Interviewee: Carrol Dadisman
Interviewer: Julian Pleasants
Date: August 19, 2003
P: This is Julian Pleasants, and it is August 19, 2003. I am in Tallahassee, Florida,
and I am speaking with Mr. Carrol Dadisman. Would you tell me where you were
born and educated, knowing full-well that you are a red and black [University of
D: [Laughs.] I was born, actually, in Statesboro, Georgia, which is my mother's
home, although my family lived at that time in Jefferson, Georgia, a little town in
northeast Georgia near Athens. I grew up in Jefferson and went to the public
P: Then you went to the University of Georgia.
D: I had one year at Emory [University] at Oxford [Georgia]. I thought I was going to
go on to school at Emory, but Emory dropped its journalism school about that
time, so then I transferred to the University of Georgia as a sophomore in 1953. I
had graduated from high school in 1952. Then, I did the remainder of my
undergraduate work at Georgia in journalism and graduated with an A. B
[Bachelor of Arts] in journalism in 1956.
P: When did you decide that you wanted to be a journalist?
D: I decided that in high school. I thought I wanted to be a sports writer. I was a
great sports fan. I loved sports and I played sports, although I was never a star
athlete by any means. But I loved to read the sports pages, mostly the Atlanta
sports pages in those days, and I thought I wanted to be a sports writer. So, that
first got me interested. I worked on my high school paper, and my interest in
journalism broadened to cover more than just sports. Actually, I never worked in
sports [journalism], even at the university. There was no school paper at Emory
at Oxford. It was a very small school when I was there. But at Georgia, very early
on, I got involved with The Red and Black and worked up the ladder there and
served as editor of The Red and Black and several other positions on the paper.
P: How did that experience as editor of a campus newspaper influence your
D: I think it had a great influence on it. We had some very good journalism
professors and some very good newspaper advisors. A fellow named Dan
Kitchens at Georgia at that time was a Red and Black advisor. We learned very
good professional techniques, and I think it gave me a very good grounding. The
other thing that it did, being in a journalism school provided contacts for us in the
newspaper world and helped us gain internships. Actually, I passed up an
internship on the Atlanta newspaper between my junior and senior year because
I was working then part-time on campus for the agricultural extension service
editor's office. I chose to stay with them for the summer, which might have been
a bad decision. At any rate, the person who offered me the internship was Don
Carter, then the city editor of the Atlanta Journal and later became one of my
closest friends and a real mentor to me in the newspaper business.
P: The Atlanta Journal then was the afternoon paper.
D: That is right. The Journal was the afternoon paper in Atlanta.
P: What major issues did you have to deal with when you were editor of the campus
paper at Georgia?
D: This was in the 1950s. I was there when the Supreme Court decision, Brown v.
Board of Education [1954, racially segregated schools unequal and
unconstitutional], came down and so, of course, that was a major issue on all
college campuses and throughout the country. The reaction of the Georgia
governor and other state officials to that decision and other related Supreme
Court decisions, naturally, was a big thing. We tended to be, I guess you would
say, liberal on the college paper and tended to react negatively to the governor's
opposition to those Supreme Court decisions.
P: Was this Ernest Vandiver?
D: This was [S.] Marvin Griffin [1955-59]. Marvin Griffin was governor of Georgia,
elected 1954. Vandiver [1959-1963] came after.
P: Did you take an editorial stance about the integration on the campus?
D: We did. In fact, [there] was a major controversy [with] some editors during the
very first quarter I was at Georgia. I was not actually working on The Red and
Black at the time. This was in 1953, before Griffin was elected. Herman
Talmadge [1951-1955] was still governor then. The editors of The Red and Black
wrote an editorial criticizing Talmadge for a strongly segregationist speech. A
fellow named Roy Harris, who was an attorney in Augusta, Georgia and
chairman of the Board of Regents, read the editorial or heard about it and got
very upset and threatened to clamp restrictions on The Red and Black editors,
which prompted the editor and managing editor to resign. Subsequently, the
third-ranking editor, Priscilla Arnold, the news editor, also resigned. So, the whole
top echelon of The Red and Black resigned over that controversy. They already
had a Board of Control for The Red and Black, but it was essentially inactive.
After that episode, it became more active, although we felt, as the group of
editors who immediately succeeded them, we still had a lot of freedom. Dan
Kitchens, a faculty advisor, interceded for us and pretty much kept any real
censorship from happening. That was a big episode in the history of The Red
and Black during the time I was there.
So, yes, we wrote on those subjects, and there were a lot of campus issues. I
think the first column I ever wrote for The Red and Black was about the need for
buses on campus. Now, I go up to Athens, and there are buses all over the
place. I can't claim that I am the one responsible, but maybe my voice was one of
many heard over the years.
P: I wanted to briefly go over your background before you went to work for Knight
Ridder and ask you a little bit about how that experience helped you. You were at
the Augusta Chronicle, so you did a little bit of everything. You were a reporter,
assistant city editor, managing editor, and wrote editorials. Then you went to the
Marietta Daily Journal, where you did editorial page work and a column and were
D: And oversaw the newsroom. A very small staff in Marietta, so I did a little bit of
P: How did that help you prepare for your later work?
D: Both of those cities helped me a lot because, as you say, I did a little bit of
everything. In Augusta, I had several different jobs in both news and editorial,
including the managing editor job that I got when I was twenty-nine and oversaw
a staff of, I think we had, maybe forty or fifty people on the news staff. I must say,
I really was not prepared to be a managing editor at age twenty-nine, but we
made it through and it gave me a lot of good experience. Then, in Marietta,
because we had probably a staff of fifteen or twenty on that paper, but I was the
editor, that meant I got to do a little bit of everything. If we had somebody out, a
desk person out or a reporter out, I might be playing one of those roles any given
P: How often did you publish that paper?
D: It was six days a week. Augusta was seven [days a week], but Marietta was a
six-day-a-week paper. We had a Sunday paper, actually. We had no Saturday
paper. We had a Monday-through-Friday afternoon and a Sunday [newspaper],
technically, [a] Sunday morning [newspaper], but we actually published it on
Saturday and delivered it on Saturday afternoon to avoid the head-on
competition with the Atlanta paper on Sunday mornings.
P: I should point out that I erred in pronouncing the name. It is "May-retta".
D: [Laughing.] Yeah. You know Georgia pretty well.
P: How did you and why did you decide to go to work for Knight Newspapers.
D: That is a very good question. I had grown up with the Atlanta paper, Jefferson
being just sixty miles from Atlanta. The Athens papers and the Gainesville papers
weren't much in those days, and we subscribed to the Atlanta papers and those
were the papers I read. When I went to Augusta, of course, it was right on the
border of South Carolina. The Augusta paper, among the papers they subscribed
to, were the South Carolina and North Carolina papers, including the Charlotte,
North Carolina [Observer] paper. I was really impressed with the Charlotte paper.
I used to read, particularly when I was on the editorial staff, the exchange papers
pretty closely, and I was really impressed with Charlotte. Although Charlotte was
a smaller city than Atlanta, I thought, wow, this is a better paper than the one I
grew up with. That was really my introduction to what was then Knight
Newspapers because that was one of the few Knight papers in the 1950s. This
was long before the merger with Ridder.
That planted the idea in my mind that I might want to work for the Knight
organization. In fact, when I was still in Augusta, I had some correspondence
with them and went up to Charlotte and interviewed, and it just didn't work out. I
guess I wasn't offered the job. I don't remember all the particulars. But I did not
go to Charlotte. I went on to Marietta and served there for six years. But I
maintained this interest in Knight, and, of course, the longer I was in the daily
newspaper business, the more I learned about all the newspaper organizations
and learned of Knight's very good reputation, particularly in the news and
editorial field. They were really known as papers that had very high quality news
and editorial presentations. That was the part of newspapering that interested me
most. Of course, that was the only part I was involved in at that stage of my
career. So, I maintained this interest in Knight.
Then, while I was in Marietta, enter Don Carter again into my life. Don, as I
mentioned earlier, had been the city editor of the Atlanta Journal when I was in
school at Georgia and had offered me an internship at that time. Don
subsequently went off and served some time in other [places], with the Wall
Street Journal and the Newspaper Fund and was the first managing editor of the
National Observer, a paper no longer in publication. He was hired by Lee Hills of
Knight Newspapers to come back to Georgia to be the executive editor of the
Macon papers. Shortly after that, at a function at the governor's mansion in
Georgia during the time that Don's cousin, Jimmy [Carter] was the governor of
Georgia [1971-1974; U.S. President, 1977-1981], Don and I were both there
along with other media people learning about, I think, Jimmy's upcoming budget
or something like that. He was presenting it to the press. So, I was able to make
acquaintances again with Don Carter after all these years and talk to him that
night and expressed to him my interest in Knight Newspapers. Although I was
basically happy in Marietta, I didn't think that was my ultimate career destination.
I told Don if he heard of anything in Knight Newspapers that might interest me
and that I might be qualified for, I would like to know.
Well, not long after that, he got in touch with me. It developed that there was a
managing editorship in Macon that came open and about the same time a
managing editorship in Charlotte. I interviewed for both of those jobs and really
thought I might be going to Charlotte, but Byron Harless, who was then the
personnel chief of Knight Newspapers, called me and said that he thought they
needed me more in Macon and that I had a lot of good experience in Georgia,
and so I went to Macon then. That was my first job in Knight Newspapers.
P: That decision was made by Knight Newspapers, as opposed to ... ?
D: Well, I can't be sure, but I got the impression that both Macon and Charlotte were
ready to offer me the job as managing editor and let me decide, and I think Byron
Harless thought that they shouldn't do it that way, that they should decide which
one was going to offer the job, and so then he called me. I think he and the
editors in the two cities sort of worked that out.
P: After that, you went to work for the Columbus Ledger.
D: Right. I was in Macon for [just] two years. During the time I was in Macon, Knight
Newspapers bought the Columbus Ledger and Inquirer, which had been owned
by the [R.W. Page family, Alvah Chapman's mother's family. Knight] bought the
Columbus papers during that time, and then Don Carter, although still the
executive editor in Macon, they had a very small corporate staff at Knight
Newspapers then and they gave Don the additional responsibilities of bringing
the Columbus papers into the organization and working with the editors there.
They decided shortly after that they needed to make some changes in the
editorial management in Columbus, and they asked me to go over there, which
was really a big break in my career. I had taken what some might view as a
backwards step in leaving an editorship to become a managing editor in Macon,
but I thought that it promised better things. Then, when two years later, I got a
chance to become executive editor of two newspapers in Columbus, that was a
big step, a big break for me.
P: Plus, you had a lot to deal with at Fort Benning and the military.
D: Right. That was obviously a very big influence.
P: Did you ever have any expose of what went on in Phenix City, Alabama?
D: That was before my day in Columbus. That was a very big thing and, you know,
the Columbus Ledgerwon a Pulitzer for exposes. I learned after I got to
Columbus that although the Ledger and Enquirer all those years were owned by
the same family, same corporation, the newsrooms actively competed [with each
other]. I knew that was the case. That had been the same story in Augusta when
I worked over there and in Macon. The Columbus Enquirer thought they should
have won the Pulitzer, but the Ledgerwas the one. They both did good work on
Phenix City, bottom line, but the Ledger got the Pulitzer Prize. The Enquirer had
won a Pulitzer in the 1920s when the editor was Julian Harris, the son of Joel
P: He was famous for writing children's tales such as Uncle Remus.
P: When did you come to the Tallahassee Democrat? I understand it was in 1980.
D: 1980, yes. I served in Columbus in the same job, executive editor of the two
papers, for six years, from 1974 to 1980. Coincidentally, about the time I left
Macon and went to Columbus-that was in 1974-that was the year of the merger
of Knight and Ridder. So, our company, during that time, became much larger,
had a larger corporate staff, etc.
Anyway, yes, by 1980, late 1970s, I had enjoyed my time in Columbus, but I was
still in my mid-forties, and I hoped that there was another career move for me
somewhere along the line. At that time, I had no aspiration to be anything more
than an editor. Editor was the ultimate job in newspapers to me. Also, Knight
Newspapers had traditionally had a structure that had no publisher. We had a
general manager who supervised the business operations of the paper and an
executive editor who supervised the editorial and news departments. Neither of
those reported to the other. They both reported to corporate bosses. So, all the
six years I was in Columbus, a fellow named Glenn Vaughn was the general
manager and I was the executive editor, and we both reported to corporate vice
presidents. Of course, we had to work closely with each other and get along, and
we did, but there was no publisher.
P: Was that true throughout the chain?
D: It was true throughout Knight Newspapers before the merger.
P: Except for the Miami Herald? Jim Knight, I think, was the publisher.
D: Yes, well, but that was a titular thing. Well, I guess Jim Knight was at one time
the functioning publisher of the Herald. He lived in Miami for many years. So,
there may have been exceptions, but for the most part, Knight Newspapers did
not have publishers. They had general managers and executive editors.
P: When you came to the Tallahassee Democrat, you came as a [general
D: Yes. I was going to give you a little background. Ridder did have publishers.
Knight essentially bought Ridder, but Ridder had about an equal number of
papers, and they called it, more or less, an equal merger. Immediately, Bernie
Ridder became one of the corporate officers. There was a true merging of the
two companies and the two cultures. Partly because Ridder did have publishers
and partly because, I think, the person who was then Knight Newspapers CEO,
Alvah [H.] Chapman, really preferred the publisher system-in his days before
joining Knight, he had been a publisher. For those two reasons and maybe
others, in the late 1970s, Knight-Ridder Newspapers began to move to the
publisher system. That had happened in several cities. I really had hoped to
move on to be an editor maybe in Charlotte or some larger city than Columbus.
But when they decided to go to the publisher system, one day, Don Carter and
Dick Capen, who were the two vice presidents in Miami whom we reported to in
Columbus, came and sat down with me and told me that they thought I had other
jobs ahead of me but that they [had] a better career path for me than trying to be
an editor of a larger paper. I had spent my whole career on papers about the size
of Columbus and smaller [and they said] that a better path would be to try to
become a publisher, if that interested me.
After consideration and talking about it with my family, I decided that was the
path I wanted to pursue. The whole idea of coming to Tallahassee was to be
general manager. That was kind of arranged. I was technically hired by Gus
Harwell, who was here as publisher at the time, but I know he was strongly
encouraged by the corporate people who were trying to place people like me in
positions to sort of be in publisher training.
P: Publisher-in-waiting, as it were.
D: Right. My wife and I were somewhat reluctant to make that move because we
had already moved around a bit in our lives. It appeared that coming to
Tallahassee meant making not one move but two moves. Probably, I would be
coming here to be in publisher training under Gus for two, three, four years and
then have a chance to move again. Well, the happy ending to the story for me
was that about fifteen months after I [arrived] here, Gus got a chance to be
promoted. He got a promotion to corporate headquarters as vice president. So, I
was his general manager with no responsibilities for the newsroom but learning
about the business side of the paper. Then after he was promoted, I got a
chance to succeed him as president and publisher, which was, again, a big break
P: What is the title president, specifically?
D: That is the corporate title. The working title is publisher, so publisher is the title I
used in town, and I was known generally as the publisher. That is the newspaper
title. But we had corporate offices. There is a Tallahassee Democrat Corporation,
although it is fully owned by Knight-Ridder. I never even attended a board
meeting of the Tallahassee Democrat officers because they were always held in
Miami, and the Knight-Ridder corporate officers, of course, they controlled the
stock... It was just a paper thing.
P: Yes. So, you did that until June of 1997.
D: That is correct.
P: Now, let me ask you some specific questions. When you took over as publisher
of the paper, how did you organize the newsroom, or did you turn that over to
another managing editor or executive editor?
D: There was an executive editor here whom I inherited, Walker Lundy, a graduate
of the University of Florida.
P: I know him.
D: Walker was a very able editor, and he was a strong supporter of my getting the
job, which I appreciated very much. Of course, he and I had worked together as
editors in Knight-Ridder and had gone to meetings together and so forth. Then
we had a year and a half to work together in Tallahassee, and we had a good
relationship. I was happy with Walker as the executive editor.
P: Would you define his job responsibilities?
D: He was responsible for the news and editorial content and staff of the
newspaper. As the publisher, I immediately became a member of the editorial
board. Gus had been a member of the editorial board, and that was generally
true throughout Knight Newspapers. In some Knight-Ridder newspapers, the
editorial page editor reported directly to the publisher. We did not have that
system in Tallahassee, and we never had it during all the years that I was here.
P: But you have it now?
D: That may be true now.
P: There is a woman who is the editor.
D: Mary Ann Lindley. She reports directly to Mike [Pate].
P: I don't know, but she is listed in the masthead as the ...
D: Well, she would have been listed in the masthead, too.
D: I had a close relationship with the editorial page editors. I always backed them. In
my six years of editorial writing in Augusta and my years of writing columns, I
always had a special interest in the editorial page. I loved the editorial pages and
P: Did you write any editorials while you were publisher?
D: I wrote columns on a fairly regular basis. I tried to write every Sunday, but it
worked out to be more like every other Sunday.
P: But no editorials?
D: Maybe one or two or three. I can't remember the subjects, but it seems to me
that I wrote just a handful of editorials over the years, but not on a regular basis.
P: But you would meet with the editorial board and discuss that?
D: Oh, yes, and we genuinely discussed the issues and tried to come to some
P: Which is somewhat unusual, I think, now. I was talking to Diane McFarlin in
Sarasota, and she as the publisher rarely meets with the editorial board. She
may meet with them if they ask her or if she feels like they need to say something
on a particular news topic.
D: Different publishers do that in different ways. My impression is that Mike, my
successor, still meets regularly with the Tallahassee Democrat editorial board.
Sometimes in larger papers, the publisher, for whatever reason, doesn't do that.
Size might not have much to do with it. Diane has an editorial background, and I
would think that she would have great interest in that. But I don't know. It is a
different company, and maybe they do things differently.
P: It varies, I am sure, according to the individual anyway. Now, when you took over
the Tallahassee Democrat, can you give me some idea of what the circulation
was and were there any major problems that you faced when you took over that
paper, either financial or in distribution or staff?
D: The paper was financially very strong. Gus was an excellent manager and had a
substantial profit margin. The paper had good managers. It was basically in good
shape. The paper had recently converted from afternoon to morning publication.
That was just before I came to Tallahassee. It was in 1978, I believe, and I came
here in 1980. So, that was still a relatively new development, and people were
still adjusting to converting to morning publication, which is a big change in
people's work schedules and work habits, and it was a change for readers as
well. In conjunction with that, about a third of the building had been added to add
a new press, so some really major things had happened in Tallahassee prior to
my becoming publisher, and good things. I think the circulation when I started-I
would have to check the records-I believe it was around 40,000 in 1980.
P: How do you view the death of the afternoon newspapers? There were a lot, as
you know, Atlanta had both and in Fort Lauderdale and other cities, they would
D: Oh, I regret it. I liked it in the days when we had morning and afternoon, and I
liked the competition. I know from living it that there really was competition, even
though we all worked for the same company in those cities, where I worked with
morning and afternoon papers. The news staffs genuinely did compete and felt a
keen sense of competition, and I think that served the readers well. Of course,
we all recognized that a number of factors influenced the death of the afternoon
paper, television probably being the biggest of those. The afternoon papers
thrived in the days before TV and in the days of more blue-collar workers when
people generally started to work earlier in the morning and got off at 3:00, 4:00 in
the afternoon and came home and welcomed the chance to sit down with their
afternoon newspapers before they had television and so many channels to
P: When you started out as publisher, did you have any specific goals that you
wanted to achieve while you were in that office?
D: Yes. I loved all of the newspaper and I still do, but I had a background in the
writing end, in news and editorial presentation of the paper, and that was always
the part that interested me most and motivated me most. While I recognized and
loved all the other parts as being integral to the success of newspapers, my
interest in becoming a publisher was motivated in large part by trying to help
improve the news content and editorial content of the paper. In Tallahassee's
case, I felt that, as I mentioned earlier, the paper was very strong business-wise.
I didn't think it was as strong as it should be in news content and editorial
content. It had some very good people here, but I thought more resources
needed to be devoted to that end of the paper. It was particularly apparent in
Tallahassee, being a state capital and having other larger Florida newspapers
sold here and all had bureaus here, so people in Tallahassee were much more
conscious of other Florida papers than people in another city might be. So, we
were constantly being compared, and they probably still are being compared to
St. Petersburg and Miami and Orlando and Tampa and the larger papers that
have representation here and are sold here. That particularly comes in to play, of
course, in covering the state capital because our state capital bureau has to
compete with the bureaus of those larger papers.
P: And covering the legislature is a prime responsibility for the Democrat.
D: Oh, yes. Our readers were and still are constantly pointing it out anytime the St.
Pete[rsburg Times] gets a story before we do or [the] Miami [Herald] or Tampa
[Tribune] or whatever. We can't get them all first, but we certainly should be
competitive, even though we are a smaller paper with fewer resources. People
don't generally think that much about that. They think, well, I pay my quarter or
now fifty cents for their paper just like I do for all the others. They ought to do the
same thing for me.
P: Yes. Well, you have to compete with Lucy Morgan [Tallahassee bureau chief for
the St. Petersburg Times] sometimes.
D: [Laughing.] That is right. So, I thought that a big part of what I had to do was to
try to continue to build on the business success of the paper to provide more
revenue and, therefore, more resources and also to convince my corporate
colleagues that we needed to maybe take not quite as much out in profit and put
a little bit more into building the paper. The thing that gave me the most
satisfaction over the seventeen years that I was at the Democrat was that we
were able to do both of those things. It didn't happen overnight, but in the early
1990s, we had approved, by the top corporate people, Jim Batten and Tony
Ridder at that time, a major improvement plan that expanded the news hole and
expanded the staff at the Democrat.
That was sort of the single biggest event, but it was a series of things over the
years. For example, when I started in 1980, the paper was a standard
two-section newspaper, all black and white. Sports did not have its own section.
It was inside the local section. I don't remember the news hole, but it wasn't very
large. Over the years in the 1980s, we were able to expand to a standard
four-section paper, sometimes more but at least a minimum of four. During the
late 1980s and early 1990s, we added special sections to the point that we had a
special section [every day]. That usually was a tabloid section, one on business,
one on health, one on entertainment, one on families, sports.
P: Yes, I saw today the section was on families.
D: That is right.
P: Now, in the context of competition, I notice that the St. Petersburg Times is for
sale here. It is not for sale in Gainesville. And I notice that there are several
competing papers here, partly because, I assume, that they have permanent staff
D: Well, and they want exposure in state government. They want the top state
officials reading their papers.
P: So, that really is an unusual set of circumstances because by now, most
newspapers are really regional papers so that the Miami Herald no longer brings
papers to Gainesville or Jacksonville, for example. Orlando does. But you are
sort of regionalized, yet you have competition.
D: All the major Florida papers are sold here, and that is what I was referring to
earlier. That makes our competition very visible to all of our readers. Not nearly
all of our readers read all of those papers, but they are at least exposed to them.
P: But your advantage, my presumption would be, on better coverage of local
D: Yes, definitely. Then covering the legislature better and all of state government
better was a major goal of ours and something that we improved over the years,
and I think that they have continued to improve the state government coverage.
P: How important a challenge was television to you as you expanded the
D: Not so much. It was a challenge in advertising, but let me answer first the news
part. News-wise, not a big challenge. We have a strong TV station here, WCTV,
for a market of this size. It totally dominates the television market in this area.
They do a pretty good job for a television station in a city of this size, but they
don't do nearly the local news coverage that the Democrat does. So, we were
able to constantly beat them, I think, and they still do in news coverage. But it is a
strong station and it reaches a lot of people, and, therefore, it appeals to
advertisers and so it's a very, very active advertising competitor. Our market
share of advertising probably was reduced during the time I was there and has
been reduced some more, I think, since I left. It has just been a trend that is true
in most markets around the country. When I started in the newspaper business
and well into my career, in the 1950s and 1960s and maybe even the 1970s, we
used to brag in the newspaper business that nationally, we got more advertising
revenue than radio and TV combined. Well, of course, that hasn't been true now
for a good many years.
P: What are the most important functions of a newspaper?
D: The most important function of any newspaper is providing information that
readers need with an emphasis on local information because there are so many
other information sources nationally, regionally, state and so forth. But being a
lifeline for readers. Providing the information and news that we need in our lives
P: Do you see your paper as an advocate, perhaps, in environmental issues or with
political issues or with issues like abortion?
D: Certainly. The editorial function. I spoke of the news function. The editorial
function goes right along with that, and, yes, as I said, I always loved editorial
pages, and I feel very strongly about the advocacy function of newspapers.
P: How did your audience change from 1980 to 1997?
D: I don't think it changed all that much. Certainly, Tallahassee grew a lot in the
1980s and in the early 1990s, more than it is growing now, I believe,
percentage-wise. With the influx of more people, we certainly got a more
sophisticated readership and less provincial. That probably applied even more in
the 1960s and 1970s in Tallahassee. Tallahassee was a pretty good size town by
the time I came here. But other than that, I don't think the dominant political
philosophy in Tallahassee changed that much. I guess a more sophisticated
audience and a better educated audience over the years [were the biggest
P: How do you get young people to read the newspaper? My experience has been
that very few current college students read a newspaper.
D: Well, that was one of our very largest challenges and remains one of the very
largest challenges for newspapers everywhere and accounts for circulation
declines nationwide as we progress into other generations. We did a lot to try to
reach more young people. We had a very active newspaper in education
program to try to get kids in the elementary, middle and high schools reading the
P: So, you would give away papers to schools and things like that?
D: Yes, we got sponsors for them. No, we didn't give them away. We started out
selling them to the schools. Then when they didn't have the budgets to cover
them, we would sell them for half-price because you could get credit for
circulation if you sold it for half-price or better, but you didn't get any credit if you
didn't. Of course, circulation wasn't the main consideration in newspaper in
education. The main consideration was trying to train a new generation of
readers, but you would like to get the circulation credit as well.
P: It is always the bottom line.
D: Yeah, right. Then later, we got into a very active-I think a lot of newspapers have
this-sponsorship program where we would get businesses to supplement the
newspaper purchase by schools, and then we would recognize them, of course,
in various ways in the community. We also did things like youth pages and high
school pages and all kinds of things, and I think those things worked, but you are
fighting a strong tide of young people who are more interested in television and
computers and video games and lots of other things.
P: Plus, I guess most kids might read the Flambeau before they would read the
D: Well, the Flambeau is no longer in existence, but during the time I was there,
yes, it was, and still they have a paper called FSView. I guess they incorporated
the name of the Flambeau because they bought the Flambeau for competitive
reasons in later years.
Yes, I think that is certainly a factor in a college town that they read the college
paper, but the readership problem is greater than that. It is not just college
students, of course. It is young adults that we face the challenge to get them into
P: How did reporters change from 1980 to 1997?
D: I think they became more inclined to get some of their opinions into the stories
and to want to write columns and editorials, not altogether. But I don't think there
was a recognition that there was when I started in the business of just stick to the
facts in news stories and save the opinions for the editorial page. I think that
began in newspapers before 1980. I think, back in the 1960s and 1970s with the
advent of television and maybe other factors, a lot of us editors started saying
just reporting the facts is not enough because television or other broadcast
media can always beat us to the facts, so we have got to be more analytical. So,
we started putting much more analysis in our news columns and usually labeling
it analysis. But allowing reporters more freedom to, if not express their own
opinions, to get analysis and interpretation and considerations in stories other
than just the facts. I think that continued to spread and, I would say, is still
spreading. Writers tend to get more opinionated. I think that was the biggest
change that occurred over the forty-one years of my career and to some extent
from 1980 to 1997.
P: I think some of them wanted to be Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein
[Washington Post reporters responsible for uncovering the Watergate scandal
that ultimately led to Richard Nixon's resignation as U.S. President].
D: Well, that was a factor, too. That is a good point. It wasn't just television and just
analysis. It was seeing things like the Woodward/Bernstein phenomenon that had
such a big impact on our business.
P: One individual told me he thought that the reporters were better educated and
more sophisticated. This was an old-time publisher, and he said, I can remember
the days when reporters would turn out eight or ten stories a day. He saw a big
difference in that regard.
D: That is a good point, and that is in some ways a function of years and in other
ways it is a function of the size of the paper. It is probably not true in Marietta
now, but when I worked in Marietta, the publisher I worked for, Otis Brumby, a
family owner who is still the publisher of the paper there, laid down the rule at
one point, which I objected to but he was the publisher and I was just the editor.
He laid down the rule that every reporter was expected to write four substantial
stories a day. By the time my career ended, you were lucky if you would get four
a week out of some. Although we still have some older reporters who are very
prolific and who turn out a lot of stories. Yes, that changed a lot. I think to some
extent, that is the function of the size of the paper. I think in Philadelphia and
New York, they have been having lower productivity for many years.
P: How would you rate your newspaper while you were there with comparable
newspapers in the state? I presume the Gainesville Sun and maybe Pensacola
would be pretty close to your ... ?
D: I think we ranked very well. We generally did well in the contests, although
nobody was blowing everybody away. There were some other good papers,
Gainesville, Pensacola, Daytona Beach. But I think we ranked certainly very
competitive, and I would like to think we were the best in that group.
[End of side Al]
P: I was looking at the Tallahassee Democrat today and I think there were five
letters to the editor. When you were publisher, who chose the letters, and how
have they changed over the years?
D: The letters were chosen by the editorial staff. Now they have a letters editor. We
didn't really have anybody with that title during the time I was there. The editorial
page editor and the two associate editors, and, I think, we had what we called a
clerk or something. I guess they have kind of converted that. Anyway, they
decided-I don't think there was any one person but it was the four or five people
who worked on the editorial staff-what letters were published and worked with
the letter writers in cutting them down to size to be published and so forth.
P: How important were they?
D: Oh, I think very important. I think the letters of any paper are very well read, and
that is particularly true in a town like Tallahassee with very strong opinions and
great interest in government. That helps the Democrat totally. It is a good
newspaper town because there are a lot of well-educated people here and a lot
of people who like to read, and I think they are interested in other people's
opinions. You get some very prominent people writing letters to the editor.
P: Would the editorial board ever respond to any of these letters?
D: We tried to hold responses down. I will say that they are still doing that.
Occasionally, we would add an editor's note, but I always said and others I
worked with, I think, agreed that we should exercise that with great discretion.
People shouldn't think that every time they write a letter the newspaper is going
to have the last word.
P: When you presented the editorial page, the left side is editorial opinion. Did you
try to provide alternative views or at least alternative opportunities for people to
write op-ed pieces?
D: Yes, [we] definitely did that, and I think most newspapers [do]. Certainly at the
Democrat, we tried to provide, not to the extent that the USA TODAY does it,
where there is an editorial in the same paper presenting the other side of their
lead editorial, but we over time certainly tried to get views in that represented
other views than our own. One program that we were quite proud of, and I
believe Bill Mansfield, the editorial page editor of the Democrat in the 1980s and
early 1990s, really originated. I know a lot of papers do this now, but he was
really one of the early editors to invite what we call community columnists to write
on a regular basis. That was a very active program. I regret to say that they
haven't continued to keep that on the same level that we did. I think they still
have some group of community columnists who write occasionally, but we had it
going on a very active basis, I think, running as many as three of these a week.
We developed some really good writers. A big thing every year was having
people apply to be community columnists. Although we were selecting only
maybe nine or ten a year, we would get eighty, ninety, sometimes maybe more
applications from people who would sit down and write. We would require them
to send in two or three sample columns. The editorial board and sometimes
including the publisher really spent a lot of time poring over those, trying to pick
out the best and a representative sample of people. So, we were quite proud of
P: You might do something like invite the head of United Way to write a piece about
what United Way was doing?
D: Well, yes. That was different. I mean, the community columnists wrote on a
regular basis and usually weren't prominent citizens, and then, yes, we ran what
we called and they still call, "My Views," in the paper, which is sort of an
adaptation of something, I think, Newsweek Magazine started some years ago,
"My Turn" or something like that.
P: They still do.
D: Yes, and they still do that, and that is still something that is pursued quite
P: How important are editorial endorsements from the Tallahassee Democrat for
political office? I presume you did do that.
D: In national and state races, I think they are pretty insignificant. In other words, I
think in major races like president and governor and even the major local races
like sheriff or mayor or something, the people who vote generally learn enough
about those races to make up their own minds. The lower down the list you get,
the more important the editorial endorsement becomes, in my opinion. That is
true not just in Tallahassee but just generally. I think people don't take the time to
learn about all the city commission races and county commission races and voter
registrar races and all these other offices.
P: Particularly judicial offices.
D: Judicial offices is a good example. I think they tend to look to the paper for some
direction and leadership in those offices. So, the endorsement is sometimes
critical in those races, I think.
P: Would you interview the individuals in these races and then collectively come to
some sort of decision?
D: Yes, and that required a lot of the editorial board's time. When I first started as
publisher, Bill Mansfield and the others who served with him at that time, thought
it was important to have individual interviews with all these candidates. That was
just so demanding in terms of time that I suggested-and I suggested for another
reason, too-that we started to interview them in groups so that we had all the
candidates for mayor, all the candidates for sheriff, or all the candidates for judge
come in. Not only did it save us time, but I liked to see them side by side, and I
thought we could size them up a little better when they were sitting there in the
same room. Then if one made some charge against another candidate, we could
just turn to that candidate and say, what about that? So, we started doing that,
and even that took a lot of time because usually those groups, we had to be with
them at least an hour. During election season, it got to be pretty burdensome but
I thought important. I regret that the Democrat chose [to limit endorsements] in
the last election, and maybe some other papers are making the same decision.
They have cut back on the number of offices [for] which they endorse. The
primary reason they gave was the time constraint, the time required.
P: I don't like labels, but if you had to put a political label on the paper when you
were publisher, was it liberal or conservative? I realize the name Tallahassee
Democrat doesn't necessarily mean that.
D: Oh, it caused a lot of problems for us because it was founded as "little d"
democrat, but people don't think of it that way. I would rather avoid labels, but if I
had to, I would say that we were a liberal paper by local standards, moderate to
liberal by local standards, but by national standards, I would clearly put us in the
moderate category. Tallahassee, by Florida standards, is a liberal city. I mean,
you look at the voting records, and we almost always vote-Gainesville does, too,
I think-for Democratic candidates.
P: Well, the two highest votes that Ralph Nader got in 2000 were in Leon and
Alachua counties. That is a limited number, but I think Al Gore carried Leon, did
D: He did, yes. He carried it by a substantial margin. I don't know when the last
Republican candidate carried Leon. It has been a while. Reagan might have his
P: Although now the entire state government is Republican.
D: That is right, but the people who work for state government and universities and
live in Tallahassee are still predominantly Democratic. I guess the Gore/Bush
[presidential election] is the most recent good example of that. Although Jeb
Bush in his re-election bid lost Leon County, too, and he lost it the first time as
P: To go back to the purpose of a newspaper, do you ever see the newspaper as
being sort of the conscience of the community? I know that is kind of a moral
standard, but did you ever see that as a responsibility that you had?
D: That is a pretty heavy burden to put on a newspaper. I know people sometimes
talked about that, and I guess I liked not to think that that was our responsibility,
to be the conscience of the community, although in certain respects, yes. I think
in terms of being the watchdog in government, we clearly take on that role and
relish that role. In that sense, I think we are the conscience of the community.
P: Let me ask you about editorial cartoonists. Did you have your own editorial
D: We did not, I regret to say. That was one thing that I had hoped that we could do
while I was at the Democrat. I am glad that they now have [Doug] Marlette as a
Democrat cartoonist. He is still syndicated, but this is his home paper now.
P: Is it? Does he live here now?
D: I don't think he is living here. I think he is still living in North Carolina, but he
seems to be drawing more and more for the Democrat. I don't keep count, but he
has cartoons in there several days a week.
P: He was in the paper today.
D: He was in there today, and I think over the year or two that they have had him, it
seems that he is getting into more state and local subjects.
P: Which is what you want a local editorial cartoonist to do. The syndicated ones
have to do national issues.
D: Right. It is a real good addition. The papers I worked for throughout my career
seemed to always be just not quite big enough to afford our own cartoonist. I
guess it was a matter of priorities.
P: The Gainesville Sun has had one for several years, and he is quite good. In fact,
I knew Doug Marlette when he was in Charlotte. He has been syndicated for
twenty-five years, I think. When you were editor, what kind of editorial cartoonist
did you use? Did you use people like Herblock [editorial cartoonist for the
Washington Post], or did you alternate? How did you choose?
D: When I was editor in the Georgia papers and actively involved in production of
the editorial page, we had a selection of cartoons, and we tried to vary the
political flavor over time. Of course, the biggest consideration was to try to be
timely and the cartoons that were good and timely, but we tried not to let them all
be pro this view or anti this view.
P: When you were publisher, did you have any say over what columnists were
picked and, even of greater importance, the comics?
D: Columnists, yes. The editorial board assumed that responsibility of deciding
which columnists ran on a regular basis. Now, the editorial staff, primarily the
editorial page editor and whatever people he assigned to help him, they would
sort things out, and I didn't get involved until the later stages. But I would
sometimes be involved in the selection of columnists. Our effort there was to get
a variety of views and a variety of backgrounds and diversity in terms of females
and races and so forth.
P: So, you might have George Will and Molly Ivins or something like that. I noticed
in the paper today that there were no national columnists that I was aware of.
One was with the Knight-Ridder syndicate, and one was with the Washington
Post, but no major names.
D: The Democrat has moved in that direction. I am not sure about other papers, but
they tend to get columns off the Knight-Ridder news wire or whatever they call it.
They move a lot of things from other Knight-Ridder papers on the Knight-Ridder
Tribune Wire Service. So, I believe they don't buy as many truly syndicated
columns as they used to, and they get more off that and develop some of those
people into regular columnists.
P: Is that a good idea?
D: Well, I regret that they dropped David Broder, who is one of my favorites. [The
Broder column returned to the Democrat shortly after this conversation.] They
do still have [George] Will and they still have Molly Ivins, who is a big name in the
syndicate world. I grew up in the years when there were a handful of really big
names, and I enjoyed that. I like diversity, but I think maybe they have taken it
too far so that if I picked up [the paper] today [and see] somebody I am not
familiar with, I am not as likely to read the column unless it is a subject that really
P: From talking with other editors and publishers, my understanding is that people
not only like to read those individuals, they look forward to them. They know, let's
say, George Will comes Monday, Wednesday, Friday, or twice a week or
whatever, they look forward to reading his column, or whoever it is, Maureen
Dowd, that this is someone they particularly like to read.
D: Right. I think that is an attraction, so in answer to your earlier question, it may be
a mistake, it may not be a good idea, to be moving in that direction.
P: I saw something in the paper today that kind of intrigued me. I don't think I have
seen it before. There is a little section called "Zing." Did you put that in? I guess it
is called "spicy opinion." Do people send in e-mails?
D: Right. That was beginning in some papers when I was still active at the
Democrat. Our editors at one time wanted to start that, and I didn't allow it as
publisher. I did not like the anonymity of those columns, and I feared that people
were going to get away with a lot of cheap shots anonymously and that it really
wasn't fair, that people should sign their names to their opinions, as they do in
letters to the editor. We ought to just do more to encourage the letters column.
So, I was a definite detriment to that ever happening at the Democrat while I was
Sometime after I left, not immediately but some years after I left, they started this
Zing column. I must say that I do read it, and I think that it has worked out pretty
well. I have no idea what they get in terms of the unpublished Zings, but they
seem to be doing a good job of keeping cheap shots out. It has turned into a nice
addition to the page, I think, for the most part being kind of a humorous
[commentary], not-lighthearted because there are some pretty heavy hitting in
there. It is mostly people whom we consider fair targets, like the president, the
P: I noticed there were a couple of shots that were not particularly mean-spirited.
D: Yes. I think they have taken out the more mean-spirited ones. If somebody writes
something about a private citizen or a lesser-known, they don't publish those
kinds of things. So, I think they have done a pretty good job of selecting the Zings
to be published. If I would have it to do over again, I still don't know whether I
would allow it in my newspaper or not. It is entertainment, I think, more than
P: Is that one of the changes and/or problems with newspapers? They are getting
more into the entertainment business than the news business?
D: I don't think newspapers are particularly guilty of that, no. I think television is
clearly getting into more entertainment. Speaking strictly of editorial pages, I think
they still need more humor. Humor doesn't equate to entertainment always. I
think one redeeming factor of Zing is that although it is not intended to be a
humor column, people get off some pretty clever lines, and it is a different
approach and it provides a little change of pace and, in a sense, humor. They
also carry a syndicated humor columnist from time to time, but there are just not
many of those around. Humor is difficult to write, I know, but I wish we had more
P: Do you carry Dave Barry at all?
D: They do carry Dave Barry in the features section, not on the editorial page. Yes,
Barry is carried on Sunday on a regular basis here.
P: When you were a publisher, how much investigative journalism did you do?
D: We did a fair amount for a paper of our size. We tried to always have one
reporter whose primary role was investigative and was given enough time to do
investigative projects. I felt and still feel very strongly about that. I think that is a
very important role of newspapers, in terms of the watchdog function and also in
terms of the competition with the broadcast media and other newspapers, to be
able to do investigation. There is so much that needs to be investigated, and I
don't mean that we are a corrupt society, but I mean there are lots of things
around that ought to be [investigated]. It is not always investigating wrongdoing
but investigating and getting depth out of our public institutions that we too often
P: I remember Tippen Davidson telling me that in Daytona, they did a series of
exposes of restaurants that were violating health codes, which is important, and
some environmental problems and some issues of poverty and roads that
needed repair. There are a lot of things that are out there in this realm of
D: One of our most prominent ones when I was publisher was investigating the
sheriff's office and some of the abuses of the local sheriff's office. It was a
different sheriff from the one we have now, but I think it really made a difference.
P: He eventually had to resign, did he not, or was defeated?
D: No. He subsequently retired, probably earlier than he would have otherwise.
P: I look at, for example, the Enron scandal, and two business reporters literally
uncovered that scandal which then unraveled all across the business world. This
was a major, major story. I am sure in terms of the Democrat, what goes on in
the state is of comparable importance. Let's look, for example, at child welfare,
there were a series of missteps by the state in terms of childcare. Would these
be the kinds of things you would want to pursue?
D: Oh, yes. I think all Florida papers are guilty to some degree in letting the child
welfare thing go on as long as it did. I mean, it is not just the newspapers. The
agencies are primarily responsible, but no Florida paper, to my knowledge,
investigated that sufficiently for many, many years. It might not have gotten into
the shape that it did had a newspaper been more aggressive in looking into that.
So, yes, that is a prime example, that kind of thing. There are lots of agencies in
state government that don't get a lot of attention, and they need more attention.
Of course, the big challenge for papers always is to take limited resources and
try to do these things. You can't take on everything, especially on a paper of this
size. We were always stretched to do what we would like to do in terms of all the
things we needed to cover. Just as an example, and I don't think there is any
great wrongdoing there, but we have a civic center authority here that has just
been covered off and on through the years, and they handle a lot of public money
through the various universities and local governments that finance the civic
center. That is just one example.
We do a very good job of covering city commission and county commission
meetings and the major local government, the school board and things like that,
but there are lots of other things that need more delving into. Of course,
newspaper reporters are generally not trained accountants or they are not trained
lawyers. So that is another problem, that a lot of those areas you get into, you
really need some knowledge of law or accounting.
P: As publisher, how would you have reacted to the current story where FSU
President T. K. Wetherell has apparently intervened in a case where a Florida
football player was accused of rape?
D: I would have encouraged our newsroom to be very aggressive in trying to find
out everything they can about that. I hope there were no sacred cows when I was
at the Democrat, and certainly if there was going to be a sacred cow, FSU and
FSU football would be one in this town.
We did have a case. I wasn't really functionally involved in it, but back about the
time I became publisher, back in the early 1980s, the Democrat under Walker
Lundy's editorship was very aggressive in reporting front page for days at a time
about questionable finances at FSU. I don't remember the details of all that, but it
appeared. It wasn't so much misappropriation of funds. It was just loose
handling, as I recall. The state got interested. I don't remember whether they got
interested before or after we did. Anyway, the paper, although you might think
that a Tallahassee paper would be reluctant to be real aggressive in going after
FSU, it went after it pretty aggressively, and I would hope that they would do the
same thing in this case you are talking about.
P: Newspapers, from what I can determine, with maybe the exception of the New
York Times and the Washington Post and L. A. Times, the major papers, are
doing much less work on investigative journalism. As you indicated, it is
time-consuming and it is costly.
D: Of the papers I read, I would say that is true, yes.
P: Is that something that you regret?
D: I do regret it. There are a number of reasons for that, but, certainly, one reason
for it is something we haven't talked much about in this conversation yet, [which]
is corporate journalism and the heavy influence of Wall Street on operation of
newspapers through demanding more and more profits from newspaper
P: I presume that Knight-Ridder would come to you and give you a budget every
year and expect you to meet that target.
D: Right. They would give me a general target, and then I would submit a budget.
My management team and I would submit a budget, and we would negotiate
about it. They would wind up dictating what the bottom line finally was. Yes, that
is the way it works in corporations, including newspaper corporations.
P: Carl Hiaasen told me that Tony Ridder came to the Miami Herald and said, 25
percent. I can quote Carl. He said, I know cocaine dealers don't make that good
a percentage. That is really a very high profit margin.
D: Newspapers have high profit margins. Of course, that is a pretax, pre-corporate
overhead profit margin. That is your operating profit margin that he is talking
about, and then later corporate has to take out its expenses and they have to pay
the taxes. We didn't have any line in local [budgets] for the federal taxes. But still,
it is a high margin. You know, it was well-publicized what happened to Jay Harris
in San Jose, and there were other less publicized cases in Knight-Ridder of
people who left or complained bitterly or whatever about the emphasis, and the
march goes on. I mean, they are demanding greater profit margins now than they
were when I was there.
P: And so I notice a lot of newspapers have smaller sized papers, they are dropping
pages, they are firing reporters, they are cutting back on expenses in general.
D: That is happening all over.
P: And does that not affect the quality of the newspaper?
D: Oh, it absolutely does. There is just no way around it. It absolutely does. I mean,
the Democrat, no fault of the local management, in my opinion, I am sure they
are being squeezed. The corporation is demanding a higher profit. I know for a
fact they are demanding higher profit margins. I don't know all the details, but I
know that Knight-Ridder Newspapers, throughout the corporation, are
demanding higher profit margins. Just recently, the stock market listings have
been reduced here. They said by half. It seems to me more than half but [it is] a
major cut in the stock market listings. They made some other changes. The
television book, which used to be a quarter-fold book that was stitched and
would hold together--now is a tabloid that comes apart when you open it up, and
it has gotten a lot of complaint from readers. They did that as a cost measure
because they can produce the tabloid section on the press considerably cheaper
over a year's time and save quite a bit of money.
P: So, is much of this stock driven?
D: I think so. I think it is stock market and Wall Street driven. Now, Tony Ridder
would say-and he may be right, he knows more about it than I do-that they have
to do this to avoid being vulnerable to a takeover, seeing the stock market price
drop and being a weaker corporation and therefore more vulnerable to takeover
by a company that would be even more profit driven than Knight-Ridder is. There
certainly are companies out there like that. I mean, we do still have high news
values in Knight-Ridder, but it is certainly a different company than it was when I
started in terms of the balance of values, in my opinion.
P: Is that true for all the other chains, the New York Times and the Chicago
D: I think it is.
P: Is that why there are so few independent papers? Even weekly papers, there are
just not a lot. The most prominent, of course, is the St. Petersburg Times, and
that is only because of Nelson Poynter who organized it that way. Do you see the
whole concept of conglomerate journalism as sort of undermining the quality of
D: Well, I wouldn't say that because in my lifetime, I saw what I would say are two
major somewhat countervailing trends in that regard. I saw a lot of newspapers,
including some in Georgia where I grew up and I know a lot about, where
corporate ownership improved the newspapers, and I felt like I was a part of that.
I think when first Knight and then Knight-Ridder bought the papers in Macon and
Columbus, they definitely made those papers better than they had been under
their individual local owners because the local owners, not for Wall Street
reasons but for, I guess, their own selfish reasons squeezed those papers tight
and got a lot of profit out of them, too, over the years. Then the corporations were
able to bring certain corporate efficiencies in and primarily bring an expertise that
hadn't existed before, and I hope I was a part of that in places like Macon and
Columbus that the papers really improved.
It seems to me in later years-and I don't understand all the reasons on Wall
Street or in the stock market or in the big business corporate financial world of
this country-that the corporations have felt themselves under more and more
pressure to produce greater and greater profits. That is probably true in all
businesses, not just the newspaper business. Then there is a certain competition
in newspapers. I mean, Gannett, for example, has been demanding higher profit
margins from their papers than Knight-Ridder. We used to say in Knight-Ridder,
you know, we were the [company] that cared about the news quality. That was
generally our perception, and I hope it still is in the business, that we produced
better quality papers than Gannett, although they produce higher profit margins.
Tribune was also known as a company that generally had high news and editorial
standards. Anyway, it seems that now everybody says, well, if Gannett can do it,
why can't you do it, or if [Rupert] Murdoch can do it, why can't you do it?
P: Speaking of Gannett, I know when they took over the Pensacola paper, they
completely revamped the newsroom, put in new technology, new computers. The
New York Times [corporation] did the same thing for the Sarasota Herald.
D: There certainly were a lot of improvements made originally by corporate owners.
You ask about so many papers being part of corporations. Of course, almost all
papers, with a few exceptions like St. Pete, are now. Big newspaper companies
in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s were paying top dollar to buy these papers
because they knew they could put these efficiencies in and that they could make
even more money. Newspapers were a very profitable business and still are,
despite all the competition that exists out there that didn't always exist.
P: Did Knight-Ridder ever try to influence you in any of your editorials or any of your
D: No, they did not. I can say that without qualification. That was strictly a hands off
corporate policy. I will tell you a little anecdote. We had an editors' meeting back
when I was still in Columbus as the editor. We were meeting with some of the
corporate staff in just a regular editors' meeting that we held periodically to
compare notes and talk about things, you know, here is what we are doing and
you might find this [helpful]. An editor from North Dakota who was particularly
interested in some agricultural issue made a little speech about how we could all
help if we would get behind Congress to do so and so. Before he got through, the
corporate vice president intervened and said, now, you are not suggesting
anything like a corporate editorial policy, are you? And that was the end of that
conversation. In other words, don't go there. And probably the best evidence of
that during my time [is], and still, I guess, papers in Knight-Ridder in a
presidential race go all kinds of ways. Some endorse the Republican, some
endorse the Democrat, some don't endorse at all or they endorse through
varying levels of enthusiasm et cetera.
P: Did you ever have a problem from any advertisers as a result of some editorial or
some article you published?
D: Absolutely. A number of times. With some frequency, I guess you would say. We
had some really major incidents where advertisers got together and threatened to
boycott. Real estate advertisers, I believe, during the time I was there, or
automotive, or maybe both. Those tended to be mostly local advertisers and
didn't have the more sophisticated view of newspapers that generally department
stores and others who were parts of big national groups. Some of them
sometimes felt-I certainly would not say that all of them did-that they spent so
much money that they should be able to control the newspaper. Oh, yes, I had to
deal with advertisers who felt that they had been wronged in the news columns
or who wanted to influence the news columns. That was a major factor in my life,
P: Did you meet with them?
D: I would try to meet with them as the publisher and listen them out. I remember a
couple of occasions when we had editors meet with them because I thought they
had some legitimate reasons. There was an example I remember. Sometimes
editors, they don't do it to deliberately hurt the local merchants but sometimes
they do it just unthinking. Like we published a big full-page cover feature in our
Living section or something one time about how you could buy your furniture
directly from the dealers in North Carolina. There is nothing wrong with saying
that in the paper, but it was like we were advocating that this was the way to do it
and there was no other way. We did not present the disadvantages to that
system, so, of course, the furniture dealers were just outraged, our furniture
advertisers. As I recall, on that occasion, I allowed the furniture dealers to come
into the paper and sit down with the editors and explain their position. You know,
it didn't get into a shouting match, but they obviously felt very intensely about
this. I think we might have published a subsequent feature which sort of gave the
P: A little more balanced view. Of course, the bottom line in a sense is that even
with television, particularly for automobile dealers, the newspaper is probably
their best source for advertising, is it not?
D: We certainly thought so.
P: They probably need you as much as you need them.
D: Oh, yes. That is right. We knew that, but we did not want to be so haughty and
arrogant that we said, you just go take a hike and you'll be back. We tried to
listen them out but knowing in the back of our minds that they needed us as
much as we needed them, sure.
P: What was your biggest source of advertising when you were publishing?
D: In terms of a category?
P: Yes, just in general, automobiles, department stores.
D: Department stores, and particularly during the time that we had both Gayfers and
Dillard's. After Dillard's came to town in the early 1990s, that was a big boon to
us because we already had Gayfers here. Gayfers had a big store, and then
Dillard's came in. We had others like Sears and [JC] Penney.
P: And they would take full-page ads.
D: They ran a lot of full-page ads, and they had the biggest contracts. Now,
automotive was big as a category, and it may even be bigger now. Of course,
Dillard's is the parent company of Gayfers, so it is all one. There is no Gayfers
anymore in Tallahassee. There are just two Dillard's stores, [which] effectively
cut their department store revenue by a big margin. Automotive, in the meantime,
has come on strong in recent years, so it may well be that is the strongest
category right now.
P: One of the things I think you demonstrate by your membership in several
community organizations, United Way, Economic Club, the Capital Cultural
Center and so forth, is the publisher's responsibility of being involved in
D: Right. I felt strongly that a publisher, not necessarily an editor and probably not a
reporter, but a publisher as the head of the company should be active in the
community, particularly [because], due to the nature of Tallahassee, we are one
of the largest private employers in town. Even as publisher, I had to watch that. I
didn't want to get into a situation where I was dealing with anything like a quasi-
government organization or anything that was so much in the news. For
example, although many publishers have done this, I chose not to serve on the
chamber of commerce board and be chairman of the chamber, which I could
have done. I certainly had a chance to serve on the board, and I probably could
have ultimately been chairman if I had chosen that route, but I felt it was enough
of an advocacy organization in the community that I shouldn't be a part of that, in
addition to which sometimes they were privy to things that they were keeping out
of the paper, like an industry that might be looking at Tallahassee. I just didn't
want to get in that situation where I had to keep things from my own newsroom.
P: You didn't want any conflict of interests at all.
D: I didn't want any conflict of interests, so the organizations I was active in were not
like that. The Economic Club, I enjoyed it, still enjoy it, but it was basically a
meeting and eating club and brought some interesting speakers to town, but it
didn't make policy. So, I avoided policy-making organizations. Once in Georgia, I
was invited by the Speaker of the House or President of the Senate to be on a
state ethics commission, and I declined that. I did not think that was appropriate
for a newspaper editor to do that. You have to watch those kinds of things. Some
newspaper editors and publishers just say they shouldn't join anything, but I have
never felt that way.
P: And some I have talked to are even more active.
D: That is right. Some are.
P: They get involved in politics and everything.
D: Right. I never got involved in politics. I have gotten involved a little bit since I
have retired, in terms of contributing to campaigns and being a little bit active in
campaigns. I did none of that as publisher.
P: Tell me how technology changed your newspaper from 1980 to 1997.
D: Primarily in the way that the pre-press pages were prepared. This changed even
more since I have retired. They have gone to so-called pagination where
everything is done on computers. I guess the biggest change, although we had a
word processing system that produced stories and we did the editing in it in
1980, we got a much more sophisticated system in about the mid-1980s here, so
that was certainly a step up in terms of computer production of stories and
editing. But we continued all the time I was there to turn the type out, black type
on paper and wax on the back and stick it down on the pages, we continued to
do that throughout the time I was there. Since then, they have gone to the full
pagination where they do the pages on the screen and turn out full pages at a
time. We were already offset, so, you know, not the biggest changes. The
biggest changes, in terms of technology, came in my career in other cities. I
mean, I was still in Georgia when the computerized ...
P: Hot type?
D: Oh, yes. When we made the big change from hot type to cold type, that was
earlier in my career, yes. Although that was still happening in some of the larger
papers in the 1980s. Tallahassee was already fully cold type.
P: And that was partly through the conglomerate? Do you think that Knight-Ridder
wanted to update the technology throughout their system?
D: Yes, although that probably would have happened with a private owner, in all
honesty. I think that was happening in privately-owned papers as well as
corporately-owned papers in the 1970s and 1980s.
P: How did the new technology affect your coverage of the news? Obviously it is
more efficient and it is faster, but did it affect at all how you cover the news?
D: That is a good question. I think it affected how we edited the stories more than
the way we covered. It didn't really affect the reporter's life that much, but once
they wrote their stories, then you could involve more editors more conveniently in
terms of looking at [the copy].
[End of side A2]
D: We did not have the luxury of having lots of editors, but between the managing
editor, city editor, news editor, assistant city editors and so forth, it was much
easier to pass stories around. I would like to think we caught more errors that
way, and more questions were raised, and the writing was honed. So, the whole
editing process was better with the computerized writing and editing.
P: When you made errors in the newspaper, where and how would you correct the
D: We went through several phases of that. At one time, we were determined to
correct the errors on the same page where they were made. So, if an error was
made on the front page, we would run a little correction. If the error was made in
the top story, we wouldn't necessarily put the correction at the top of the page,
but we would insist on it being on the same page. Then at other times, we did it
in the same section. We said if was an error in a local story, we would make sure
it got into the local [section]. If it was on the editorial page, we would put it there,
and so forth. Probably during my career, we did what many papers do now,
which is to group all the corrections in one place in the paper.
I don't think there is any perfect way to do that. I do think the newspapers ought
to feel a special responsibility if it is a error made in a headline or on the front
page or involving a photo. I think it ought to be more than just a two-line standard
body type correction somewhere in the paper, and I see that sometimes. I think
that each one, in a sense, has to be judged on its own, although you need some
kind of standard policy. But if it is a really major error, one that got a lot of
attention, then you should try to draw some attention to the correction as well.
P: Normally would you get phone calls or e-mails that said, look, you spelled my
name wrong, or the serial killer has been misidentified? If you made an egregious
error, someone would let you know?
D: That was usually the case. Sometimes I would notice it myself because I was out
in the community a lot and knew a lot of people. If we ran a picture with the
wrong cut line under it, I might recognize that, well, that is not that guy, and
called it to the attention of the newsroom. But usually, somebody involved in the
story will call it to your attention. We did some spot checking pretty regularly
throughout my time as publisher of the Democrat. We developed a form that we
would send to sources who were quoted in a story that just asked basic
questions like, was your quote accurate? Did you think the story reflected the
facts in the case?
P: This was after it was published, right?
D: That was after, and that is more of a check to see how good your accuracy is,
and our record was pretty good on those.
P: Obviously, a newspaper can't correct all the errors in any newspaper. I was
reading a newspaper recently. I read one page of the newspaper, and I came up
with ten errors, either of fact or grammar or typographical. I look at it a little bit
differently as an academic, and there are, to my mind, too many errors in
newspapers today. I was wondering if that is a manpower problem, or is it a
problem of just less attention to detail?
D: I think there are actually more errors in newspapers today, and I will give you at
least one major reason for that. When we were still in hot type and everything
was being set on the linotype, you had another chance for the error because you
had to so-call re-keyboard or retype all of the [text]. The reporter typed it the first
time, and then the linotype operator had to do it the second time. Even if you
caught all or most of the reporter's [mistakes] in the editing process, then you
had them happening in the linotype. Newspapers recognized that we had to have
proofreaders, and all newspapers had a group of proofreaders who usually
worked in the production department because they were primarily to catch the
linotype operators' errors. But they also caught some reporters' errors, and they
were generally good grammarians and well educated people, and they did a
good job. I knew a lot of good proofreaders in my day.
When we went to cold type and we went to computerized typesetting, people
said, oh, well, now what you see on the screen is what you get. There is no
re-keyboarding, so the editors are going to be perfect and they won't let any
errors go through, so we won't need proofreaders anymore. So, newspapers for
the most part, including the Democrat while I was there, did not have
proofreaders, and I think that is generally true of newspapers today. As a result,
that is one of the reasons we get more errors all the way through the paper.
P: Doesn't that undermine your credibility to some degree?
D: Yes, I think it does. Papers have decided that would rather put their resources
P: One publisher told me that he had hired retired English teachers and had literally
re-instituted a proofreading section for the newspaper.
D: I did never do that, I regret to say, but I thought about that very seriously when I
was publisher, of re-instituting the proofreading in some way. It was just always a
budget battle, and I hated to give up a reporter position or some other position to
do that. Then we just never decided to do it.
P: He said the good news is that they found a lot of errors, and the bad news was
that they found a lot of errors.
D: Yes. I share his views.
P: What do you think of this new concept of the converged newsroom? Media
General, for example, owns the Tampa Tribune and owns the station. I think it is
WFLA. They have a pretty powerful command of information in the Tampa area,
and their theory was that if the newsrooms are merged that the TV can use
reports by the newspaper staff and vice versa. Do you see that as the coming
D: I am afraid [so]. For business and corporate reasons, I do see it as the coming
trend, but for journalistic reasons that I go back to, I don't think it is a good idea. I
regret to see that. I am opposed to the relaxing of the FCC rules. I think that is a
bad idea. I think that it is not good for one company to own the newspapers and
the TV stations in the same market.
P: Rupert Murdoch [Australian media magnate] might end up owning all of them.
D: That is right. He might. And if not Rupert Murdoch, it could be somebody else
from out of this country. You can't tell what is going up and down the road.
P: What about some of the other developments, like web sites for newspapers? Do
you see that as a positive change, or do you expect at some point that we will no
longer have a newspaper as it currently exists and that people will either be
reading off monitors or printing out the sports section, which is all they want to
D: Of course, all of us in the newspapers in the last ten, fifteen years have given a
lot of thought to that subject. My own theory is that newspapers in something
resembling their current form, printed form, will be around for a long time and will
not be displaced by reading it on the screen. I recognize that to some extent,
reading it on the screen already happens, and I do it myself. I enjoy being able to
read newspapers that I can't go out and buy in Tallahassee. But still, if I could get
them, if I could get the New York Times delivered to my house everyday, I would
rather do that than read it on my monitor. I do have it delivered on Sunday, which
is the only day I can have it delivered. But I can't read all the newspapers I would
like to read, so I like to check the Washington Post, where my son works now,
and other papers, the Atlanta papers, because of my interest in Georgia, on the
P: But you would check out editorials or specific sections?
D: Specific things. I wouldn't want to try to read the whole newspaper on the screen.
There is just too much to go through. I am not a computer whiz, but even
somebody who is faster than I am on the computer would have a hard time going
through the whole paper on the computer. I think that web sites were something
that newspapers had to get into, and they did do that while I was still active, and,
of course, they have continued and accelerated that move. I think that was
necessary, if nothing else than as a defensive move. We did not know where the
Internet was going. We still really don't know where it is going in terms of being
an information provider of the kind that newspapers are. I think it would have
been a big mistake for newspapers to say, well, people are not going to do that
and we are not going to worry about the Internet and we are just going to go our
own way. I think that newspapers were smart to establish their own web sites
and try to make them profitable. I guess most of them still are not, although I am
not up to date on that. There is a fair amount of advertising on some newspapers'
web sites. I don't know whether they are covering the cost of the Internet
production or not.
P: Some newspapers are starting to offer high speed Internet access, starting to
branch out in competition with other communications companies like Bell South.
Some people in the newspaper business see that in the future.
D: Well, that may well happen. You know, I certainly don't claim to be the best
authority on what the future holds in that field. I don't blame anybody for
exploring possibilities. I guess that I am old-fashioned, and partly it is because of
what I want to happen. I just think there is so much value in the portability of
newspapers and the habit [they form]. It is just so much easier to read. At least, it
is for me. Maybe the new generation won't find it that way.
P: Plus, I think one of the benefits, and this is from talking with other editors and
publishers, is that the newspaper organizes all that material for you. You don't
have to search. If you just want to read the editorials, you know where to go.
Plus, with the front page or international news or whatever it is...
D: Of course, it is organized on newspaper web sites, too, in something of the same
P: But it is somehow easier to turn the page.
D: Easier for me to, yes.
P: How did the status of women change on the newspaper, and did you go out of
your way to try to hire more women and promote them?
D: I will tell you a story. My wife [and I] met at Georgia in the early 1950s. She came
to Georgia from Commerce, Georgia, to study journalism, started out as a
journalism major. A professor we both knew quite well at the time, both took
some courses under him, in a counseling session with him one day, they were
talking about her future, I guess. She was still a sophomore or something. He
said, you know, you may want to consider getting your major in something else
because a lot of newspapers already have their women reporters. I mean, in
those days, it was like if you didn't work on the women's page staff, there might
be one token woman in the newsroom, and it was almost literally that way. There
were not nearly the opportunities, which of course is the point of the story. She
wound up changing her major to home economics and minoring in journalism,
and she did some newspaper work later.
Anyway, there was a vast change. When I wrote some columns at the end [of my
career] when I was retiring, I sort of reviewed my career in three or four columns
in the last month I was at the Democrat. I said something to the effect that the
biggest change-I was speaking of societal change and not just newspaper
change-the two biggest societal changes I thought in my newspaper lifetime
were in the status of women and the status of minorities, primarily blacks in the
South. But as far as [in the] newspaper, yes. One of your questions was, did we
deliberately diversify? I think at one point, we did. I don't know exactly when that
point would have been. I guess in the 1960s, early 1970s, we were seeking more
women for the newsrooms. Later, and I think continuing now, there was a much
greater supply of women. Journalism schools are populated more by women
than by men now. I know that is true in the journalism schools I am familiar with,
and I think it is for most of them.
P: While we are on that subject, how important is journalism education for a career
D: Certainly, not essential. Many good newspaper people I worked with over the
years and [whom] I know now did not graduate from journalism school. They got
a liberal arts education or they got a legal education or they got some other kind
of education and either did that knowing they were going into newspapers or
decided later to change to newspapers. It is certainly not essential. I always felt
that it was an advantage for me. I knew what I wanted to do before I went to
college, and I stayed with it. I didn't think that the course work in the journalism
school was as important to my career as the contacts that I made by virtue of
being in the journalism school. The exposure to journalists who came in to be
guest lecturers or to the attend the institutes that Dean John Drewry used to have
as the dean of journalism at Georgia and the opportunity for internships and
things like that [where] you learn a lot about the newspaper business, the very
practical things about it, and you develop professional contacts while you are still
in school. Some of those really paid off for me, so in that sense, I thought it was
very important. I thought the course work was less important, although, you
know, it helped to have courses in subjects like libel and history of newspapers
and writing and reporting and reporting techniques and things like that.
P: Let me go back to minorities. In that category, did you make a concerted effort to
hire more African-Americans?
D: Absolutely. We did, particularly in Tallahassee. We did that some in my career
earlier, but in Tallahassee, one of the things that we did [was], Walker Lundy,
[who], again, was the idea person behind this, [and] I had a lot to do with
maintaining and building on his original idea, he came up with the idea of an
extensive internship [program] with Florida A&M's journalism school, taking
advantage of the fact that they were right here in town, and had minority students
learning journalism out there. He and Dean Bob Ruggles, who was the dean of
the Florida A&M Journalism School, started in the early 1980s a very extensive
internship program which brought, maybe, five or six interns to our newsroom
every semester. Of course, we didn't wind up hiring all of those by any means.
We couldn't have, but it did help us make contacts that led to some permanent
hires. In the meantime, it brought black faces into our newsroom and a minority
presence much greater than we had before.
P: Talk about your relationship with the Florida Press Association. I know you were
president in 1987 and 1988. While you were president, there were several major
issues you had to confront. Would you comment on those?
D: It was an unusually active year for the Florida Press Association. The thing that I
guess I remember best and that I am proudest of was the fact that it happened to
be the year that the Florida press building in Tallahassee where the newspaper
bureaus had been housed down behind the capitol on two city blocks, the city
bought all that property and turned it into what is now Kleman Plaza, a huge
underground parking lot and buildings on top of that. So, the building that the five
newspaper owners had acquired and used as the Florida press building was no
longer, and there was a real possibility-when I became president, this had
already happened-the bureaus were scrambling to find new homes and very little
was being done to try to keep them together. I guess it was fortuitous, I hope it
was fortuitous, that a Tallahassee publisher became president of the Press
Association at that time. Of course, I was here in town, and I felt that was very
important. Some of the bureau people felt that it was very important that they
stay together, although we lost of couple of them who had already made
commitments to other buildings.
Dick Shelton, [then the] executive of the Florida Press Association, and I got
busy and looked at a lot of downtown property and wound up finding a site and a
builder and making a plan that turned into a new Florida press building here, and
it is still the home of most of the bureaus in Tallahassee. One thing that makes
me feel so good about the fact that we were able to keep most of the bureaus
together and build a building is that subsequently, quite a few years after I was
president of the Press Association, the Association was able to buy the building.
The original building that we had to abandon, where [Kleman] Plaza is now, was
owned by five newspaper companies in Florida who were the joint owners
because the Press Association didn't have the money to be the owner in those
days. Even in 1987, when we were making the change, we couldn't finance the
whole building ourselves, so the owners remained the same for some years after
that. But then, subsequently, they were willing to sell their interests to the Press
Association, and the Press Association did well enough through some of its
advertising programs that it was able [to purchase the building]. It is probably still
paying for the building, but anyway, it is the owner now. So, it is a permanent
property, and it made the Press Association much stronger, I think.
P: Also while you were president, they set up the Florida Newspaper Hall of Fame.
D: That was established. During that period, I was on the board. I think maybe it
was during the year I was president, or we started the ball rolling during that year
and it got established the next year. Somewhere in that period of the late 1980s,
the Hall of Fame was started, yes.
P: Also, I think, during that period of time when Bob Martinez was governor
[1987-1991], there was this big issue about the sales tax, and that directly
D: Indeed it did, and that was probably the thing that required the greatest amount
of time for me as president in terms of the time I spent in official duties as
president of the Press Association. We changed officers as they still do, I think,
at the June convention. I believe it was in 1987 in June, and that was Martinez's
first year in office, and that was the year that they passed the sales tax on
services. At Martinez's behest, the legislature passed the sales tax on services
[act] that was in effect from, I guess, something like April of 1987 until later that
year. Newspapers naturally opposed that very vigorously. Newspapers as a
business opposed it vigorously. Not all newspapers opposed it on their editorial
pages, and that is a story in itself because that created some real divisions in the
newspaper business in Florida. But the Florida Press Association representing
the business interests of Florida newspapers opposed the sales tax on
Then, by the time I became president, I think the law had already been passed,
so my major emphasis during my time was trying to work with those
implementing the laws as to how it was going to be applied and how actually a
sales tax on advertising would be applied and to try to make sure that if our
advertising in Florida newspapers was going to be taxed that all the advertising
coming into Florida from out of state-out-of-state newspapers and magazines
and all that-got taxed, too. We had a lot of conferences with tax officials in those
Newspapers continued to be unhappy about it, but as you may recall, the
television industry was particularly outraged about the sales tax on advertising,
and it really applied heavy pressure in the fall of 1987. There was a lot of talk
about conventions boycotting Florida, and a lot of other things came into play that
led Martinez ultimately to back down and urge legislature to abandon the sales
tax on advertising later that year. It actually never became effective. It was to
become effective in, I think, January of 1988, and it never became effective.
P: I presume the Democrat was editorially opposed to the tax?
D: I would have to go back and see exactly what we said. I am afraid that wasn't our
proudest moment. There was a real division on the editorial board because Bill
Mansfield thought that we, like the St. Petersburg Times, should say that the
state needed the money and the sales tax should be applied to all services
including advertising, even though it was going to hit our pocketbooks.
As both the publisher and later that year the president of the Press Association,
and even while it was being considered, I was an officer of the Press Association,
I was really torn about it because I could see the Mansfield/St. Petersburg Times
argument and I agreed that the state needed more money, but I did think that
there were legitimate concerns about the way it was going to be applied. I didn't
see how all advertising coming into the state could get equal treatment with that
in the state. I thought it was going to be unfair to Florida newspapers and to other
Florida publications and television stations because I didn't think that the tax
could be applied to everything out of state. So, I know I was opposed to it. Bill
was in favor [of it].
I think we did some waffling on the editorial pages, to be frank about it. I don't
remember exactly how we came down. We tried not to be hypocrites, but it was a
P: I think people now think that, at the very least, some of the exemptions should be
D: I continue to think that, yes. Whether it ought to be applied to advertising and
lawyers' fees and accountants' fees, I am not sure, but some of the more remote
exemptions, I think, clearly ought to be removed.
P: Let me get you to briefly give me a thumbnail sketch of your appraisal of a couple
of Florida governors whom you would have observed pretty closely. Lawton
D: I thought Chiles was a very good governor. I admired his strong stand on fiscal
matters in both Washington and Tallahassee, and I thought he was a very
effective governor. I thought he related to the Florida people, and they related to
him. He helped education during his time as governor. He was not a governor
who made nearly as many changes as [Reubin] Askew [1971-1979] did and
[Bob] Graham [1979-1987] did, but I thought he built basically on what Graham
had started in terms of education and social service.
P: What did you think of Bob Graham?
D: Not strong at the beginning but came on, and in the last six of his eight years, I
thought he was a very strong governor and a very good governor. I think he is a
good public official.
P: Jeb Bush.
D: My philosophy is different from Governor Bush [1999-present (2003)]. He is a
nice fellow, and I see the reasons that he is in favor of what he is in favor of,
which is, among other things, privatization of a lot of government. I don't think
that is the way to go. I think that some things might be privatized, but private
industry, the private sector where I worked for all of my career, is just different
from government. It operates differently, and it doesn't perform functions like
government, and some things are better done by government. I am not an enemy
of government myself, and I am afraid that Governor Bush is, that he seems to
think that everything can be done better by the private sector. I am not a fan of
the alternatives to public education being used in Florida and other states.
So, I am not a fan of Governor Bush's philosophy. I don't think that he has
improved education in our state, I am afraid, and I think that we are not spending
as much money. I am not for high taxes, but I don't think it was necessary, for
example, to remove the intangible tax. I think, in a state that has no income tax,
the intangible tax was fair enough and that we needed that money and that we
are not doing very well by our children in terms of education or social services or,
in my lifetime, highways. For example, in Georgia, they [the roads] used to be
terrible. I don't know that Florida's were any better in those days, but Georgia
compared itself to some other surrounding states like North Carolina and
Tennessee, and we had terrible roads. Now, Georgia, for whatever reasons, is
doing much better than Florida in road construction. So, Florida, I am afraid our
infrastructure is lacking in many ways, and our education system, both higher
education and secondary education, is still lagging behind most of the rest of the
country. I think that could be better with a different governmental approach.
P: Let me ask you your assessment of the 2000 presidential recount. Who do you
think actually won the state of Florida?
D: Well, I am not an authority on that subject, and I wasn't even in the newspaper
business at the time, so I don't really have any knowledge that most of the
general public doesn't. I think that it is pretty clear that if all the people who went
to the polls that day to vote in the presidential election had had their votes
recorded, [Al] Gore would have won by a substantial margin. Of the votes that
actually were recorded and recorded properly, I don't think anybody knows yet
who won, and maybe we never will know.
P: What is your view of USA TODA Y?
D: I think it is an important contribution to newspapers in the country in terms of
being a special kind of paper, in part a commuter's newspaper, in part a
newspaper that everybody can relate to. I think it fills a niche. I hope it will never
supplant the local newspapers and local news, but it fills a role, primarily for the
P: Some of it was rather innovative.
D: Yes. The other big contribution it has made is that it has brought a lot of
innovation in terms of color, in terms of graphics. Many of my colleagues in the
years soon after its inauguration poked fun at it for some of its methods, but they
wound up adopting a lot of them in terms of presenting things in graphic form,
shorter stories, more photos, more color. In those senses, I think it has made
some real contributions to the newspaper industry.
P: A lot of people are critical of these stories that jump to a back page, that it
destroys the continuity.
D: That is another thing we fought throughout my career and went different ways. At
one point in Tallahassee with my encouragement, we ruled out jumps entirely
and said that, although we know that some stories needed to be longer, we will
put sort of a digest of that story on the front page and we will put a longer story in
the back, but they won't be connected. They will be two separate stand-alone
stories. The editors found that unworkable, and I guess if I had been still an
editor, I might have found it unworkable, too. They wound up going back to
jumps. I still think jumps are overdone. I think that a lot of jumps are
unnecessary, and I would like to see papers minimize jumps.
P: One of the things that USA TODAY has done lately is, they have done quite a bit
of important investigative journalism, which was not something that they were
doing early on, for obvious reasons. The first three or four years, it didn't make
any money. But now, they have sort of gotten a little bit away from "McNews" and
have expanded at least their area of responsibility, but they still do not cover
much international news.
D: I don't read it on a regular basis, so I wasn't aware of that, but I am glad to hear
that. More power to them if they are doing investigative reporting. We need more
of it. It is good to see that they are making money, and not only that they are
making money but the extra advertising makes them a fatter paper, gives them
more space to work with and so forth.
P: I should point out some of that comes from the founder, Al Neuharth, so maybe
that is understandable. Obviously, he views it rather favorable.
D: Yes. You interviewed him, too?
P: I did not, but a colleague of mine did interview him. When you look back on your
career, and here I would like to sort of focus on the Tallahassee Democrat, what
would you say that the newspaper's greatest contribution was to the community
and to the state?
D: Speaking broadly, I believe our greatest contribution to the community during
those seventeen years was the significant improvements we made to the
Democrat, the greater volume of content and the greater quality and diversity of
content. In other words, we just became a better newspaper and therefore
served our readers and the community better. Along the way, we also did a lot. I
believed strongly in the newspaper sponsorship of worthwhile programs in the
community, and we started and maintained the Volunteer of the Year, which is
one of the big civic activities of the community every year. We started and
maintained the High School Bowl, which is teams competing in the old college
bowl format and going on to present prizes. We talked about the Newspaper in
Education program. We used to sponsor Quality of Life seminars every year,
which discussed issues, kind of like town hall meetings in the community.
Unfortunately, they don't [do that] anymore.
All of those things, I think, increased our service to the community, brought us
closer to the community and made us a greater part of the community. It is hard
for me to pick out one thing.
P: Were you involved in any critical Freedom of Information Act or First Amendment
D: I am sure I was. None stand out. We had some libel suits. I guess the biggest
Freedom of Information fight we had goes back to that thing I talked about, about
the sheriff. One of the things that precipitated our investigation of the sheriff's
office was that one of our reporters was doing a series on the jail and was out
interviewing inmates at the jail. Her notes were taken from her, and they wouldn't
give them back to her. Subsequently, she was arrested. It had something to do
with notes being passed between her and an inmate, and she was arrested for
some form of complicity with an inmate. They wouldn't drop the charges. We saw
it as a First Amendment issue because she wasn't getting access to all of the
records and the people at the jail we thought she should be. That became a big
issue and sort of degenerated, or elevated or however you want to look at it, into
a fight between me and the sheriff. It became a very personal thing. I wrote
columns, and he criticized me. Ultimately, the charges were dropped, and she
didn't get tried or serve any time.
P: But the paper would have supported her.
D: The paper did support her, and that won me a lot of friends. I mean, I hope I
already had friends, but that won me a lot of support in the newsroom because I
supported the reporter very strongly throughout the episode.
You asked about service to the state. I guess the extent that we served the state,
and we really are not a big factor in the state as a whole, but our greatest service
would have been an improved state government and legislative coverage.
P: Talk about your experience as a Knight International Press Fellow to Russia.
How did that come about, and what were your responsibilities?
D: Tallahassee had a very active sister city program in Russia, in Krasnodar, for
several years in the late 1980s and early 1990s where delegations went from
Tallahassee almost every year to visit Krasnodar and some other locales in
Russia. On some occasions, [although] not as frequently, we had delegations
from Krasnodar come here. My wife and I went on one of those trips in 1987, and
we were in Russia for about two weeks, visiting Krasnodar for almost a week and
also making what really were sightseeing visits to Moscow, St. Petersburg and a
resort city on the Black Sea, Sochi.
During that time, particularly Krasnodar was our most meaningful [visit], for
obvious reasons. We were the sister city, and we had good contacts there, and a
number of meaningful visits were organized for us. They tried to put us with
counterparts. I was the only newspaper person on the trip, and I got a chance to
meet with a Soviet journalist. Of course, this was still during the communist era,
although [Mikhail] Gorbachev [General Secretary of the Communist Party in the
USSR, 1985-1991; President of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, 1988-1991]
was in power and there were the beginnings of change in Russia. My daughter
was in public relations at that time. She and I, with an interpreter, spent most of
an afternoon with this Russian journalist, and it really whetted my appetite, my
interests, for what they were doing to try to improve their newspapers and
become less government dominated. Of course, after the fall of Communism,
that accelerated greatly and more independent papers were formed. Anyway,
that 1987 experience whetted my interests in international journalism and
particularly journalism in Russia.
Then my active work as the publisher with the Knight Foundation enabled me to
learn more about the beginnings of the Knight International Press Fellowship
Program in the early, mid 1990s. At the time of my retirement, I knew something
about this program and I knew some people like Ed Johnson from Gainesville,
who had already participated in the program. I thought that would be an
interesting and challenging and productive way to spend some of my retirement
years, so soon after I retired, I decided to apply for a Knight International Press
Fellowship. When you apply, you just apply to be a fellow. You can express an
interest in a certain country or a certain part of the world, but it is up to them to try
to match you up with a partner organization. I did express a special interest in
Russia and Eastern Europe, and when I was awarded a fellowship, they
assigned me to Russia. I was very pleased that they did. They assigned me to an
organization called the Media Viability Fund, which was a rather small
organization that was working with a very limited number of independent
newspapers in about half a dozen Russian and Ukranian cities at the time.
The fellowships were designed to be a minimum of two months and up to eleven
or twelve months, and they preferred you be on the high side rather than the low
side. I wasn't willing to commit quite a year, and I wanted my wife to go with me
and it was going to be very difficult for us to leave for that period of time. We did
commit, initially, to five months. We were going in July, and we decided we would
come home in early December before the holiday period. That was with the
understanding and approval of the people in Washington at the International
Center for Journalists who administered the program.
Of course, we had communication with the Media Viability Fund before we went
over there. Their office is in Moscow, but they had two papers in Chelyabinsk, a
city over in the Ural Mountains region, and they had one in Ekatertinburg, north
of there, also in the Ural Mountains region, and they had two or three others.
They decided they wanted me, as a Knight Fellow, to do a project in market
research for Russian newspapers. They felt they might be able to help their client
newspapers develop more market research and, therefore, improve themselves
by learning more about their readers and advertisers. They wanted me to help
the newspapers generally, but, specifically, they wanted me to talk not only to
newspaper people but to advertising agencies to advertisers to readers to
[End of side B1]
D: ... market research providers and so forth. It was a little indefinite, but probably I
would write some kind of paper about market research, and certainly I would help
their newspapers inaugurate some market research projects.
We went in July. We decided I would go to Chelyabinsk first because they had
two papers [and] they thought it was better if I worked in one of the regional cities
rather than Moscow. They had two papers there, so we went there and lived for
two months. I did a lot of my research there, and then I was going to go back to
Moscow and write the paper, which I did in the MVF office in Moscow in
September. Then, the remaining two months, October and November and
perhaps early December, the plan was that I would then help the newspapers in
maybe four, five or six locations initiate some market research projects.
It happened that that was 1998, and in August of 1998 was when the ruble was
devalued in Russia, and the economy just went to hell much more than it already
was. Newspapers, as other companies, started laying off people and cutting back
their space. These were independent papers that already were struggling to
survive. They couldn't even begin to think about putting resources into market
research right at that particular time. So, it just seemed once I wrote the
paper-which has, I hope, been widely used in Russia and has subsequently
been broadened and reproduced by the International Center for Journalists for
journalists in other countries, not just Russia-there really wasn't an obvious
assignment. I mean, I could have stayed on with MVF, but there wasn't an
obvious assignment for me. Our family was worried about us because things
were getting a little hairy in Russia during that economic crisis, as you may recall,
in August and September of 1998. So, we decided to cut the fellowship short and
come home in September. Still, three months was a long time in Russia.
P: I know this is sort of a difficult assessment for you, but do you have any sense of
how Russian newspapers have changed from Pravda and total state control to
the point now where President Vladimir Putin has, from time to time, as you
know, influence over newspapers. Are they moving toward a free press?
D: That is a difficult assessment. I haven't been to Russia [recently]. I did go back
after the fellowship. I met some people over there who invited me back, not the
MVF people but in another organization, and I went back to Russia two other
times on two- and three-week consulting missions, once up in St. Petersburg and
Vyborg, a smaller city north of St. Petersburg, and once way over to the far east
of Russia to Khabarovsk and Blagoveshchensk, two cities on the Amur River
right across from China.
P: By Vladivostok. You were way over there.
D: Almost to Vladivostok. Then on a trip with some University of Georgia people
where they have an international center [in the] journalism school there, I went on
a trip to the Ukraine. That was the last time I was in that part of the world on that
kind of mission. I went to Yalta to conduct a seminar and to do some consulting.
Back to your question, at that point-this has now been three years since I was
there-I would say that the independent papers were gaining, but things were
slowly becoming better. The biggest change in the days you mentioned when
they had Pravda and Izvestia and, I guess, a bunch of local papers, but mostly
more like this country in terms of numbers, they would have one or two major
papers in a city and then those big national papers.
Once Communism fell and so much property was privatized, one of the things
that happened in the newspaper business was that many papers were started,
often niche publications, but the cities I was in on all of those trips, it was not
unusual for a moderate-sized city to have half a dozen or more newspapers.
They might not publish everyday. In Russia, a daily paper is five days a week.
There are no seven-day-a-week papers. Some of these papers I worked with
were three days a week or two days a week, or some that I observed, or even
weekly papers. But there were really a proliferation of newspapers in varying
degrees of private ownership sometimes. Sometimes they were completely
private, and sometimes it was kind of hard to find out. But sometimes they were
completely privately owned, sometimes they were partly owned by private [and]
partly by government, usually local government, not national government. Even
some of those that were privately owned were owned by people that had ulterior
motives, like political motives or something, really what you would call a
P: So, it is kind of chaotic in a sense.
D: Pretty chaotic. My impression is that it is still pretty chaotic. I don't have a good
feel for whether the number of papers has increased or decreased. I really don't
have a feel for how the change from [President Boris] Yeltsin [1991-1999] to
Putin has [affected newspapers]. I mean, I read everything I can, but I still just
have a smattering of knowledge about what that change has meant to
P: Let me try to finish up with one final question. I just thought it would be interesting
to get your take on the Jayson Blair affair, how that impacted the New York
Times in specific terms and how it may have impacted American journalism
because some people say, well, if the New York Times is in trouble, all
newspapers are in trouble.
D: The Jayson Blair episode just makes me very, very sad. In my years as a
reporter and my years as editor and publisher, I never encountered anything like
that and I never expected to encounter anything like that. Sure, we had some
reporters who acted strangely sometimes and I am sure we had some reporters
who were less than diligent in their reporting and did a sloppy job of reporting. I
don't think I ever worked with anyone who went out and made up stories and just
totally fictionalized the copy. In a sense, I can understand how it happened
because you just don't have enough people in newspapers, I mean, reporters
work on their own for the most part. Now, they have to bring their copy in to
editors, but editors have to trust the reporters. They can't go with them,
particularly in a case like Jayson Blair, where some of his work was done in New
York but a lot of it was done in other cities. They can't have somebody looking
over his shoulder everywhere he goes.
P: So, you don't see it as a problem of lax editorial control?
D: Well, it was in the sense that there was clearly some red flags that had gone up
months before the end of this episode, and I blame the New York Times for not
reading those red flags. You would think the Times of all papers with their
reputation and their resources would have jumped on that, whereas a smaller
paper with fewer people, it might have gotten by them. So, yes, I don't think it
was inevitable that it went as far as it did.
P: So, you think that Howell Raines [New York Times executive editor] and Gerald
Boyd [New York Times managing editor] should have resigned?
D: I think he should have offered his resignation, and I guess I think the publisher
should have accepted. I don't think that is exactly the way it happened. I think it
was the other way around. I think their resignations were requested. From what I
read, I am pretty clear that is what happened. But, yes, I believe if I had been in
Howell Raines's position and that had happened, I would have felt so responsible
that I would have offered my resignation. One episode or two episodes, maybe
not, but to allow it to go on for months like it did ....
P: Do you see it, as some editorial writers did, as a failure of affirmative action?
D: No. I mean, in a sense, I guess it was, but I don't think it is a failure of affirmative
action. I think it could have happened with a white reporter as well as a black
one. In fact, I saw a white reporter for New Republic magazine interviewed on
TV, a similar case to Jayson Blair.
P: New Republic's Stephen Glass.
D: Yes, Stephen Glass. I saw him interviewed on TV the other night and the similar
thing, of course, that he did.
P: Even worse.
D: In a sense, worse, yes.
P: Well, you remember Janet Cooke with the Washington Post?
D: Indeed, I remember that very well. That was very embarrassing to the
Washington Post. I think a little more forgivable on the Posts part because I don't
think they had the red flags in that case that they did with Jayson Blair. When
you've got assistant news editors saying, we can't keep sending this man out,
and they keep sending him out on stories, something is wrong.
P: Do you think the New York Times, by admitting mistakes and doing a thorough
investigation and publishing everything, do you think they have salvaged their
D: I think they will come back. I don't think they have salvaged it all yet, but it is such
a strong paper and such a good paper, I don't think it has ruined its reputation
forever. But it will take a while for it to recover, and it will take all newspapers. I
mean, it just hurts the credibility of all papers for something like that to happen. It
feeds the worst suspicions that readers have about us.
P: Particularly the "liberal" New York Times.
D: Oh, yes.
P: People like [U. S. House Majority Leader] Tom DeLay are now saying, well, we
don't have to trust anything the New York Times says anymore because they
deal in fabrication.
D: And if they do, probably the Washington Post or any other paper they want to call
a liberal paper, the St. Pete[rsburg] Times or anybody else. They would transfer it
over to them, too.
P: Absolutely, and therefore justifying ...
D: That we can't believe this liberal press.
P: Anna Quindlen in a column said that it was really an overreaction because when
you really look at it, the New York Times is still the best paper in the world and
that this is one blip, embarrassing, but you shouldn't damn the whole paper
because of this one incident.
D: I agree with that except that they let it go on for so long. That really aggravates
P: One thing that intrigued me, and this is a little off the subject, but I would like to
get your reaction. When I read it, I thought, well, this is part of the ethical
breakdown in American society. We have Enron [a corporation that engaged in
illegal accounting and money laundering activities], we have Martha Stewart [TV
personality charged with insider trading]. These things go on all the time, and this
is sort of standard procedure. Jayson Blair didn't seem particularly upset about it,
didn't seem particularly remorseful. He was just trying to get ahead.
D: I think it is part of the ethical breakdown. I think I said, I meant to say, I can't
imagine it happening when I went to work in newspapers in the 1950s and
1960s. I just can't imagine somebody making something up like that and trying to
get it past an editor, even one time, let alone repeatedly. I don't know if that's a
sign of ethics or what, but it's certainly a sign of a change in society.
P: The other interesting thing is, most citizens either ignored it or were not upset
D: Yes, that is right, which is another indication of the breakdown. It is also, I am
afraid, that they didn't trust us to start with.
P: They don't have trust in newspapers, so what else is new, right?
D: Yes. I know, or I think I know, that really is a big exception and almost never
happened in earlier years in newspapers. A lot of people might think that it did
and just never was exposed, but I really don't think it did. But to see it happen
with these three cases, and probably some others but those are the three most
egregious we know of...
P: Is there anything that I have not asked you or we have not discussed that you
would like to talk about?
D: No, I think we have covered the waterfront. I really can't think of anything. You
have done a very good job prompting me on a number of things.
P: Okay. On that note, I would like to thank you very much for your time.
D: Thank you.
[End of the interview.]