The Charlotte News
SATURDAY, DECEMBER 11, 1948
ARTICLES ON THE HISTORY OF THE NEWS
Site ed. note: The following series of articles commemorated the 60th anniversary of The News in December, 1948, providing a history of the newspaper both in print and pictures. Several annecdotal mentions were made of W.J. Cash in these stories, demonstrating the esteem which the paper's staff still held for Cash from his five-year plus stint with the paper, even seven years after his death.
Besides the 60th anniversary, other front-page news of December 11 included the following: A Federal grand jury in New York heard from accused courier Alger Hiss a week after Whittaker Chambers led investigators to microfilmed secret Government documents stored on his Maryland farm in a hollowed-out pumpkin, intended for transfer to the Soviets; besides former State Department employee Hiss, Chambers also accused William Pigman, also a former Goverment employee with the Bureau of Standards, slated to testify also; Chambers, a confessed Communist courier (to whom Congressman Richard M. Nixon of the House Un-American Activities Committee was a principal male confidante), also accused Henry Wadleigh, also of the State Department. (Orwell's Animal Farm, incidentally, had been published in 1945.) The United Nations General Assembly concluded a twelve-week session in which it took several "steps" toward "world peace" but offered no means of enforcement. The steps included establishing mediation campaigns to end conflicts between Jews and Arabs in Palestine, between Russia, the U.S., Great Britain, and France in Berlin, between Greece and Yugoslavia, between Bulgaria and Albania in the Balkans, and between India and Pakistan in Kashmir; it also directed the world powers to continue efforts at atomic arms control, outlawed genocide and passed a bill of human rights. The U.S. delegation was chaired by John Foster Dulles. In Lyons, Georgia, a grand jury indicted two men after hearing testimony from a black woman who charged that 15 or more hooded and robed white men ambushed and killed her husband on November 20; she was able to testify to recognizing the car of one of the men charged; Ralph McGill of The Atlanta Constitution testified about a provision of the United States Code which made it illegal for disguised persons to enter the property of another or to go on the highway for the purpose of depriving another of his Constitutional rights. Mr. McGill had written the previous week, to the irritation of the local sheriff, that the case would not have been prosecuted had it not been for the press uncovering the story. Meanwhile, Governor Herman Talmadge complained that the case was being exploited by the national media and the Truman Administration in an effort to end states' rights. And, humming to that new radio hit by Spike Jones and his City Slickers, "All I Want For Christmas (Is My Two Front Teeth)", the world proceeded on toward Christmas.
Follow the links below to individual articles on the history of The News or scroll down the page for each article in series. (Separate links have been established for each mention of Cash.)
Biography of The Charlotte News (in
1938) - By Tim Pridgen
Biography of The News from 1938 to 1948 - By Tom Fesperman
The Editors of the News (Excerpt) - By J.E. Dowd and Tom Fesperman
We Were Giants In Those Days - By Cameron Shipp
A Book-Author Looks Backwards - By Tim Pridgen
A Newspaperman's Newspaper - By Burke Davis
Recollections of W.J. Cash:
Cash Recollection 1: Fesperman - 1938-1948
Cash Recollection 2: Fesperman - 1938-1948
Cash Recollection 3: Dowd & Fesperman - Editors of the News
Cash Recollection 4: Shipp - We Were Giants In Those Days
Cash Recollection 5: Pridgen - Book-Author Looks Backwards
Cash Recollection 6: Davis - A Newspaperman's Newspaper
Go Back to News Main Page
Biography Of A 60-Year-Old Newspaper
The Charlotte News
"A Biography of a 50 Year-Old Newspaper" was featured in the 50th anniversary edition of The Charlotte News in 1938. Today in observing our 60th anniversary The News reprints that biography with a chapter covering the paper's history in the past ten years. The biography as printed a decade ago:
By T. M. PRIDGEN
Charlotte News Staff Writer
It was a Charlotte Saturday afternoon in the old days--sixteen shopping days before Christmas. December 8, it was. Horses neighed and champed at the hitching rails and the country people were in town spending cotton money. Cotton was selling for 9.8 cents a pound and Cleveland had just been "elected out of the White House." Young Carey Dowd was driving through for a diploma at Wake Forest and the inventive wizard, Thomas Edison, was threatening to put print shops out of business with a talking newspaper called the phonograph. Within a stone's throw of Independence Square, drawing the interests of the Saturday crowds, was a great groaning and straining and anxious confusion--for The Charlotte News was a-borning and about to emit its first zestful cry upon the streets--a zest and cry which heralded these 50 unbroken years.
Wade Hampton Harris was the young editor and publisher and proprietor--and reporter and business manager and subscription solicitor and bookkeeper--and was a well-recognized newspaper man in North Carolina by that time. "The Charlotte News" blazoned proudly at the big masthead on the first edition that went on the streets. It remained that way for three days, Saturday, Monday and Tuesday, and then an unexplained thing happened. On Wednesday the paper came out as "The Daily News" and remaind that way for years and years, retaining on the little masthead inside, "The Charlotte News." Just why Editor Harris made the change and why Editor Dowd continued it for a long time and finally restored the original title "The Charlotte News" neither troubled to explain.
WELCOME INTO THE FAMILY CIRCLE
The new journal found favor. The Wilmington Review declared it to be a "beautiful newspaper." The Durham Recorder, The Wilmington Messenger, The Statesville Landmark and The Raleigh News & Observer wrote enthusiastic commendations, and so did other newspapers, but the new publisher made clear that while he was grateful he would not take up space to reproduce them.
In Charlotte the reception was good. Other journals commented enviously on the generous advertising The News carried. In two weeks after the first issue The News boasted that it led all other papers in city circulation. The subscription list must have been more than 1,000--which wasn't bad for a metropolis of only 10,000 population.
The News found quite a lot to talk about those first few days, the scheduled courts, train wrecks, a couple of killings, deaths and weddings and--very sensational--a collision between a street car and a horse and buggy. It gave the cast of "Peck's Bad Boy" which was showing at the Opera House and it broke local newspaper precedent by announcing boldly that in future The News would carry wedding announcements and death notices free for nothing, the editor holding that such items were news just the same as stabbings.
It must have been then, during the old-fashioned Christmas of 1888, that young Carey Dowd, home for the holidays, developed a hankering for the little newspaper. It is said that he wanted it long before he actually came to possess it. It is likely that The News, itself, had quite a lot to do with changing his life's course, for his original ambition was to take his A.B. degree at Wake Forest and then return there for a law course and enter that profession. But, instead of the law, he entered journalism in his hometown, and remained in it to build the largest afternoon newspaper in the Carolinas.
THEY TOLD IT NOT IN GOTHIC
The News began as a four-page, 6-column sheet, with advertising covering half the front page, and two highly regarded little ads at the top front corners. The routine run of the news was carried under a single-column standing head, "Ripples," and big news, such as a horse-and-buggy run-away, went to the top of the column. If the item was very important it was displayed under a one-column, three-bank head, taking nearly an inch of space. It was years before The News, or any other newspaper, went in for black type and top ribbons.
Editor Harris had his office near the Square, but the paper was printed by Hirst, a commercial printer, whose plant was on Trade Street near College. The copy was prepared in the editorial offices and taken, it is supposed, by a foot path from back door to back door. The newspaper was distributed from the editorial office. Within a year or so, however, the paper had prospered to the point of buying its own two racks of type and a hand-operated drum press. The newspaper boys, after the first paper off the press had been scanned for errors, took them straight from the press and did their own folding before going on their routes.
AS THE TWIG IS BENT
After the little episode of the free wedding announcements, which must have created quite a stir in Charlotte, judging from the letters to the editor, The Charlotte News began to display even in the weeks of its infancy a quite bold interest in controversial questions--a trait which has remained steadfastly with it.
There was the matter of the railroads. As late as 50 years ago there was no unanimous public decision that railroads were entirely good things. There was a rather strong school of thought that the community would be better off without them. Their arguments were quite impressive, not enough to stop the railroads, of course, but enough, nevertheless, to demand consideration. Editor Harris took a firm stand on that. The question was on whether a rail line to Lancaster, S.C., was needed. The News demanded the Lancaster line-- "and a dozen others if sufficient towns could be found to build to." It is easy enough now to see that he was quite right, but it took independence then to say so.
A SOUTHERN PAPER, THEREFORE DEMOCRATIC
Cleveland having been "elected out of the White House," the Democrats, of course, rankled under the defeat and already were making plans for restoration of the Democratic regime in 1892. The News was whole-souled for the Democratic Party, and at once began to strike blows for the defeat of national Republicanism. An unnamed Washington correspondent kept the newspaper informed of the activities in the national capital, and frequent comment was made on the trend of things. The Sherman Silver Purchase Bill came in for violent controversy, and the cotton-growing South was even more opposed to the McKinley Tariff Bill, which the future President was pushing through Congress.
The Republicans had on foot a plan to break the Democratic "Solid South," and The News and other Democratic Southerners rushed solidly to the defense of a solid Democratic section of the country. In view of Reconstruction, still poignantly remembered here, they took the position that no matter what else happened the Southern States must hold together for mutual protection.
For these reasons, The News was a whirlwind supporter of Cleveland when the Democratic Party began to build up for the campaign of 1892. No one knew then, of course, that his inauguration would be the signal for the "Wall Street Crowd" to shake the nation with a "money panic," which was taken as a capitalistic protest against the Cleveland policies. Quite certainly the young journalist Carey Dowd didn't know it. Or perhaps he did. At any rate, it was a good opportunity for him to purchase The News, the paper he had wanted and he did.
Cleveland was inaugurated March 4, 1893. The Charlotte military companies went to Washington to take part in the parade. Great interest in Charlotte was felt in the event and many local people attended it.
About four months later, July 1, Mr. Dowd paid Mr. Harris, Ed. & Prop'r, the sum of $5,000 for the The Charlotte News.
Cotton was selling at half price from 4 to 5 cents a pound. One could get work, but couldn't get pay. Many of the nation's businesses were paying their help in scrip, to be redeemed at stores in trade.
Farmers grew cotton and sold it under a form of barter. The cotton buyer paid off in scrip and made arrangements with stores to accept it. It was a strange time, one such as the country had never had and hasn't had since.
THE NEW OWNER TAKES CHARGE
When Mr. Dowd left college he went into the Mecklenburg schools as a teacher and later was employed as a teacher at the Hill School on Morehead Street and S. Boulevard. He had bought an interest in the newspaper then called The Observer and later bought it outright. He was publishing The Observer when he transferred his interest to the News. That Observer suspended about that time, and later the name was revived and applied to another newspaper which was established in the city.
So, in the midst of the short-lived Cleveland Panic, The News changed hands and the peculiarity of the financial times was reflected in Mr. Dowds cash book.
It was three days after the purchase that he took in a nickel--and then only one nickel. It is not recorded who was the one to spend that forerunner of Charlotte News nickels, but it was a powerfully important and significant coin.
In all the month of July Mr. Dowd's $5,000 newspaper received only $14.90 in cash.
Just here was one of the critical periods of the young newspaper, when money was tied up tighter than Dick's hat band, as they said in those days. Mr. Dowd had the plan he wanted but it was extremely doubtful that he could keep it.
One of the early moves he made was to transfer the mechanical plant from its location on E. Trade Street to the place on S. Tryon Street where Stine's barbershop now is. He remained there for many years. After establishing his two racks of type and his hand press there, the process became one of dogged digging to keep the enterprise going. There is evidence in the old cash book, which continues to be one of The News' treasured possessions of the old days, that the young publisher discovered the secret of producing a newspaper without money--without much money, at any rate. There is evidence in the book indicating that he accepted hams and chickens and potatoes in exchange for subscriptions, and clothing and coffee and shoes for advertising.
The town was still small, just having topped 11,000 and the newspaper's circulation hung around 1,800. One record shows that in 1896, the year William McKinley was elected President, The News had 1,780 subscribers, indicating that the previous three years had been hard sledding.
A long, hard pull was the paper's price for life in the period from 1893 to 1896, but in October, '93, a very important event took place--W. Carey Dowd Jr. was born. As hard as times were, the young publisher nevertheless found money with which do by a teething ring, an item duly recorded in the old cash book.
AN EXPERIENCE WHICH BECAME CHRONIC
William Jennings Bryan was defeated for President in 1896, and The News, which supported him, accepted the defeat philosophically. Such pains as it may have had over the downfall of the Democratic Party were to some extent salved by improving business conditions under McKinley. Advertising began to pick up right along. The publisher began to give substance to his newspapering dreams and in 1896 bought the weekly Mecklenburg Times and the next your bought The Charlotte Democrat, after that publishing the semi-weekly Times-Democrat until 1924.
In 1898 the Spanish-American War came along, and The News' circulation began to soar. By 1900 it reached the high point of 3,085.
The year 1899 was another important date in the history of The Charlotte News, for in August of that year James Edward Dowd was born to join his six-year-old brother, and no doubt soon achieved a teething ring, also. The brothers were to enter the newspaper shop as soon as they were able to help. It was about this time that Carey Jr. and his sister, now Mrs. Cornelia Dowd Jones, posed for a Christmas picture, each carrying a bundle of copies of The News. The picture was used by the carrier boys for their Christmas greeting, and the large picture still hangs in The News offices. Young J.E., if, indeed, he had arrived then, was too young to participate. It was not long, however, before he made his appearance and the Dowd brothers literally grew up with the newspaper--Carey Jr. now being president and general manager, and Edward vice-president and editor-in-chief.
Financial difficulties were familiar to the struggling young journal and were met in many ways. One of these illustrates the growing confidence and goodwill of the community in the future of the enterprise. On this occasion of financial necessity fourteen citizens of means subscribed to a Charlotte News issue of stock and tided it over. These were W.S. Alexander, W.F. Dowd, J.A.. Durham, F.R. McNinch, Thomas P. Ross, Heriot Clarkson, J. Arthur Henderson, C.N.G. Butt, P.M. Brown, E.R. Preston, Hugh W. Harris, B.F. Withers, J. H. Weddington and J. K. Wolfe. Since that time the stock has been bought in by the Dowd family and the newspaper is again owned wholly by them.
In 1903 an unfavorable happening made that an important year in the Charlotte News' history--The Charlotte Chronicle was organized as an afternoon paper to compete with The News, dividing the not-too-generous revenue. The difficulty continued until 1914, when Publisher Dowd bought his competitor and again had the field without competition.
THE QUEEN CITY BEGINS TO GROW
Charlotte in the meantime began to expand and its population was growing by leaps and bounds--increasing to 18,081 in 1900 from 11,557 in 1880. The Queen City was beginning to push Wilmington for the population leadership. By 1906 The News' circulation soared to 4,908 and eight and ten-page papers were being issued regularly. In 1903 the paper had grown to the point where local news and clippings no longer met the demand, and the Associated Press wire service became a new permanent feature.
In all this growing period from 1893 to 1906 The News under the Dowd management had entered with zest into the community and national causes and controversies, giving strength to its position and gaining strength from them.
The Prohibition issue was one of extreme bitterness, growing out of public indignation against liquor domination of Government. Mr. Dowd espoused the dry cause with great enthusiasm and helped fight it through to victory. He lived to see Prohibition enjoy its 20-year heyday, and died before the cause began to collapse under its own policies.
The News was a great force in the community in organizing public sentiment to the war basis after the U.S.S. Maine was bombed. The editor's vigorous handling of these issues, local, state and national, made the paper a favorite, and circulation gained more in proportion than the community grew in population.
THE NEWS BUILDS A HOME
By 1910 circulation had gone to 6,500 despite competition, making it one of the established papers in North Carolina--it was 22 years old. Its equipment had increased and it now had quite a staff of employees. Things were looking up, population was mushrooming. The 1910 census gave the town 34,014,and Charlotte was North Carolina's top town. The News, of course, had to keep in line, and Publisher Dowd made elaborate plans for that.
On the present News site at Fourth and Church Streets he built a fine newspaper plant, a fireproof three-story brick and concrete structure. The floor space was so much greater than the old quarters on S. Tryon Street that he planned to rent two stores on the street floor at the front. That seemed quite possible. About the time the newspaper moved in 1912 every available inch of space was required for the newspaper and job shop. Charlotte's growth was swift. One year's plans were no good for the next.
A.D. 1914 was another big year in The News' growth. The European war flared, and two important things happened--the competing Chronicle was purchased and combined with The News and the paper broke its journalist conservatism in headwriting. Nothing like the European war had ever happened before and none of the old headlines would fit the occasion. Therefore, streamers went across the top page.
In this period Mr. Dowd combined politics with his journalism and was a candidate for Congress. He had been a State Representative and Speaker of the House, and knew his way about among politicians. However, the votes were against him and he returned with interest undivided to his journalism.
In 1914 circulation had grown to 8,000, and headed steadily toward 10,000. The News personnel was growing and the paper, as an institution, was beginning to take a place as an important part of the community's economic life. In three years--1917--when the United States entered the World War The News was well equipped with machinery, as compared to its former days, and had a building full of linotype machines, job presses, a big (for then) newspaper press and offices.
That was a time of great confusion in The News organization as well as all other organizations of the time. The young men were joining the army and there was a great turn-over in personnel. Carey Dowd Jr., just out of college, joined the AEF along with various other members of the organization.
It was in those days that the public really began to read newspapers, and The News--by reason of its afternoon newspaper time, carried the great majority of the spot war releases. Circulation went far beyond the 10,000 mark, a figure helped considerably by extras and street sales.
Then the war was over and the soldiers returned home. The country returned to something approaching normal. After a period of economic mal-adjustment, the good days following the war--a false prosperity, as is now known--brought in their boom times. By 1924 The News advanced one more step, putting on Sunday comic pages--first black line and then colors. It was a step required by normal newspaper progress and was one which made a big hit with the Charlotte public.
It had begun to appear even that the building so proudly erected only twelve years before soon would be inadequate to the newspaper's needs. It was crowded on all its floors and the compositors and staff members and business office workers were performing their duties under jammed conditions. The change, however, was approached cautiously, for no one knew in those days whether the prosperity was temporary or permanent.
The years swept by, fast and peculiar years, including prosperity such as the nation had never known, stimulating a sort of frenzy, boom-like manner of trading, with the cautious oldsters insisting that the bubble would burst.
DEATH OF WILLIAM CAREY DOWD
Charlotte was sweeping on from its 46,338 population of 1920 to its 82,685 of 1930, and the demands on the newspaper were such that a new building became imperative. By 1927 plans were drawn, but the increasing illness of the elder Mr. Dowd became a matter of grave concern then. It was an extremely sad period in The News history. Many of the members of the organization were his personal friends, some of them had worked with him since the early days of the newspaper. He had an unusual quality for drawing associates to him in loyalty and holding them in friendship. In September, 1927, he died and the day in The News building was one of profound grief.
By now the circulation had gone beyond 20,000 and the business was big and departmentalized. The building was entirely inadequate.
W. Carey Dowd Jr. became the president and general manager and James Edward Dowd the vice-president. The latter, after excursions in business elsewhere, came to the organization and with the exception of a brief period has been in the organization in various capacities since. After a time as associate editor, he became the editor-in-chief in 1932.
FIFTY YEARS OF PROGRESS
The present News plant [then at Church and Trade Streets], gradually filling up with men and machines, is one the most complete in the South. The large building, added to the original structure on the corner, was designed especially for newspaper production. The huge press, set deep on the building's foundation underground, is one of the South's most complete. It is an interesting comparison that in the old days the cost of newsprint paper for a week's publication was $2.50--cash on the barrelhead--about 40 cents a day--whereas the cost of paper in this Golden Anniversary Edition is approximately $2,500. The News' circulation, 35,000, is the largest of any afternoon newspaper in North and South Carolina
It has been a long time since 1888, and the News has seen good times and hard times, but it was built from the ground up and has remained a solid fixture in the South Piedmont scheme of things, gaining in strength and prestige as it gains in years.
(Back to History Article
Go Back to News Main Page
or scroll to next article
The biography brought up-to-date
By TOM FESPERMAN
Charlotte News Staff Writer
Even while The News celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1938, and its historian wrote that it would continue to gain "in strength and prestige as it gains in years," the paper strove to practice what the biographer preached.
Working on the policy that a newspaper is a public-service institution with a strong desire for community improvement, The News in 1937 had sent one of its reporters, Cameron Shipp, to tour the slums of Charlotte and describe what he saw. He told in a series of articles, about Blue Heaven and Brooklyn, about tumbledown shacks on creek banks, and shanties without water, and windows without glass.
The stories hit home, all right, and The News cried out for slum-clearance. Editorially, it called repeatedly for an ordinance covering housing and sanitation. The community was aroused about the problem, and City officials went to work to solve it. The City housing survey was ordered by Mayor Douglas in 1938. The Housing Authority was set up the following year. By 1940, Piedmont Courts and Fairview Homes, low-cost housing groups, were under construction, and by 1946 the standard housing ordinance was on the books. Great progress had been made.
Another News concern of that particular period of the 30's was the blanket of smoke that hung over Charlotte many mornings, blackened buildings and white collars and even affected the taste of food. News editorials deplored the condition many times, and in late 1940 the City Council passed a smoke-abatement ordinance and hired an engineer to carry it out.
While that was being done, an old News friend was spending some miserable days and nights in a hospital at Morganton. Tom Jimison, lawyer, preacher, newspaperman, had had himself committed to the State hospital for the insane. He spent a year there. He became acquainted with all the members of the staff and all the patients. He was dismissed in 1941 and then he set about telling the story of the hospital--"Out of the Night of Morganton"--for News readers. He told it in sixteen chapters and started people throughout North Carolina talking about the terrible conditions of the State's institutions. An official investigation was ordered, and it confirmed Tom Jimison's reports. A program of reform got under way. Seldom in the state's history had a newspaperman's article so aroused everyone concern.
In other respects, too, the late 30's and early 40's were a period of interesting events. FDR politicked around the country for his friends in the Senate and opponents called it a "purge." WPA workers were busy completing the Municipal Swimming Pool here. Civic leaders started a fund-raising campaign to build Memorial Hospital and Presbyterian Hospital announced that it would soon have a new building of its own.
The front page began to change during the next year to a wartime appearance, with headlines declaring in effect that the Russians and Finns weren't getting along, and that Hitler was trying to take over Europe.
The editorial page during those ominous times was under J.E. Dowd and W.J. Cash, foreign affairs coming within Cash's jurisdiction. His editorials of the period were not only learned and stimulating; they were remarkably prophetic; and today they read like history. His impatience with old Mr. Bumble (Britain's Neville Chamberlain, the "peace in our time" man) was more than justified by what happened at Munich and afterward. (Back to Cash Link List)
Then war broke out in September, the Germans easily captured Poland, and opposing armies just sat and glared at each other on the Western Front. A News headline told that story: "Ho, hum! Nazis are bored by tame war."
Things became much less tame for the Nazis, the British and everybody else during the next year. The war news got bigger, and the time-variation between Europe and the U.S. gave The News "first grab" at the dispatches. When it was noon in Europe, the peak of the newspaper day, it was early morning in Charlotte. The headlines got bigger as the Nazis took over the Lowlands, and then France, and the big bombing started.
CONCERN AT HOME
But in Charlotte there was concern about the home folks. Many of them apparently had not been at home when the census-takers of 1940 came calling, and the first report on the official census showed that Charlotte missed the 100,000 population mark, and thus a higher rating among American cities, by just a few.
Something ought to be done about that, Publisher W.C. Dowd Jr. said. The News ought to go on a people-hunting trip, help the census-takers catch the citizens at home.
The News and the Chamber of Commerce, with the Census Bureau, went to work again. And, indeed, the paper began running across residents who had been missed on the first go-round. When the final returns were in Charlotte had made the grade: 100,899.
That figure became the title of a larger brochure published by The News and distributed all over the country during 1941 to let the U.S. know about the Queen City.
The News received tragic news from Mexico City in 1941. W. J. Cash, associate editor who with J. E. Dowd had written the editorials for many months, had gone to Mexico on a Guggenheim Fellowship after publication of his book, "The Mind of the South". He died in the Mexican capital a month after he arrived there, and leaders declared that the South had lost one of its most most eloquent voices. (Back to Cash Link List)
A draft began sweeping through the News office that year, and it swept several young men right out with it. One of them was a tall, skinny youth named Marion Hargrove who had enlivened the office for quite a while. While older hands around the city room thankfully remarked that they wouldn't have to lend so many cigarettes, Hargrove went off to Fort Brag and KP duty. He began sending back columns entitled "In The Army Now," and thousands of News readers laughed over them each evening. The paper made quite a to-do about it, of course, when these columns were published in a book called "See Here, Private Hargrove."
There was a much more serious attitude toward the Army, naturally, on the Sunday afternoon in December when News staffers raced to the office to publish an extra giving the first details of the Pearl Harbor attack. From there on, The News was on a wartime basis.
Publisher Dowd worked with other leaders to have war industries established in Charlotte, and he became chairman of the Work Industries Committee which helped bring several plants to the city.
NEWS FOR NEWS
So many of The News' employees had gone off to war by mid-1942 that the paper started sending out a memeographed letter called "News From The News," and this letter gradually grew through the war to a regular newspaper of its own. Before it stopped publishing the monthly paper for the people in service, The News had 77 men and women in uniform. Among them was J. E. Dowd, who turned the editorship over to Burke Davis in 1942 and joined the Navy.
Local news coverage was changed radically in those war years. The war seemingly touched everything. Prime sources in Charlotte were Morris Field, the Army Air Force base; the Charlotte Quartermaster Depot, which grew almost continuously until it was one of the largest supply centers in the South; the U.S. Rubber Co.'s shell-loading plant, where some 10,000 men and women worked to prepare ammunition for the Navy; the National Carbon Co. Plant, which turned out millions of batteries for walky-talky radio transmitters.
The staff found no shortage of news, and no shortage of readers. Circulation inclined comfortably over the 50,000 mark in February, 1943, and it kept going up, month after month. But The News like other papers, was severely restricted by the Government because of the shortage of newsprint. There wasn't enough of it to go around and the editors found themselves having to "weigh" every item for value more carefully than ever. As each quarter-year past, the restrictions became tighter.
By V-J. Day the men and women had already started returning to civilian life, and with them came the newcomer who had been a lieutenant-colonel in the Army. He was Harry S. Ashmore, a Greenville, S.C., newspaperman before he entered service, a young man who had attracted the attention of The News with his his astuteness in observing South Carolina politics. Ashmore's editorial writing for The News focused national attention on him, and he eventually left to become executive editor of The Little Rock, Ark., Gazette. He was succeeded by W. M.. Reddig, who had served on The Kansas City Star for years.
But the biggest change since young Carey Dowd paid Wade H. Harris $5,000 for the paper in 1893 occurred on Jan. 9, 1947. Carey Jr., who had been president and publisher since his father's death in 1927, announced that The News had been sold to a group of stockholders headed by Thomas L. Robinson.
He said the paper had been sold by agreement of the old stockholders only after they had "given deepest consideration to the interests of the paper, its employees and the community and region it serves."
He said, "Mr. Robinson will bring to The News a rare combination of exceptional ability, great vigor and vitality, and a forceful personality which will, I'm sure, add new momentum to the growth and development of The News without altering the fundamental principles which have made it the great regional institution it is today."
And Mr. Robinson said, "In stepping into this job I do so with the utmost humility in the knowledge that I have a big task before me if I am to carry on the high tradition set for The News by him (Mr. Dowd) and his exceptional staff."
He said that he was fortunate to have J. E. Dowd remain as vice-president and general manager.
So the new era began, with Mr. Robinson "getting acquainted," not only in Charlotte but throughout the Carolinas. And The News continued growing, beyond the 60,000 mark in circulation, while maintaining its policy of taking a deep interest in community affairs. The years 1947 and 1948 were busy ones, as the circulation continued upward toward 70,000 and the headline type was "streamlined" to keep up with the times and The News let itself be heard on a hundred different topics of the day.
As its 60th anniversary approached, there were those who liked to say that the paper had their favor because of its youthful outlook.
(Back to History Article
Go Back to News Main Page
or scroll to next article
The Editors of the News
(EXCERPT FROM 1938 and 1948)
By J.E. Dowd ( in 1938)
Editorship of J.E. Dowd - 1932-1943
It was in 1932 that Julian S. Miller diverted newspaper work temporarily to take a position with the State Government. During the previous two or three years it had been my privilege to work under him, contributing editorials and generally doing the manifold chores that any well-read editorial page requires, and when he left it was with the advice to me that I succeed him. This I was most eager to do, though somewhat fearfully, and it was so ordered.
I have been here ever since, immeasurably assisted these last twelve months by W. J. Cash, a one-time state editor of The News who brought down from Shelby the most comprehensive knowledge and the most marked talent for writing ever to distinguish an occupant of the sanctum. It is Cash who invented the name Mr. Bumble for Chamberlain that he might the better despise him, and it is Cash who generally writes the masterpieces that my friends compliment me for. But no matter. The editorial "we" was designed to give anonymity, and it is enough for either of us if our labors meet with any slight reward of approval.
(The report is continued and brought up-to-date.)
By TOM FESPERMAN (1948)
James Edward Dowd, who wrote "50 Years of Editors" for The News' 50th anniversary edition in 1938, treated himself with exceeding modesty. Indeed, the editorial page team of Dowd and W. J. Cash was one that commanded a large audience in the Carolinas and brought many letters (commending and condemning) from News readers. Mr. Dowd proprietored the page, while Jack Cash sat just outside the Ivory Tower, printing his eloquent wrath upon Hitler and calling upon his astonishing store of knowledge for some of the best editorials ever written for a newspaper.
When Cash went off to Mexico City (where he died)., Mr. Dowd called on young Stuart Rabb, who had made a brilliant record at the University of North Carolina and in Winston-Salem journalism. Rabb served as associate for only a short time before moving on.
(Back to History Article
Go Back to News Main Page
or scroll to next article
Cam Shipp Recalls His Stay On The News
We Were Giants In Those Days
By Cameron Shipp
([Original] Note: Mr. Shipp, a former News reporter, is now living in California and doing quite well as a free-lance writer for the Saturday Evening Post, Colliers, Coronet and other national publications.)
* * *
IN my day on The Charlotte News (said the old reporter) it was the fashion of the giants in the newsroom to coverse among themselves in a stylized dialect known as "Cawnfiel' Nigga." We did this for several reasons. Chiefly, we needed an anodyne, or stand-by, language as relief from the freshets of kingly prose we composed daily in our prodigious labors. Secondly, we did it to astonish strangers and occasional damn-yankees, and prove, in part as every cultivated Southerner knows, that all cultivated Southerners speak several versions of their own language. And thirdly, I think we did it in a kind of mock-modesty because we were Gargantuan journalists, as any reasonable historian will admit, and we very well knew it.
Having been in exile in Hollywood for some years (a dull place compared with Charlotte) I do not know in what language juveniles in the city room speak now. Possibly English. But in the old days Mr. John Dixon, our city editor, who was known as Mista Jawn, would wander diffidently over to my desk and inquire:
"Ain' you got no grea' big story fo' th' papuh saffanoon?"
I would interrupt my nap long enough to inform Mista Jawn that in the whole state of North Carolina and parts of Canada nothing had occurred during the day to merit my attention and he would go back to his desk and either set fire to himself or compose lyric verses.
Mr. Dixon was, and still is, of course, a highly literate and charming and civilized gentleman, but, like all the rest of us, knew he was great, and he said so. His verses, invariably composed when he should have been writing banners against the deadline, were graceful and erudite. They were never published, unfortunately, but Mista. Jawn always claimed to be the poet laureate of North Carolina and no one disputed him.
It was Mista Jawn's habit to let cigarettes dangle from his lip until all the ashes and fire fell into his pockets and folds of his open vest. At the last moment he would throw them, along with lighted matches into an enormous waste basket with paper. Mista Jawn alleged that it was impossible to start a fire that way, but one afternoon I saw him almost incinerate himself. I think it was while he was bemused during the editing of a David Ovens speech before the National Retail Merchants Association.
DICK"S JUST AS VIGOROUS AND FIERCE AS EVER
Dick Young, the perennial, was a great man even then, and was known as "The Ace." It was Mr. Young's ambition to type imperishable prose so rapidly that Mista Jawn could not write headlines fast enough to keep up with him, and occasionally accomplished just that. I hope that The Ace's forensic style has not suffered during the years. In the old days he was a doty combatant, always good for an argument with the big brass that meant a little surcease from our enormous labors. As a reporter, of course, The Ace was, and, I am sure, still is, as wise as a dragon and considerably fiercer. Tyros and cubs had better steer clear of the Old Master.
We had with us then C.A. Paul, the only well-dressed reporter I ever knew, whose preoccupation was crooked seams in girls' stockings and civic virtue. Mr. Paul exposed about everything there was to expose. He was recently credited on a national broadcast with having captured a dangerous criminal by charming him with a cage of canaries. I doubt if any of the small fries on today's paper would even think of doing that. Paul went on to Richmond, where I understand he is held in high respect.
Tim Pridgen, a puckish sage and great gentleman, who later wrote "Tory Oath" and other successful novels retired to Jonesville, Tenn., rich, I hope, covered state affairs as if he were bedfellow to every politician in North Carolina. He not only talked Cawnfiel' but occasionally wrote it with great charm. He is possibly the gentlest man I ever knew, yet he wrote a successful book about cockfighting, which he detested. Naturally, there are no such comparable reporters in this decayed era.
Also, we had on The News then a moppet named Marion Hargrove, a spaniel-eyed boy whose disinclination for honest toil was exceeded only by his freshness. Marion is a good landmark in this examination: even our wayward child, of whom no one predicted anything but the gallows, turned out famous. He wrote "See Here, Private Hargrove," which sold three million copies, married a Smith girl, sired three beautiful children, and, the last time I saw him in the commissary of Warner Bros.' studio, had acquired dignity.
There were others. The late William Myers ("Shorty") Jones, who rescued the footless Negro Eight Ball from the chain gang, was a whimsical man who hated so to get up in the morning that he had to shave in a pool hall after checking in for work, but Shorty was a great reporter who could and sometimes did get more news out of a Greek restaurant than worthless reporters today can obtain from the Democratic convention.
And Jimison. That was the "Bishop," Tom P. Jimison, an ex-parson, who adorned The News for many years. The Bishop's greatest story was never published.
MR. JIMISON'S REPORT OF THE CIRCUS PARADE
Once he was assigned to cover the Barnum & Bailey parade, which he did in great style, as all News reporters did everything then. Jimison, of course, rode ahead of the chief elephant, accepting the cheers of the crowd as his due. Late in the day--indeed, after all editions had gone to press--the Bishop found his way to his desk and began to compose, wearily. It took about an hour as the Bishop tapped out his yarn. He wrote:
"I seen the parade. It wasn't much."
For taut, accurate reporting, I challenge any writing-man to improve on that line, but Jimison was even better than that. I am convinced that Tom wrote the Southern language with more bounce and with a better ear than any man who ever attempted it; far, far better than the professional dialect stenographers who to this unhappy day make us sound like third-rate vaudevillians.
(I wrote a paper about Tom Jimison for the issue of Sunday, Feb. 28, 1937. I cite it to prove that I am not merely lathering in retrospect when I recall Tom's superb talent. Also, I want to take an immodest bow because I claimed to be one of the few who recognized how great his talent was).
But of all of the men who ever worked on The News--and I am being absolutely serious--the one with the finest intellect was W. J. Cash. It was Cash who, as early as 1935, began a series of editorials attacking Hitler in which he precisely called the turn of tragic events six years in advance. Cash was an odd one, a grim one, often a silent, strange man, who took little part in the playfulness of the city room. Only a handful of us were fortunate enough to know him well and to relish his wit and his awesome store of universal knowledge. Cash was working all the time on his masterpiece, "The Mind of the South," which was published in 1941 by Knopf, which won him the Guggenheim fellowship, and which is, by long odds, the best and the most sincere explanation of the Confederacy ever written. (Back to Cash Link List)
In this feuilleton I cannot, of course, mention even a third of the powerful gentlemen who toiled on The News in the glory days. For instance, there was Tom J. Revelle, who wrote better copy than most on one finger of one hand. His other wing, he explained, had been injured in the Gallipoli campaign, in which he served as a major general at the age 12. Bob Cranford, state editor, was another distinguishd journalist and much envied. Being constructed low to the ground, Mr. Cranford could dose comfortably merely by reclining low to his desk. Mr. Cranford was thus in a continual state of refreshment and able to dispose of his chores with effortless aplomb. There was the late Ed Ballenger, telegraph editor, who handled world-shattering events without ruffing a hair. But space forbids more.
WE TOLD THE STORY OF NORTH CAROLINA
Thus it was, but in between japeries I think we did a whale of a job of reporting North Carolina. I think we knew what was going on and I think we told it pretty well. Indeed, the whole world and all of history was our province, for in those days there was space in the paper, we were writers, and it was no feat a-tall to whomp out two thousand words on one story. Twelve years ago, I specifically recall, we not only screamed at Communism (we were liberals, but we never cottoned to that) on the editorial page, for which we all wrote at one time or another, but overflowed onto the Sunday book page and scolded the so-and-sos there.
That was quite a book page. We had our say, at length, and with no inhibitions, about the entire field of literature and allied subjects: for instance, if you seek a recipe for a wholesome mint julep you will find one among the books in the issue of March 15, 1936. We discovered Lillian Smith of Georgia that year, long before she became a distinguished novelist, but devoted an equal amount of space to Samuel Pepys and Montaigne.
Gerald W. Johnson of the The Baltimore Sun, which lately has been improving itself by stealing Charlotte News men, once tried to define news. He wound up with the notion that news is anything a good reporter writes. That's how we got out the paper in those days, set free and left to write by a sagacious managing editor. I suspect the paper is still edited on those lines. I hope so.
In all this and I have not yet mentioned my own vast works on the Charlotte News, but not for the sake of modesty. The fact is, as I look back on those happy, happy days, the days of the giants, in the Golden Era, I realize that my own contribution was considerable. I discovered, and gladly pass on to the children now operating the paper, the place to overhear the most interesting conversations, meantime avoiding all the dull routine of news-gathering, is at Polier's pinball machine in the Law Building drugstore. It takes patience, rugged endurance, and enterprise of an uncommon order to hang around a pinball machine all day while your city editor worries about where you are, but it pays off. As a result of my devotion to games of chance, Hollywood sent for me. Naturally. They recognize unique talent when they see it.
It just so happens that I haven't done any good reporting since I left Charlotte, but that is another matter. It's tough out here. Nobody talks my language.
(Back to History Article
Go Back to News Main Page
or scroll to next article
A Book-Author Looks Backwards
Pridgen Recalls Early Events
By T.M. Pridgen
([Original note:] Mr. Pridgen, formerly a star of The News writing staff as well as a novelist of distinction, has returned to the newspaper field as publisher of a weekly at Jonesboro, Tenn.)
JONESBORO, Tenn. -- Well, how nice to be included in the birthday party, and what a choice group of memories the thought of it brings. The News has never seemed to me to be anything like 60 years old, but, somehow, always young and full of bounce. Even when it was a little paper, with no more than 10,000 subscribers (That was when you took over, Brodie, as M.E.) It always was leaping at things, getting excited.
There was the time, for instance, when nobody could discover what the School Board had done with all the money and The News wrestled with the question no end. It finally came out that they had built a school building with it, slightly against law.
And there was the time when the Fundamentalists were holding big mass meetings, trying to outlaw Evolution. I thought Dick Young would blow a fuse that day, when the preachers almost fought. The News was in the thick of that, Dick floating the story, Daly on the office end.
That was in the early days when the local room was a little corner in the back end of the old building, part of the circulation department now. We had our typewriters on a shelf that went around the wall. Then we moved up into what seemed then the palatial local room upstairs where everybody had a desk to himself and, marvelously, a telephone on it. I don't know which was the proudest the night of the big house warming in the new building, Carey Dowd, whose brain child it was, or that little Negro named Shorty who strutted around in his flat-tailed coat and silk hat. That was the way all of us were. The Dowd family had a happy knack of making us feel a partnership with them and, just judging from the looks of the paper and letters from old friends now and then, so does Mr. Robinson.
About that time there were a couple of gory murders, both in Camp Greene, in one of which a little wisp of a wife named Nellie Freeman slit her husband's throat from ear-to-ear with a razor and the other a woman whose name I have forgotten disposed of her husband by making pulp of his head with an axe. In the local room we handled that blood by the bucketsful, so red and racy that Julian Miller wrote scorching editorials bawling out his own local staff. It made me angry then, but now I think he was right. At any rate, both ladies came clear and the circulation jumped away up.
The News really hit its stride, though, about the time the Gastonia riots came. "Get the facts. Don't take sides. And don't bother about where the chips fall," were the only instructions we had and we pitched in. That was a new stunt in those days, handling of the labor disturbance without worrying about what V.I.P.'s feelings might be hurt. The News came out of that without casualties, except Daly was egg-splattered by a misguided striker, and the circulation went to what, we thought, was enormous--30,000 or so.
Afterward came various other sensations--Shorty Jones and his stories on the frozen-foot prisoners and the State-wide shake-out that followed... Cam Shipp (See his handsome mug in the SEP [Saturday Evening Post] the other week?) And his sprightly yarns that finally took him to Hollywood and the big-time... C.A. Paul and his stories needling the bootleggers until they finally almost tore his house down... the lamented Jack Cash writing tremendous editorials blasting Hitler before the rest of us realized the little German god was dangerous. (Back to Cash Link List)
That was a good crowd, these and the others that came and went, in which to be amongst at the New York Cafe coffee sloshings and talk about a thousand things. It was all part of The News putting on years and stature, although the boss who was paying for all that time doubted its values as a tangible asset.
Then one Sunday Bill Dowd went running around The News building trying to get in. The Japs had bombed Pearl Harbor and an extra had to be produced from cold machines and scattered crew. Moreover, he had no key that day with which to unlock the door. He finally broke in, I think, and one by one the availables came to his side and got out the extra and, so far as The News was concerned, started the war. The next high note, amid the din and confusion of what followed, was the going-away party for the boys--Bill Dowd himself, as handsome an old salt as you ever saw on the bounding main... Marion Hargrove, marching away to fame and fortune... and the scores of others. There was a sadness about it that lingers yet, although, with a few limited exceptions, most of them are back in their places unhurt and going good. With the war The News kept climbing. I remember the day it passed 60,000, and the last figure I had made that look small.
Well, it was nice, Brodie, being at the party--nice to let me ramble on like this. Come to see me. Bring the gang. We'll climb a mountain or wade in the snow or we'll sit in Bill Hood's Coffee Shop and talk about this fine, historic old town. But don't try to get me and the missus excited about your newspaper being 60 years old. Our Herald and Tribune has just turned into its 80th year.
(Back to History
Article Link List)
Go Back to News Main Page
or scroll to next article
The Staff Was, Indeed, A Rare Group
A Newpaperman's Newspaper
By Burke Davis
([Original] Note: Mr. Davis, widely known as sports editor, editor and special writer for The News, is now one of the top flight writing men on the Baltimore Evening Sun.)
On June 16, 1937, an imperishable day in the annals of American journalism, I signed a Social Security card and joined the staff of The Charlotte News. I was two days out of college; I enjoyed a parental subsidy during that awkward period of conversion.
I had been told to report for work at 8 A.M. and was on hand at 6, but never did it again. Before daylight I was filling out cards for every softball player in North Carolina, and' 37 was a softball year. I was then a Republican (by inheritance), unlettered, and practically penniless. Now all that has changed. I've become a Democrat.
In my bulging files, chiefly stuffed with mementoes saved by the ladies of my family, there's a picture from The News of about that time, showing members of the paper's staff. There are the late W. J. Cash, Reed Sarratt, Tom Franklin, and Graham Gannon, with me in the rear wearing an unfortunate purple shirt left over from school days, and a hat which I still own.
For a few weeks it seemed to me the largest newspaper on earth, and the staff the most efficient, hard-working and generally glamorous clutch of people anywhere. The official tones struck me as a trifle grim at first, because three executives, in quick succession had warned that no hard drinkers were tolerated, and I understood we were to be temperate in all matters save work.
Even after I got to know the people well enough to place them rather below the rank of royalty I thought they were as rare a group as ever gathered under such a roof, and I still think so. I can't remember any dull times; looking back, in fact, it seems to me that I had no sooner finished those softball cards, covered a football game or so, and attended a News Christmas party, than we were put to work, 20 hours a day at getting up the 50th anniversary edition of the paper.
It hasn't been so long ago, but I suppose I can't recall all the people. There was Tim Pridgen; none of us young ones ever got over being told that he worked as a railroad man until he was 50 or so before deciding he wanted to write, and then he was turning out magazine stories and books on the side. He wore an old hat at the typewriter, and rather reared back from the machine, and wrote wonderful stories.
CALLING THE ROLL OF THE OLDTIMERS
There was Cam Shipp, fresh from promoting the Green Pastures rally in which Mr. Roosevelt spoke, who was selling magazine articles himself. There were John Harden, C.A. Paul, Bill Jones, Fannie Lou Bingham (the first live lady newspaperman I ever saw), Dick Young, J. A. Daly, and Dan Polier and the late Wade Ison in the sports department.
There was W. J. Cash, who had actually been a star writer for Mencken's American Mercury, and then working on some book about the South--which turned out to be a Guggenheim winner and one of the best ever written about the region. (Back to Cash Link List)
The city editor was John Dickson, who would growl at the young ones who called him Uncle John, and he was always throwing matches over his shoulder, and occasionally starting a three-alarm fire in a waste basket on the littered floor. The society editor was Alice Buchanan Kincaid, who was receiving daily shipments of exotic hats from New York amid great to-do.
Some of these who were on The News in those days, of course, are still there. When I came I thought Ed Ballenger and B.S. Griffith, the managing editor then, had probably been there in 1888, when, as I shall never forget, the paper was founded.
I do not remember what most of the city staff did but I do remember what sport they had. Some of them, particularly Dickson, Shipp, Jones and Paul, were great fun-lovers who gave themselves up to the practice of joking about everyone and everything. I thought they were simply men who enjoyed their work, and in recollection they seem more like men at their club than day laborers at journalism.
What the daily grind was like escaped me, but there was a good deal of sitting and talking during and after hours, especially on the long Saturdays when there were two papers to put out. The young men talked about marrying rich women and getting stories or books published, and the older ones talked about women and buffoons they had known, some of them pretty close by.
THE SPORTS PAGES COME INTO FLOWER
About that time a great period for sports and sports writers came along. There was a Hornet baseball team that was as dizzy as anything ever gathered on one diamond, and as colorful. It won and won until the last night of the season, and kicked away the pennant by half a game in the last two innings. Thousands of people, not all of them women, cried in the grandstands. Then there were two great football teams in a row in the Carolinas, and they made bowl trips.
There was a rash of big-time golf, the major leagues were full of Carolina country boys, the Shrine game was being built up, and a good many of the people who gather about sports were gay companions any time of day.
For a couple of years before the war, when the staff grew bigger with the coming of more young people, and the paper began to pour out money, and cover almost everything within reach, and grow in circulation, we thought it was about the finest paper in the country.
Some of the people who were there in' 37 have gone on to fame and fortune (this was the pre-Hargrovian era, before the inflation of that term), and though papers everywhere seemed able to continue publishing no matter who leaves the staff, I still think they helped a great deal to produce the bigger and better News of today.
CRUSADING. FOR A BETTER NORTH CAROLINA
I'm sure the brash way in which the paper made some of its crusades in Charlotte outraged a number of good people; and I'm equally sure it did something to help the city. There are undoubtedly a tribe of people in the section, newcomers and old settlers, who don't realize that they owe the Messrs. W. C. and J. E. Dowd a debt of sorts for pushing for progress in several areas of North Carolina life.
By the time I looked up from softball cards, hero halfbacks, and underpaid pitchers (and had once discovered that a world's billiards champion who endorsed such-and-such a cigarette had never smoked in his life, and drawn the wrath of a tobacco trust upon me), all the good causes had been won. Among those in which I became entangled was the warmish drive for ABC stores, during which I was branded here and there as a hard-drinking reprobate trying to sully my betters. I've always kept affidavits showing that I didn't touch a drop during the entire campaign, which ran for well over a year.
It may seem a bit silly, even to newspaper people but we used to talk about The News as a newspaper man's newspaper, and busily collect gossip designed to show how miserable life was on the competing journals in the whole area. I guess most of The News alumni still think of it like that.
You don't seem to remember any of the scoops we pulled on the opposition on Sunday mornings--which lasted for one edition, usually--but there are any number of trifles, most of them not fit for family journals. At any rate, you can remember that Dan Polier, now living the large life in Hollywood, couldn't remember how to spell Gehrig, and always kept the correct spelling in large headline type before him in the sports department, the gift of an exasperated composing room.
You can remember that one reporter, kinsman of an executive, used to change his stories back to their original form, after they were edited by the boss. And that some of the young people, still there, were there in' 37. There was a rumor that Tom Fesperman was born in the building, and a well-founded report that Emery Wister, known as somewhat thrifty, had even then a fat bank account.
You remember the paper so well that in another city you sometimes catch yourself at a desk phone, about to ring--3-0303.
(Back to History Article Link List)
Links-Date -- Links-Subj.