It can be said that the demise of large, metro newspapers as well as smaller community newspapers has contributed to the now present fragility of our democratic form of government. Now we are far from being on the same page. There are hundreds of news sites on social media and there is a big tendency for individuals to pick sites to follow which best reinforce or conform to their unique ideology and beliefs.
When I came to Rockingham in the early ’70s to work on the Richmond County Daily Journal as the “”society page editor,” I quickly realized members of this staff could have been actors on a movie or TV set with their rather unique and quirky personalities, but they somehow easily managed to get the job done well on a daily basis.
Glenn Sumpter, longtime editor of the paper, set the tone for the newsroom for sure. Glenn had pursued an acting career in NYC for several years but eventually decided a writing career would be more easily attainable. He liked to tell people about running into Steve McQueen at several auditions when he was also a struggling actor. He would laughingly say Steve just had more perseverance than he.
Ending up In Rockingham, Glenn was able to maintain his love of acting by performing in many Richmond County Community Theatre productions. Glenn often saw comic aspects in his coverage of local news. It was not unusual for him to entertain staff members with hilarious renditions and interpretations of what he had seen and heard in some of his reporting coverage, often giving very recognizable impressions of well-known citizens … always the actor and in good fun.
Drop-by politicians and candidates were often targets of his good-humored banter. Glenn served on several county boards but took a lot of pride in his involvement with the community theatre and Richmond Community College Board of Trustees. He always thought the building of Cole Auditorium was a crowning achievement for the college and community as well.
Glenn was, by far, not the only staff member involved in the various aspects of the community.
Bert Unger, managing editor of the paper, was also a member of RCC’s Board of Trustees and a member of the Hamlet City Council along with many other civic organizations. Bert was well known to use humor to get his point across in his newspaper work as well as on the boards and clubs in which he was involved.
Besides Glenn and Bert, other staff members throughly embedded in the community with involvement in various civic groups included Clark Cox, who covered several beats as well as writing columns, book reviews, editorials, and features. Clark’s main outside focuses were the Luncheon Lions Club in which he served as president for several years and as a volunteer for a local Big Brothers organization.
Catherine Monk, a Richmond County native, was indispensable to the paper in her knowledge of the history and people of the county. The news staff was backed up by a remarkable production crew including Randy Jarrell, Grover Blue and Alvin Cauthen.
I do not think the Journal was that atypical of the staffs of hundreds of newspapers across the country. Most of the Journal staff members I have noted spent most of their working years with the paper. News stories, editorials, letters to the editor, and columns back in these days were widely discussed in homes and workplaces. Controversies often played out in the newspaper for several days at a time. This was often a good thing for the community in order to better understand the complexity of some issues.
Much credit to the success of the Daily Journal in its “golden era” should go to Neal Cadieu, the longtime owner and publisher of the paper. He trusted his staff and gave them independence to do do their jobs in a responsible way. He did not care if the “guys” could usually be found in a pool hall in East Rockingham after the paper was put to bed for the day around noon. The paper’s receptionist often gave the phone number of the pool hall to callers looking for the reporters. I would not be surprised at the amount of information that was picked up while they hung out in the pool hall.
Most of our newspapers today are no longer owned by a single person or family. They are owned by newspaper chains which frequently are far removed from the daily operation of their papers and the communities which they serve and all too often the chains fail to maintain any long term ownership if they can sell for a good profit which is harder to do these days.
Helen Cox is a former journalist and educator in Richmond County.