Interviewee: Derek Dunn-Rankin
Interviewer: Julian Pleasants
Date: July 11,2003
P: This is Julian Pleasants and I'm in Port Charlotte, Florida. It is July 14, and I'm
speaking with Derek Dunn-Rankin. Tell me where you were born and the origin
of your name.
R: I was born in Hackensack, New Jersey. When I was a little fellow of about five,
we moved to New York state up on the Hudson River, and when I was about
nine, my family moved to Miami Beach, Florida, in 1936.
P: What was the origin of the name?
R: During the Civil War, there was a young fellow who had married a Mohawk
Indian woman, she was the daughter of the chief of the Mohawks up there in
Vermont. He went off to the Civil War, took the bounty money, and he did not
come back from the Civil War. She remarried and her child had two fathers.
He had a natural father and a father he grew up with, so he took both names.
That's how we got to be Dunn-Rankin.
P: Talk a little bit about growing up and when you first got interested in the
R: First, I got interested in the Saturday Evening Post business because I got a little
job selling Saturday Evening Post. I got into that over money. I had a friend
who said to me one summer day, Derek, let's go get a frozen Three Musketeers.
I said, what is a frozen Three Musketeers. He said, come with me. He said, do
you have a nickel? I said, no, I don't have a nickel. He said that's alright, I
have a dime, I'll get us two. I said where do you get all this money, as we
munched on these Three Musketeers [candy bar]. He said, I have a Saturday
Evening Post route.
I thought that Three Musketeers [tasted] pretty good, and being able to have a
nickel in your pocket or a dime sounded good. So, I got a little Saturday
Evening Post route and I did that for a while and I think I was a pitiful, sad case
as a Saturday Evening Post salesperson. I had a route up in Surfside, in the
north end of Miami Beach. I went from that to delivering the Miami News in the
afternoon on my bike. I went from that to delivering the morning Herald on my
bike, and later on in my car when I was in high school. I had a very large route.
It was during the early part of the war and I think they had trouble finding [adult]
carriers. My route just got bigger and bigger and bigger. I would fall asleep in
class. One day my teacher said, Derek, you're going to flunk solid geometry.
She said, what is this with you falling asleep in my class. I said, I got this paper
route, I've got to get up early. She said, well, do you really need the money. I
said, I really do need the money. She said, how much do you make. I said,
well, in the season I make about $80 a week. She said, do you know that's
more than I'm paid as a teacher. It was a number of years later before I made
that much money again.
P: You indicated that you had a really good customer on Collins Avenue.
D: I did, I had a really good customer. That's what really got me off of the Saturday
Evening Post route. I had about seven Saturday Evening Post customers and
three or four for Liberty. The Liberty guy was a different manager but he let me
sell that too, but that didn't go over so well in Surfside as the Saturday Evening
Post [sales did]. My best customer was on Abbot just off of Collins Avenue. He
would give me a nice tip every week when I came by. Then, I came by one
week and he said, I won't be buying the Post anymore. He said, somebody
gave me a subscription for Christmas.
That kind of took the heart out of it for me. So, I went and got a paper route. I
got lucky because our grandfather gave us bicycles for Christmas, so I had a
bike. I didn't have to walk around selling the Saturday Evening Post anymore. I
had a bike and I could get an afternoon paper route, and I did that. [Three years
later] I had a morning route, I got pretty good at selling subscriptions because my
route got so large I had a hard time remembering who was a customer and who
wasn't, because a lot of seasonal people came in and out during the winter in
Surfside. I had one block, I think it was Hawthorne Avenue, and it was easy to
remember because everybody on Hawthorne took the paper except for two
people. So, all I had to remember was to deliver to everybody on Hawthorne
except these two houses. I [thought], now, if every street was like that ....
So, I started calling on the non-subscribers [and] explaining to them that it was
very difficult for me to remember who didn't get the paper. They noticed they
got it once in a while because I forgot and that would leave me short at the end of
the route, and I just needed to have everybody take [the Herald] so I wouldn't
have such a tough job. I got more and more customers. Towards the end, I
know, around Thanksgiving time, the district manager would come around and
say, well, how many turkeys do you want for Christmas. I would say, what do
you mean? He said, well, we have a contest with new subscribers and you can
have as many as you want. So, I did fairly well with that.
P: I understand that at the Coronado Hotel you had a particularly interesting
D: I did, the Coronado was the only hotel built in Surfside. It was built just at the
beginning of the war, up there about Eighty-sixth Street and Collins Avenue. I
got a call to come in and see the fellow who ran a newsstand in there. He said,
we're going to want seven or eight papers a day. Well, that's a pretty good
account, seven or eight papers just in one drop. He said, how much will that be.
I said, the paper cost $.35 a week and so it will be seven times $0.35. He said,
oh, no. I want you to pick up returns and we'll want a discount for seven. I said,
no, I can't give you a discount. I said, I only [have] home delivery and I can't
give you a discount and I can't take returns. Well, he said, I've got to have
seven papers. He said, it doesn't make any difference anyway. He said, it's
just for show, that's not our real business. I said, what's your real business. He
said, oh, you've never seen a bookie joint. I said, no, what is that? He said, we
take bets on horse races; here, let me show you our telephones. He had all
kinds of telephone wires in there. So, his real business was taking horse bets.
P: That was legal at the time?
D: No, it wasn't legal. In fact, where I got my papers at the Gulf Station, right
across from the Gulf Station was [a building] called the Brook Club. While I was
folding my papers each morning, an armored truck would drive up to the Brook
Club and they would unload the money because it was wide-open gambling.
The people that were making gains in the war industries and didn't want anyone
to know where they'd gotten all that money from, they would go down there and
gamble and run it through as gambling gains. The Brook Club would have so
much money, and I think they were protected by what was called the S and G
Syndicate. So, an armored truck would come in every morning while I was
folding my papers there about four o'clock in the morning and haul off the money.
P: What was the S and G Syndicate?
D: I think it was a precursor of the mafia, if you would. Anyway, the S and G
Syndicate was the loosely organized czars of criminal activity in Dade County at
P: I understand one of your customers was Jim Knight.
D: Yes, Jim Knight had a home out on Indian Creek Island. The road ran all the
way around the periphery of Indian Creek Island. You went through the gate
house and over the bridge and he was the only house on the island. I would get
out there, he was my last customer; I would deliver him at the very end. He
would be going out to work about the time I would get there. I needed to get
done in time enough to get to school, so I got to house maybe about 7:00 or
7:30. He'd be going to work, and he said, can't you get the paper here any
earlier. I said, oh, yes, sir, Mr. Knight, I can. I said, I've got about 550
customers and you're the last one, so I could just put you at the front of the route.
But, I said, then everybody else would have to wait and they'd all be fifteen
minutes later because that's how long it takes me to come out here and deliver
your paper. He said, all of them would be fifteen minutes later. I said, yes, sir.
He said well, okay, you can leave me at the end of the route, but try and get here
P: He was a businessman, he knew he wanted those papers delivered on time,
otherwise they'd be calling him at the paper. How did delivering papers translate
into an interest in working with newspapers?
D: Really what happened was that I thought I'd go to law school. I thought I'd be a
lawyer. I wrote the dean of Harvard Law School, and he very nicely, something
that doesn't happen nowadays, wrote me a nice long hand [written] letter. I said,
what should I be studying. He said, don't take any pre-law courses, he said get
involved in a debating club, and he said get involved in the newspaper so you
learn something about writing. He said, learn how to speak and write and study
history and English, and then we'll talk to you. So, I decided to get on the staff
at the paper. I got so involved at the college paper that I wound up as editor. I
said, this has got to be more fun than being a lawyer.
P: This is Rollins College?
D: This is Rollins College, yes.
P: Describe to me what your job as the editor of a paper at a small private school
D: We elected the editor. First, I worked as a reporter, and then I was the news
editor, and that was appointed. Then, they had an election and they elected the
P: Who elected the editor?
D: The student body elected the editor. We technically had an advisor, but the
advisor had gone off to the war, so there really weren't any faculty advisors. We
students kind of ran things. They gave us a little space in the alumni building
and we ran it. I had about sixty students involved in this project. It was just fun
to see everybody snap the paper up when it came out each week and to go to
the [printing] plant and be there and have that linotype operator say, you kids
don't know how to spell, I'm changing this, is it okay with you. Then have the guy
making up the paper say this headline will never fit, you've got to rewrite it, and
then rewrite there while they were resetting the type by hand for the headlines.
P: What year was this?
D: It would have been in 1951.
P: To a degree, the people I've talked to always look at the linotype operators and
the setting of the type as sort of the romantic view of journalism.
D: Well, the linotype operators had a terrific word sense because most of them had
gone through about a six-year apprenticeship, and they just didn't make it
through that apprenticeship if they didn't really care about the words. It was a
slow process. You could set about six [or] eight lines of type a minute. The
linotype operator had to make sure that they justified [to fit the column measure],
so he had to separate the words. He had to decide when to [space letters and
where to] hyphenate them, so he had to have a feeling for words, and of course
they got to be very good spellers and they got to know a lot because of all those
words that passed under their fingertips over the years. Their knowledge of the
world and the community was rather vast. They were a special breed, especially
in a small town.
P: Somebody mentioned that they were kind of hard and a little tough, but at the
same time sort of sensitive.
D: Well, I don't know about that, but maybe I wasn't sensitive enough to know it
when I was that age. I think what really hooked me on the newspaper was, we
had an exciting night one year when I was editor. One of my staff reporters
came in and she said, Derek have you heard anything of the professors, getting
a pink slip. I said, what is a pink slip. She said, pink slip, you know a pink slip.
She said it means they're fired. I said no I haven't heard that. She said, one of
my professors wouldn't admit to it, but I think he got a pink slip and she was
asking me if I knew of anybody who had gotten a pink slip. I said, no, but maybe
we should ask. I said why don't you get on the phone and start calling and see if
anybody else has. I said maybe there's something going on here. So we went
down the list and she called five or six and asked them if they'd gotten any
dismissal notice or any pink slip and they all said no [after] seven or eight she
called. I said why don't you change the question. why don't you ask them did
they get one, too. So she asked if they had gotten one too, and about one out of
three said, yes. Oh, I said, we have a story here, we've got to get to every
single one. We had the names of all of them and we came out with a special
edition saying that the administration was purging the faculty and a third of them
were getting notices that they wouldn't come back next year.
P: What was the reason for all these firings?
D: The president was a brilliant young fellow and he said the reason was
economics, that the enrollment was going down, the GI boom was over and
enrollment was going down. In truth, he was getting rid of the people that gave
him a hard time. We had a very independent faculty. They had their faculty
meetings [and] they were very critical of the administration over this or that. It
was a confrontation. It was a purge. We ran an editorial about it, and in the end
the president went and the trustees came around to seeing that he wasn't the
right guy for the job. All of the excitement of all of that happening and seeing the
impact of getting news out to people really got me excited. I got a job working
on the St. Pete[rsburg] Times that summer.
P: How did you get that job?
D: The last week that I was editor, I remade the front page and I said, "Editor Hunts
Job As Cub Reporter." I mailed it out and I had about 200 copies printed. I
[thought], it's going to be expensive, I can't afford to mail of these 200 copies and
I don't know where to mail them. So, I'm going to pick about five or six places
and try it out. I [didn't] know who to send [it to]. I got the publishers red book.
I [wondered] do you send this to the personnel department, do you send it to the
publisher, do you send this to the editor. I didn't know, I'll just send it to all three
or four that looked like possibilities. I picked the Denver Post and the St.
Pete[rsburg] Times and the New York Daily News, and I think the New York
Herald Tribune. I think those were four or five or six that I mailed them to. I
picked the Denver Post and the Daily News because a very seasoned foreign
correspondent that I had met in college passing through said, if you ever get a
job [as a reporter], she said, you want to work for the Denver Post or the New
York Daily News because they have to write short. She said, that's the hardest
kind of writing to do. She said that's the best training ground. The St.
Pete[rsburg]Times sent me a bus ticket, said come on over here we'll pay for
your bus ticket and for you to stay over night, and we'll interview you for the job.
The people at the Daily News said, if you're in town we'd be glad to talk to you. I
said, I can't go to New York on a spec. So, I went to St. Pete[rsburg], they hired
me, and I went to work as a cub reporter on the St. Pete Times that summer.
P: You were doing the sports page?
D: I was a lobster [trick] reporter. Nelson Poynter [Founder and publisher of the St.
Petersburg Times] had got caught and his paper had got caught by the Korean
War. Nobody was on duty [at the paper] when we went to war in Korea. The
paper had gone out, and everybody had gone home. He said, that's never
going to happen again. He said, I want a young, beginning reporter to come in
here, we'll give him different stuff to do, and he'll work from ten o'clock at night
until six or seven in the morning. So, I was that guy. Then, when I finished the
summer there, I was lucky, I had my senior year to go at Rollins and one of my
English professor, [Nina Dean's] husband owned and ran the paper in Sanford,
Florida. She called me up and she said, Derek, are you looking for a job when
you come back this year. I said, yes. She said, would you like to work for a little
paper like the Sanford Herald. I said, that's sounds great. She said, they're
looking for a sports editor. I said that sounds like a great job. She said, my
husband is looking for someone, but I don't want somebody to come there and
turn him down, he's sensitive about things like that. She said, are you sure you
would want to work there. So then, I got a call from her husband and he asked if
I would like to come over and be interviewed for the sports editor's job, which I
P: I think it's very interesting, a lot of the individuals I've talked with, Al Neuharth for
example, started out in sports and a huge percentage of them ended up as
publishers or as executive editors. Why do you think that is? Is it a good way
to learn how to write?
D: I suspect it is a good way to learn how to write, but I certainly was not qualified to
be a good sports editor. I was not a big sports fan. I had to call on all my
friends in the sports fields to give me all the expertise they could, because I didn't
know how to keep score in a tennis match or a baseball game. Well, yes, I did,
but not runs batted in and all that detail stuff. It was way past me.
P: Let me go back to Nelson Poynter. I understand, at one point, you were asked
to write an editorial about the war.
D: Yes, that was really kind of amazing. I met Nelson Poynter the first night I was
there, and T.C. Harris who was the editor, introduced me to him. He said, this is
the fellow who sent us that paper [Nelson] you remember. [Poynter] said, oh,
yeah, and he shook hands with me. He said, yes, that was a pretty good idea.
He said, you wrote editorials for the paper while you were the editor. I said, oh,
yes, sir. He said, do you think you could write an editorial for the St. Pete
Times. I said yes, sir. He said, well, do you have an opinion on whether
somebody ought to finish their college career or go ahead and accept the draft
and serve their time during this Korean War. I said, Oh, yes, sir. He said, well,
write us an editorial about it. So then, I had to stop and think about what kind of
position I had. I was sort of ambivalent, so I said I'm going to pick one side or
the other. I think I picked the side that said finish your college, the war will be
there. So, I wrote the editorial and they published it two days later in the St.
P: Was there any commentary on his part? Did he get back to you on it?
D: No, but it ran just as I wrote it with a little introduction of who I was. It seemed to
me remarkable that Nelson Poynter, who had the second largest new staff in
the state of Florida, I think he had about sixty in his editorial department at that
time and he told me that John Knight had a bigger staff in Miami, he had about
eighty. Nelson [Poynter] really wanted to have the largest news staff in the state
but he had the second largest-would come down and talk to a cub reporter on
his first day at work and had the faith to ask a question like that and to be that
hands-on involved in what he was doing. It was really impressive to me.
P: What impact did Nelson Poynter have on journalism in Florida? One of the most
significant aspects of his tenure at the paper is the Poynter Institute.
D: I was impressed when I was working there because Nelson Poynter had figured
out that he was having a union problem in the composing room, and he wanted
to take on the union and run a non-union shop in his composing room. So, he
had figured out how to put a paper out without a linotype.
P: This is because all of the linotype operators were part of a union.
D: Right, so they had figured [this out]. They didn't have off-set presses, but in
essence they had a paper that they had made up and made a photo of and then
made a engraving plate of that page and managed to get by without the normal
composing room process. [It impressed me] that he would think through all that
ahead of time, and it was there for me to study and see how they had done it. I
was very interested in that because, even at that point, my dream was that I
would have my own paper somebody. [I wondered], how would you do it when it
took millions to buy these big presses and to buy the linotype machines, and
what was going to be [the] technological change that would change all that? So, I
was very interested in that. He was technically advanced, not that he was a
technician. He wasn't, but he would push into new areas and push out the
boundaries. I was impressed by that, and that he had built that business, a very
healthy business, really almost from scratch.
P: One of the things that Nelson Poynter was important for, in addition to the idea of
an independent newspaper, and today it's one of the few major independent
newspapers in America, was the Poynter Institute, which was set up as part of
his last will and testament.
D: I don't think you can really measure what the impact of that has been. The
paper itself, the effort he put into that paper to make it an outstanding newspaper
in a community that might have accepted much less. That he put the effort in
there to make a really terrific newspaper rather than to see if he could make
nineteen newspapers, I think that in itself raised the standard, raised the bar. To
this day, those that compete in the marketplace look at that bar and say, we've
got to figure out [how] to make a profit for our investors and still hit that bar that's
out there. I think how much impact the Poynter Institute has on our business is
hard to say because it's spread all through journalism across the country.
P: Did you ever read his "Ten Rules for Running a Newspaper?"
D: I'm sure I did, but I don't remember them now, Julian.
P: Essentially it said to hire the best people, promote them, reinvest money in new
technology, practice ethics and high standards, generally speaking. A lot of
editors and publishers I've talked to have been influenced by his model of how to
run a newspaper and, as you indicated earlier, the standards. Clearly, he's one
of the giants of Florida newspapers, but across the country as well.
D: I think there's no question about it.
P: Talk a little bit about your time with the Sanford Herald and what you did after
D: When I was at the Sanford Herald the sports editor was just a title. What I did
was, come in the morning and make up the stories for the front page. I would
go to the wire machine, decide what was the lead, national story. When they
came off the wire machine, it would come off all caps, so you'd go through and
make a note of what was to be capitalized and what was not and send it back to
the linotype operator so that the linotype operator could start getting busy.
Then, I would have to write the headlines. [The publisher,] Roland Dean used the
head style that I guess was the New York Times style of the day. It was not an
easy style to put out on a typewriter for a novice like me because there was to be
one [thought] on a line and you didn't break a [thought] from one line to the next.
If you were using forty-eight point type for the headline and you were going to
use it across all the columns, then style dictated that you would then go to a
three-column headline underneath it and it would be three lines. Then, you
would go to a one-column head underneath that that would be four lines, and
they all had to [fill the full column] and had to have one [thought] to a line. [You
had to] do that on a typewriter, and make sure the linotype operator could do it
that way. That was the toughest thing I think I had to do.
I would write a sports column, if it was that day, and then go down and cover the
civic lunch, which was always in the same lunch room there on the St. Johns
River. The caterer was always the same caterer whether it was the Jaycees or
the Lions or the Kiwanis [clubs]. It didn't make any difference that week, the
lunch was always the same. So I would have the same lunch on Monday,
Tuesday, Wednesday, but on Thursday the Rotary [Club] met, the publisher was
a Rotarian, so he would cover that himself. Then, I would finish up about the
time they were using that flatbed press to print out the copies, where the ink
rolled over the hot metal type of the frames, the paper went down and got rolled
over that, came out the other side, and went through a folder. I think that we
could print four pages at a time, but we had to flip them over later on and print
the other side.
P: At this point you had graduated from Rollins and then you go to John Knight at
Miami Herald and ask for a job.
D: The Miami Herald, at that time, was in downtown Miami in a kind of dilapidated
building. Jim Knight had his desk out on the floor like an old banker would.
There were no offices. There was a long marble counter which [is where]
people turned in their classified ads or subscriptions. Back in about the middle
of the room was Jim Knight and his desk. I came to the counter and I had very
nicely printed up calling cards. My mother told me that I should have calling
cards, so I had a little calling card printed up with just my name on it, Derek
Dunn-Rankin. I said, I wanted to speak to Jim Knight. She said, do you have
an appointment, and I said, no, but just give him my card and remind him that I
used to be his paper boy.
Well, that had been six years ago. I don't think he had any memory of that at all,
but he looked up. He saw me there at the counter in my one coat, [my] black
corduroy jacket, and waived me over and chatted with me. He said, what is it
you want to do here. I said, I want to get a job here, I want to get a job as a
reporter. I said, I worked at the St. Pete Times, and I worked at the Sanford
Herald, and I was editor at the college paper, and I said, I want to get a job as a
reporter. He said, well, what's your long-term ambition. I said, my long-term
ambition is to own a daily newspaper or run a big one like this one. He said,
how did you figure you were going to do that. I said, well, I will get a job as a
reporter, and then I'll become assistant city editor, then I'll become city editor,
and then I'll become managing editor, executive editor, and publisher. He said,
well, you don't really want to go into the news businesses if you want to go into
management. He said, reporters don't learn anything about managing. He
said, it's a terrible thing when they finally become managers. He said they have
no idea, you need to go to work in circulation. He said, you'll learn about
managing. He said, you need to go where it's tough and competitive, you have
to fight for the corners. This is not what I wanted to hear. He said, if you want
to, you can talk to Lee Hills.
P: Lee Hills was executive editor.
D: Yes, Lee Hills was executive editor, so I went up and talked to Lee Hills. I had
about another six or eight weeks of college and I went back to college. I thought
about it and I was not happy with my response from Jim Knight and Lee Hills, but
I came back and saw that the Miami News was advertising for trainees in
circulation. I said okay, I'll go down there and see what that's all about. So I
went to work in the circulation department of the Miami News.
P: Was Bill Baggs there?
D: Bill Baggs was the editor and then Jim Bellows came along a little bit later to help
Bill. Bill was a great editor.
P: I understand he was one of the best and might have been editor at the New York
Times had he not gotten ill. Did you hear that story?
D: No, I didn't hear that, but he was an outstanding editor.
P: What finally happened to the Miami News, because they won some Pulitzer
Prizes and they had a good newspaper?
D: It was a good newspaper and I learned a great lesson there. Eventually, I was
the city circulation manager of the Miami News. We had Bill Baggs and later [he
was] helped by Bellows. We put out a great newspaper. Every time the Miami
Herald would raise their circulation price, we would lose subscriptions. We
wouldn't raise our price. I would go out and I would talk to the customers who
had quit. I would say, well I see you've stopped your paper. They said, yeah,
we like your paper, but you know the Herald just raised their price and we have
to have the Herald, so we were taking both of them, but we can't afford to take
both of them anymore. I said, why don't you just go ahead and take our paper
since it costs less. They said, you don't have those bargain basement ads from
Richard's Department Store, and we have to have those ads. I heard that not
once or twice or three times, but many times. I said, if I ever have a newspaper,
it's going to have ads in it, because people read newspapers for ads just like they
read for news. It was like engraved on my mind that we would have to, and it
made a big difference to me.
P: Was the editorial cartoonist there at the time, Don Wright?
D: Don was a photographer at that time.
P: He started as a photographer.
D: Yes, he was a photographer when I was there and became the cartoonist later
on and then editor.
P: Where did you go from working with the Miami News?
D: I went to Charlotte, North Carolina and then I came back to the [Miami] News.
From there I went to Greensboro. When I went to Greensboro, I know that I told
my boss, the circulation director at the Miami News, I'm going to have to leave. I
said, it's time and you need to be thinking about somebody to take my place.
But I said, I'm not going to go to work anywhere unless I have two things: I said
I've got to make at least $15,000 a year and I've got to know that I have an
opportunity to move up to a general manager's job. So, he went and told his
boss. His boss said, well, don't worry, Derek will be with your forever; nobody is
going to pay him $15,000 and give him an opportunity to move up to general
manager. I went to work for Landmark Corporation in Greensboro; and they
knew that's what I wanted to do was be a general manager one day; and they did
pay me $15,000, which seemed like a lot at the time.
P: Were you working, specifically at that point, with the Greensboro News and
D: Yes, I was working with the Greensboro News and Record. I was the circulation
P: Was Jim Knight correct that you did learn a lot about management from
D: Yes, not only about management but really about marketing, strategy, planning,
and the whole range of things that go into managing [a good newspaper].
P: So his advice was good.
D: It was good.
P: Where did you go from Greensboro?
D: In Greensboro the publisher Frank Baton and his associate Bill Diedrich asked
me to serve on a long-range planning committee for the company. I was one of
maybe eight or ten people who served on that planning committee. I guess they
decided maybe I was capable of more, so they asked me to come take on a new
job which was to be called management information director. I said, what do
you expect out of a management information director? They said well we want
you to look at the kinds of information our managers ought to have in order to
manage better and then see how we're going to provide it to them. We want
you to look at how we analyze where to put our capital. We want you to look at
what criteria we should have for acquisitions. I said, it sounds to me like you
need somebody statistical, a financial guy with a lot of newspaper experience.
They said, yes, if you know somebody like that who also knows how to do
newspaper marketing, please tell us who they are because then we'll hire them
and you can go back to Greensboro. They [said], we don't know anybody like
that, so you'll have to learn the other stuff. So, I had to learn what I didn't know.
I did learn about finance and statistics, computers and things I didn't know
anything about, and how to put those tools to work. I did that for a few years,
and then I became the operations manager of the paper in Norfolk [Virginia] and
later I became the president and general manager.
P: The Norfolk paper, that's The Virginian-Pilot?
D: Virginian-Pilot and Ledger and Star it was at that time. It was a big job, but in
some ways, it was somewhat boring after about two years, because the biggest
challenge I had was to be sure that we didn't break any anti-trust laws, that we
didn't squeeze any small business. I mean, there was a weekly paper that was
attempting to have a bigger role in Virginia Beach. I needed to compete against
that, but be absolutely sure that I didn't take advantage of our size. That was
the biggest challenge I had. The second biggest challenge I had is, I think, we
were coming to a recession at one time, and Frank Batten was really an unusual,
intelligent, and caring person ...
P: Is this Jim Batten's father?
D: No, they are not related. Frank Batten was the majority stockholder of that
paper and he had built that company. He said to me, Derek, I think we're going
into a recession. He said, we need to reduce our employment by several
hundred people here. I think we had about 1,300 people there. He said, I don't
know how much we need to take it down, but I think probably 200 or 300 people.
We need to start now, he said, and do it by attrition so that we don't need to lay
anybody off. He was right, he was ahead [of the economy]. The recession
really started showing up in about four months.
P: In what year?
D: That would have been in probably around 1975. So, we laid out a plan so we
wouldn't hire anybody, and if somebody left, we would look around the company
and say, do we have to fill this job, and if so who will we transfer in and what
other vacancy will we create. During a period of about six or eight months, or
something like that, we came [up with] several hundred people. The recession
came and we never laid off anybody. [It was clear to me that] intelligently run
companies don't ever have to lay anybody off, and that was a great lesson to me.
In my business, in the twenty-five or twenty-six years that I've had my own
business, we've never had a lay off. I always try and anticipate the trends, stop
hiring when the time comes.
P: When did you decide you wanted to be an independent entrepreneur, and why
did you decide to buy the Venice paper?
D: I had always known that I wanted to have my own paper, and I thought that I
would retire when I was about sixty and buy a little paper someplace, a little
weekly or a small daily somewhere. If I could save enough money, maybe I
would retire at fifty-five and do that. When I was, I think [I was] forty-nine, Frank
Batten came to me and he said, Derek, you're doing a great job of running the
paper here but I don't see you as the guy who's going to run our corporation
someday when Bill Armistead, who was the president of the company, retires, I
don't see you in that job. I said, no, I wouldn't be [the right man], that's not the
kind of thing I want to do. I like running the paper [and being involved] in the
community. He said, I want to bring in someone else for that job, the fellow who
used to work for you, Dick Barry.
He said, I would like you to take on another job in charge of our acquisitions and
figure out where we ought to be trying buy papers. I said, you're right that I
wouldn't be the right fellow to be president of your company because that isn't
what I would like to do. I said, I've always figured I wanted to have my own
paper, so, if you don't mind, if I look for you and I'll also look for myself at the
same time, I'll take that job. He said, that's okay, I think your appetite for a
business and ours are different. He said, I don't think there'll be any overlap,
and he said if there's an overlap we can talk about it. I said, most daily
newspapers cost too much. I said, we need to study the economics of it. I
need to build an economic model of small dailies and weeklies that have the
potential to be dailies, and then I need to analyze all the data in the country and
that might take a few months.
So, I did that. I think I took almost six months and I studied every county in the
United States and who owned the daily paper, who owned the weekly paper, how
fast the circulation was growing, how fast retail sales were growing, what was the
relationship of retail sales to the volume of the newspaper, what was the
business model that might take a weekly to a daily, who owned all the dailies in
the country, who owned the papers that were growing faster than average. I had
all that data, and it really came down to there weren't very many newspapers and
communities and daily newspapers that weren't owned by a chain already, so I
focused on weeklies.
Then, I started traveling. I had a list of what I wanted and a list of what the
company wanted. What I wanted was to be in a coastal town because I'd grown
up on the coast of Florida. I wanted to be on the coast, preferably in Florida, but
somewhere on the coast. I wanted to be in a place where it was going to grow
faster than average because the only way I could get out of debt was if the
community was growing faster than average. I wanted it to be a certain size so
that I had the potential to do at least a million dollars worth of business, if not
right away, fairly quickly, within a year or two so that I could keep my standard of
living up. In my research, I had found that there were a lot of people in the
weekly business, like in a lot of mom and pop businesses, it took both husband
and wife seventy hours a week just to keep their head above water. You
couldn't grow because you didn't have time to think about growing.
So, then, I started traveling. The second time I went out traveling, I think it was
the second week I was out, and I said, you know, this week I have looked at two
things that might be interesting to Landmark and I have looked at seven things
that are interesting to me. I don't think this is quite fair to the company, so I went
back and saw Frank Batten. I said, this is what's happened, I've got all this data
and I'm looking, but I find that I'm more interested in what might fit me than what
fits you. I said, I would like to quit and I'll take all the data and leave it here, but
I'll have copies of the data. If I find something that fits you, then we can do it as
a contract and I'll be a broker with you as my only client, but I said, mainly I'm out
there looking for myself. He said, that seems fair, so I did that.
I had started traveling up in Maryland in the Del Marva Peninsula and started
working my way down. I was planing to work all the way around to the Texas
Coast, and I visited a lot of weekly papers in Florida, I found one that looked like
it might be for sale.
[End of side Al]
A friend of mine in the newsprint business had said, Derek, I know you're looking
for a paper, and he said, there's a company called Lindsay-Schaub that has two
newspapers in Florida and I think they're really losing a lot of money on one of
them and they'd probably like to sell it. He said, they haven't put it on the
market and I don't think they want to put it on the market. But he said, I think if
you call my friend who runs them, his name is Byron Vedder, call Byron Vedder
and see if he might talk to you about it.
So I called Byron Vedder, who was vice-president of Lindsay-Schaub and had
been the publisher in Champaign, Illinois, for them. He said, no we don't have
them on the market, but you can go visit [our Newport Richey weekly]. I said,
while I'm visiting the paper in New Port Richey, I would also like to visit your one
in Venice. He said, well, we wouldn't sell that one. I said, I understand but I
would like to visit it. I've been visiting a lot of weeklies and I would like to visit to
see what I can learn. He said, that's alright, you can do that.
I visited New Port Richey and I could see why [they would sell] number five, in a
five-way market in New Port Richey. Unless it was the year that they got the
legal advertising, they always lost money. The Chicago Tribune had bought the
leading shopper in the market and was really pushing it forward. Charlie
Brumback was pushing that forward. St. Pete Times was in there, they had the
[Tampa] Tribune, there was another shopper. I said, there's no way they're ever
going to make money on this one, running it from Decatur, Illinois.
I went down and I saw the paper in Venice, and I said, I bet somebody in that
company talked him into buying these two papers, and now, it's too
embarrassing to take a loss and they've got a problem. So, I called Byron
Vedder back and I said, Byron I would only be interested in buying both of them
together as a package. I said, the one in New Port Richey is too small to
support a press and, I said, I don't want to buy a business that I can't have my
own press and grow from there. I said, I would be happy to buy the paper in
New Port Richey and, I said, maybe I can do something with it, but I would only
be interested in the package of the two. He said, well, let me talk [to] our guys.
So, we started negotiating. A competitive paper had started in Venice, so they
were losing money in Venice, too. They were competitive with a free newspaper
that a former city editor had started. I went down and visited that one. I called
Byron Vedder back and I said, Byron, I think [you] ought to buy this one that's
competing against you. He said, I don't think that's necessary, we're going to
run that into the ground. I said, I know you're going to run it into the ground,
you're selling advertising for $1.00 an inch. I said, maybe all those people that
lose all their money are going to sue you for their loss for what you're doing. I
said, I think you are vulnerable under the anti-trust law. I said, I think what I'll do
is, I'll see if I can't buy it and that will get rid of that problem. He said, what if we
don't put a deal together. I said, well, then you can talk to me about buying it.
So, I went down and I called on this little paper that was out here on Bypass
Tamiami Trail, a little building there, and I went in and I said, I'd like to speak to
the general manager/editor. Word came back he was too busy. He was in the
office. I could see [through] which door that he went into his office. So I said in a
real loud voice, that's too bad because I was sure hoping he could tell me
something, because I've got this money to go buy a weekly newspaper and I was
sure hoping that he could tell me where I ought to be looking. The door flew
open. The fellow had raised, I think $130,000 and he had lost it all. Their gross
revenue was about $130,000 but they had spent $260,000 getting there. So, I
talked to him and I put something together, and without spending too much
money, I bought that paper.
I said, Byron, I bought the paper, so you don't have a lawsuit problem. He said,
what if we don't put something together? I said, I think we'll put something
together, let's not worry about it. We negotiated and they said, how are you
going to finance this? I said, I've talked to the people at Jefferson Pilot
[insurance company] and they said what I want to do is too small for them but
they'll make an exception in my case and they will lend me the money if I have
the right kind of deal. They said, what's the deal? I said, it's like a shopping
center. I said, if I need to borrow a million dollars, then they'll lend me a million
dollars at a high rate of interest, I have ten years to pay it off, but they'll also take
an option on about 40 percent of the stock. I said, when I've paid it off at the
end of ten years, they will then lend me enough money to buy out their 40
percent. I said, you buy it two times at a high rate of interest. He said, oh,
that's the way it's done. I said, that's the way it's done. I said I have enough
equity, that with that, I can do something.
We went back and forth. Well, he said, we have to have a million and a half for
the papers. I said, they're only worth half of that, they're not worth a million and
a half, I can't do that. He said, we have to have it. I knew that was the number
that kept them out of an embarrassment. I mean, Lindsay-Schaub was the
Lindsay Family and the Schaub Family. In fact, Bob Schaub was the son of
[one] partner. He had been in the Air Force in Florida and he had persuaded
them to buy these papers, and they hadn't put any money into them, so they
were both losing money. The [Venice] Gondolier had gone from making a little
money on about a half a million dollars of revenue to losing a $100,000. The
other one up in New Port Richey was losing about the same. They said, it's got
to be a million and a half [dollars]. They said, we have to figure out a way to
make it look like a million and a half. I said, let's work on figuring out how to
make it look like a million and a half.
They said, one of the things we've been thinking about is that we could be your
insurance company, we could finance half of it. They had a very smart lawyer.
He said, look, here's what we'll do, we'll sell it for a million and a half, but we'll be
the buyer for half of that. So, in fact, they themselves were going to overpay for
half of it. He said, we will start another company and we'll put up the building if
you want a press. He said, we'll put up the building and buy the press, and we'll
lease the building back to you with an option to buy at the price we paid for it.
Jimmie Carter [U.S. President, 1977-1981] had been elected president, I knew
we were going to have inflation. I said, that's a good deal, that will mask all this
overpayment, and we put it together as fifty-fifty partners.
P: This was 1977?
D: This was 1977.
P: Once you took over this paper, and at the point you took it over it was a twice
weekly, how did you go about changing that paper and reorganizing it so you
would make money?
D: I merged the two staffs. There were eight or nine employees at each one of
P: Are you talking about New Port Richey?
D: No, right down here in Venice. In Venice there were eight or nine employees at
the first paper I bought, the throw away; then there were about eight or nine at
The Gondolier. So, when I put the two together I had, I think, seventeen
employees. I know Byron Vedder, who represented my 50 percent partner,
said, who are we going to lay off? I said, we're not going to lay off anybody,
we're just going to sell a lot more advertising. We set out to sell a lot more
advertising. He said, are you going to add to the news staff? I said, no, we're
not going to add to the news staff until we have enough advertising that people
are willing to buy this paper for the advertising. I said, we're going to put our
money into that. That went back to the lesson that I had learned at the Miami
We drove hard for the advertising, and we kept the Sun Coast Times for the
non-subscribers and The Gondolier was a mail paper and we changed it to
carrier delivery because we already had a carrier force for the free paper. We
started that and started pushing the circulation and pushing the advertising. We
sold the advertising in combination with the free and the paid. We began to
displace the shopping guide and the Sarasota Herald Tribune as the primary
P: What's the key in starting a paper that doesn't have much circulation? What's
the key in going out and persuading people to advertise in this paper?
D: The key was that if they were looking for household reach, we had the
non-subscriber product, and if they said, we don't like to be in free papers, they
were [put] in the paid product, but in fact they were in both. If they said, oh, no,
we don't go in those throw-aways, that was alright, [we want to] go in The
Gondelier. I would say, that's alright, it just comes with it. The fact that they got
more response out of the free one, they never knew where the response came
from. So, we reached the households, that was the important thing. Then as
the advertising content of the free and the paid grew and more people were
reading it for that purpose, then you had more value for people to pay for. We
had a green sheet in the free paper, and it was four pages of green newsprint in
[the paper] where we ran a lot of our restaurant ads and our coupon ads. When
we did that [it] was very popular, but what happened was, all these people who
thought they were advertising in The Gondolier suddenly started [getting] all
these green coupons that were coming out of the shopping guide. When you
started to count them, four out of five were coming out of the shopper, so we had
to put the green in The Gondolier so that nobody knew which place they were
P: How long did it take you to make a profit?
D: I had enough money to get me through eight months. When I went to the ninth
month, we had not made a profit, and that was a little scary. We were getting
close, but we had not made a profit. I kind of put off the newsprint people and
the people that we owed money to, the suppliers. I pushed a little harder on
collecting from our advertisers and I made the payroll every week of that ninth
month, and by the tenth month we were making money. The ninth month was
P: How much did it change from the tenth month through to the second year?
D: In two years, we more than doubled the volume. We went from half a million to
a million to maybe a million and a quarter or something like that.
P: So you met your original goal, right?
D: Yes, we got it up there. The second or third week that I had The Gondolier, I was
driving around the area trying to get a better feel for the territory and I drove into
the North Port, Englewood, and Port Charlotte. I said, my goodness, this is one
market; these people come up to Venice to shop and someday there's going to
be a mall somewhere around here. I said, we have to service them. So I think
the third week I had [The Gondolier] I started a weekly in North Port, and the
following week I started one in Englewood. The poor composing room thought I
was out of my head. [They didn't think] they could manage to do all that but we
did, so we pushed out. Not too long after that, I was down in Charlotte County,
and I remembered that when I called my wife to tell her that I had come across
this Gondolier and I thought we were going to be able to buy it, I said, it meets
almost everything on my list. I said, there's only one place I've seen better, and
I said, that would be Port Charlotte and Punta Gorda. She said why is that? I
said well Venice is not a county seat. Port Charlotte is on a river and Punta
Gorda is a county seat, and through history being on a river and being a county
seat makes a difference.
So anyway, I was driving around [Port] Charlotte and I went into the offices of
General Development and they had a big map on the wall. I said, let me see,
where's the county line in this map. They had all these green places where all
these houses were going to be, and schools, and so on. They said, right here
and they showed me like right through the middle of the map. I said, that's like
in the middle of your map. They said yes, we came up here to develop Port
Charlotte and we didn't even quite realize that we were in two counties. In all
the maps that were published, it always stopped at the county line. They
stopped at the Sarasota County line and then you got another map and it might
take in Lee County and Charlotte County. A Sarasota map might take in Manatee
County and Sarasota County, but you never saw the two together. I said, wow,
if you look at the two together, and this is where your development is, it's one
market. They said well, it would have been one market, but we had problems
with Sarasota County so we started a separate city up there called North Port.
Were going to have the Villages of Port Charlotte [a residential development], he
said, so we have to do that different; we have to do North Port separately. I
said, if it's one market, then I have to be in the whole area.
P: That's when you bought the Charlotte Sun, which was a free tabloid at that point?
D: It was a little free tabloid. Fred Farris had started about three newspapers and I
think this was the third one he'd started. He had to sell it to his printer. His
printer was down in Cape Coral. Ogden Nutting had a paper in Cape Coral and
that was the printer. He couldn't pay the printing bill, so the printer took it over
and they were running it. The fellow who was running that business for Ogden
Nutting called me one day, and he said, Derek, this thing is just too far away from
us and we can't pay attention to it. He said, I would like to sell it to you. I said,
I'm really very busy right now. I said, I don't really have time to do anything. I
said, I want to be in that market one day, but I just don't have time. He said, we
could sell it to you for a really good price. He said, maybe less than $100,000.
I said, no. He said, if you don't do that, I'm going to go to the Chicago Tribune,
they're trying to buy up shoppers up and down the coast. I said, if you go do
that, they'll go look at the one that's successful down there and they'll buy that
So, he called me back in about three months and he said, Derek, I'll make you a
price you can't refuse. I said, you're trying to tell me that the Chicago Tribune
bought the big shopper aren't you, and he said, yes. I said, so you don't have a
prayer. I said, I'll go down and look at it. So, I bought that, I think, for $30,000
no money down, payable over five years.
P: It was a fire sale?
D: It was a fire sale, and they had the editor and a photographer and two salesman.
One salesman didn't wear shoes, he only wore sandals. The other salesman
got around on a motor scooter. That was kind of it there. It was right next door
to a laundromat, and every time the laundromat's plumbing got boxed up, the
place would flood and we would have to unplug all the compu-graphics until the
flood went down.
P: At that point the Charlotte Sun was a twice weekly?
D: It was once a week. It was a sixteen-page tabloid.
P: Then you, over a period of time, you changed it first to a twice weekly?
D: Yes, well first we had to build up the advertising, we had to build the classified
base and build up the advertising.
P: What you would do is, you would build up the advertising and then you would add
the new content.
P: How long did it take to make that paper successful?
D: We did it by stages. I bought that paper in 1979, so it must have been eight or
nine years before we went daily with it. What happened was, we'd build it up to
a twice a week.
P: So you went daily with it in 1987.
D: Yes, we would build it up to twice a week and then we wanted to get the legal
advertising. So we had to be paid to get the legal advertising, so what we did
was, we started a little program called the voluntary-pay program. We had
youth carriers, twelve or thirteen year old boys and girls with den mothers, and
each den mother would have about ten of these little routes. The kids would go
out each week or each month to collect. The people would get the paper
whether they paid for it or not, but they got them on the idea of paying for it, that
it had some value. By that time it had value. It was the only product that
circulated both in Punta Gorda and Port Charlotte. Sarasota did and Fort
Meyers did [circulate to both], but it was the only very locally oriented product
that did that. The Thompson chain owned a paper in Punta Gorda, but they
stayed pretty much in Punta Gorda. They didn't spend much money on that.
There was a shopper that the Chicago Tribune had bought, which fortunately the
Chicago Tribune later sold to somebody else who sold it to somebody else.
That was our principle advertising competitor, the shopper. Our news
competitor was the Thompson paper and the Sarasota paper and the Fort
Meyers paper, but the advertising competitor was the shopper.
P: The Thompson paper was in Punta Gorda?
D: Yes, The Punta Gorda Herald News, it was. So we had the kids out collecting
on this voluntary pay and then we started the Monday edition, and you could only
get the Monday if you absolutely did pay on a regular basis. Not many people
did [pay], but it was enough after a year for us to qualify with the post office as a
paid, legal paper, and we got the legal advertising, which in that day was a big
P: Is that what the Weekly Record is now?
D: Yes, to some extent. We started the Weekly Record for a different reason, but
we got the legal advertising and, as I remember, it was about $100,000, and it
came out of the Punta Gorda Herald's budget, the Thompson budget. We were
doing pretty well with the three times a week, and then we designed a daily
paper, and I was really following the model of USA Today in terms of how it
would look. I said, we're going to have four-section paper of six pages each
section. I had taken advantage of the tax law and built a printing plant separate
from [the] newspaper that had an industrial development bond. I raised about
maybe a million dollars and then we borrowed about $3 million to put up this
plant in Charlotte. I had a plant so that we could print a daily either in Venice or
Charlotte, but the plant was there.
P: Did you print all your papers there?
D: No, we printed in Venice, and we still print in Venice. A small press is there, but
we put a larger press in here. We were printing the papers that we still had in
New Port Richie. Somebody started a paper in Sarasota and we were printing
that and kept the printing plant pretty busy. We designed a paper to be daily,
and I didn't tell anybody where that paper was going to be. I said, we might go
to De Soto and start a daily paper, or we might do this in Venice, I don't know,
we'll see. [The] staff designed the paper, what the content would be. We would
have a classified section, a local news section, a main news section, a sports
section, and we'd tuck business someplace in there. We were going to have
color on the front, so we were going to use, the, exciting at the time, makeup of
Then, I was waiting really to find out where the mall was going to go. I found out
that DeBartolo had taken up the option on the mall property in Charlotte and was
going to build it there, because I wasn't sure whether the mall was going to be in
Venice or Charlotte.
P: This is Eddie DeBartolo?
D: No, his father. So, when it was sure that that was really going to happen I said,
we've got to be daily a year before that place opens so that we're established
and everybody knows that we're the local daily. If we're going to make it, we
have to have the anchor stores.
P: You're talking about advertising with Burdines and Sears and all that?
D: It was absolutely key. We had to have that if we were going to make it. We
were an afternoon, three times a week [newspaper]. I met with our board on
Monday and I said, I want to go daily next week in Charlotte. I said, we have the
press capacity to do that. We'll take our news staff up from nine to about twelve
P: Is that enough?
D: That's all we could afford.
P: I want to go back because it's interesting talking to Loyal Frisbee, publisher of the
Polk County Democrat in Bartow. He was saying that without the county
advertising he really wouldn't have been able to make it. Unless you had the
county seat, as you figured out, it was almost impossible. Of course, his is still a
weekly paper, but he didn't have any other options, did he?
P: That's true of almost all successful weeklies, isn't it?
D: It was at that time, and the legislatures since have changed the law. All those
legals go out for bid now. They bid them, so its not much of a thing anymore.
Yes, it was true of that paper I got in New Port Richey, you only made money
every fourth year when they got the legal advertising.
P: Let me go to when you set up the Charlotte Sun. I noticed the title was the
Charlotte Sun and Weekly Herald.
D: Well, I bought the paper from Thompson, it was, I think, only the second paper
out of their hundred some odd papers that they [had] ever sold.
P: This is the Punta Gorda Herald.
D: This is the Punta Gorda Herald and they were beginning to put money into it and
compete against us. They had built their staff up to a pretty good size and were
trying hard to compete against us.
P: They were the county seat.
D: Yes, they were. The fellow who had worked for Lord Thompson in the early
days and had sort of semi-retired down here and was in Tampa. He called me
up and he said, Derek, you and I have never met. He said, would you like to
meet? He said, we're both down there in business in Charlotte County, we just
ought to meet and visit sometime. I said, okay, I'll come up and we'll visit.
So, I knew he was going to make an offer for our paper. He had a reputation as
a great negotiator. He had bought many, many of the Thompson papers. So I
went up there with my son David. I took David on purpose so that he would
know that there was continuity in our business, because it was a family-employee
owned paper. We spent the day talking and talking and visiting. We had a nice
lunch [at his club] and then he talked about buying the paper. He said, look,
we've got to do something down there. He said, we can't let this thing go
downhill. He said, we're putting a lot of money in it so it doesn't die. He said,
we're looking at some real estate where we'll put a really good size printing plant
in where we can do the things we ought to do. He said, you've already got a
printing print, so it's a natural that we should buy you because you have as big a
printing plant as we need. He said, you know, Derek, let's just face it, there isn't
room in Charlotte County for two dailies. I said, you have convinced me. I said,
there isn't, so I said, why don't you sell us your paper? He said, we never sell
papers, I'm talking about buying. I said, I know, but we never sell either. We're
We had maybe three or four meetings and finally he agreed that he would sell it,
but the price was unreasonable. Then, he called me one day. He said, Derek,
I'm going to go to New Zealand [to go] salmon fishing. He said, my desk is all
cleaned off except for this one item. He said, I'm going to leave in about ten
days. He said, do you think, if we could agree on a price, you could buy this in
the next seven or eight days. I said, certainly. I said, you know you'll have to
finance most of it. He said, we could do that. So, we haggled a little bit on
terms and he said, okay. we'll do it. I said, I will hire everybody there so you
won't have to lay anybody off, that will look bad for you, you'll never sell papers, it
would look bad for you to lay people off. I said, I will hire everybody there
except the editor, the advertising manager, and the publisher. I said, they've
been in this battle real hard and they couldn't make that emotional adjustment.
He said, okay.
We put it [the deal] together and I went down on a Friday with the staff down
there. In the meantime, the Sun manager was meeting with the staff there. At
the same time, like four o'clock in the afternoon, I said, you have just finished
putting out your last paper. I said, we're going to merge these two papers.
They said, well, can't we put out a last edition tomorrow for Saturday. I said, no,
your Saturday paper, which is almost all laid out already, will be part of the
Charlotte paper we're putting together. On that day we took all the name plates,
so we were the Charlotte Herald News Sun.
P: At this point, you've taken on quite a bit of debt. What was your ultimate goal at
this point? It depended to a large degree on how much this community, this
D: It did, and we were caught by a recession there in 1990. When I started it, I
knew that we had that money to start it. I had sold shares to Media General.
P: Media General owns the Tampa Tribune?
D: Right, so I had sold an interest to them. I sold them an interest in our papers up
in New Port Richey [and Hernando County]. They were putting money into it. I
said, when it gets to the point that you've got more money in this than I do, you
can buy them, but that's not the case in Venice. I said, I'm not going to sell
those. I said, you can get those up there and it will fit in with what you're trying
to do in competing against St. Pete. But down here, I said, I would like to sell
you some stock. So, they agreed to buy some stock. As I remember it, it was
[three] million dollars worth. They put [in] money so we had enough money to
P: What percentage of it would they own at this time?
D: They owned about 12 percent of it.
P: Once you get started, this paper, according to the information I have, in the last
ten years, it's the fastest growing daily in the United States, is that right?
D: Since we joined the auto-bureau circulations, which would have been probably in
1988 or 1989, I think we have been, since that time, the fastest growing
P: What's your current circulation, daily and Sunday?
D: Our daily circulation is something over 35,000, and our Sunday circulation runs
about 38,000 or 40,000, or something like that. In the season, the daily will get
up to about 50,000 in the top of the season, and it will lose about 25 percent of
that by July and then start back up again.
P: How many people do you currently have on your workforce at the Charlotte Sun?
D: I can't tell you. We have 440 employees all together. I would have to look at
the numbers to tell you. We have about [seventy] news people here in
Englewood, De Soto, North Port, and Charlotte.
P: So the Venice paper, the Englewood, the De Soto, are part of the Sun and they
have separate sections that apply just to Englewood or just to De Soto.
D: Right, The Venice paper is really a separate entity in that it's a very strong twice
weekly. I think [it's] probably the best weekly in the state.
P: You're going to continue it that way?
D: I look at it and about once a month I think about that, whether we want to be the
daily there or not. I know that it's going to take some millions of dollars to do it,
and so I think about it. The combination has gone along pretty well. When I
said we had about 440 people, that's not all in the newspaper business. We
started some other businesses.
P: Okay, I want to get to that as well. A question I had is, how did an English
magnate, Lord Thompson, get into buying small weekly newspapers in Florida.
D: Lord Thompson, he's a very interesting guy. [His first paper was in the Canadian
North Country.] If you've ever read his autobiography or biography, he was a
very acquisitive fellow. He believed that there was no such thing as a
community newspaper that couldn't make a lot of money. He was wrong, I think,
when he bought the Independent in St. Petersburg and tried to compete against
Nelson Poynter. He bought that, I think, on a whim one day when he was
visiting that area, so I'm told. He reached out to buy papers all over the country.
He had a formula. When I bought the Punta Gorda paper, they wanted to sell
me the building as well. I said, no, I didn't want the building, but I got to see the
plans for the building. The building plans said, first scrape off the permafrost.
So you know he had a pretty canned approach to it.
P: That didn't quite apply in Punta Gorda. Now, as you go through this process,
in addition to growing rapidly, you're going to develop the internet, the Sun/ine.
So, talk to me a little bit about how you got started on that, and when you got
started, and what impact that's had on your business.
D: Well, we got started on Sun/ine, first of all, because I kept trying to reach out for
information. I was looking for information for our news staff, and I said, there are
databases in Tallahassee and we need to figure out how we can tap into those
data bases. So we could do that with a leased phone line. We could tap into the
database in Tallahassee, but it was cumbersome. So, I was following things and
I saw CompuServe.
There were these other services that you could tap into for information if you
were willing to pay the long distance calls, so I started subscribing to the different
ones, Prodigy and CompuServe. It was very cumbersome, and then those
fellows at the University of Illinois-Champaign came out with their first [browser,]
Mosaic. Mosaic was a user-friendly interface. It's the granddaddy of all the
browsers people use today. I got Mosaic, because up to that point, to get onto
the Internet, you had to know whether you should capitalize this letter or
uppercase or lower case. It was all very cumbersome and long distance cost
When Mosaic came out, I said this is going to be it. So, I gravitated to AOL
[America On Line], but I had long distance call to Tampa to get it. I met [Steve
Case,] the president of AOL at some publishers gathering and I said, look, you
need to come to Charlotte County. I said, we need that down there. He said,
we can't do that, that's a telephone issue. He said, we would need at least
3,500 people to justify it. I said, well, okay. So I started campaigning in the
paper. I said if we want to get to this Internet stuff we need 3,500 people. So, I
started running [an ad], send me your name. We got about 3,500. I said, we've
got them. Well, he said, we've got other stuff to do. Nobody was interested.
I said, if nobody is going to do it, then we'll do it. So, I talked to my daughter
who ran our data processing, I said, [Derbbie] we've got to get into this business.
I said, we've got to have it. If nobody is going to do it right, we'll do it. So, she
and I went around and looked at a couple of places and talked to a couple of
people who were in that business. I said, okay, here we go. I said, we've got
two businesses here. One is the Internet service provider business, and one is
the Web business. I said, let's start on the Web business. I said, there's a
book at the book store, Learn HTML in Fourteen Days. I said, go get that, and I
said, there's this really bright gal in our composition department and she would
like a change, something different. So, get the book and give it to her and tell
her to start. After about three days she was doing stuff in HTML, and we were
into the Web business.
P: Are you pretty computer literate, or this is just something you're intrigued with?
D: I wouldn't say I'm computer literate. I'm lucky, if my computer is not working
right, I know that I've got a lot of people here I can call.
P: So that's been a successful business venture?
D: It has been a very successful business venture for us.
P: What is Day Star Communications?
D: Well, we got into that because I said, Debbie, I don't know how long we're going
to be in the ISP [Internet Service Provider] business, but I said, I do know that the
Web business is going to be as big as the print publishing business one day. I
said, I don't know if it's going to take ten years, or twenty years, or what but it will
be. The ISP business, I said, the phone companies will get the bandwidth to
come up. I said, I don't know how they're going to do it but they'll do that and
we'll be out of that business.
I was reading the magazines to find out where it was going, when was the
bandwidth going to come up and how was it going to do it, who was going to do
it. I read about the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and [Congress] created
these things called CLECs, Competitive Local Exchange Carriers. So, I was
expanding my vocabulary of acronyms and reading more about it. I said, I think
maybe we need to get into this business, that's maybe what we need to do. I
said, I think we can do that before the telephone companies do it and before the
cable companies do it. We're a fourth tier market, they won't get around to us
for a long time. I [thought], this community just won't get served very well. I
was mistaken about that, because Comcast got into that business in this market
and they got to the market with good stuff before I did, and so did the telephone
company, but we were launched and committed.
So, we got into that competitive delivery business. I talked to my fellow
publishers about it and they said, why would you be in that business, you're a
content provider. I said, well, if we're a content provider, why do we have a
press, and why do we have a circulation department? I look at this like the
press and the circulation department. It's a way to get information out to people.
P: So, you do telephone services for business and broadband?
P: Has that worked out? Obviously, there's a lot of competition here.
D: There is a lot of competition, [but] we're doing pretty well with it. It's going about
half the speed I would like it to. It's going to take us a couple more years than I
would like for it to be a positive cash-flow business, but it's going to be a good
one. Our customers like what we're doing, so we don't lose customers. They
like it, and so every week we add more.
P: While we're on that subject, let me get your reaction to the Federal
Communication Act of 1996. The whole idea, theoretically, behind that act is
that it would end up with more competition and that in the long run it would be
better for "the consumer," but it looks like, if you look at the overview, it's been
just the opposite.
D: Well, Michael Powell is driven by an idea, which is that there needs to be
P: For the record, Michael Powell is chairman of the Federal Communications
D: Yes, but his view of how there's going to be competition is there's going to be
competition among the giants. My view of competition is here we're a little
independent business and we go out and compete. His view is that it's going to
take giants to compete, so they'll be giants competing, and I think there will be
giants competing. Just as there are giants in newspaper publishing, there's still
room for the independents. We proved there's room for an independent that's
really oriented towards giving value to the reader's and towards the community.
P: I forget what the percentage is. Communication conglomerates can now own 45
percent of the market, up from 35 percent or something like that, and you can
own now two TV stations in the same market.
D: Yes, it's not healthy. I don't think it's healthy for the citizenry.
P: Doesn't it create at least a duopology or quasi-monopoly. William Safire in the
New York Times said it was a violation of the democratic process, because after
a while there would be four or five major conglomerates that would be
determining not only what you hear on the radio, but what you see on television
and what you read in the newspaper. Do you fear that's going to happen?
D: Yes, I am concerned that's going to happen. We're going to have two things.
We're going to have the agendas set by very large corporations in the same way
that television news sets the news agenda now. When I say television news, I
mean from the networks. Even though their share market has gone down,
they're still setting the agenda, and everybody is copying that agenda. So,
today's story, I don't know how many people get shot everyday or get run over by
a car every day, but it's in the hundreds and hundreds, but we pick out one that's
an oddity. Then, all the news organizations in the country are going to focus on
that one oddity when it has some drama to it. I think we're just going to get
more of that as we get this conglomeration. My publisher friends think this is
wonderful that we're going to have this ability to improve the bottom line further
by owning broadcasts and print in the same market.
P: Well, that's been the argument, that the only way you can create large-term
broad efficiencies is to start owning all these entities. The buzz word, is
convergence, converged news rooms.
D: I think they ought to be satisfied with 25 percent margin, you know.
P: I was surprised to learn, Carl Hiaasen told me, that's what the Knight-Ridder
news organization and Tony Ridder demanded, between 22 percent and 25
percent profit. As he said, I know cocaine dealers that don't make that kind of
D: When I worked for Frank Batten, and he had certainly a monopoly newspaper in
the Norfolk area, he said to me one day, and we were talking about raising the
advertising rate, it was time for the annual advertising rate review and to move it
up, he said, theoretically, Derek, how high can we raise the rates? I said
nobody knows, nobody's ever pushed it that far. He said, well, I'm a little
concerned. He said I don't want to see our margin go above 22 percent. He
said if we were to go above 22 percent, we're taking too much out of the market.
There were a lot of Thompson papers that were doing 40 percent.
P: I can see why he wanted to buy a lot of newspapers.
D: The competitors to the St. Pete Times are not comfortable that they have to
compete against somebody that doesn't have to make that kind of margin. I
know that my competitors say, you know, it's really a little unfair Derek competes
down there and he doesn't have any stockholders on the big board that he has to
worry about what the price of the stock is this week.
[End of side A2]
P: Talking to newspaper editors and writers and publishers all over the state, my
sense of how newspapers have changed is that although they make this 22
percent to 25 percent profit margin, they're cutting back on investigative
journalism. The newspapers are getting smaller and the coverage is
decreasing. They don't cover city events like they used to. It appears that at a
certain level, at that kind of profit margin, some of that money ought to go back
into making a better newspaper. Isn't there a point of diminishing returns where
after a while the papers get so that the people don't want to buy them?
D: I think so, I think we're a pretty good example of it. We need to have a profit
here that we can grow the company; buy more press units, improve the take
home pay of our people over time so they become more productive, so that
they're real wages go up. We've got to do all those things, but the rest of it we
can put back into the business. We can say, let's get another reporter, let's get
another artist, let's get more people servicing the advertising customers so that
we don't overlook the mom and pops that are running a nail cutting business or
doing muffler replacements. They need to be serviced. Now it's expensive to
service them, their profit [contribution] is not as great, but it's important that they
I was driving around Venice one day with Lang Capasa who had been our
advertising [director] when I started. I said Lang, look at all these businesses
here in Venice that weren't here when we started. He said, that's right, Derek,
and do you know that they couldn't all have been here if we didn't provide a
means for them to get their message out. He said, we provided that, we
reached all the houses. We had the people out talking to them. He said, they
needed us just like we needed them, and that's why they're here.
P: That's still true, isn't it? I'll give you one example: I know a little bit about the
Gainesville Sun. Gainesville, now, is an area of at least 150,000. The
newspaper, the quality of the paper in my sense, has gone way down. The issue
is that it doesn't have to be any better than that because it has the TV schedule,
it has the store advertisements, it has the movie listings. So, what's to prevent
papers from continuing to go down?
D: I think what they wind up doing is, they wind up losing their market share to other
media rather than to a competitive newspaper. They lose it to a television or
cable or Internet.
P: A lot of people read the New York Times on the Internet.
D: I think we're going to continue to see that. I just kind of wish I had three lives to
live, because I think it would be a lot of fun to put a press on a long truck, you
know an eight wheeler, and roll into a community and start a paper, boom. I
would pick a place like Gainesville or Ocala or Key West where they quit worrying
about what they're doing for people, but goodness knows we have enough to do
here. I think we are largely successful because we are willing to put it back into
P: While we're on TV, your TV book has won a lot of awards. Why is that?
D: Well, it's the best of the country, that's why it wins awards.
P: What makes it the best?
D: What makes it the best in the country is, you figure out what would you like in a
TV book. Wouldn't it be nice if there was a short description of every movie that
was on so you could find it? Wouldn't it be nice if you could scan down the page
and see where are the news programs without reading every line? Wouldn't it
be nice if you knew what your kids could be watching today? So, we color
coded every program, every day of the week. We have maybe eighty pages in
that TV book with very little advertising. It is not an economic vehicle in terms of
did we get a return on investment this week or this month or this year from that,
we don't. I don't know how many thousand people buy our paper because that's
there. I think it is the best one in the country. The only one I thought matched it
was the New York Daily News. [They] had one somewhat similar and they had it
on slick paper. I don't know whether they still do that or not, but it was on
P: When you look at the Charlotte Sun, what percentage of your earnings comes
from advertising and the other retail sales of the paper?
D: I think we're fairly typical with about 20 percent circulation and about 80 percent
P: Your major rival would be the Charlotte Herald Tribune, which is put out by the
D: They are currently our principal competitor. When we started, it was the
Chicago Tribune Shopper and it was the Gannett paper out of Fort Meyers and it
was the Thompson paper and the New York Times paper, and we came in fifth.
I would say today our principle competitor is the Sarasota paper, and we kind of
like having them as a competitor. They put a lot of effort into it and it really
forces us every day to try and be better. Every day we have to say, did we
cover the news, did we cover it well, did we beat the competition, is the content
more valuable than what they're selling? I keep thinking about value. What is
of value to the reader? One day, I know, our staff came in to me and they said,
we just heard the Sarasota paper was going to cut their price in this county,
they're going to cut it by more than half.
P: It's now 25 cents, and your paper costs 50 cents.
D: Yes, well, that's on the newsstand, but they were going to cut the home delivery
price from $140 or $150 to $69 and have a big campaign and billboards, radio
spots, direct mail, and telephone campaign. They came and told me this. They
said, what are we going to do, they're cutting their price to $69. I said well, I'll
tell you what I think we'll do. I think we'll raise our [subscription] price by $5 a
year. They said, what? I said, yes, I think they have repositioned themselves.
Instead of being the high-tone New York Times paper, they've positioned
themselves as the paper for people who can't afford our paper. I said, we'll
raise our price $5, and we'll take the $5 and we'll put it into editorial content. I
said, $5 from all our subscribers, that will get us about two reporters, and we did.
P: I'm noticing in today's paper that the essence of the Charlotte Herald Tribune is
material that's in the Sarasota paper. There's really just one section that's
different. In other words, your coverage of local events is much more extensive
than theirs is.
D: Much more extensive, yes.
P: That's, to some degree, the key to a local paper, because people, if they want
international news, they'll read the New York Times.
D: We have a staff here, the copy desk is here, the sports department is here, but
what about local news coverage? Well, just take the case of De Soto County
where we have about 2,500 circulation. [We] have four news people there. Who
else would have a separate edition for 2,500 and four news people covering just
local news? That's not counting the sports stringers and that's not counting all
the copy desk stuff that goes on here or any of that. We do well in De Soto
County and Sarasota, and the Tampa Tribune keeps disappearing.
P: Let me go back to where you mentioned the Tampa Tribune. Media General
owns WFLA. They have a converged news room.
D: Yes, they do. It's a very interesting operation.
P: How do you think that works? Is that successful?
D: I think they're making a pretty good success of it, yes.
P: Is it primarily because it's more efficient?
D: No, I think with the success that they have with it is that they have made their
Internet site more robust than most people using all three media. To a lesser
extent, they're making their TV news reporting and newspaper reporting reinforce
each other. But I think it's primarily on the Internet side of it that they have
gained from the TV and the newspaper, both feeding into the Internet. As the
bandwidth comes up, the fact that you can do camera work on the Internet,
they're going to get more out of it that way.
P: Diane McFarlin at the Sarasota paper, has established SNN [Sarasota News
Now, cable television show].
P: She thinks that it, once again, expands their coverage; and the more coverage
they have, the more people who are interested in buying their product. Do you
think that is the wave of the future?
D: What I think is the future, the reason I got into this telephone business is, I think
in the long term our competitor is not going to be the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. I
think in the long term our competitor is going to be the cable company because
the cable company can put bandwidth into every household. They're selling
advertising. They're taking a subscription revenue out of that market many times
the size of our subscription revenue, [and] they're going to be offering telephone
services. So, their telephone services, their advertising, and their cable
subscription revenue is going to be much larger than ours is as the daily
newspaper, the combined revenue, is going to be the big revenue producer in
this market when you put all those three pieces together.
What's missing? What's missing is a local news staff. That shouldn't be all that
difficult to replicate. That's the only missing piece they've got in that. So I said,
well, how do I think the newspaper is going to fit into all that? In the long term, I
think the way that it's going to be is that we will give people a printer. We'll put it
in the house, and we'll say if you subscribe you get our printer. It's our printer,
we'll come pick it up if you're not a subscriber.
P: It's kind of like a cable box.
D: Yes. We're going to give you a printer and we're going to give you these plastic
sheets that you print on, and they're going to be plastic sheets embedded with
electrons. You tell us what pages you want, what news stories you want, and
what time you want it printed. You say, well, I want it printed at 4:30 in the
morning and I want all the sports news about the Cardinals, any basketball news,
I want this much market news. I don't want to be cluttered up with a whole bunch
of papers, these are the things I want. We're going to give them menus to select
from, not so much individual stories but little packages [with] some nuances
maybe. So, they're going to get up and they're going to go and there their
sheets are going to be. They're going to be a little heavier stock than this
because they're going to have electrons in them. They're going to look at them
and say, oh, yeah, that's good, I want to take that into the office. They're going
to say, oh, never mind this, I'm going to run that back through. They're going to
recycle [it] and it's going to print again.
P: What is the advantage to that in terms of the advertising? Let's say I want the
editorials, the sports, the comics, and the TV, but I don't want the advertising.
D: Well, then you're going to have to pay more because we're going to run
advertising down the side of the page. We're going to float that advertising to
the page depending on what you called for. Just like today, the tire people go in
the sports sections, so if you're getting the sports you're going to get the tire ads.
Maybe that is just going to come to you with a full sheet.. If you get [an]
advertisement, you can look at it and say, I don't care and throw it back to be
P: The newspaper, as we see it now, will no longer exist in ten years?
D: I don't know what size it might be. What size will our printer be? Will it be this
size? I don't know whether it's ten years, but I think that's what's going to
P: Isn't one of the great advantages of a newspaper that the newspaper staff can
take all this information and organize it and analyze it and present it in one
separate, in a sense, document?
D: It is, but think about how we look at it. I don' t know how many newspapers you
read a day, but I look at maybe seven or eight newspapers a day. I don't look at
everything in them, obviously. The amount of time people spend reading our
paper, and any paper in the United States, is going down. They're being
selective. They're saying, I don't care about sports.
P: In other words, some people just toss those sections.
D: They toss the sections. I think we're going to give people news packages and
they're going to say, I want a general news package. I read the Wall Street
Journal a lot online. On most days of the week, three or four days a week. I pick
it up and always read the left hand column to see if I missed anything. Looking at
all these other papers, did I miss a national or world story, or did I miss a
business story of significance? But that doesn't take me into the paper unless
something grabs me there. I think people are going to be constantly exposed to
more information, and if we can change the quality of the information to make it
more helpful, [that would be positive]. Nobody has to read the op-ed page
[opinion-editorial page, but] I know a high percentage do, a high percentage.
P: Do you think a lot of people take the newspaper just so they can read letters to
the editor and the editorial?
D: I think that it's a factor. We can't sell and say, would you give us a nickel a day
for the editorial page and letters to the editor; but certainly the fact that we run
almost every letter that somebody writes us, the inveterate letter writer we limit to
one a month, but aside from that caveat, and there we have about a dozen of
those, we run almost every letter that comes in. That's definitely a factor in how
people feel about this newspaper.
P: Who chooses the letters?
D: We don't really choose them. I mean we're saying, we're going to run them.
So the editorial page editor is the gate keeper, he reads them first.
P: Somebody has to look at them.
D: Oh, yes, we have to read them [and] we have to call people to make sure we're
not getting a phony. We call everyone saying, I have your letter here, it's long.
I could cut this paragraph and run it, or would you like to resubmit it. We make
sure it's the person who wrote the letter.
P: How have letters to the editor changed since you've been at the Charlotte Sun?
D: I don't know that they have. I think it changes with the mood of the community,
generally. If the mood of the community is generally supportive of what the
county commission is doing or the city council is doing, then the letters tend to
reflect that. If there's some anger and impatience and it's a thread of community
mood, then that will show up in the letters.
P: I noticed today in the letters that there were two letters dealing with Bush and
American foreign policy. So, you see a mix of people expressing their views.
D: We don't attempt to balance it. We don't say we're getting too many letters
supporting Bush, or too few, or too many attacking Bush. We say, what comes
in, goes in. It's up to the public to sound off to the level that they want to sound
off about it.
P: I noticed also that you have opportunities for op-ed pieces. Today there was a
woman, and I didn't read it carefully, who was involved with housing for the
mentally ill. These are issues of local importance. Do you ask people to submit
D: They might call up and say, I have a letter and I know it's longer than your 250
words. I'm so and so and I want to write about so and so. We say, well, we'll
do a guest column then. We try and keep the letters to 250 words, but if it's
somebody who's got knowledge and common sense about some particular
subject, then we give them a column.
P: Talk about the editorials. Who is in charge of determining who writes it and
what's in it? Is it John Hackworth?
D: John writes almost all of our editorials.
P: Do you read them? Do you approve them?
D: I read almost every one. Occasionally, I might be away; I might miss one now
and then, but it would be very seldom. John emails them to me every day and I
read them. I seldom change them very much. He might write an editorial and
say, this is a blatant miscarriage of justice, and I'll say John, can't we use another
word than blatant.
P: But you rarely change the content?
D: Rarely, but now we had one this week that I changed the content. He wrote an
editorial about the courts ruling on abortion having to do with whether a minor
had to get the parents' permission to have an abortion. He had a very good
editorial. He said after all, if you get your ears pierced, you've got to have your
parents' permission, if you drink under twenty-one it's against the law, you can't
get a learner's license until sixteen and drive until eighteen, so why wouldn't we
do that. I said, well, John, I read your editorial and I'm somewhat ambivalent
about it. I said, I think there's another side to it. I think the professionals in the
field would say, that's a bad law. They want to be able to advise the person,
yes, you ought to go have an abortion and not have to get the parents'
permission. They would say there are cases where they ought to do that. My
feeling is that there's a significant number, and I don't know what the number is,
but there's a number out there of children twelve, thirteen, fourteen who are
going to get thrown out of the house if they tell them. They're going to get beat up
if they tell them. It may be their father, their stepfather, their mother's boyfriend,
a brother, an uncle, [that is the father] and we're saying, by law you've got to go
talk to your mother about this. [They would have to say] your boyfriend raped me
or seduced me, or whatever. I said, I don't think so. I said, I think there's
another side to it and I think we ought to think about that. I think you need to
raise that issue as well.
So anyway, he rewrote the editorial. He said, I can see your point. I said, you're
the father of teenage girls. I said, our manager is the father of teenage girls and
the editor is the father of a teenage girl, so you have a point-of-view. I said, my
daughter is no longer a teenager, but I think there is more than one view here.
P: So you try to balance it out a little bit?
D: I balanced that one. He said, I'll rewrite it, I'll change some things. So, he
changed a couple of paragraphs and I said, I think that's good.
P: You know on an issue like abortion you're going to get a lot of letters anyway on
D: I'm going to, yes.
P: Do you see yourself editorially, and I really deplore these terms but for lack of
better terms, more conservative or more liberal?
D: I would say that I am a conservative at the federal level, I'm a liberal at the local
level, and somewhere in between at the state level. I think it's deplorable the
way the Republican legislature in our state has behaved. I think it's deplorable
the way the whole state group of the cabinet, the senate, and the house [of
representatives have behaved]. I think it's deplorable what they've done with
the budget. I believe that we should tax ourselves for the benefits that we
expect. On the other hand, I think at the federal level we waste [money] terribly
and we try to control too much at the federal level, we try to control too much at
the state level. We say, okay, we people in Tallahassee, we know better than
you folks at the local school board. We'll tell you how to run your school board.
You go ahead and do the taxes, but we'll tell you how to spend it.
P: The state legislature tries to tell us how to run the University of Florida. If they're
going to have a tuition increase, why don't they just take that money and turn it
over to the university and let us charge our own tuition. We can run the
university and they can oversee the business element.
D: I would say that John Hackworth and Jim Gouvellia [the executive editor,] are
both more liberal than I am. Our best known local columnist Brian Gleason is
certainly more liberal, and he used to be our editorial page editor before that.
But I've never had a problem because we don't write national editorials.
P: It's almost all local issues?
D: Yes, and so, though our editorial writers have almost always been more liberal
than I, I don't have a problem. After all, what are we trying to do in the editorial
page? We're trying to bring an issue before our public, to stimulate some
thought and conversation. Perhaps we're trying to educate, once in a while to
amuse, and with some luck from time to time, persuade. Although the
persuasion part never works as well as editorial writers hope.
P: I was looking at your columnists, do you choose the columnists? Do you try to
get a balance? I noticed that Cal Thomas [conservative columnist] is one of the
D: Right, we have to balance him against Molly Ivins [liberal columnist].
P: So you have Molly Ivins as well. That's a very definitive balance there.
D: We have Sowell on the conservative side, and I would say we are pretty fairly
balanced. That's my judgement, that we're pretty fairly balanced. It's easier to
find liberal writers than conservative writers. Particularly at a local level, we
could use one more conservative writer or columnist.
P: What about comic strips, could there be a large response if you were to change
one comic strip for another?
D: Not as much as it used to be, but we haven't changed it very much.
P: I noticed you had Doonesbury.
D: Yes, but we put him on the editorial page.
P: I noticed that.
D: We balanced him, there's two on the editorial page.
P: The other one is Mallard Fillmore, right?
D: Yes, so they're both there.
P: They're across from each other?
D: Yes, balancing.
P: How do you deal with editorial cartoonists? Do you choose them?
D: John has done almost all of that. In fact, we had one today, I didn't think it made
any sense at all. I mean, I don't get into the editorial cartoons. We don't have a
local editorial cartoonist. We might occasionally get somebody on a certain
subject to do one, but there's probably a lot of talented people around here and
we probably ought to do that more often.
P: Let me go back and talk a little bit about the evolution of your management of this
newspaper. When you first came to the paper, what was your long-term goal?
We've already talked about making a profit, but beyond that, what did you have
D: I guess, I like swimming against the tide a little bit. I like competition, and I
thought that the fact that the newspapers in the country were becoming more and
more chain owned was distressing. In fact, when I was in college, I entered an
oratorical contest, which I fortunately won, and my subject was "How Free Is
America's Press?." The point of my oration was that it was not as free as the
Constitution had designed it because there was too much in the hands of chains.
Of course it was much less in 1952 than it is today, and I thought it was too
much [then]. I thought at the time that the salvation for that would be from
technology, because it was too expensive to get into the newspaper business. I
followed very closely what was happening in offset printing. I thought when you
could have the equivalent of a typewriter instead of a linotype and set type, then
there might be competition. I thought that that would happen. That has
happened in terms of the weekly papers. We have many, many, many weekly
papers because they're cheap and easy to produce.
P: How many of them, though, are independent? A lot of them are owned by
chains as well.
D: We have about 110 or so in Florida. I don't know how many of them are
independent. I think [by] far the majority of them are, papers like SL's [Frisbie]
over there. It may be hard to sustain and maybe to make a profit. It's awful
hard work, but if it's really what you want to do, you can do it.
P: What other changes did you make once you started with this newspaper? When
you realized that you were looking at a long-term period of about twenty-five
years, how have you changed either your management style or some of the
technological change we've already talked about?
D: I think we tried to do technology on the cheap whenever we could. We were not
afraid of going into something new and different if we could do it economically. I
had a little Apple II computer, I guess that was Apple's first commercial product,
and we figured out how to do our payroll on that. It was a pretty inexpensive
way to do it, but we were doing it by hand, so we said, we can program this a
little bit. It was pretty elementary programing.
We tried to be alert to those opportunities. We tried to think in terms of our
market and how it needed to be served so that we can do it effectively and have
a healthy business. I don't think that what we have done has surprised me. I
thought that we would do this. I thought we would probably do it in Venice
rather than Charlotte. I thought that's where the mall would be built and I
measured the distance from the Sarasota Square Mall. I said, one would fit in
here very well, people don't like to drive that far; I think it will do fine. So that
part was different than I expected, but I expected to have a newspaper of about
this size. One that would have an impact on the community. I said, as long as I
have a weekly paper, our goal should be for it to be the best weekly paper in the
United States, that's got to be our long-term goal. I don't know that The
Gondolier is the best weekly paper in the United States, but I think it's one of the
better ones, one of the best. I don't know what percentage, but I would place it
up there. It wins, year after year, best in its class in Florida, and Florida is a
pretty good newspaper state. Our daily, I would like people one day to be able
to say, that is one of the best community dailies in the country.
P: While we're on that, what do you see as the major purpose, the major function of
D: The newspaper, it's not like it has a major function. A newspaper is a web of
things. Maybe at the heart of this newspaper is that we make this area a
community. In order for it to be a community, the people that are volunteering
have to know what the other volunteers are doing. The people that are serving
in government, either elected or as employees, or in schools, need to know
what's going on, they need the recognition, they need to know what the issues
are. Then the people, generally, need to know what's happening, what are the
issues, what's changing.
P: So, the focus is primarily on information.
D: Yes, one hopes that you present information in a useful and interesting manner,
in an attractive, interesting, useful manner. It's information of all kinds, and we
are an information company. That is our business, we are an information
company. We are not just a newspaper company or a telephone company, we
are an information company.
P: How do you see, as a publisher, your relationship to the community? In other
words, are you a member of various clubs, do you support charities, how
important do you see your visibility in the community as being a part of what the
D: I have never gone on any of the non-profit boards in this community. I've, of
course, been asked many times, and I don't get confused when somebody asks
me to go on their board. They're not asking Derek Dunn-Rankin to go on the
board, they're asking the publisher of the newspaper to go on the board. I've
always said to them something like this: you don't want me on the board of the Y
[MCA] because you're going to want stuff in the paper and you're going to want
support, and if I go down to the editorial department and say, hey, I'm on this
board and we've got to do something for them, all of our healthily skeptical news
people are going to lean in the other direction. Now, if I go down there and I'm
not on your board and I say, hey, the Y has got a campaign going and we've got
to figure out how to let everybody know about this campaign, and I'm not a
member of your board, I can help you a lot. So I said, anytime you need help,
you come see me.
We have early on, like many newspapers, a charitable advertising rate. Our
charitable advertising rate is zero. If you have an non-profit and you're going to
run a big charity event and you want to sell tickets and you want people to be
aware of it, you come in and talk to us, we have a gate keeper who takes care of
that, and we'll put an ad together; and we'll run it in the paper. If you need two
or three, we'll run it. I would say that the retail value of the space that we give is
about millionn a year. Now they come to me and they say, we really need you
to contribute $500 to this organization. I say, you don't want me to contribute
$500. If I contribute $500, I have to take it out of newsprint. If I take it out of
newsprint, that's $2,000 or $3,000 of advertising I can't do for the non-profits in
this community. [I tell them] you don't want my money, you want my space, and
I'm ready to give you my space. Now, [our] cost is probably $200,000 or
$250,000 for this million dollars worth of goodwill, and maybe even less if we do
it on the space available basis.
P: Does the paper sponsor charitable events? I noticed the Daytona News Journal
sponsors scholarships and things like that, do you all do any of those activities?
D: No, we don't do any scholarships. I think the only cash contribution that we
make to the community is to the United Way, because we match the employee's
contribution to the United Way.
P: How has your audience changed since 1979?
D: I don't know how it's changed. I don't think it has changed. The community has
gotten a little bit younger and our audience has probably gotten a little bit
younger with it, but I don't think it's changed appreciably. I think we have the
same audience. In some ways we are more fortunate than many papers
because a lot of our audience is older and grew up with newspapers and
consider them part of their lifestyle.
P: How do you get younger people to start reading newspapers?
D: We have, of course, a very big newspaper in education program, I would guess a
couple thousand papers a day, I would think.
P: These are synopses that you get to the school kids?
D: No, we give them the newspaper.
P: You give them the whole newspaper, okay.
D: If school teachers are wanting newspapers for their classes, whether it's English
or history [or] American government, whatever the courses, we provide a
newspaper. This year we started a section just for teenagers. It comes out on
Tuesday of each week. In fact, every day of the week we have something. We
have our weekly record on Monday, and that has all the fire calls on it for the
week and legal advertising and so on. Then on Tuesday we have "Buzz", which
is the product for the teenagers.
P: That's what I was going to ask you next, what "Buzz" was.
D: That's the product for the teenagers, and it seems very popular. We have a
weekly in each town that comes out of Wednesday. There's something every
P: Have reporters changed since 1979?
D: Well, we have better reporters today because we can afford better reporters.
When we started, I couldn't afford to do anything except pay a little bit over the
minimum wage. As a reporter, I would always have somebody who just was
dying to be a reporter. I said, well, we'll have to pay the editors so they clean up
their copy, but we can't pay reporters very much. Today, I would say we are still
not competitive with Naples, Ft. Meyers, [and] Sarasota, but we're closer, we're
reasonably close. Each year we're able to bring that level up a little bit. So, we
have more talented people today. They do a better job.
P: How important, in terms of hiring reporters, is a journalism degree?
D: I don't think it's terribly important. We have a fairly good mix of people that have
done different things. We had this retirement for a gentleman who had a been
with us for thirty-nine years, he was the editor of our Venice Gondolier for many,
many years. Well, Sam had a talent. We didn't have much money to spend on
news people, and he had a talent for finding people who could write and be
reporters, people who wanted to be reporters. One had been a singer, but she
loved people and liked to talk about people and network with people. Another had
been a banker and he got tired of being a banker. They had done all sorts of
things. One was a high school jock, but he always liked sports. Sam, had a
good way of sizing people up and seeing [what] interested them. Then, he
would give them a little test. He would say, all right, I want you to write a little
news story for me. There's a typewriter over there, go over to that typewriter and
write a news story for me. [He would say] here's a scenario, the 7-Eleven down
at the corner has just been robbed, you've just heard it on the radio, and the guy
beat it out of the 7-Eleven, we don't know how he got away, and he said and you
can imagine the rest and write me a story. So then, they would bring him back
the story, and he would say, I think we can make a reporter out of you.
P: If you were talking to a young person, would you advise them to major in English
and go work for a newspaper, or is there some value in a journalism degree?
D: I think there's value in a journalism degree, but I'm not sure how many credit
hours it ought to be. There's a push by the journalism schools to raise the credit
hours for journalism degrees. I think history, government, [and] English are very
important. How much should be in the craft, I don't know. A certain amount
ought to be on something basic like spelling. In fact, we give a spelling test
here. I think it's the only test we give for people who want to come to work here
as a reporter. They have to take a spelling test. When we first started doing it, I
told the editor, I want you to start giving spelling tests. He said, well, what's the
point, how high do you want it to be? I said, I want you to give a spelling test to
everybody here. From then on, I want you to give a spelling test to your
applicants, and they have to beat the average. I said, gradually our average will
go up. I don't want you to lay off anybody, but the spelling is atrocious. He
said, we'll lose some good reporters that way. I said, well, they're out there by
the hundreds and the thousands, and you're going to get one here and one
there. The fact is that you [will] get them, but they can also spell.
P: I don't want to get into specifics here, but I read certain newspapers, and one
day, I was going to correct one page of a paper. After about forty-five minutes
and about fifteen errors of either grammar or spelling, I quit. I wonder how you
manage on a daily basis to get all of these errors out of the newspaper.
D: We don't get enough of them out and we keep score. We don't do it everyday,
but we'll go and we'll say, for the next four weeks we're going to keep score and
we're going to check the front page and sports front and the editorial page. We
swap them back and forth between departments and we got through looking for
the spelling errors [and] the grammar errors. They're too high, and it destroys
confidence and credibility. One thing is, we try and we have part-time
proofreaders. Proofreaders are something that went out [with technology
changes]. Stuff was so expensive to set on the linotype, you had to get a
proofreader first. Then, because you could make mistakes on the linotype, we
had to proof it a second time. If the linotype operator kept making a lot of
mistakes he got moved to the side. So, I said, we're going to go back, this is
just too terrible, we're going to go back to proofreaders. They said, where will
we get proofreaders? I said, you just advertise, you just let them know. I said,
you have people calling all the time complaining about the spelling.
Ex-schoolteachers tell us how bad our grammar is; offer them a job. I said,
wouldn't it be fun to come down and work part-time at a newspaper? So we had
people who'd come in at night and work about four hours, part time, and
P: That's improved it?
D: It has improved a lot, but sometimes the stories pile up and too many of them
come in at the last minute. Everything has to get speeded up and the stuff gets
P: If you make a critical error, how do you correct it, and what part of the newspaper
do you correct it in?
D: We try to correct it on the page that it appeared on. If it appeared on the local
front, we try to correct it on the local front. We do it as promptly as we can. We
have, fortunately, not been in any libel suits. We have people call up and say,
you've done this wrong, you've done me wrong, you've got this wrong. My
experience has been, if you will reach across to the person who is angry about it
or upset; and say, come in a tell us about it, if we got it wrong we want to fix it,
come in and tell us what we did wrong. [They'll say], you had my name confused
with somebody else and people think that's me and that's not me. I didn't do
that terrible thing. So, we say, come in and talk to us about it, we'll write a story.
P: So, just by talking with them, you sort of blunt some of that anger.
D: Yes, people sue because they get angry and frustrated because they can't deal.
They're dealing with an institution, we can't deal with an institution. I write a
column every Sunday in the paper. I think I'm at number 595 now. I think I only
missed one Sunday out of the 595, where I had someone write one for me.
[End of side B3]
P: What are your subjects?
D: My subject might be a lot of different things. I don't think what I say is all that
important. It's important that people know there's a real person in charge here.
Sometimes I might talk about the paper and say, you know, we think that we
have different owners at this paper. We've got the legal owners. We've got the
employees as owners of this paper; and our advertisers are owners, and you
readers are owners, and the people that make the community work in
government and volunteers, I say, they're owners. I get that across, that's how
we feel about it. I might write about some books I've read over the last month or
two. I might be at a publishers meeting at some place I haven't been before,
maybe we have some interesting speakers there. We might have General
Wesley Clark in charge of the [Kosovo] war there, so you know I'll write about
that. I might write about how it was in Florida when I was ten years old.
P: It's more descriptive then analytical or editorial?
D: They range the whole run. I think I wrote one last week about responsibility and
risk. I said, you know, a life without responsibility and risk is not a free life. We
tend too much to go around looking for scapegoats and people to sue. That was
an opinion piece. I might write about economics. I will write an analytical piece
about economics, what I think it means that our unemployment rate is at 6.4
percent and what I, as a business person, think is likely to happen, and what
does that mean in this economy and in this market.
P: You write about what it means for this community.
D: And [I write about the effects] for this community, yes.
P: Another question that has come up more frequently, recently, is the number of
women in the newspaper business. At one time in Florida, it was pretty much a
male bastion. I notice, for example, at the Sarasota paper, the publisher, the
executive editor, and one other high-ranking person is a woman.
D: That [goes] all the way down the line. The local publisher here is a woman. The
editor here was a woman reporting to a managing editor who was a woman,
reporting to an executive editor who was a woman, reporting to Diane [McFarlin,
Publisher of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune]. I've met them all and they're all
pretty able people. I think it's more coincidence than anything else. You know,
for women to make it in the workplace, it's one of the most difficult problems is
that they don't have the mentors that men have. Men have mentors, buddies
who they talk about sports with. For the potential woman manager, who is the
mentor that that person can get council and advice from in a male-dominated
[field]? It's very tough.
P: How many women do you have in important positions in this paper?
D: I couldn't tell you how many. I would say we are certainly more male dominated,
but among our employees what number are Asian, blacks, Spanish American,
men, or women, I could not tell you. I think we have less women in
management than we ought to have, and I think it largely comes down to that, of
their having a mentor. We don't care, we just want the best person for the job.
We don't care about anything else. Age doesn't make any difference, thin, round,
fat. Can they get the job done, can they be better? We're a very competitive
newspaper, and we have to be better than average. We can't be average, we
can't afford to be average. We would get plowed under if we're average. I
expect people to perform in a superior manner.
P: I notice that when you started the paper you said you used some of the concepts
of USA Today, what's you're overview of that newspaper?
D: I think they had a most revolutionary impact on newspapers, huge.
P: USA Today has the color weather page and that sort of thing, but some people
look at it as McNews [referring to the McDonald's fast food chain]. It take the
news and really eliminates a lot of necessary facts, and it's for airplane readers.
Is that a fair criticism?
D: I think that it meets the need of the traveler very well. It is far more
comprehensive than people understand. I don't read USA Today everyday, I get
it delivered to my house everyday. If I go to their financial section, frequently
they have a story that no one else has. Certainly, in sports, they tend that way.
P: It's probably the best sports section.
D: I don't find the front page particularly interesting. Certainly, I'm not interested in
the thing they used to run with a story from Michigan and a story from Arizona,
that thing. I thought that was an interesting concept. In fact, I tried to put it in
here, but I couldn't get the AP [Associated Press] to do that for me. I almost got
UPI [United Press International] doing it back when UPI was still in business. I
thought that was a good concept for a market like this when people are from all
over. You know, not everybody wants to read the New York Times every day. I
don't want to read the New York Times every day. New York Times started
home delivery in my neighborhood and I said, well, okay, I'll subscribe for a
month or so. No, it didn't meet my interest and information needs as broadly as
[USA Today]. They did a great job at the start of the war in Iraq. Nobody
matched them in terms of pulling all the information together, giving you the
maps and that kind of stuff. They were terrific.
P: Is that still the best newspaper in the country?
D: Well, it's probably the most broad and comprehensive. I don't know that you
can say it's the best, [but] for what they're trying to do it's the best. Wall Street
Journal is the best for what's it's trying to do.
P: One of the things I've noticed about USA Today is, they have now started doing
quite a bit of investigative journalism, which they had not been doing before.
That sort of expands the purpose of that newspaper and some of the things
they've exposed have been ahead of the New York Times and the Washington
Post. Is that something you try to do at this paper? Do you have people that
you can afford to put out on long-term investigative reports?
D: We tend to do projects, team projects, so we get a project together and we put
maybe three people on this team on this particular project. Local government in
this area is more honest and above board than in many places. We're unlikely
to uncover some scandalous goings on where somebody is paying somebody to
get a zoning change even though the bucks may be big and there may be a lot of
lobbying going on, but it's verbal lobbying. It's not money lobbying like goes on
at the legislatures, like sin. Our projects might be more oriented towards, what
is the story on water today, where are we at, what's happening, what's the long
term, what's the short term, what's the impact of water? How important is it that
the state or the county acquire this piece of land and put it aside? What's at stake
here? Who are the stake holders, the sellers, potential buyers? What may
happen? So, we will do projects like that. How serious is the homeless
problem in this community? It seems to be pretty serious. We go out and we
find out where they are, we write a story about it. We have many [homeless]
people, and we say who's dealt with this problem and seemed to have done well
with it? We got into that town, go visit that town and see how they've done it.
That might be part of a three-part series. It's not trying to find the crooks kind of
P: Sometimes when you would expose some corruption or you would write a
particularly stinging editorial, do you get pressure from advertisers who say we're
going to cancel our ads, we're going to disagree with you so strongly that we
want to cancel our ads?
D: No, we don't get much of that. Years ago, I remember, I got a phone call from a
fellow who managed a tire store. We did a lot of business with him. He was
one of our best advertisers. We only had the Gondolier a couple of years then
and we really needed the money. He said, I got picked up for DUI and I know
it's going to go in your police beat. He said, I can't have that in the police beat.
He said, if my boss sees that I'm in big trouble. He said, you've got to pull that
out of there. We said, we can't do that. He said, if you don't pull it out of there,
you won't see my advertising. We said, well, we regret that but it's got to be in
there. So, we ran it and sure enough he pulled his advertising.
P: The bad news is he really needed you, right?
D: Well, there were other places. He put the advertising in other places, in
shoppers and stuff like that, in our competitors. But then, at the end of the year,
our general manager who's got a good sense of humor sent him a bill. He said
this is a bill for $12,000 for the advertising you didn't do this year. The guy said,
okay, I got the message, you've probably been punished enough. He said, send
I had a fellow call me up a few months ago. He's a friend of mine, a person we
do business with. He said, my son got in a scrape, he did a really dumb thing.
He was with a bunch of guys and he snatched a purse and they got picked up.
He just got accepted to college and this is going to maybe jeopardize the whole
thing. He said, am I asking the wrong thing? I said, yes, you're asking the
wrong thing. He said, well, I kind of thought so. He said, I understand. I said,
I'll tell you what I'll do though, I can understand your concern as a dad. I said,
as a dad, I appreciate your calling me. I know you're down there for your son and
you're going to talk to him and get him the help he needs and so on. I said, I'll
go down and check. I said, sometimes some green, inept person blows
something out of proportion. I said, I'll just go see that it doesn't get blown out of
So I called the editor. I said, I don't want anyone to know this, but I want you to
go look. I said, here's the story and I just want to go note and see if there's a
police blotter item on him. Because his dad was fairly well known, he wasn't a
public official or anything, but, I said, let's not make the son a victim because his
dad is fairly well known. So, he went back and told me, no, it's just a police
blotter item. I said, okay. I didn't promise his dad anything, but I knew him and I
thought as a dad I wouldn't want it blown out of proportion, but it's got to go, it's
P: Did you have, and do you still have, much contact with the Florida Press
D: [Well, I am a past president and] I'm on one of their foundation boards.
P: What do you see as their role in the state of Florida?
D: Well, we have a very nice arrangement in the state of Florida. We have the
weeklies and the dailies in the same organization. The weeklies give Florida
press a lot of lobbying clout, but the Florida Press [Association] doesn't want to
pay anybody to take anybody to dinner. We have a lobbyist, but he can't take
anybody to dinner, he can't spend any money. So, we're not in the same place
as the people from the telephone company, hospitals, and so on. We have the
weeklies' publishers and editors. The dailies provide half the leadership. Half
the board members are made up of daily publishers that rotate through those
chairs. When they have the Florida press meetings, it's very nice for the weekly
publishers to show up and meet the guy who is the editor of the Miami Herald or
the publisher in Jacksonville and rub elbows with him. Socially, that is a nice
mix. It's a good balance and mix with the dailies really putting the bulk of the
money muscle there on the freedom of information issues. From the
commercial side, they're doing a very good job, particularly for the weeklies, as
an ad placement, one-bill organization.
P: The local weekly papers would have quite a bit of influence on elected
representatives by editorializing on certain issues.
D: Right, they'll be calling up or having lunch with them at the Rotary Club.
P: When you look back at the time you've been at this newspaper, what would you
think the paper's most important contribution to the community has been?
D: I think letting people see that it is one community [has been the greatest
contribution]. Before we put our paper together here, Englewood was a different
community, and Punta Gorda, and Port Charlotte, and North Port, which is part of
economic community but a different community because it's in a different county.
But all four communities just have a huge amount in common, as does De Soto.
What we have been able to do is say, this is the total community. This is what
you're a part of and this is what's going on in this total community. Nobody did
that until we did. I think we're an important part of that glue that holds the whole
P: Is there a certain incident or event that took place that, when you think back, was
very unusual or strange or amusing, that would be different from most of the daily
activities at the paper? I remember talking to one newspaper editor, and they
were in the middle of a hurricane and still got the paper out.
D: I think that what our folks talk about frequently is the speed with which we
sometimes do things. For example, when we went from three times a week and
a voluntary paid paper to daily, and we decided to do it for six days, we didn't
decide on seven days until two weeks beforehand. I was the only who knew that
we were going to [go daily] and where we were going to do it. I met with the
staff on Tuesday and we went daily five days later. We topped that one time
because we had a weekly in Arcadia. I said, we're going to go daily in Arcadia,
and we're going to have a daily addition in Arcadia. I laid it all out, and I had it
all down on a piece of paper all the things that I thought needed to be done.
Then, in my Sunday column, I wrote and said, next Sunday we're going to have a
daily paper in Arcadia. We're going to launch that on Wednesday, this was on
Sunday. That's where my staff read about it, some of them. Those who didn't
said, we better always read Derek's column [tomorrow]. I came to work on
Monday and they said, oh, my gosh, what are we going to do. I said, well, here
it is, here's the piece of paper and here's what we're going to do, and we're going
to do it by Wednesday or Thursday, or whatever day it was that week.
P: You got it done.
D: We got it done, yes.
P: I want to ask about the significance of the [recent events at] the New York Times.
Everybody knows about the Jayson Blair and the fabricated stories. How do
you see that event? Is this a problem of lax editorial control? He had been in
trouble previously and they had warned him, but nobody actually stopped his
D: What I think is that the newspaper industry is picking lint out of its naval. I think
it goes on all over the country. I think it's much more prevalent than anybody
knows, and this just happened to be a conspicuous place and a conspicuous
incident. I think there's so much hand wringing over this, it's ridiculous. This is
not the cardinal having sexual relations with his secretary, or a priest seducing a
member of the congregation and we're going to make a scandal out of it. This,
unfortunately, happens all too often in my opinion.
P: This is the New York Times.
D: That's the thing, we're saying this it the holy of holies and this is not a holy, holy
business. This is a real people in a real world business, this publishing of news.
Whether we're on the television screen or whether we're writing for a magazine
or a daily newspaper, this is real human people doing real human things, and
they're imperfect. We've got this idea that this is some people up on Mt.
Olympus sending forth the word. This is a real grimy world in which people live
and work and make mistakes, do dumb things, and do dishonest things along
with generous, warm-hearted, and honest things.
P: Anna Quinlan said it was an overreaction.
D: Oh, it was a terrible overreaction.
P: Should the New York Times Executive Editor Howell Raines have been forced to
D: I wouldn't have thought so. Maybe there was another reason, maybe they were
ready to get rid of him anyway.
P: He was a autocrat in the newsroom and made a lot of people unhappy.
D: That in itself, in my judgement, was not enough to dismiss somebody.
P: We've had Janet Cooke at the Washington Post, Stephen Glass, and then we
found out Rick Bragg had taken material from a stringer and put it under his
by-line, so this doesn't appear to be that unusual. Why do you think there was
such an outcry about this?
D: It must have been a slow news week.
P: But it goes on.
D: It does [go on]. We have this thing in our business of getting on a subject and
beating it to death. Have you ever read Lincoln Steffen's autobiography? It's a
great book, [he was a famous muckraker] and Lincoln Steffen said that when he
was a young reporter in Manhattan, his editor just chewed him out over the
telephone something awful. He said, you didn't get the pick-pocket story. He
said, what pick-pocket story? He said, all our competitors have the pick-pocket
story; there's all these pick-pockets down in Time Square and they arrested
these two or three guys. [There must have been a dozen papers in Manhattan at
that time]. So, he went and he talked to a veteran [reporter]. He said, I've got
to get a pick-pocket story. He said, there will be plenty of them tomorrow, he
said not to worry. He said, go here, talk to this guy and you'll get a pick-pocket
story. So the next day, Lincoln Steffen had a pick-pocket story, as did every
paper in Manhattan. Lincoln Steffen said, how did it happen. All of a sudden like
the influenza, all these pick-pockets [came out]. The guy said, oh, nothing has
changed. He said, that first story was a good story, everybody had to get on it.
He said, this will run it's course and we'll be out of this in about ten days.
P: Doesn't this, in a broad context, undermine the credibility of newspapers in
general, not just the New York Times? This is perhaps a little biased, but Fox
News conducted a poll and said that newspapers had about the same credibility
as HMOs [Health Maintenance Organizations]. Isn't that part of the sense that
newspapers aren't as accurate as they used to be?
D: I don't know that they're less accurate. I doubt they're less accurate. I suspect
they may, in fact, be more accurate. I think that the credibility, the ratings, that
people have go across a whole lot of institutions. It has to do with doctors and
hospitals. Can you imagine when you were fourteen years old somebody suing
a doctor? No, you didn't sue a doctor. Doctors did their very best, you trusted
them to do their very best. You didn't expect them to be perfect, [but] nobody
sued a doctor. They were wonderful people. Now, are doctors better today? Of
course they're better today, but they don't have the respect they once had. Nor
do the priests, nor does the lawyer, nor the newspapers [have that respect], and
certainly not politicians or businesses.
P: Is this an ethical breakdown? We have Martha Stewart, we have Enron, we
have all of these institutions and individuals who have committed felonies across
the United States. We see this as a change from what it used to be.
D: I doubt it's a change. I doubt if its changed from [when] Jay Gould tried to fix the
price of gold and [President Ulysses S.] Grant's brother-in-law got involved, I
P: We just know more about it.
D: Absolutely, we know more about it. I don't know what all those railroad
magnates did, but if you read a good, healthy, objective biography, there was
plenty of chicanery that went on. If you read the story of John D. Rockefeller,
who became a wonderful, sensitive, loving old man giving away his money, but
he was ruthless, unethical-well, he thought he was ethical, he thought he was
right-but the things he did were terrible.
P: Let me bring up another element to this. Because Jayson Blair is black, some
people have argued this was a failure of affirmative action. He was brought in,
promoted past his talent level, and that this shows that you can't do that on a
high-level situation. Is that a fair analysis?
D: Since I don't know the man and don't know who his bosses were, [I can't say for
sure]. I think there certainly there might be a tendency of anybody to say, oh
boy, here's a fellow that's coming along really well and we need to move folks
like that up, give him an opportunity and this is a person who's earning it. I think
there's got to be a tendency that way, but I don't think you can lay it all to that.
P: Well, it certainly hasn't hurt the New York Times circulation and it hasn't hurt their
stock price. So, in an economic sense, it's had very little resonance, but there is
this underlying current that if the New York Times is in trouble, all of American
journalism is in trouble.
D: I think what Jayson Blair did had very little to do with whether people believe
what we print or not. I think a lot of what they're going to believe about what
[we] print or not is whether we get people's names right, whether we get the right
cut-line under the right picture, how many spelling errors do we have, how many
times did we put the wrong date about something in there. How, in fact, reliable
P: The key to a newspaper has to be credibility, right? That's essentially what you
D: Yes, and you have to earn that. You don't get it by PR, you get it by earning it.
To the extent that people don't trust us, it's our fault. To the same extent, if they
do trust us, we probably earned it. We've done surveys, what will people say
about our community, about our newspaper. They will say, this is a paper that
cares about the community. They will say that. Now, whether they say is it
very accurate, [they are likely to say] it's reasonably accurate [and they are right].
P: Is there anything that we have not covered or haven't talked about that you would
like to discuss?
D: I don't think so. You've asked a lot of good questions and we've covered the
territory pretty well.
P: Okay, on that note I want to thank you very much for your time.
D: I enjoyed it.
[End of the interview.]