You may have noticed something new on our Page 1 masthead since the dawn of a new year.
It's a graphic noting that 2020 marks the 150th anniversary of The Franklin Times.
And before you ask, no, I haven't been here for all those 150 years -- although some days it feels like it. But come March 1, I will have been owner/publisher of The Franklin Times for 29 years, and boast the attendant scars, wrinkles and grey hair to prove that.
Actually the newspaper is older than 150 but it has been published continuously for 150 years, no small feat given all the changes that have happened since 1870.
The Franklin Times has a whole string of ancestors but the record gets a little cloudy in the early years.
What we think we know for sure is that the first confirmed newspaper in Louisburg was The North Carolina Times -- and there supposedly is a copy surviving from 1848, although where that copy is today is unknown. Some say that this newspaper traces it lineage to about 1806, but we've never confirmed that.
In 1854, W.H. Pleasants began The American Eagle, which he published, edited, printed and delivered, often personally.
Then along came The Franklin Courier with George Strother Baker as editor. That paper began in February, 1870.
In 1875 he sold out to J.A. "Dolly" Thomas and A.M. Hall and they changed the name to The Franklin Times, although it was considered the same publication.
Thomas eventually acquired full ownership and operated the paper until 1909, developing quite a reputation across the state for his political beliefs!
Shortly after Thomas took over, Asher F. Johnson came from Pitt County to work at the newspaper. Johnson later married the daughter of Dolly Thomas, Sadie Thomas.
After Thomas died Aug. 24, 1909, at the age of 53, the paper passed to his son-in-law, Asher F. Johnson who was considered an outstanding newspaperman.
He ran the paper for 41 years until declining health forced his retirement.
His children formed a company known as The Franklin Times, Inc., to operate the newspaper. Involved were Dr. Sadie C. Johnson, president; James A. Johnson, vice president; Elizabeth Johnson, treasurer and Adelaide Johnson, secretary. Elizabeth Johnson was named in 1952 as editor and business manager.
Asher F. Johnson, Jr., became managing editor -- and launched a long career with the newspaper.
The Times moved into its new location, a one-story plant on Bickett Boulevard, on June 1, 1956, which still is the newspaper's home.
By 1978, Fred Johnson (Asher's brother) had acquired The Franklin Times, Inc., and served as the newspaper's publisher until March 1, 1991 when he sold it to a corporation I had created, Franklin County Newspapers, Inc. I was then a fugitive of "corporate America" after more than 20 years as a reporter, editor and publisher of newspapers in several states.
So all that is a shorthand description that brings us to the 150th anniversary of The Franklin Times -- and we hope to take some time to reflect back on a century and a half covering the people and events of this county.
We're hoping to create something special, to focus attention on this county's rich and varied history.
Of course, no 150th celebration would be complete without a look backward, so we'll be collecting information and gathering up old photographs of the people, places and events of Franklin County.
And, that's perhaps where you can help.
We can't suddenly stop publishing a quality weekly newspaper to focus on one publication so we're going to have to get organized and divvy up the work.
We're hoping that some members of the community will agree to help -- perhaps with research, finding and identifying old photographs and suggesting story ideas.
We've even set up a special e-mail address to handle just 150th anniversary stuff, so send anything pertaining to this topic to: Times150@yahoo.com.
Please DON'T send regular news, church news or other items that need to be published promptly to this address, only things pertaining to the 150th anniversary.
At this point, we haven't settled on a precise theme for this publication, so we're seeking ideas and suggestions along those lines as well.
Fifty years ago, the Times' staff created a huge Centennial Edition that was basically a look back on the newspaper's first 100 years.
We don't necessarily want to "replow" that field but, obviously, a look back is part of the challenge.
But it will also be fun to report and reminisce on all the changes since that Centennial edition hit the streets back in 1970.
Personally, I hope we can find ways to reflect on those changes, relate them to where this county is today and maybe take a peek at what the future may hold.
Granted, the last 50 years amount to only a third of this newspaper's history, but massive changes have taken place in those five decades.
So, please, put on your thinking cap and conjure up ways that we can pay tribute, not only to this newspaper's rich history but also to the entire community because without the community and its people, the newspaper could not have survived.
And, while you're at it and if you're so inclined, please look through your inevitable collection of old photographs, especially those of important events and influential people, and consider lending them to us.
Technology today allows us to quickly and safely copy photos and reproduce them in high quality formats so the originals won't be damaged.
And, I promise, we'll take very special care of anything you loan us and will make sure it gets back to you safely and promptly.
Extent of changes
Looking over some old editions and reflecting on my nearly 29 years here was a stark discovery about how much change this -- and every newspaper -- has survived over many years.
Back in 1991, when I was the new kid on the block, Publisher Fred Johnson was showing me around the office and was especially proud of a new, 600 megabyte hard drive he had installed as a primitive server and storage device.
I remember thinking that a 600 meg hard drive was huge -- and that we wouldn't have to expand that anytime soon.
Although I can't remember how long we used that drive, I can tell you that the final files for just the "Discover Franklin County" publication we released in December were more than 1.2 gigabytes, twice the size of Fred's 1991 vintage drive!
These days, we have something like four terrabytes of storage capacity (nearly full) in our online server, probably another four terrabytes on drives that are available and gobs of stuff stored on the cloud so that everything is fully backed up!
Heck, even the aging machine on my desk alone has 12 gigs of RAM memory and a two terrabyte hard drive -- which aren't included in the above totals.
Times -- and the The Times -- certainly have changed!
Reading the description of The Franklin Times office in 1970, also was enlightening because:
•It had two darkrooms to process photographs and pages. Today, we have none. Everything is digital.
•Back then they had pasteup tables and waxing machines to coat the copy so it would stick during pasteup. All that is gone. We haven't done pasteup in nearly two decades and the waxer, I think, was donated to a school for art classes. All that work is done digitally on computers -- and finished pages sent over the Internet to our printer.
•The office back then was filled with printing equipment for "job printing" like envelopes, letterhead, tickets and the like. All that is gone. Computers have drastically reduced the need for such printing and it became increasingly difficult to do any of it profitably. I now know of only one print shop left in the county.
•There was a large, four-unit press to print the newspaper here in 1970. It's been gone for decades and the newspaper printing has been contracted out to a number of printers over the years. The main reason is the increased demand for color on photos and in advertising which requires huge, multi-million dollar presses to do efficiently. Currently we print at the News & Observer's plant in Garner which gives us huge options for page counts and color.
Since I came here, The Times has been printed in Rocky Mount, Henderson, Durham, High Point and Roanoke Rapids. All those presses, except High Point, have been shut down and sold off as markets changed.
•Back in 1970, The Franklin Times was nestled among a number of other independently owned -- and fiercely independent! -- newspapers like Henderson, Warrenton, Spring Hope, Durham, Wake Forest, Creedmoor, Smithfield and many others. Even the "big dog" of the state, the venerable News & Observer was proudly owned and operated by the Daniels family.
These days, only The Franklin Times remains independently owned -- and people accuse me and Donna of being stubborn and bull-headed! All the rest of these once-fine newspapers have been gobbled up by chains and the results have been, to my jaundiced eye at least, less than ideal. Sometimes far less than ideal. Sometimes even a disaster!
Along the way, in 1996, we purchased The Nashville Graphic in neighboring Nashville, and still operate it. But two family-owned newspapers doesn't constitute a chain ... more like a thread at best!
Goals haven't changed
But not everything has changed ... and as long as I'm kickin' they won't if I have anything to say about it.
Let's close this week by quoting from a message written by Dr. Sadie C. Johnson, president of The Franklin Times, Inc., back in 1970.
She wrote that "when an individual has been graced with a full life and has reached the century mark in age, he is often asked to what he attributes the accomplishment. If this institution were to respond to such a question, the answer would have to include such items as the privilege of service to its community, the challenge of inspiring its readers to greater interest and activity in public affairs, the sharing with its people the sadness of their disappointments as well as the joy of accomplishments.
"It has played the important role of being an instrument of communication, information and opinion. It has been active in the participation in, and the recording of, the great eras of this county's history and development. In all of this, there has been enjoyed the cooperation of the people of this county.
"So, in this centennial year The Franklin Times gives thanks for its history and accomplishments; and it is with humble pride and grateful heart that it invites all friends to join in this recognition of our one hundredth anniversary."
Well said, Dr. Johnson, and the only update to this message that is necessary is to note that it's now the newspaper's 150th anniversary -- and we have even more to be thankful for after so many more years!