Company History

Raleigh News & ObserverAugust 13, 2009 

The News & Observer dates to the Civil War era. For much of its history, the company was owned by the Daniels family. It was purchased by The McClatchy Co. in 1995.

1865
The Sentinal is founded in Raleigh. It is later absorbed by The Observer, which merges with The News in 1880 to become The News & Observer.

1894
Josephus Daniels (1862-1948) acquires The News & Observer as a distressed property at auction and, with financial support from about 70 prominent Democrats, becomes its editor. Daniels’ goal — and the paper’s role — is to support the state Democratic Party. General "Jule" Carr, a wealthy benefactor, supports Daniels in his efforts.

The first issue of The N&O with Daniels as editor publishes on Aug. 12. The four-page paper has a circulation of 1,800 and cost about $7 a year. Raleigh’s population is about 10,000.

Daniels supports his newspaper by working in Washington, D.C., at the Department of the Interior until early 1895, when he returns to Raleigh. A long-time member of the Democratic National Committee, he served as Secretary of the Navy under President Wilson and as Ambassador to Mexico under President Franklin Roosevelt. Except for those stints, he edited and ran The News & Observer until he died in 1948.

In the first years of his ownership, Daniels made many changes in the paper. He installed the state’s first linotype machines, changed the typography, and, in a bold move, took ads off the front page.

In an autobiography, Daniels wrote that he had wanted to rename the paper The North Carolinian, but friends, family and supporters persuaded him that The News & Observer was entrenched in readers’ and advertisers’ minds. Its early critics had already dubbed it "The Nuisance & Disturber" before Daniels came along. He yielded, and kept the name. The paper was tagged "The Old Reliable" by a salesman named Wiley Rogers, who traveled the region selling subscriptions and assessing the political situation for his boss.

This was a time of personal and partisan newspaper journalism, and there was seldom any doubt where The N&O stood. In 1898, the paper helped lead a vicious, racist campaign to reclaim the legislature from a Republican coalition, and its efforts helped bring about the disenfranchisement of black voters. Years later, Daniels would express his regrets about those tactics. Over the decades, he also fought for progressive causes: open government, improved public education and against child labor. He was a teetotaler who wanted nothing to do with "demon rum."

1948
Josephus Daniels dies and his four sons, Josephus Jr., Frank A., Worth and Jonathan take over the paper’s ownership and operation. Jonathan (1902-1981) edits the paper, and Frank is president and publisher.

1955
The News & Observer buys The Raleigh Times, an afternoon paper.

1956
The N&O moves from its building at 114 W. Martin St. into its new headquarters at 215 S. McDowell St.

1965
The paper celebrates its 100th birthday with a 332-page centennial edition.

1968
The Daniels family hires the first "outsider" to run the paper. Claude Sitton, a Georgia native who made his reputation as Southern correspondent for The New York Times and went on to serve as its national editor, would enlarge The News & Observer’s reputation as a government watchdog. He served as editorial director under editor Jonathan Daniels. In its news coverage, the paper moved away from the personal and partisan stances that had marked the Josephus Daniels era. Editorially, its positions remained closely aligned with those of the Democratic Party.

Aug. 31, 1969
The Mini Page weekly educational supplement is created and published in The News & Observer. It would become one of the nation’s most widely syndicated children’s features over the next decades. In 2009, it is still going strong.

1971
Frank A. Daniels Sr. becomes chairman of the board, and his son, Frank Jr., becomes president and publisher. Sitton succeeds Jonathan Daniels as editor.

1973
The company buys The Island Packet in Hilton Head, S.C.

1973
The N&O enters the computer era, far earlier than most papers.

1974
The N&O buys The Cary News, a weekly paper with a circulation of 3,500.

1975
The company buys The Gazette in Beaufort, S.C.

1976
In its election coverage, The N&O publishes — for the last time, it turns out — the drawing of a rooster that it had used throughout much of the 20th century to indicate an election day sweep by the Democratic Party. The story has it that Josephus Daniels had wanted the party to use the crowing rooster as its symbol, rather than the donkey.

1979
In January, The News & Observer buys Mount Olive Tribune. In October, the paper buys
The Mountaineer, in Waynesville, N.C., along with two weeklies and a shopper.

March 16, 1980
A welder’s torch starts a fire that ignites ink and the "web" of newsprint threaded through the press, injuring three people and causing $4 million in damage. The next day’s paper is printed on The Durham Herald presses; for two days after that, it is printed by The Fayetteville Observer.

Dec. 20, 1980
The News & Observer buys The Smithfield Herald, a twice-weekly paper with a circulation of more than 13,000.

1982
A division of The News & Observer buys the Gold Leaf Farmer and Zebulon Record.

April 18, 1983
Sitton wins the Pulitzer Prize for commentary for his columns, published on the editorial page.

1985
The News & Observer buys three newspapers in York County, S.C.: The Rock Hill Evening Herald, The Clover Herald and The Yorkville Enquirer.

1987
Staffs of The News & Observer and The Raleigh Times merge.

1988
The N&O endorses its first Republican candidate for statewide election.

1989
N&O Book critic Michael Skube wins the Pulitzer Prize for criticism.

Nov. 30, 1989
Last edition of The Raleigh Times publishes.

Jan. 1, 1990
The News & Observer sells the three South Carolina daily papers (The Herald, Rock Hill; The Island Packet, Hilton Head; and The Beaufort Gazette) to McClatchy Newspapers, along with weeklies in York and Clover, S.C., and a shopper.

1990
The company sells Mountaineer Publishing, which publishes papers in Waynesville, Canton and Madison County.

1990
Frank Daniels III is named executive editor. He will expand the newsroom staff and budget dramatically over the next five years, as he shapes the paper to cover a fast-changing region.

1993
The N&O buys The Chapel Hill News from Ottaway Newspapers Inc.

September 1993
Sunday sales of The News & Observer top 200,000 every week this month.

March 1, 1994
The News & Observer creates NandO.net, one of the nation’s first online service providers, and begins publishing the NandO Times electronic newspaper.

May 17, 1995
The News and Observer Publishing Company is sold to McClatchy Newspapers of Sacramento, Calif., for $373 million. When the deal closes on Aug. 1, the transaction ends 101 years of Daniels family ownership.

1995-1996
New Flexo presses are installed. They can print 32 pages in color, at the time the largest color capacity of any newspaper in the nation.

1996
The News & Observer wins the Pulitzer Gold Medal for Public Service for its series, "Boss Hog," that explored the impact of large-scale commercial hog farming on the economy and environment of Eastern North Carolina.

1996
Frank Daniels Jr. retires as publisher and is succeeded by veteran N&O manager Fred Crisp.

1999
The News & Observer is named one of the nation’s 100 best newspapers by The Columbia Journalism Review. It is named one of the 17 best designed newspapers in the world by the Society for News Design.

Jan. 4, 2000
Orage Quarles III is named President and Publisher of The News & Observer as Crisp retires.

April 29, 2002
Editor & Publisher, a leading newspaper industry magazine, names Quarles national Publisher of the Year.

2003
The Wendell Clarion, Zebulon Record and Knightdale Times merge to form the Eastern Wake News.

2005
The Durham News debuts as a weekly published on Saturdays.

2006
The McClatchy Co. buys the Knight-Ridder newspaper chain, adding 20 daily newspapers to the company after reselling several, and making it the third largest newspaper publisher in the nation. The transaction also brings to the company dozens of non-daily newspapers, a number of digital assets and employees, a significantly expanded Washington, D.C., news bureau, and an international presence for the first time in its history with the addition of 10 foreign news bureaus.

2008-2009
The N&O increases its service to the surrounding community by creating three additional weekly newspapers, Midtown Raleigh News, Southwest Wake News and the Garner-Clayton Record, which with the existing North Raleigh News, The Cary News, The Chapel Hill News, The Durham News, Eastern Wake News and The (Smithfield) Herald bring its community newspaper total to nine.

Sources: The News & Observer archive; "Editor in Politics," by Josephus Daniels, 1941; "Josephus Daniels: The Small-d Democrat" by Joseph L. Morrison, 1966.