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Executive Profile
the Fold

Frank Daniels Jr. caps  a 
long career at the top of the 
new business but still watches 
over issues around Raleigh

By Phil Kirk

“Newspapers are too homogenized. They don’t have as much vim and vigor. They are too much alike. Maybe they put too much emphasis on being politically correct. Newspapers don’t have the personalities they used to.”
--  Frank Daniels Jr., seen at his new office overlooking Raleigh's Fayetteville Street Mall

From substitute office boy at age 14 to publisher at age 40, Frank Daniels Jr. held at least 13 other positions on his way to the top of the chain of command at the Raleigh News & Observer.

He was a bill collector in the classified advertising department and then worked in the pressroom, composing room, circulation and retail advertising departments. Then he began collecting official titles: personnel manager, credit manager, business manager, circulation manager, general manager, assistant publisher, associate publisher and finally president and publisher.

Daniels achieved the top position at the News & Observer without receiving  a high school diploma. Being a member of the family that owned the newspaper did not hurt his rise through the ranks, but it perhaps made him work extra hard and make fewer mistakes than most as he assumed almost every position at the N&O except that of a reporter.

His accomplishments are remarkable, perhaps matched only by the lengthy list of important national, state, regional and local groups he has chaired and a wide-ranging list of directorships and honors that have come his way. That they all have been achieved by a man who cannot point to a high school diploma on any wall in his suite of offices in a building he owns on the Fayetteville Street Mall is in itself a great story.

How did it happen? Daniels went to Broughton High School before transferring to Woodberry Forest, a private high school in Virginia. “They would not accept my credits from Broughton and I would have had to go to summer school between my junior and senior year in order to graduate on time,” Daniels says. “I didn’t want to do that and Carolina (UNC Chapel Hill) did not require a high school diploma for admission.

No one would suggest that the lack of a piece of paper called a high school diploma has had any negative effect on Daniels (especially given that he graduated from UNC with a degree in history), except to give him a little-known fact to toss out in the midst of a conversation or interview.

A native of Raleigh, Daniels’ first job at the News & Observer was as a substitute office boy at the age of 14. The summertime job meant that he separated and delivered mail, pulled tear sheets, and ran errands.

It was during this time that he also became a gardener working in his father’s (Frank Arthur Daniels Sr.) two-acre “Victory Garden.” He recalls that “nothing in the world is better than picking butter beans, corn, tomatoes, squash, watermelon and onions at 6:30 in the morning. Pulling up onions and picking tomatoes were the best and picking butter beans and snap beans were the worst.”

At 15, he got his driver’s license and began driving a ’41 Ford to collect bills that were owed to the News and Observer for classified ads. The next year he began working in the pressroom from 7 p.m. to midnight. “The labor laws were not passed yet so I could work as late as midnight,” he notes.

While there was never much doubt that Daniels would enter the newspaper profession, there were a few detours to his eventual permanent landing. In the ninth grade at Broughton, Daniels borrowed a piece a paper from classmate Julia Jones. While the paper didn’t leave a lasting impression, Julia did and two years later they began dating. In typical Daniels’ humor, he recalls that they broke up briefly after Julia’s freshman year at Converse College. “She said I was too sophomoric,” he says, smiling.

Perhaps helping Daniels to mature were experiences at Chapel Hill where he chaired the Men’s Honor Council for two years. It was the “smidgen of law attached to this work” that caused Daniels to enter law school at Carolina. Just as few people know he doesn’t have a high school diploma, many people do not know that he almost became a lawyer.

“It was easy to get into law school then,” he says. “I did pretty well the first semester.” After the semester break and the spring break for general college students, the dean of the law school queried Daniels as to his commitment to the program. Daniels knew he wasn’t. “I realized I didn’t want to be a lawyer,” he says. “I got tired of reading all those cases and realized I didn’t want to spend the rest of my time reading case law.”

After taking ROTC at Carolina and while waiting to go into service, he worked in the composing room at the N&O and then became district manager in the circulation department.

“I really enjoyed the Air Force,” Daniels says. His grandfather had been Secretary of the Navy, but Daniels flunked the physical and had to settle for the Air Force. He wanted to get into flight school, but after flunking another physical, that ambition was not to be attained.

After entering service, he proposed to Julia in March 1954. She had been teaching fourth grade at Frances Lacy in Raleigh. At the time he was stationed in Belleville, Ill., so he had to ask for her father’s permission by telephone. “Mr. Jones said the decision was up to Julia. We got married in June. I went to Japan and she joined me in October.”

Before Daniels got out of the Air Force, his father and uncle bought the Raleigh Times and asked him to come back to the capital city. He initially refused and even considered staying in the Air Force another year because of the attractiveness of serving in Germany. “However, Julia was seven months pregnant so we decided to come back to the United States,” he says.

The return to Raleigh was not an automatic decision. In fact, he had been offered a job at the Louisville (Ky.) Courier-Journal and another job in Charleston, W.Va. “Julia and I did not like the smell of the air there,” he quips of Charleston. They also considered a position in Little Rock, Ark., but the temperature was 105 degrees the day they visited. So environmental issues — smell and heat — helped persuade the Daniels couple that Raleigh indeed was the place for them to make their permanent home.

After becoming publisher in 1971, Daniels began acquiring other newspapers, beginning with the one in Hilton Head, S.C., in 1973. He added two other South Carolina publications (in Rock Hill and Beaufort), plus those in Smithfield, Mt. Olive, Wendell and Cary, as well as one magazine, Business North Carolina in Charlotte

Daniels recalls receiving a detailed, unsolicited offer from a broker in 1988 who wanted to buy the N&O. “It was so big that I thought I had to tell the stockholders, but they rejected it,” he says. But that was just the first offer. The Daniels family eventually sold the South Carolina newspapers to the California-based McClatchy group and then the Waynesville paper to a cousin. Later, some relatives sold their stock and then the McClatchy chain began talking about buying the N&O.

“Most of my generation were in their 60s, and I long ago had decided not to stay at the paper until I died,” Daniels says. “We forced employees to retire at age 65, so I would have needed to do that also. All the stars were in alignment. Frank III was in the high-tech area and after we sold, I got involved as a director with Frank in Koz and Total Sports.”

After the sale to McClatchy, he bought an office building on Fayetteville Street Mall, where he occupies the top floor and is able to boast that “we have the only balcony on the Fayetteville Street Mall.”

Daniels has no trouble staying busy. He has served on the Landmark Communications board for 22 years and a company that owns, among others, daily newspapers in Greensboro and Norfolk, Va. Not content to be totally out of publishing, he bought the Southern Pines Pilot from Sam Ragan, a popular and much-beloved North Carolinian.

He recalls visiting with Ragan at least once a year for nearly 10 years before Ragan agreed to sell. Daniels is the majority shareholder among five and his nephew, David Woronoff, is publisher.

The newspaper world is a different one today than the one Daniels entered at age 14. “A lot of news is on TV now and it is free,” he says. “People are still reading a lot but there are not as many newspaper subscribers. Many do not feel compelled to subscribe.”

He sees no lasting effect on the profession as a result of the recent controversy and resignations at the influential New York Times. “Some thought the incident with Janet Cooke would destroy the Washington Post. It did not. Honesty is so important. As soon as a reporter lies, you have to get rid of that person. It is the job of an editor to constantly question the reporters about their stories and facts.”

Daniels has not lost his love or passion for newspapers over the years, noting that “it is a fascinating business.” However, he is quick to point out changes he does not particularly like. “Newspapers are too homogenized,” he says. “They don’t have as much vim and vigor. They are too much alike. Maybe they put too much emphasis on being politically correct. Newspapers don’t have the personalities they used to.”

Few would discount the impact Daniels’ personality had on the N&O. “Frank is totally lacking in ambiguity,” friend Charles Sanders says. “What you see is what you get. He is straightforward, uncomplicated, certain in his beliefs, comfortable in his own skin. Behind that outspoken and sometimes gruff exterior lies a warm and compassionate human being who cares deeply about the world we live in. On a personal note, one could never ask for a better friend.”

Daniels proved time after time that he could be a trusted confidante of leaders in North Carolina without compromising either his role as a friend or as that of a newspaper publisher.

Dick Spangler, a close friend for more than 55 years, continued to confide in Daniels during the 11 years Spangler served as president of the University of North Carolina. “Frank has never violated a confidence I have disclosed to him,” he says. “On numerous occasions, I talked to him about discreet matters at the university, all of which would have made interesting reading in his newspapers. Not once did I ever read about a matter I had discussed with Frank in confidence

“We met frequently for lunch at the Farmers Market,” Spangler adds. “Frank never hesitated about telling me how to run the university, although I never tried to tell him how to run the News & Observer.”

While Daniels does not mind giving his opinion, he is willing to share the facts that helped him form his views, and he expects similar responses from others.

Wade Smith, a prominent Raleigh attorney and powerhouse in the Democratic Party, has lunch with Daniels about once a month. They each prepare an agenda they want to cover during that time. The topics range from politics to issues to books, art, and music. “We conclude with street talk, rumors, tall tales, and gossip,” Smith says. “Frank is one of the best-read people I have ever known. He can talk about any topic. You name it. He has read about it and has a view.

“He is a great-hearted man — kind and generous. And he is certainly one of the smartest people I have ever known.”

Daniels says that while most of his life lessons were learned from his father, he also came under the influence of his uncle, Jonathan. “I was always taught to be straight, always do what you say, and to treat everybody else like you wanted to be treated,” Daniels says. “Uncle Jonathan also taught me it was appropriate, right and necessary to be irreverent.”

Daniels says he gained insight from watching his famous relatives communicate. “My father was successful in dealing with his brother because my father did not have a big ego. He knew that you could not take yourself too seriously and that it helps to have a good sense of humor.”

Daniels displays an appropriate sense of humor, Spangler says. “We have been together hundreds and hundreds of times,” he adds. “Even when there were very serious issues, Frank still found a humorous point as well as keen insight. He is unflappable and always quick to make a penetrating response.”

Daniels’ business acumen and publishing experiences make him a valuable board member for Landmark Communications, according to Frank Batten, the company’s CEO. “He is a first rate director. He speaks his mind frankly and does not hesitate to disagree with management proposals. He has good judgment about business strategy and about people.”

In a testimony to Daniels’ loyalty to his friends, Batten adds, “When we were cubs in the newspaper business 50 years ago, Frank and I met at a newspaper convention and quickly became friends. We chased girls together, not always successfully, for several years before both of us married, and we have remained friends ever since.”

He does not mind challenging the status quo or rocking the boat. Spangler notes. “Frank has not changed since I met him in 1947. He is a ‘devil’s advocate’ pressing me and others to justify our opinions with factual information.”

Adds Orage Quarles, current publisher of the N&O, “I’m fortunate to have been able to work with Frank for almost 10 years. He’s a strong leader with a wealth of information on many subjects. And he doesn’t mind sharing his opinion.”

Daniels has always been heavily involved in community activities. “It started with my role at the newspaper,” he says. “People who run newspapers need to be involved in the community. The newspaper does only as well as the community does. It is important to do things to make the community a better place.”

Often working as a team with Julia, Daniels said he tries to divide his 24-hour days into thirds — equal parts sleeping, eating and devoting time to family; working; and civic activities. He tries to find time for golf and bird hunting and says that one of his most enjoyable work-volunteer activities currently is his chairmanship of the Smithsonian National Board. In this important position, Daniels works diligently to tell the story of this national treasure to members of Congress.

Even with his national responsibilities, Daniels’ heart and soul remains in Raleigh and despite semi-retirement, he is still vocal and involved with wanting what is best for Raleigh, Wake County and North Carolina.

“I am a downtown person,” he proudly boasts. “We have a stable downtown largely because of state government’s presence. I have enjoyed and supported the growth of downtown. What Progress Energy is doing is great. It is a shame that First Citizens tore down its building and then didn’t build its headquarters downtown.”

Proving that he can still dish out praise over criticism, he adds, “Progress Energy is doing more for downtown than any other business, and I give Bill Cavanaugh (Progress Energy CEO) tremendous credit.

“I am in favor of a new civic center and hotel and I am opposed to making the current one-way street system into two-ways.”

And in a period of wishful thinking, he adds, “I wish we had the RBC Center downtown. Charlotte and Atlanta have strong downtowns, and if you don’t have a strong downtown, you don’t have much.”

So with Frank Daniels, you see what you get and you may get more than you would expect from a semi-retired person. However, Raleigh and Wake County and the state of North Carolina are better off because Daniels came back here instead of taking one of those jobs in Louisville, Little Rock or West Virginia.

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