. But you know, I had worked at the Record. I had been an
intern at the Record. I had grown up in the Record newsroom. My mother has
a great picture of Hoopy Tebault, because, at one point, they [the Tebault's] lived
on the first floor of a big old house on Marine Street that had been converted to
apartments. They were in the big first floor and we were on the second floor.
My mother has a picture of Hoopy holding a shotgun and me standing in front of
him. So that's how long the relationship [had endured], because I'm like two
C: How do you spell his name?
P: T-E-B-A-U-L-T. The Tebaults owned the Record from 1942 to 1966. They sold
it to the Times Union, to Florida Publishing Company. I was beginning to think,
well, maybe I ought to go to graduate school. My father wanted me to go to
graduate school anyway and, maybe I should go into education and be a
teacher. But teachers weren't doing to well because that was shortly after that
state-wide walk-out by the teachers.
C: During the Claude Kirk [Florida governor, 1967-1971] administration.
P: Right, during the Claude Kirk administration. So, anyway, I worked Saturdays
the first year I was there, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
C: Were you commuting from St. Augustine?
P: I was commuting from St. Augustine. It was forty-four miles from my parents'
house on Marine Street, to the Times-Union at One Riverside Avenue just west
of the Acosta Bridge. So then I was off [from work on] Sundays and Mondays.
Tuesday, I'd work 12 p.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday, I'd work 4:30 to 1:30, but it
usually got out earlier than 1:30. Wednesday and Thursdays, I did that
because I backed up the police reporter. Friday, I worked noon to 9 p.m. and
Saturday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. So there was a short turnaround because working
noon to 9 p.m. If something happened at eight o'clock at night, you were never
out of there before ten. So I was used to being on US-1 or Interstate 95 at all
hours of the day and night, literally. I did that commute for eighteen years and I
was never scared. I had a CB radio for a while. I had two flat tires and things
like that, but I was never afraid. Now, I think, I don't want to be on any of those
roads after dark heading home. I'm glad I finally have a cell phone. I got a cell
phone in May of this year against my husband's better judgment. I was on the
road so much my son thought I should have one. Ned works for Best Buy and
has a cell phone. So he got a good deal. So I covered general assignment.
My second day on the job, I was sent to a fire. I remember I had a camera on
my desk because at lunchtime I'd been sent out to the Florida Yacht Club to
cover the Channel 7 End of the Auction Luncheon [to] take a picture of the
presentation from the president of Channel 7 to the top volunteer, the one who
gathered the most money.
C: What kind of camera are you using at this time?
P: I'm using a Yoshika Matt. The same camera exactly like the ones we used in
Buddy Davis's photo journalism class.
C: And you used film and you developed the film and you processed [it].
P: Right. We would roll film. I can tell you that I was one of the few Florida grads
who had Buddy Davis for photo journalism. I had him in the summer of 1969.
C: That's because he normally taught the reporting [and] writing classes.
P: Right, the reporting and editorial classes. But he taught photo journalism]
during the summer. So I had this camera sitting on my desk and my desk was
right there near the assistant city editor, the night city editor. The fire call came
in on the scanner and he said, do you know how to work that camera? I said
yeah. He said, does it have film in it? [I said,] yes, sir. Because they had
reloaded. They'd given me another roll of film in the photo department. He
said, well, there's a fire in the Dial Upchurch Building. And I said, Upchurch,
are they from St. Augustine? He said, listen to me, Dial Upchurch Building. It's
a six-story building. It's down right next to the foot of the Acosta Bridge on Bay
Street. There's a fire in one of the apartments up there. Go down there and
shoot the pictures. I'll find the police reporter and send him. Because it
happened right around seven o'clock and the police reporter was on dinner
I'm the only reporter now left in the newsroom. So, I take the camera. [He says,]
go right out, go right out on Bay Street. I said, how will I know what I get there?
Are there flames? He says, just follow the fire truck because by the time you get
to the end of the parking lot, the Riverside truck will be passing the building.
Now, hurry. So I hurried. I am dressed in a suit. I can tell you exactly what I'm
wearing. I'm wearing a blue dress with a navy-blue jacket and the shoes were
color-coordinated to the dress. They are light blue. They are two-inch high
heels, not spikes, but pumps two-inches high. There's a little light-rain drizzle
and I'm in my 1968 Plymouth Belvedere. I get right up to it, and sure enough, the
fire truck is right where Dick Starter, the night city editor, said it would be. It's
passing me and as soon as it gets past me, fortunately, there's no one else, I get
behind it. I follow the truck all the way down. I'm not breaking the speed limit. I
found a parking place right in front of this building and all these people are on the
street, you know all the tenants and the cops.
Here I am with no press pass because this is my second day. The first day is
basically orientation: read the paper, sign the papers and go home and come
back to work the next day. So I have my notebook and my camera and it's
raining and I'm trying to keep the camera from getting wet. I find this guy in a
white fire coat that says Chief. I said, what's going on here? Because you can
still smell smoke and the firemen are still in the building in there. He says, who
are you? I said, I'm Margo Cox from the Florida Times-Union and I've got to be
here to take a picture because the photographer and the reporter are out and I
have to do this whole thing. Chief Matthews says, well, we're just finishing up in
there, but if you want to go, I remember he was stumbling and he says, if you
want to go up there to take your picture, you're going to have to go up this fire
escape. Now, the fire escape hangs over the sidewalk, which kind of narrows
because it butts right up to the Main Street Bridge, [with] two-way traffic passing
back and forth. So, what do you do on the second day? Do you say, no, I'll
wait? You say, okay.
I start climbing those stairs. I was smart enough, well, smart [or] stupid, [and]
took my shoes off because that was an old metal fire escape. This building, I
learned when I got back to the office that night, was the first skyscraper in
Jacksonville after the 1901 fire and it's six-stories tall and it's that old. This is
1970. We're going up and up, and I'm saying to myself, please, God, don't let
me slip, don't let me fall down, don't let me break the camera. You know, all
these prayers. By this time, when we got to the first turn in the landing, I have
taken off my shoes. So, now, I have my notebook, my purse, my camera, and
my shoes. I'm more worried about that darn camera than anything else I own.
So we get up, and we have to climb in the window. Well, as we're climbing in
the window, here comes George Chapman and Stan Brantley from Channel 4
and Channel 12 that I knew from the riots, the Kent State Riots on the UF
campus. I said, how did you all get in here? They said, up the steps. I turned
to this chief, who was old enough at that point to be my grandfather, and I said,
how come I had to come this way? He says, well, I didn't believe you were a
reporter. Then he says, but I knew you were after we had gotten to the second
landing, but we couldn't go back. We could have, but he wasn't going to, so we
I got my picture of the guys cutting into the wall with a hatchet, you know, the old
fashioned way, and those two guys [with] the two TV cameras were just
hysterical. They kept saying, well, don't we know you? I said, yeah, you met
me at the Alligator. I just graduated, I was so proud, from the University of
Florida last week. This is my second day on the job. Well, this chief obviously
doesn't know what to do at this point. So then, you know, they said to the chief,
we've hit a water pipe. We've got to get them out of here, because the water
was just going to come. He takes us downstairs. Well, he's real nice at this
point. He's telling me everything. I'm writing it all down. And as we walk out
of the building, here's our police reporter and our photographer. The police
reporter didn't know me, but the photographer had met me earlier in the day. He
says, I'll take that camera, now. I said, oh, no I'm on my way back. The police
reporter said, well, you can give me your notes. I said, I'll turn them all in. Well,
the up-shot of it is, I don't get a photo credit and I don't get a byline or a credit
line, and half the police story is mine and the only picture on the fire is mine.
The next day, Frank Smith, who is the photographer said, oh, I told them to give
you a photo credit. I am so sorry.
I complained loudly that night in the newsroom about my treatment. Of course,
being the only woman and being new, I figured, what could they do? They're
going to fire me the second day? Okay, that's fine. I can go back to the
Record. The photo chief is Foster Marshall, Jr. at the time. Foster knew Chief
Matthews, so Foster comes over and he introduces himself to me and he says, I
know that man. I'm going to call him. He calls Chief Matthews. Then my
phone rings and it's Foster saying, I got somebody that wants to talk to you. I
pick up the phone and it's Chief Matthews apologizing, again, and then telling
me, any fire that I go to, I'm to look for him if it's downtown. If it's not, he gave
me the name of Jimmy Johnson, who was the Riverside fire chief.
That summer, whenever there was a fire during the daytime, God help us, I'm
sorry, but there were many fires that summer. If they happened before the
police reporter got there, the city editor says, [do] you want to go? I mean, I'd go
out to a fire. I covered this big old Ford Motor Company [franchise], Lynch
Ford, burning up in downtown Jacksonville one afternoon, so much [that] I came
back and I smelled like a chimney. My dress was ruined. And I said, is
somebody going to pay to have this dress dry cleaned? The city editor says, well,
you knew what you were getting into [laughing].
C: So there really weren't many women on the news site even then, right?
P: No. My closest friend was Julie Wilson from St. Augustine. Julie worked in the
women's department there. So, I had a good time. There were a couple of
incidents where there was one particular night copy editor/reporter, a man. I got
real comfortable in the newsroom and I'd take off these shoes, these two-inch
shoes at night because I bought several pairs and they all looked alike but they
were in different colors. So they took my shoes one night and put them in the
men's room. Of course, the managing editor was not there. Mr. Walters called
me, this was the executive editor, to come down the hall. He needed to talk to
me. I had been there, I guess, maybe two months. It was right around the 4th
of July of that year. So yes, a month. Not even a month. And I said, I can't
right now. He said, why not? I said, I'm working on a story. I'm the junior staff
member telling the executive editor I can't come. He said, I need to talk to you
in my office right now. It was all a set up, because he knew that I didn't have my
shoes. So I said, okay. I walked down the hall, barefoot[ed]. He said, where
are your shoes? I said, Jim Ward put them in the men's room and I'm not going
in there to get them. I turned around and walked out. I said, is that all? I said,
you know, nobody told me I couldn't take off my shoes under my desk. There's
very few people here, nobody's complaining. So, Ward had gone to dinner. All
night long I'm walking around on linoleum. It was linoleum, it was tiled linoleum
floors then. There was no carpet on the floor. It doesn't bother me and I'm
barefoot in stockings. I'm walking around the newsroom. So Jim comes back
in and says, if you want your shoes, I'll make sure the coast is clear and you can
go get them. I said, I don't need my shoes. I'm not going anywhere. I'm going
home. I went home barefoot. The moral of that story, Jean, is that I never
came to work after that, for the whole eighteen years, without a second pair of
shoes in the car. I always had a second pair of shoes, dress shoes, that just sat
in a shoes box in my car. I mean it never happened again and it was well
understood that that wasn't going to work again.
C: Good for you.
P: Funny little things like that. I got to cover Governor Reubin Askew [1971-1979].
After he was inaugurated they had celebrations in a bunch of cities and they
each had a big formal dance, ball, whatever. I got to cover him when he came,
and I met all the wives of all the cabinet members and all the senate.
C: You were not delegated to cover features and/or women's issues in 1970.
C: You are a general assignment reporter?
P: I was the back-up reporter for city hall and the school board. I did general
assignment. I covered Reubin Askew at that event. I did not cover all these
women. But the photographer was assigned to both, covering him. So when
the governor retreated to go get dressed, I was with the photographer, and we
went over to where the women were. It was like prom to these people. It was
very exciting. It was exciting because everybody was excited. All the men
were excited, everybody. In the Hilton Hotel, in downtown Jacksonville, is where
this took place. I got to write part of the story. Then, I got assigned. We all
covered different business clubs at lunchtime, covered speakers routinely.
Judge May covered [the] Rotary [Club]. Paul Mitchell covered [the] Southside
Rotary [Club]. There were two big businessmen's clubs. One was called the
Northside Businessmen's Club, businessmen, one word. Then, there was the
Southside Business Men's Club-business and men, two words. I alternated
[between the two clubs], but I covered my original assignment, [which] was, I
went to the Northside Club every single Tuesday. The Northside Club, and this
was an active group of businessmen in north Jacksonville, were speared on the
interstate to 95 that goes from 1-10 to just north of the airport, on 95. They made
it their campaign to get that road built. Reubin Askew was the governor. That
was when you'd go 1-10 and you'd have to get off at US-90. You'd go [on] 90 for
an hour and a half, and then get back on 1-10 to get to Tallahassee. Well, once
you left Tallahassee, you were back on [US] 90 again to Pensacola. Here was
Askew from Pensacola. What was his goal? It wasn't to build to 95 in
Jacksonville where we already had a good network. It was to get 1-10
completed between Pensacola and Tallahassee and Tallahassee and Lake City.
But they [Northside Club] were constant. So my beat became the transportation
beat. I covered it from top to bottom, that whole process.
C: Was this an invented, new beat for the Times-Union? Or did it evolve?
P: No, they had a transportation beat, but it had not been so focused on interstate
[construction news]. You see,
Jacksonville was one of the cities that
got short-changed on the interstate
money because they already had a
transportation authority. They created
their own transportation authority in the
1950's that built the network of roads
later to become the interstate highway.
But these beltways, the state was going
[End of side B4]
P: ... to Lake City to find out if we were going to get the 295 beltway. And I met
with the district engineer in Lake City, who was Mr. Jim Ward. He was a
graduate of the College of Engineering at the University of Florida. His
assistant, deputy engineer, for District Two, which was our area, was Walter
Skinner, also a [University of] Florida grad, also in engineering. If you ever
wonder why the bridges in Jacksonville were orange and blue at one time ...
you had an orange bridge and a blue bridge. The Acosta [Bridge] was orange
and the Main Street [Bridge] was blue. It was because, well maybe not, maybe
it was only a coincidence that all the engineers in Lake City who picked the paint
colors were Florida grads at the time. But the bridges became orange and blue.
Then, later, they painted the Matthews bridge garnet as a concession. But I
don't think they ever got a gold bridge.
So I covered transportation. I learned all about how to build a road. I can tell
you today, when I ride down the interstate, what stage they are in the need for
maintenance. I can tell you when they haven't done a road properly and there are
some around St. Augustine that when I first came to the Record I could tell you,
well, they didn't lay the foundation properly. In that beat I actually went out on
job sites. I saw construction. I was in the first car that rode across the first leg
of the J. Turner Butler Boulevard, which is now the big gateway to Ponte Vedra
from Jacksonville. There was a one and a half mile stretch that went from
Southside Boulevard to UNF [University of North Florida].
I covered transportation from a year and a half. Then the education writer was
leaving to go work for Voice of America, so I applied for her job. It was
interesting. When the job was held by a man, it was called education editor.
When it was Rachel Bales job, it became education writer. When it got to me it
was education writer. And the excuse given, or exactly, the reason, was that we
didn't work on the news desk. See, the education editor also substituted as the
night news copy editor for local [news]. So, he got to be education editor. But
that was alright. Being education writer allowed me a lot of access. [It gave me
access to] J. J. Daniel, who was on the board of the railroad, Seaboard Coastline
Railroad, he was chairman of the Board of Regents. So, we covered the
Regents, but we didn't go to the meetings before I got there. They would call
him after the meeting, they'd take the wire story, and they'd call J. J. and get a
few quotes from him. Then they would do a story that said, from staff and AP.
Right away I expected that I was going to be able to cover this. The Board of
Regents were meeting in Boca Raton. It was three weeks after [that] I was
assigned as education writer in November 1972. I went to Mr. Manning, the
managing editor, and I said, the Board of Regents are meeting in Boca Raton.
What do I do? And he said, oh, you don't do anything. He said, call Mr. Daniel,
find out when you can talk to him after the meeting, and then you'll get the wire
story. He explained this procedure I just talked about.
So, I called Mr. Daniel, whom I had had the good fortune to meet six months
earlier while covering the beginnings of what is now the Jacksonville Council on
Citizen Involvement. He was the leader in that and I had met him. He talked
about his time at the University of Florida and he was in Florida Blue Key. He
told me how the Florida Blue Key and the Alligator never got along back when he
was there, in the 1940s. I assured him nothing had changed. I call him and he
takes my call. He's president at this time of Stockton Watly Daven
Corporation, and here is the still junior reporter because they had hired a guy at
the same time they had hired me, but he was already gone. He went to work in
the PR department at Disney, big money. And so, I told Mr. Daniel that I was
now covering education and that I would not be going to the Regents meeting,
but [I asked] where could I call him afterwards. Mr. Daniel says, what do you
mean you're not going to the regent's meeting? I said, because Mr. Manning
said we don't cover them. And Mr. Daniel says, hold on. I can hear him
shuffling the paper [over the telephone]. He said, I am reading the Times-Union.
And he reads the date and he says, three sports writers are covering [the] golf
tournaments today for the Florida Times-Union, and none of them are in
Jacksonville. And he said, you tell Mr. Manning, if he can afford to send three
sports writers out to cover golf tournaments outside of the city, he can send you
to the Board of Regents meeting. I said, well, don't you want to talk to him. I
was like, I don't want talk with him. He says, you tell him that and you tell him, if
he has any questions, call me back. He was on the board [of directors] of
Florida Publishing, but not the chairman of the board.
So I went over and Mr. Manning says, did you talk to Mr. Daniel? I said, yes.
And what did he say? [Mr. Manning asked.] Well, I told him what he said and
Mr. Manning looked over his wire-rimmed glasses and said, and what did you
say? And I said, well, I asked him if he wanted to talk to you. Well? [Mr.
Manning asked.] And he didn't [I replied]. He told me to tell you. And so
Manning pushes his glasses back up, he disappears down the hall to John
Walters, comes back about 20 minutes later. And by that time I'm off typing
something else and I'm not even thinking about this. Mr. Manning says, make
your hotel reservations, you're going to the meeting, but you can't fly, you have to
drive. So, they thought I was going to say, oh, no, I'm not driving five hours to
Boca Raton. And I said, okay. So I called Mr. Daniel back and I said, where
are the Regents staying? I am covering the meeting. He says, well, I'm glad
about that. I said to him, I just felt really comfortable, did you call someone?
And he says no. I said, are you sure you didn't, Mr. D.? No, I didn't. I'll look
forward to seeing you on Friday, [he said]. This was, of course, on Wednesday.
So then his secretary called me back and said, I will be dropping off the
itinerary, the agenda. Because see, we never got the agenda from the Board of
Regents meeting [before] because we never covered it, and the thing [the
agenda] was as big as the Jacksonville telephone book. So she said, Mr. Daniel
said that you can take his agenda. He has made notes on everything he needs
to know. And when you get to the meeting, he will make sure that there is a new
copy for you and you can switch it out. But this will help you do your homework.
So, was that a message?
C: Oh, boy.
P: Read this before you get there? Which I did.
C: Too bad I'm going to be driving. Too bad I can't read it on the plane [laughing].
P: So, I covered the Board of Regents from the first meeting. I covered December
1972 until, I covered them for ten and a half years, the middle of 1982. And then
someone else took over because by that time I was doing [covering] education,
[which] was still big, you know public education. And I had had my fill of
traveling that kind of trip. But I had a great time because, while I covered the
board of regents, that also got me into the state and national scene. So I went
to Tallahassee every year for at least a week, put up by the newspaper, covering
all kinds of elements. I worked in the [news] bureau. And then, anytime there
was a higher education] issue or a public education] issue during the session, I
could go over for an overnight [trip]. I really planned those trips out like a travel
agent. Boy, I maximized my time and new how much I could get out of it. And I
always wrote more than one story anyway. So I was a good mark out of town.
I didn't spend a lot of money. And covering the board of regents was also Helen
C: Old Alligator pals.
P: Old Alligator buddies. So we linked up and shared hotel rooms and we shared
rental cars. Well, when the two of us stopped covering the Board of Regents, I
think it was a rude awakening for our accounting departments because suddenly
we were not splitting everything in half, you know. But that was real ideal.
We'd plan these trips, well, my plane gets in at such and such. Well, I'll get the
rental car this time. Or, are you going to go out to the hotel? I'm not going to
be in until midnight and then comeback? Or do you want to take the shuttle and
then I'll pick up the rental car?
I mean we planned these trips. I can remember the trip to Pensacola. You
couldn't get to Pensacola from Tampa or Jacksonville unless you went at six
o'clock at the morning. So, she left Tampa, it was a National Airlines flight. She
left at 6 a.m. from Tampa. That flight went to Jacksonville. I got on that flight at
nine, and we went to Pensacola. We had all this time in Pensacola, so we
toured the city. I have a scrapbook, a small scrapbook. It was like a
mini-vacation that day. We are all over historic Pensacola. And I kept saying,
gosh, St. Augustine is so much better than this. We are the oldest city, the
oldest permanently-occupied European settlement in the United States. They
only were [the] first city. Now you've heard it. A hurricane, they couldn't survive
a hurricane. We survived everything over here. That's the difference.
Covering the Board of Regents was exciting. I can remember breaking some
stories when the AP somehow didn't send someone to the Regents meeting.
The AP would call Jacksonville looking for the story, because they knew I was
covering it. Somehow they would get rejected. Nobody else would turn loose
their stories early, but they always thought we would. The rule in Jacksonville
was, yes, we'll give you the story, but you have to credit the St. Augustine
Record. If you want the story, you have to credit the Record, if you want it to
send out to everyone else. And they did.
C: The Record or the Times-Union?
P: I mean the Times-Union. I'm sorry, you have to credit the Florida Times-Union,
which they did. And I'm not so sure they always liked doing it, but then they did
start sending someone regularly. Now, covering the Board of Regents, at one
time, in, I guess around 1975, that year, was Helen Huntley from the St.
Pete[rsburg] Times, a graduate of the University of Florida and the Alligator,
Skip Perez, of the Gainesville Sun, a graduate of the University of Florida and
the Alligator, and me. By that time, my friend Julie Wilson was in Orlando and
she was covering the Board of Regents for the Orlando Sentinel, but she didn't
graduate from the University of Florida. So they had these four people who
were kind of a pack. And we knew everybody. We knew the presidents and we
knew the agenda. We knew Hendricks Chandler, who was the executive
secretary. We knew George Bedell, the vice-chancellor. We knew Bob Mautz
[Chancellor, Board of Regents, President of Florida University System] and we
knew E. T. York, his successor. We knew all the Regents. And Mr. Daniel,
God bless him, to his credit, all those years he was on the board, he never said
to me at any time, don't write that story.
Everyone thought there was all this big control. I remember hearing that E. T.
York was not going to get the University of Florida presidency, they were going to
appoint [Bob] Marston. E. T. was going to be named chancellor. I called Mr.
Daniel in his office as publisher, from the newsroom, and I said, I have heard this
rumor. And Mr. Daniel said, and what do you want me to do. I said, I want you
to tell me if that's going to happen tomorrow. And he said to me, I'm your
publisher; I am not your source. And I said, well, if Helen calls, will you talk to
Helen? And he said, that's talking to the St. Pete[rsburg] Times. You have to
get your stories on your own. That line was rigid with him. I mean, after that
one time, where he gave his agenda to me because it was my first time, I got
nothing through Mr. Daniel. If I needed to talk to him as a source, he was a
source and I had to make it clear quoting him in the story. But there was none
of this business that he was going to be my tipster. I ended up using a very
good source at Florida State University, who happened to be in the old Regents'
offices when E. T. [York] walked in and was taken into the inner sanctum. He
turned to someone else and said, is he going to be the new chancellor. And
someone else said that. So, then I called and got the rest of the story because
all of us were chasing this story. Helen and I weren't speaking to each other.
None of us were speaking to each other because we were all going to get this
story. Of course, as it was, we all had stories.
C: Different sources.
P: Different sources, but that was the way Mr. Daniel handled it. And one more
funny story about covering the Board of Regents. Dr. Andrew Johnson from
the University of North Florida, a black educator [and] well respected. We were
told he was going to be named next president of Florida A&M at this particular
time. Mr. Gardener from Ft. Lauderdale was on the Board. Mr. Gardener was
black and an alumnus. He was doctor in education and he and Andrew
Johnson were close friends. I got word from UNF that Dr. Gardener had called
Dr. Johnson and said, the votes are there for you. And I'm going, Sunshine
Law violation. But I can't even begin to prove this story because right now our
story is, is this respected black educator from Florida going to be the A&M
president? So, I start calling Regents and nobody will talk to me. Dr. Gardener
is in the hospital and I finally get through to him. He won't talk to me about it.
And you know I'm going, well, where is Andrew getting all this information? So I
called Dr. Johnson at home and I said, do you know who's going to vote for you?
He didn't know, but he just knew that he was going to get it and that Dr.
Gardener was in the hospital and he was very sorry. So I wrote this story. I
talked to a couple Regents' staff who said nice things about Dr. Johnson. I
talked to Marshall Criser [Board of Regents; President of the University of
Florida], and he didn't come right out and say it, but he said, well, he gets high
marks and all this; talk to a couple of other people. J. J. [Daniel] wouldn't talk to
me at all.
So, I get up to the airport the next morning at 6:45. I've got the Times-Union, I'm
reading my story. I've got my bag of stuff, by this time we're flying to Regents
meetings, and Mr. Daniel walks up and I said, what are you doing here? And he
says, oh, I didn't go down last night. And he says, [are] you all right? I said,
yes, fine, big day. We get on this plane to Tallahassee. After we're in the air,
Mr. Daniel comes out of first class. He was a big, bulky man, so he couldn't sit
in coach. I'm riding in coach and I've got the paper and I'm looking up. I look
up and it's Mr. Daniel. And he said, good story this morning, but it's not Andrew.
There's only like ten of us on this flight to Tallahassee. And I said, what! What
do you mean it's not Andrew? Come on, Mr. Daniel. And we were having this
long discussion. By this time, he's sitting on the arm of the coach seat across
from me and the flight attendant is saying, can I help you? He says, no, but
there's nobody else up in first class and I need to talk to this person. She works
for me. She's my reporter. And he flew enough with them that they said, fine,
Mr. Daniel. So not only am I sitting in first class the rest of the way, but they are
bringing me coffee [and asking me,] did you get breakfast? They don't even
serve breakfast in coach at this point, but they serve it up front. I'm going, no,
thank you. I'm saying, how do you know this? He says, I know it's not going to
happen. So, then I start giving him a lecture on the Sunshine Law. And he
says, there wasn't any Sunshine Law violation. I certainly know that. I'm a
lawyer, etc., etc. I'm on the Board of Regents, what are you accusing me of?
And I'm thinking, This is the last time I'm going to have a conversation with the
publisher. But he told me, he said they had one of those screening committees
and he said, It's not Andrew. And here I am. Because I know that back at UNF
right now there are two press releases being prepared because the PR guy told
me. One of them is, I accept and I'm flattered. And the other is, you know, I'm
glad to have been ...
C: Honored to have been ...
P: ... honored to have been [considered]. Whatever. Then we have that
dilemma: Do you call the university and say ... ? And I go, no, I don't call
anybody. I go to the meeting and see what happens. Well, I go to the meeting
and see what happens. Sure enough, there's a long parade of people
supporting Andrew Johnson, but there's also a long parade supporting the other
guy, Humphreys, I think it is. After long discussion, the vote is taken and it's
the other guy. It's not Andrew. I remember going over to some of the people
from the UNF throughout the meeting and they were just floored. Everybody
I never could, and I tried for two years after that, to put together what really
happened. But that was one of those time where you're covering something and
your boss, your top boss, has an opportunity to make or break your career and
he was very clear. He wasn't going to help me because his code of ethics said,
I'm on the Board of Regents, and when I'm on the board of regents, I'm not the
publisher of this newspaper and it's not my job. And you know, periodically he'd
call me after that and he'd say, what do you hear from the Regents office? I'd
tell him and he'd just chuckle. I'd say, [do] you want to tell me anything? No,
[he replied]. Or he'd say things like, well, good luck with your story. I'll read it in
the morning. Or he'd send word through the editor that he would be in
Tallahassee the next day on behalf of the Board of Regents in case I was
But I was also at the Times-Union, covering the Regents when there was a big
turning point for us. Mr. Daniel, when he came to the paper as publisher in 1976,
it was a big turning point for us because the railroad gave him a lot of
independence. He was now publisher, he was no longer just on the Board. His
grandfather, Col. J. J. Daniel, had been one of the original publishers of the
Florida Times-Union, Colonel J. J. He was named for his grandfather. He had
great fondness for this job. But he was still on the Board of Regents.
We were in Tallahassee when the Regents were meeting and it was keyed to the
legislative session. But it was also on a Sunday, when there was a gigantic
derailment of a Seaboard train over in the panhandle, chlorine gas and all that,
and evacuation. I heard about it. The Times-Union, the press center, was right
near an AP office. So, I had checked in that afternoon with the guys in the
Tallahassee bureau and I had heard about this train wreck. I said to the guys in
the Tallahassee bureau, do they know about it in Jacksonville? Oh, yes, they're
on it. They're calling Seaboard and all that. So I went on to this afternoon
Regents committee meeting and Mr. Daniel walked in and said, have you heard
about the train wreck. I said, yes. He said, what do you know? I told him what
I knew, and he said, does the office know? And I said, yes, do you have any
messages? He said no. He's the publisher. I mean he wasn't going to say
So the next morning he walks into the Regents meeting carrying, it must have
been, nine newspapers. You know, all those newspapers on that rack by the
Hilton, which is now the Double Tree downtown? You could buy every daily
newspaper, and he's carrying them all in there. I thought, what did he do, buy a
paper for everybody in the Regents? Because it looked like he had nine. He
sits them down next to his place and he comes over to me and he says, come
and look. So I look. He spreads them out because it's like a half an hour
before the meeting starts. He's got all these newspapers spread out. They all
have the same big vertical [photograph] of this derailment, which is the AP photo
of course. And there we are, right next to him. He says, what do you think?
Isn't this great? They are big papers. Our coverage is as good as anyone
else's. And that, I believe, was the turning point. After that, I do not believe we
ever wrote another story that said "a car hit a train." I know that we got to the
point where train wrecks came up on the front page, derailments that belonged to
Seaboard. I remember going back to the office and telling this story,
C: Have you ever shared that story with Buddy Davis, who has been so critical of
the Times- Union?
P: No, I don't remember if I ever did.
C: It would be interesting.
P: Because you know, the time, you know, they changed. And of course, then the
railroad sold us to Morris Communications in 1982 and things really changed.
C: Do you want to take a break?
C: What precipitated your move from Jacksonville to the Record?
P: Well, after I was education writer, I was the assistant city editor for planning,
which was kind of like assignments and long-range planning, when the two
papers merged. See we were independents before Morris. We were owned
by the same company, shared the same building, but if the education editor of
the journal saw me hustling down the hall, he came behind me. We didn't hold
the elevator for each other, you know. I mean, we were fierce competitors.
And that was all the way through the Journal and the Times-Union staff. The
Journal considered themselves the scrappy paper and we were the grey lady.
C: So, the Times Union was the a.m. [morning edition] and the Journal was the p.m.
P: Right, and the Journal's sole mission in life was to have something they could
strip across the front page, six banners. Now this is a Times Union person
talking, so I don't know what the real mission was. But that [goal] we didn't have.
Our goal was that even if it was one sentence, anything we could get in, even if it
was one sentence tacked on the end of big story, it could kill their front page.
Don't leave any stone unturned. That's why you'd come back, you'd write your
story for the eleven thirty deadline to have it to the copy desk, and then you
would turn around or your backup would sit over there to the bitter end, long after
the presses were running. Just in case something came in before the drop dead
date that you could beat the Journal, that was our mission. So then they
merged the two and I was the assistant.
C: What year was that?
P: This would have been June of 1983. So I did that for almost three years.
Then, the features department had an opening for assignments editor. And Ron
Littlepage was AME [Assistant Managing Editor] for news. Ron called me in
and said, I don't want to get rid of you, but if you ever want to be anything like an
editor at the Record, you're going to need that features experience. They have
an opening. You know, I can't guarantee you the job, but I've already talked to
Mike Clark. There were like nine candidates for the job. And so, I ended up
getting the job the day Mike told me. He said he didn't have to tell anyone else
who got the job because, when he called me in his office to tell me, I screamed
loud enough that people could hear me all the way into the newsroom.
Littlepage swears that's true. I don't know if I screamed that loud, but I did
scream. So, I did that. I was doing that when I ended up getting a Poynter
[Fellowship]. There was a Pointer [Institute, St. Petersburg Times]
session/seminar on ethics that you had to apply for. It was funded by Poynter,
and they were only going to select sixteen [applicants]. So, you had to do a big
contest-type application. I was one of the people selected.
C: So this would be in St. Pete, the Whiner Institute for Media Studies?
P: By this time it's 1986 and I had been promoted to features editor by Sarah
Wood, who was then the assistant managing editor for features. I had been
back about a couple weeks from it, the phone rang and it was Richard Allport,
who had been with the Times-Union, and is a UF journalism] school grad.
Maybe he's not a J. school grad, but he did graduate from the University of
Florida. He had worked on our copy desk. He now had a big executive position
at Morris corporation in 1986. He called me and he said, call me, it's urgent.
Well, I thought it was gossip. I ignored the phone call and a week later he called
and he said, well, I can finally catch up with you, etc. He said, we want you to
go to St. Augustine. He said, we want you to go as Sunday editor. I said I'm
not going anywhere as the Sunday editor. I said, if I'm going, I'm going as
managing editor. Well, they already have one, [he said]. I said, well, then I'm
not the person for the job. I never thought anything about it.
About a month later he calls me back and said, okay, they'll take you as
managing editor but John Hunt, who is general manager, wants you to come
down and do an interview with him. I said fine. So I went down and interviewed
with him. Right away, he and the then editor, Steve Cotter, are telling me all
about the Sunday paper they are going to create. Their creating a Sunday
paper. I said, well, that's fine, but I don't want to be Sunday editor. That's
somebody else's job, not mine. So they thought about it. About a week later,
Cotter called and said, if you want the job for managing editor, it will be
managing editor for special projects or something, because they weren't ready to
announce the Sunday publication.
C: Now what were your objections to being Sunday editor?
P: Well, I felt like if you were designated the Sunday editor a) the staff would
perceive that you could have no role in the daily paper that affected what they
did, and b) that your focus would become more soft news than hard news. Not
that I had anything against it because I had just completed almost three years.
Actually, I had completed three years by the time I left. Actually, it wasn't 1986
that I went to St. Augustine, I'm sorry, it was 1988. Nineteen eighty-six was
when I left the city desk and went to the features as features assignment editor
[and] was named features editor in 1987. Then, in 1988, I was named at the
Record. See, I should have my cheat sheet in front of me. But anyway, that
was my objection because I really didn't want to be somebody that was going to
sit in an office and just think about Sunday and not being able to access local
copy during the week and say, gosh, this could be written better or this police
report is incomplete and things like that. I wanted to have that role because I'd
had that role on city desk, even though I was called assistant city editor for
planning. In the features department I had had a role everyday in the daily news
meeting that editor Fred Hartman ran. Everybody was equal when they talked
about things. So that took, I guess, at little negotiating because they already had
a managing editor here. They gave him a different title. I came down and
worked in the old building and did that June of 1988 to June of 1993, five years.
The most difficulties] we went through, we had three publishers during that time
period. The most difficult part of it was not the publishers because we had John
Hunt, who was very good, Will Morris who was very good, and Tyler Morris. We
had a direct connection to the Morris family. That brought a lot of good attention
to our needs. In fact, it was under Will that they started talking about a new
building. It just took almost ten years to get it. But I was working every
weekend. I was working Saturday nights and every three-day holiday I was
working the Sunday night shift as an editor [and] then major copies because we'd
always put out the morning paper on those days. At that point, in 1993, we were
still p.m. except for Saturday and Sunday. I wasn't seeing much of anyone.
Tyler was the new publisher at that point. The editor had left at that point. So it
was Tyler, publisher, editor, [and] me as managing editor. It was just not the
kind of lifestyle ....
C: How old is your son at this time? I mean how are you being a wife and mother
and having an outside life?
P: Well, I had my wonderful parents and my wonderful husband and a wonderful
Times- Union that would let me bring him to work. I'd bring him to work. I'd
bring his porta-crib and everything else and set it up.
C: Was this the Times-Union or the Record? He's coming to work.
P: This was the Times-Union. He was coming to work with me when he was
seven/eight months old. If I felt that I couldn't leave him with daycare that day, I
called and said, you have a choice. I'll cover the school beat from home and I'll
do it all long distance and I'll pay for everything, or I will get all my work done,
phone calls and everything out of the way here, drive in, but I'm bringing Ned
because I can't leave him today. I had a wonderful city editor at that time. His
name was Paul Herald. Paul had young children, a wife in high profile job in
Jacksonville. He said fine. I'd set up the porta-crib and all this stuff and Ned
kept coming to work with me. I think his interest in graphics and design was
honed by the Times-Union art department. Some of those guys are still there
and they always ask about him, because they would sit him up there at a desk
and he learned how to do all that stuff. Of course you know, I mean, it was a
kid's dream. He had a desk, he had a light table. He had 10,000 magic
markers, all the paper in the world, all the crayons in the world. This was
pre-computers for graphics.
While I was at the Times-Union, I took on being Cub [Scout] master for three
years. In a weak moment, when the previous Cub master quit and I wanted my
son to have the experience, and it worked out because he eventually became an
Eagle Scout. Only 2 percent of the kids that start finish as Eagle Scouts. So, I
think I helped him in that fashion. So, yes, it was always a balancing act. I was
in the Cathedral madrigals and I would take my costume to the Times-Union and
I'd know that we were performing during the holiday season at 7:30. I knew
how long it took to get from One Riverside Avenue to the Ponce de Leon Country
Club, because that was always a big performance for us. I had the whole
costume. I would figure, I have to be leaving the Times-Union by 6:00 p.m.,
right in the heart of rush hour. I would dress in the bathroom in a Renaissance
costume that included a side hoop, it's like an Elizabethan hoop, and put on my
makeup and my hair and I'd be out the door. There were a couple of times
when I actually stood in the newsroom, answering questions, putting my hair up
for a costume [laughing].
C: What a photo opportunityy.
P: Oh, yes. They took pictures, but I didn't invite pictures. But you know it'd be
things like, I gotta get there. One night I was pushing it so hard, I didn't have
time to dress. I just got in the car. I got into the lobby of the Ponce [de Leon].
I ran in the bathroom, got the dress on, but I couldn't zip it up. I was standing
there and, finally, here comes Judy Bernard. I said, Judy help me, quick. She
zips me up and the Sister is just at that point turning around to make the
introductions. She looks to the door, and I'm number two in the door, in this
twelve person line-up. And she said to me later, I didn't see you when I walked
in, I knew you weren't going to make it. I was worried that the altos weren't
going to have a balance. And she said she looked in the door and, there you
were. I said, don't ask, don't ask anything. I don't know why I didn't get
stopped [pulled over for speeding] that night. But I did that for five years,
commuting and keeping up with local events.
But by that time, 1993, Tyler had things he wanted to do with the paper. I wanted
to do things with my life. I knew that I wasn't going to be named editor. I just
knew that I wasn't because Morris is a big corporation and this is a prime spot.
When I was named managing editor, the Morris corporate paper, the magazine
wrote me up because I was their first woman managing editor of a Morris paper
in the chain.
C: The chain now has how many?
P: The chain covers fourteen states now. Back then it had Lubbock and Amarillo
[Texas], Athens and Augusta [Georgia], and Jacksonville, Winter Park, and
Crescent City [Florida]. So the chain has expanded greatly. But I was a daily
newspaper managing editor. They had a managing editor of the Morris news
service, who was a woman, but the daily newspaper, this was kind of a different
thing. I would have never gotten that opportunity in Jacksonville. Jacksonville
would have never named a managing editor if I had stayed. Mary Crest
became the managing editor long after I became managing editor in St.
Augustine. So it was a golden opportunity, and I never knew that that's where I
was in the Morris profile until the editor at the magazine said, we're profiling you
because of this position. There were women in other senior management
positions, but at that point, that's what I was told. And quite frankly, I don't
remember any other having women in that job. Morris was really good to me.
Tyler and I worked out a proposal. He said, I'm thinking about doing this, what do
you think. And I said, well, I don't have any problem with that kind of plan. I
said, do I get off Saturday nights. [He said], oh, yes, you can get off Saturday
nights. [I said], thank God! I don't ever want to work another Saturday night.
It was crazy, going at 2:00 in the afternoon and you'd still be there at 1:45 in the
morning. Then I was going to church and singing at the nine o'clock choir.
You're kind of like, where's your life. So, then we developed a feature structure,
where I would coordinate features as features editor. But we would instill more
features on the front page and across the front page, across the paper like we
would emphasize more feature reporting and sports, business features. We had
all these feature plans. We were able to do it even maintaining the staff. It was
kind of fun. We'd find a story and it really had more of a wonderful personality
on it, than just a straight-on news story. We all learned from it.
I did that for several years, from 1993, I can't remember, to 1996 or 1995? I
have to look. I'll have to figure that one out. There was a transition in there
because we had a reporter leave who was covering schools. Oh, no, I was still
being features editor, but I also became school reporter, because we had a
reporter covering the school board who left and we didn't have someone
covering it. The editor said, we need someone covering schools that knows
what's going on. I said, well, I can do that one night a week. [The editor said,]
well, you know you can't cover the school board one night a week. So pretty
soon we're back to sixty hours and I'm in the office on Saturdays writing stories
for Sunday and Monday about the school board. Features are all taken care of.
And so, then Jim Sutton became editor here and he decided that he wanted me
in the newsroom writing. This was 1997 and I said, what is this going to entail?
Because I can't be features editor and be a full-time reporter. The whole time I
was features editor, I'm still writing the local issues column that I had already
been writing since 1988. I never really left the hard news at the Record. He
said, well, I guess it would be, you know, kind of a senior position. I said okay,
we can call it Senior Writer. He said, okay, let me make sure, because they had
to check and make sure there was a job-
P: There was. Then I started covering county government and I was there. I
covered county government and someone else covered the school board, thank
God. County government became a big issue because we were one of the
fastest growing counties in Florida. The meetings were lasting twelve/fourteen
hours a day, and they knew I would go and I would still write. But there were
many a day on this program where I'd be there at 8:30, if the meeting started at
nine. I'd be leaving the building when Fred Whitley, the then associate editor
who ran the morning news desk because we were still a pm at this point. Fred
Whitley was coming in to put the paper together. I scared him terribly one
morning. I came around the corner and he just [gasp]. I said, oh, my God, I'm
sorry Fred. He says, what are you still doing here. I didn't see your car. I
said, well, I parked on the front [row]. And so then I was told by Sutton that day
not to come in at all because I was probably already over sixteen hours for two
days-worth of work. I said, actually, I'm at fifteen. Jim says, don't come in. So
that Wednesday I stayed home and then we regrouped. Jim says, Rodney
Hughes doesn't want to hear of you leaving this building at 3:30 or four o'clock or
five again. Because when I said it to Fred, I said, I usually am out of here by
four o'clock. Fred says, what? You've been working here at four o'clock in the
morning? I said yes.
Well, the computer system would crash. One night I rewrote a story five times
because the printer wasn't working. But that was the fun. That's the fun of
being on this wonderful newspaper. We were in an old building, we believe it
has ghosts. We're convinced that Miss Nina Hawkins is still with us. We really
are. You know there's great stories about real small town community
journalism, and here we are in one of the fastest growing areas and we are the
[My meeting with] Jim Baltzelle was December 1. He talked to me, what do you
want to do. I told him what I wanted to do. He said, well, I have someone else
in mind for that job. I said, okay, so what do you want me to do? And he said, I
want you to beef-up the county coverage. I'm committed to expanding the county
coverage and getting someone to help you full time, so we divide up the load.
And I want you to start doing some other things. Maybe you can help me write
editorials and things like that. So I said okay. And he wanted me to do
representing the Record out in the community. I had done that, limited, before.
I said, all right, I can do this. Then he wanted me to coordinate the legislative
coverage and go to Tallahassee. I said okay, because the county was so
necessary, needed all this state money. So I said yes ...
[End of side B4]
P: So Jim Baltzelle becomes editor in December of 2001 and he inherits me.
C: He came from the Ocala Star-Banner
P: No, he comes from the Florida Times-Union. He was urban editor at the Florida
Times- Union. He had been at Palatka and then went to the Times-Union and
had come from both of those, from Ocala. He had been in the University of
Florida, too. Jim gets me right before my last session of chemotherapy.
C: Your cancer diagnosis was?
P: June 26, 2000. I had my surgery July 5th. I worked from home most of the
summer because the doctor wouldn't let me back in the office. He was afraid of
infection because I had a bilateral mastectomy and I had over 210 staples and I
did not have reconstruction. Because it took a long time to heal, he was worried
about infection. So I commuted to the office via the computer and the
telephone. The then city desk administrative assistant [was] bringing my mail to
me, or Allen running by the office and picking up my mail. Ned was also, that
summer, interning in our press room. They would leave a box that he would
bring. I just couldn't go in the office for nine weeks. But I was working.
C: How many hours a day would you say you worked when you were recuperating?
P: The home health people would come at nine. I would be on the phone to the
office around 7:30 because I knew I could talk to someone then. Then I would
be in the groove by ten o'clock. I'd be working the phones at the county. I'd
call county offices that I knew people would be in before eight o'clock. The
home health people came. They were always at the house about thirty-five/forty
minutes and then I'd do the rest of the day. I would watch the county
government meetings on Tuesday even though we had a reporter there. I would
call Jim Sutton, who was editor then, and say, Jim, when Mike gets back he
needs to know this is part of that story, and I will e-mail you the reference or I will
sum up who he needs to talk to. I would do a lot of that.
One time this woman is standing up there [talking] about this new county housing
committee they are organizing. She says to them, she needs five
appointments, one from each of them and then there would be two ex-officio.
One of the commissioners said, is it covered by the Sunshine Law? She said no,
it is not. I am sitting there recuperating, watching this. I pick up the phone and
call the county attorney's office because I know that the county attorney's office
has a phone in there. I get the secretary of the county attorney's office on the
phone. I have my Sunshine Law book right next to my computer at home.
Now, you have to picture this, I am dressed in one of those mu-mus. It is a blue
paisley cotton mu-mu, because that was the most comfortable thing for me to be
in. I am telling the paralegal on the phone what was just wrong with that. I
said, did you hear what she said? Did you hear, did you hear? And she said,
yes, I heard it. I said, it's wrong, it's wrong. She says, well, I know it's wrong
Margo. I said, they've got to fix it right now. I said, you have to get Pat
McCormick and tell him that's wrong. I said, if they're not going to fix it right
now, I'm writing the story tomorrow. I said, I'm writing it anyway, but I'm writing
it tomorrow. She says, you're sick, you're home. I said, no, I'm not, I've got
that TV on. Thank God for the government channel. Then I wait and nothing
happens. The woman is still up there talking about other housing issues.
Finally, she finishes and I hear the assistant to the county attorney say, excuse
me, commissioners, I think she misspoke when she said to you the following.
He said, we've already had a call from a listener questioning whether this
committee is covered by the Sunshine Law. And the listener has said that she
cannot tell you it is not covered by the Sunshine Law, that that committee
appointed by you is covered by the Sunshine Law. Well, they were stuck
because now we were at step two. Do we go back and say, okay, we're not
going to cover this, we're not going to appoint these people, we're going to let
you appoint them so they're not covered by the Sunshine Law? And of course I
still believe they are. Well, they let it stand and that afternoon that assistant
county attorney and he says, I thought you were home recuperating. I said, you
just keep that government channel up and running. I am watching over you
guys. I said, you were asleep at the switch. He said it was so innocuous it just
went right past him. But you know, he worked for the county another year and a
half and he was a great champion of that kind of element of the meeting. But
yes, I mean she got up there and she says, and you don't have to worry these
people are going to be covered by the Sunshine Law [laughing]. I'm having a
stroke at home.
C: Has that not been a kind of Margo Cox-Pope, day-in, day-out, mantra? This
open government, public meetings, public records.
P: Oh, yes.
P: Because it's our business they're doing. It's our money. They're spending our
money. They're making decisions that affect our quality of life. We elect these
people to represent us and they have to do their business about our money in
public. I write columns about it regularly. I say things like, after all, it's our
money. I never say, it's your money, it's our money, and you get to sit in those
big chairs because of us. In fact, my column tomorrow is about this whole idea
that members-elect tend to forget that they are covered by the Sunshine Law as
soon as they are elected. I get into that in my column tomorrow, about it, that
very point, that whole issue of Sunshine [law] and public records. I don't do it to
be me. Because I always include it in my columns, that it's not our laws, it's the
public's laws. I say that. I didn't say it today though, in the column for tomorrow.
I think I was so wound up in getting the point across. See, we already know
that some of our local officials in this election, in the general election for 2002 are
courting certain candidates and they've had meetings with these candidates,
they've had them out at the local government meeting, you know the one that
they expect will win. So you can't tell me that November 6th or the night of
November 5th, when it becomes apparent that these people aren't going to be
doing what's come naturally for them the last three or four months. That's pretty
much why I do it.
I believe these laws are the only laws that we have that protect our interest, in
terms of government decision making and government policies. It's the whole
business about, we pay taxes, we elect people to do what we want them to do,
they get to sit in the big chairs, they get to go to the A-list parties, they get to
shake hands with the President of the United States, former president or
whatever. They get to hob-nob in the governor's inner-sanctum. They get to
do all these things and in return, they have to do things for us. And what they
have to do for us is make those decisions in public and make those documents
public. I mean we, the Record, came out against a sitting commissioner who is
otherwise very effective, because she flaunted the Sunshine Law. She made
derogatory remarks about it to me and derogatory remarks about it to the editor.
She made comments in meetings. She was in discussion over the keeping of
public records. She says, what do you mean my letters are public. I throw them
in the trash. She gave some of us heartburn in a meeting where she actually
said, I don't keep anything. The county attorney's office had to sit down with
her, and fortunately they found out that she was keeping it because the secretary
was saving the stuff because she was having a fit when she knew that this was
happening. So that's why I do it, Jean.
I think that I was very privileged, and I say that sincerely, to be at the University
of Florida and learn from the people that got that law passed. I wrote a column
with Buddy last year. You know, every time they create another exemption,
they're not protecting us. And people don't understand that. They don't
understand they're not protecting us because all these things that they're going
to protect us from other people are accessing. Databases are already out there.
What are we protecting? Who are we protecting ourselves from? That's why I
do it. I don't want to be the one that has to stand up in the meetings, although I
have done that at least three times that I recall, where I have stood up and
objected to access. I want the people who are sitting out in the audience, who
parade up front. I'll have to send you these columns. There's one column
where I wrote about three community activists in St. Augustine and said that they
didn't know people like Buddy Davis and Red Cross, Senator Cross from
Gainesville. But they had them and their committed followers to thank for what
they can do and that is, get up and rail the commission and go into the planning
department and access minutes, get into a planning department meeting, at least
get the minutes. I always explain, the Florida public records law was here from
1909, but it took this other law a lot longer to get on the books. But yet, in
tandem, these are the people. I hike the book, I tell them to call Barbara
Peterson [Chair, First Amendment Foundation], I run the 800 number, I run the
website. I forgot to call yesterday and tell them over at First Amendment that I'm
hiking the book again, because they tell me they have people that have actually
responded and said, how do we do this.
C: So what do you see down the road ahead? Where is your career moving? In
P: Well, in November of a year ago, November 19th, he actually called me on the
18th, Jim Baltzelle named me associate editor. It's a shared relationship in terms
of leadership. He sets the tone, I make sure that the tone is carried out. I don't
know how long I [will] serve it. [It's at] his pleasure and the publisher's pleasure.
I really don't know how long it goes on. I think we have a good relationship now.
I think we can share things. I think we can agree to disagree on certain things.
You know, would I like to be editor of this paper? I think so. I think I would like
to be. If they called me at the Times-Union and said, would you like to
managing editor, I don't see that happening, but yes, I wouldn't mind being
managing editor. I wouldn't mind going back on the road.
I am fiercely competitive with the Times-Union but, at the same time, I'm very
loyal to Morris Communications. The Morris family gave me extensive
opportunities. Billy Morris himself was here about six or seven months ago, it's
been since the grand opening, and said something about, well, you know, when
you came to St. Augustine we just figured we'd send you down for three months
to help them and then pull you back. I laughed and I said, yes. He said, how
long have you stayed, fifteen years? I said, fourteen. But I've had a lot of fun.
I've had a lot of opportunities. Some people have said to me, you never went
anywhere in your career. Well, the Times Union was big enough that I went
from being a reporter to assistant city editor for planning, which put me on all
kinds of committees. Then I was assignments editor in features, then I was
features editor. I've been managing editor and senior writer. I've been features
editor here and now I'm associate editor. A lot of people come through this
operation. Everybody that I have worked with, I've grown under. When Jim
called me at home out of the blue and told me this was my job, I was astonished,
I cried. I said, are you sure? I hope he's still sure, because November 19th is
coming up rather quickly now [laughing].
My goal is now get this place cleaned up. They recently put me on a billboard
for new Record promotion called "We cover St. John's county." So at least for
the life of the billboard I guess [I'll be in this position at the newspaper] But I see
myself strengthening my ability to write tough editorials and columns that wake
people up. I want this local issues column to tell people how to do the job their
supposed to do. And that's, get out there and fight for the community. Make
sure when government speaks, they speak on behalf of all of us. I mean, we've
got a controversy right now in a parking garage. We're going to lose, I will be
real surprised if we retain, two incumbent city commissioners and the mayor
because they did nothing to stop the process to get it back on track with public
hearings. After they made all the decisions, then they held the public hearings.
They can't understand why there were so many candidates against them.
These are bitter campaigns. These are as bitter as the campaign for our
congress [seat] between John Micah and Wayne Hogan. The campaign for
our city commission seats had never been as bitter. And the Mayoral.
C: And why is that?
P: Because they did not respond to the public. The public came ready to say, we
don't need a parking garage right in the back of the historic Lightner [Museum],
down in our historic preservation area, south of King Street, where we still have
old homes. We don't need a four-story parking garage backing up to the back of
the Lightner. The planning and zoning board approved it a year ago. But
people didn't rally around it because it was so vaguely worded, they didn't realize
it meant four-story garage right behind the Lightner Museum. The mayor didn't
even tell the Lightner board of trustees, on which he sits as a member, that this
parking garage was coming down the pike. They find out about it, hearing it at a
meeting. So all these people line up to come in and talk about this, and the
mayor says, well, all we were doing was authorizing the sale of the bonds.
We've already made the other decision. So now he's in a war for his seat and
the other commissioner who is up for re-election is in a war for his seat. The
mantra of these two opponents is, you didn't let the public speak.
C: And what has the role of the Record been?
P: The Record encouraged the city to let the public speak. They won't admit it, but
I believe we are the reason they finally held public hearings. Albeit, they were
too late, but they did hold public hearings. But I'll tell you what this parking
garage controversy has taught the city. Now, they are doing what the DOT
does, the Department of Transportation holds informational meetings. From the
very beginning, when they decide they're going to rebuild a road or cut a new
road, they hold an informational meeting and say, look, people, this might not
happen this year, it might be twenty years away but we're starting the process.
Well, they've got two big controversial project: rebuilding the seawall and draining
Maria Sanchez Lake and rebuilding Maria Sanchez Lake, which is down in the
south end of town. In both of those instances they fully admit, we made a
mistake. We've had the commission say, we've had the mayor say, we've made
a mistake. Now they're having this process that's similar to the DOT, where
we're going to have informational meetings to death for the next year and half on
the seawall before we even get to letting a bid. People are turning out for these
meetings. We are covering them and we are making that point. I made that
point in my column last week and I said they should have been doing this
process with the garage. So that's what I do, that's what I see my role. And
reporters come in and they ask me questions about public access and I email
Barbara or I tell them to call Barbara direct or I call Barbara direct, depending on
the circumstances of the issue. We're working on one right now where the
school board has in effect reopened negotiations with the teaching union, even
though the contracts have been signed. The school board is holding strategy
sessions behind closed doors. So we're pursuing a story on that. Because
Barbara says, what! What were they doing? Barbara Peterson, she's going,
they can't do this, they don't have negotiations. Well, what they're doing is
they've agreed so, even though they've adopted a contract, now they're going to
meet periodically to discuss how they can do better by the teachers. And the
teacher union president says oh yeah we've agreed to meet to do this quarterly.
We're going, what! And they say they don't have to treat them as executive
sessions under 268.11 or .011. They said they don't have to do that. They said
there's a section in the collective bargaining statue 447. And I don't remember it
off the top of my head. And so we are reporters working on the story now. And
once he gets the story to where its ready to go, we're going to deal with an
editorial stand on it. It's the whole issue of access. What are we doing? So
that's exciting to me. It's exciting and that's why ... I'm talking long again.
I went to the investigative reporters and editors regional conference in Savannah,
two weeks ago this weekend. And I listened to discussion on Georgia's law.
And Georgia has a book about this big. Their manual is about this big. And I
listened to these women from North Carolina talking about trying to access
email-which we did a big project last year on. And I'm listening to all this, and
every point I can make a comment on, I keep saying I'm in Florida newspaper
state and the best state for access. And I said your model laws are in this book.
And the Georgia First Amendment Foundation woman, she talks about it, but
she didn't have enough background on Florida's laws to be talking about them.
So I was doing the talking. I've since had emails, people wanting to know
about this that and the other thing that Florida has. And I said that's our job.
You need to get this law beefed up. You need to get that executive session
provision out of there unless it's very finite. And ours is very finite.
So, you know five years from now I will be, I'm fifty-five so I'll be sixty-one. I
haven't slowed down. I'm still as insistent about public records and access as I
was when I was twenty-six covering the board of regents. I guess whatever I'm
supposed to be doing then, I'll be doing. But I'll be having a great time, I really
will. This is a great business and I learned it best at the University of Florida, I
did, and the Alligator.
[End of the interview.]