The Raleigh News and Observer is the primary newspaper, read by many North Carolinians. The News and Observer, first published under the auspice of Samuel A. Ashe in 1880, can actually be traced to the first newspaper in Raleigh, the Sentinel. Reverend William E. Pell started the news resource as a means to expose the corruption of Reconstruction politics.
In 1868, a new owner took over the Sentinel and the paper began to cover the Democrats’ push to retake the North Carolina legislature. In addition, the paper reported the Governor William H. Holden’s impeachment in 1871. The Sentinel eventually went bankrupt, and Peter M. Hale and William L. Saunders took ownership in 1877. The two entrepreneurs had founded the Raleigh Observer a year before purchasing the Sentinel.
Hale and Saunders ended publication of the Sentinel and focused all of their attention on the Raleigh Observer. They used the paper to proclaim the benefits of internal improvements in North Carolina, particularly in the western section of the state. However, the two Observer owners failed financially, and Samuel A. Ashe, a North Carolina lawyer, bought the paper in 1879. He combined the Raleigh News with the Observer, and in September of 1880, the Raleigh News and Observer, under its new banner, was published. It was then the only daily paper in Raleigh.
Ashe managed to keep the paper going because he received a contract from the Democratic legislature, a body that controlled North Carolina government in the 1880s. Yet, the News and Observer again entered financial troubles when Ashe fell out of favor with the Democratic caucus. However, the savior of the newspaper came in the form of a Washington, D.C., native and Democratic Party supporter, Josephus Daniels. With the help of Julian S. Carr and other Democrat friends, Daniels bought the News and Observer at a public auction in 1894.
In the early 1900s, Daniels refocused the News and Observer and used the news outlet to combat political interests, rampant corruption, and subpar public education. A staunch supporter of Governor Charles B. Aycock, Daniels used the paper as a tool for Democratic Party politics, and the paper advocated “woman suffrage and workers’ compensation, state industrialization, better roads, and crop rotation” (Powell, p. 944). However, Daniels used the News and Observer to persuade North Carolina citizens to support the disenfranchisement of black men and women in the 1910s and 1920s. Daniels later renounced the racist tendencies of the News and Observer.
Daniels’s four sons assumed management after Josephus's death in 1948. Every son contributed with operation of the paper, but it was Jonathan Daniels, editor from 1933 to 1941 and from 1948 until 1968, who led the paper in the direction of appealing for school desegregation and a reduction in race related discrimination. During Jonathan’s time as an editor, the paper bought out the Raleigh Times in 1955, and the News and Observer transitioned to a building on South McDowell Street in Raleigh. After Daniels retired, Claude Sitton served as editor in chief from 1971 to 1990.
Sitton continued the paper’s tradition “as a moderate-to-liberal voice on civil rights and a government watchdog,” and he used the paper as a means “to keep ‘honest people’ in positions of public trust” (Powell, p. 944). The editor even reached unprecedented popularity when he won the first Pulitzer Prize for the News and Observer in 1983. A decade before the Pulitzer Prize, employees began using computers in 1973, and the News and Observer began to increase its staff and advertising through the 1970s and 1980s.
In August 1995, McClatchy Newspapers, based in Sacramento, California, purchased the News and Observer Publishing Company. After more than a century of family ownership, the News and Observer was now part of large journalism corporation. By 2006, the newspaper had over 150,000 subscribers, and the staff had increased their coverage of the cities Chapel Hill and Durham.
“Raleigh News and Observer.” William S. Powell, ed. Encyclopedia of North Carolina (University of North Carolina Press: Chapel Hill, NC 2006).
“Josephus Daniels.” North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program website. A Division of the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources. (accessed January 21, 2011).
By Jonathan Martin, North Carolina History Project
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