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On Oct. 15, 1867, Wilmington residents were greeted by the first edition of the Morning Star. Today, StarNews Media publishes a daily newspaper and related Web sites, including StarNewsOnline.com and MyReporter.com. Over the years, the newspaper has seen a lot of changes -- from hand-operated presses and fountain pens to typewriters and teletypes to the digital age.
The StarNews is owned by the Halifax Media Group, based in Daytona Beach, Fla. Halifax owned more than a dozen newspapers that range in size from 10,000 to more than 100,000 daily circulation and are located in Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, Louisiana and California.
On Oct. 15, 1867, Wilmington had a new newspaper, or a recycling of an old one. William H. Bernard, a Virginia native and Civil War veteran - known universally as "Major" after his Confederate army rank - had launched The Evening Star a few weeks earlier, on Sept. 23.
As an afternoon paper, though, the Star ran into problems: "(I)t was impossible to have the paper delivered to our numerous city subscribers before a very late hour of the day," an editorial explained, "and the few hours of the morning that could be devoted to the compilation of news were too limited to enable us to get up such a paper as we wish to publish."
Accordingly, on Oct. 15, the Star was re-launched as The Morning Star. "THE EVENING STAR goes down (but not in defeat) and THE MORNING STAR rises in its place," an editorial noted.
That Star would eventually grow into today's Star-News, although the resemblance might be hard to spot. The Star-News, and newspapers in general, would pass through a technological revolution in the next 140 years and see other radical changes as well. The early Star had no photos and no illustrations of any kind, except for little engravings of trains on the railroad ads. In the early issues, advertisements took up the first two or three columns of the front page.
As late as the 1880s, it was just four pages long (although the pages were rather larger than modern papers'). And little wonder: In those years, Bernard was putting the paper out himself, with just one associate editor and one reporter.
Those three weren't the whole staff, though. In terms of print technology, the Star of the mid-1800s was not all that far removed from the days of Benjamin Franklin. Dozens of compositors set the type for each page, often letter by letter, in enormous frames, which were then hung on presses turned by hand. Small boys not only delivered the copies but folded them by hand as the newsprint came off the press. The first experiment with a self-service newsstand wouldn't come in Wilmington until 1939.
In 1867, the Star's price was 3 cents per issue, or $1.25 for a three-month subscription. Ads were 75 cents per day for one "square," discounted to $2 for a week.
Apparently, the practice of charging for obituary notices started early; in 1869, the Star announced, "We are compelled to remind our friends that we cannot publish gratis [free] obituaries and tributes of respect; and it scarcely appears just that we should pay for articles of friendship written by strangers as tributes to their departed friends … (W)e deem it a fair discharge of our duty to publish such articles at half-rates, paid in advance."
It was a tough market, for what was still a small town. Lots of daily and weekly papers jostled for readers' attentions; in the days before radio and television, they were the only game in town. There was The Messenger, the paper Bernard had worked for when he first moved from Fayetteville to Wilmington after the Civil War. There was the weekly Journal, a holdout from before the Civil War, and an upstart founded in 1875, the Daily Review. Three papers targeted a "colored" readership: The Cape Fear Advocate, The Bulletin and The Afro-American Presbyterian.
Neutrality and balance were not yet considered virtues in journalism, and papers openly backed one political party or another. In Wilmington, first the Union Herald and later the weekly Post supported local Republicans. The Star was unabashedly Democrat. Bernard, in his spare time, served for years on the Democratic Party's state and New Hanover County executive committees, and he managed the congressional campaigns of conservative Democrat Alfred M. Waddell. (Such active politicking by newsroom employees is banned today by the ethics policies of the Star-News and its parent company.)
Other papers such as the Dispatch, the Independent, the Index ("devoted to the interests of the Knights of Labor," an early labor union), The Democrat and The Palladian (launched in 1895 in support of "16-to-1 free coinage of silver") would enter the market, publish for a few years or sometimes a couple of decades, then fold. Only the Star held on. As early as 1876, it boasted that it was the oldest daily in continuous publication and, for a while, it claimed the highest circulation, back when Wilmington was North Carolina's largest city.
The "daily" claim needs some clarification, though. Until 1913, the Star did not print a Monday issue so Bernard and his workers could have Sundays off.
Well into the 1920s, the Star suspended publication on Dec. 26 to give the staff a Christmas holiday.
A big factor in the Star's survival had to be the personality and character of "Major" Bernard, who edited and published the paper for more than 40 years. "He had the courage of his convictions" is the epitaph on his tombstone in Oakdale Cemetery, where he was buried in 1918.
Unfortunately, those convictions included a belief in white supremacy and a tolerance for political violence. Bernard's paper spoke well of the Ku Klux Klan during the Reconstruction period and joined in the agitation that led to the Wilmington "race riot" of Nov. 11, 1898, and to the deposing of the city's elected government by a slate headed by the former congressman Alfred Waddell.
On the other hand, the early Star generally supported education, an upgraded water and sewer system and other improvements for the city.
In 1909, Bernard retired, and in a complicated arrangement, the Star was taken over by a corporation of local businessmen and investors, including W.H. Sprunt, James Sprunt, Walker Taylor, J.O. Carr, Capt. John W. Harper, James H. Chadbourn and M.J. Corbett. The paper changed hands a few more times until 1927, when it was bought by the Page Estate, a family firm that owned papers in Columbus, Ga., and Bradenton, Fla. Rinaldo B. Page, a former manager of the Palm Beach Post and Sarasota Times, took over as publisher, a post he would hold until 1955.
Later in 1927, a Star editorial looked back on the progress the paper had made in the past 60 years. Gone were most of the hand compositors: "machines now perform that task faster and more efficiently with not one-third the personnel. Presses are no longer turned by hand."
These machines were the Linotypes, the mechanical typesetters perfected by German-American inventor Ottmar Mergenthaler in the 1880s. Operators sat at typewriter-like keyboards and typed out textblocks - the lines of type - which were then cast from molten lead into molds.
At least a few compositors, however, remained behind until the 1960s. Headlines in 48-point type or larger still had to be built by hand, letter by letter, lined up on a "stick," said Jimmy Teachey, a compositor who joined the staff in 1960. The compositors also had to handle much of the spacing (or "leading") by inserting lead space-slugs. Photos and drawings were reproduced with lead plates. "It was just like building something out of lead," Teachey said.
That 1927 anniversary editorial noted other stylistic changes , too: "The 'We' and 'Our' of the news columns of 1867 is now confined entirely to the editorial page, and in place of the long articles tinctured with the personality of the writer, there has come into existence a staccato style, stripped of personality and presenting a straight array of facts without effort to color or influence."
In 1929, the Page family acquired Wilmington's afternoon paper, The News, which had been launched by the Star in 1923 but was later sold to a rival paper, The Dispatch. A joint edition, the Star-News, came out on Sundays.
For much of its run, The News functioned as a sort of afternoon edition of The Star, slightly updating the wire service stories. David Brinkley recalled that The News actually outsold its morning counterpart for years, but with the advent of TV's evening news in the 1960s, News circulation withered, and the paper was finally discontinued in 1975.
Both papers remained small operations. In the mid-1930s, when Brinkley first worked there, the combined newsroom staff had just three reporters and one photographer. High school students, such as Brinkley or a New Hanover High School baseball star named Bill McIlwain, filled in some slots as part-timers, especially during World War II.
The combined operation grew enough, however, that in 1935, the Star-News moved into the Murchison Building at Front and Chestnut streets.
Change came slowly, in technology and otherwise, during the next few years. Publisher Rinaldo Burrus Page would earn notoriety in the 1950s for ordering that one face be expunged from a front-page photo of Korean War Medal of Honor veterans; the soldier in question happened to be African-American.
Revolution would slip in quietly in 1968 and 1969, though, as the Star-News began to make the switch to "cold" type - to offset printing, using aluminum plates that indirectly transferred ink to the paper, rather than striking, it molded lead type.
The change was completed in 1970, when the Star-News moved from downtown to its current home on South 17th Street. In place of the Linotype, photo typesetters ran off column after column of print on photo paper, Teachey explained. Compositors now cut the type columns and paper photos, waxed their backs, and "pasted up" the results on a full-scale model of the page. (The ads would be prepared by a separate day-shift crew.) This model would be photographed by a special camera, which transferred the image onto an aluminum plate.
This new system offered many advantages; for one thing, the paper could now print in color on a regular basis. A downside was that editing suffered, said former editor Charles M. Anderson, who joined the staff in 1976, a year after The New York Times Co. bought the Morning Star and Sunday Star-News from the Pages. For one thing, the newsroom had only two video-display terminals (VDTs) for editing stories that fed into the typesetter.
Anderson quickly got some more VDTs. The next step was an early ATEX computer system, installed in 1983. For the first time, reporters typed their stories directly into a terminal, rather than on a typewriter.
A new computer system, with real desktops at every work station, arrived in 1991 and 1992. Now, whole pages could be laid out on the computer screen, and "paste-up" became a thing of the past. Dozens of employees had to retrain themselves for new jobs. A quieter milestone passed in 1995, when Managing Editor John H. Meyer launched the Star-News' first website, which has morphed into today’s StarNewsOnline.com.
Social norms sometimes took longer to update than technology. The newsroom quietly desegregated in the early 1970s and in 1973 - in a story headlined "Women's Lib old news at Star-News" - reporter Wiley McKellar noted that one-third of the newspaper's 151 employees were women. In that same decade, editorial page editor Lyndal Warren, copy desk chief Vicki Clemmer and city editor Susan Kille would break the paper's glass ceiling. Robyn Tomlin became the newspapers first female executive editor in 2008. In January 2012, Halifax Media Group purchases all of the New York Times Co.'s Regional Media Group, which included the StarNews and 15 other publications.
Based in Daytona Beach, Fla., Halifax paid The New York Times Co. $143 million for the papers in Florida, elsewhere in the South and in California.
Timeline of significant events
• 1867: "Evening Star" is founded by William H. Bernard. Price: 3 cents.
• 1927: Paper purchased by the Page estate
• 1927: Rinaldo Burrus Page becomes publisher
• 1929: The Page Estate of Columbus, Ga., buys p.m. "News-Dispatch" and creates "Sunday Star-News."
• 1935: "The Star" moves to Murchison Building, now First Union Building on Front Street.
• 1943: Noted editor Bill Mcllwain gets start at "Morning Star."
• 1954: Hurricane Hazel comes ashore as a Category 4 storm, devastating the region from Topsail Beach to the South Carolina line. The "Morning Star" manages to get out
an Oct. 16 issue.
• 1955: Rye B. Page, Rinaldo Page’s son becomes owner and publisher
• 1970: Moves to current location on 17th Street, begins offset printing, cold type composition, and acquires color capabilities.
• 1975: Purchased by The New York Times Company. John O. Fullerton named publisher.
• 1980: For the first time, the newspaper publishes in a consistent four-section format. The computer system that makes this redesign possible also makes typewriters
and paper obsolete.
• 1982: James Weeks named publisher.
• 1985: Don Whitworth named publisher.
• 1987: John Lynch named publisher.
• 1988: Culmination of $6.9 million press expansion, which increased color capacity.
• 1995: Launch of first Web site, www.WilmingtonStar.com.
• 2000: Roger Hawkins named publisher.
• 2001: Ken Svanum named publisher.
• 2001: "Morning Star" and "Sunday Star-News" print editions are redesigned. The press is updated.
• 2002: Redesign of Web site, new URL, www.StarNewsOnline.com, as StarNews celebrates 135 years.
• 2005: Robert J. Gruber named publisher.
• 2008: Redesign of Web site, beginning of online-first publishing.
• 2009: Redesign of print edition; printing operations moved to the Fayetteville Observer
StarNews Media Hall of Fame
A few Star-News employees have left the newspaper to move on to greater things and to statewide, even national, acclaim. Below are some alumni whose names you might happen to recognize.
David Brinkley (1920-2003), a Wilmington native, began writing for the Star-News while still a student at New Hanover High School, at the urging of his English teacher, Mrs. Burrows Smith. His tryout piece, at 17, was to cover a report of a century plant blooming on North Fifth Avenue.
"I arrived to find a wonderful scene," he later wrote in his 1995 memoirs. "Popsicle vendors working the crowd, the fire department's emergency floodlights, their diesel engines roaring, lighting up the block and the gingerbready front porch where the Mexican agave sat in a large pot looking like not much." The plant never bloomed; "I'll never trust a Mexican again," Brinkley quoted the owner as saying. The crowd turned ugly, and Brinkley wrote an amusing story about the uproar.
"To everyone's astonishment," Brinkley reported, "it was picked up and carried across the country by the Associated Press, even getting three column inches in The Los Angeles Times … Lamont Smith, the editor, called me in and said when I got out of school I could have a job at the paper if I wanted it."
Brinkley stayed with the Star-News until 1940, reaching a peak salary of $11 per week. He left to enroll at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill but dropped out after less than one semester. Then he enlisted in the Army but was discharged after a year, having been wrongly diagnosed with a kidney ailment.
He returned to the Star-News - where one of his assignments was interviewing Gen. George C. Marshall on an inspection tour of nearby Camp Davis - but left in 1942 to join the United Press Atlanta bureau. Within a year, he landed a job as White House correspondent for NBC News, launching a half-century career in broadcast journalism.
The co-anchor of the long-running Huntley-Brinkley Report, NBC Nightly News and ABC's This Week With David Brinkley is buried in Wilmington's Oakdale Cemetery.
Sam Ragan (1915-1996) was a reporter for the Star-News in the mid-1930s, shortly after graduating from Atlantic Christian (now Barton) College. It is untrue that he was the editor who hired David Brinkley (as is occasionally claimed), although Brinkley wrote that Ragan was "by far the best" reporter the paper had at the time.
Ragan moved on to work briefly for the San Antonio (Texas) Evening News before joining the Raleigh News & Observer in 1941. There, he served as state editor, columnist, managing editor and executive editor. In 1968, he bought the Southern Pines Pilot and served as publisher until his death.
Ragan was North Carolina's first secretary of cultural resources (1972-73), first chairman of the N.C. Arts Council and poet laureate of North Carolina from 1982 until his death. He wrote seven books and edited three others. Imagine what he could have accomplished if he'd stuck it out in Wilmington.
James H. "Jim" Shumaker (1923-2000) spent only a year at the Star-News (1979-1980) as editorial page editor, yet he had a tremendous impact on the paper during the 1980s and 1990s. As a longtime faculty member in the School of Journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he served as an informal one-man "employment agency," steering promising young graduates to fill newsroom vacancies in Wilmington.
Born in Winston-Salem and raised in Durham, Shumaker worked briefly at the Wilmington shipyard before enlisting in the Army Air Force during World War II. A radio operator on a B-24 bomber, he was the sole crew member to survive a mid-air collision with another damaged aircraft. Captured after parachuting to the ground, he spent a year in a German prisoner of war camp.
Liberated at the war's end, he enrolled at Chapel Hill on the GI Bill but did not graduate. Campus legend had it that he was refused a diploma for failing to take a required hygiene class. (Further campus legend had it that Shumaker explained, in salty language, that a year as a German POW had taught him more about hygiene that any graduate assistant could.)
Instead, Shumaker transferred to Columbia. (UNC would finally get around to awarding "Shu" his diploma, with appropriate ceremony, in 1973.) A long career took him to the Associated Press, Durham Herald and Chapel Hill Weekly where he was editor from 1959 to 1973. One of his hires at the Chapel Hill paper was a recent graduate named Jeff MacNelly, who would later model his cartoon character "Shoe" after Shumaker.
Shumaker joined the Chapel Hill faculty full-time in 1973 and retired in 1980. He soon developed a reputation as an irascible but charismatic teacher, and students adored him despite his tough grading. Novelist Tim McLaurin saved an assignment from Shumaker's editorial-writing class, on which his professor had commented: "What you don't know about spelling, grammar, syntax and the like - and that is considerable - can be excused in the name of real writing talent."
In his spare time, Shumaker wrote a weekly column for the Charlotte Observer for more than 20 years. An anthology of these pieces, titled Shu, appeared in 1989.
William F. "Bill" McIlwain: The veteran newsman's career began at 17, when he was hired as sports editor for the Star-News. "It was my senior year of high school," he recalled, "before I went in the service. So many guys were in the war (World War II) by then, you had a good chance of getting a job."
After service in the Marines and studies at Wake Forest College, McIlwain returned to journalism, working for the Jacksonville (Fla.) Journal, Twin-City Sentinel in Winston-Salem, Charlotte Observer and Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch. A long-time editor for Newsday on Long Island, he was founding editor of Newsday's New York City edition. He also filled editors' posts at The Toronto Star, Bergen Record, Boston Herald American, Washington Star, Arkansas Gazette and Sarasota, Fla., Herald-Tribune.
McIlwain wrote several books, including the novel The Glass Rooster, Legends of Baptist Hollow, and the memoirs A Farewell to Alcohol and Dancing Naked With the Rolling Stones. He also collaborated on the famous novel-spoof Naked Came the Stranger. After retiring from Sarasota, he moved to Wrightsville Beach and served as an informal mentor to dozens of young Star-News writers. In 2004, McIlwain was inducted into the N.C. Journalism Hall of Fame.
Celia Rivenbark: The former feature writer is the author of three books: Bless Your Heart, Tramp, We're Just Like You, Only Prettier and Stop Dressing Your Six-Year-Old Like a Skank (voted best book title of 2006 by the staff of Entertainment Weekly). Though she has a weekly humor column distributed nationally by the McClatchy newspaper chain and picked up by the Star-News, she still lives in Wilmington with her husband and her 10-year-old daughter, a constant source for her material.
Richard E. Myers II: A native of Jamaica who grew up in Wilmington, Myers worked for the Star-News from 1991 to 1995 after graduating from the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Among his top projects was coverage of the James Jordan murder case. In his spare time, he earned an M.A. in history from UNCW in 1994.
Myers left to enter the University of North Carolina School of Law, where he graduated with high honors and served on the Law Review. For several years, he practiced criminal and environmental law in California. One of his high-profile clients was scientist and accused spy Wen Ho Lee, a case that landed Myers' photo in Time magazine.
After serving as an assistant U.S. attorney in California and eastern North Carolina, Myers joined the UNC law faculty as an assistant professor in 2004.
Tyler Hicks: The 1992 Boston University grad was a popular Star-News photographer from 1995 to 1998 - cashing in his vacation time to check out the conflict in Kosovo on his own. After a stint as a freelancer, he joined The New York Times in 2001 covering trouble spots from Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon to Camden, N.J. The University of Missouri's School of Journalism named him "Photographer of the Year" based on a portfolio of his 2006 news photos.