Frank Daniels Jr. caps
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
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
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
“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
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
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
“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
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
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
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
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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