Five decades of family ownership transformed a struggling weekly newspaper on the brink of bankruptcy to a thriving daily that chronicled Richmond County’s history of boom and bust.
In the throes of the Great Depression, Neal Cadieu Sr. bought the Richmond County Journal from founding publisher Scott M. Thomas for $1,400. The 1937 sale expanded the Cadieu family’s publishing business — Neal Sr. owned and operated the City Printery and ran the Hamlet News-Messenger with his brother Roy.
“Dad had heard street talk that Scott was having financial problems, and actually he knew that to be true because the Journal was being printed in Hamlet,” said Neal Cadieu Jr. “Scott owed the Hamlet newspaper a sizable printing bill. He was ready to unload it and Dad was ready to buy it. He saw it as an opportunity.”
Thomas started the newspaper on Sept. 8, 1931 as an entrepreneur with a competitive streak, taking swipes at the Hamlet News-Messenger and Rockingham Post-Dispatch in his introductory editorial. He envisioned a regional powerhouse that would cover all of Richmond County rather than a parochial paper devoted to either Rockingham or Hamlet.
The newspaper, which would become the Richmond County Daily Journal when publication increased to five days a week in 1964, would ultimately fulfill that goal under the Cadieu family’s stewardship. But success didn’t come overnight.
“It was not until the later years, the ’80s, that the paper was at its best,” Cadieu said. “The newspaper was really flourishing in the ’80s.”
Neal Cadieu Sr. moved the Richmond County Journal to its current office in downtown Rockingham’s Harrington Square. Though the newspaper had been in existence for six years, it had yet to gain a foothold in a county with three competing weeklies.
“He didn’t really buy much,” Cadieu said of his father. “The newspaper had not been in business that long and had a very meager subscription list, but it had some followers. The dominant paper was the Rockingham Post-Dispatch at that time.”
The Cadieus maintained a cordial relationship with Thomas, who was always eager to weigh in on how the paper he started was covering Richmond County. Thomas offered his critiques to Neal Sr. and later to his son when he took the reins as editor.
“People had more time in those days,” Cadieu said. “There would always be a crowd, usually at the Holiday or one of the drugstores downtown and Scott would every now and then give constructive criticism of how the newspaper had handled something of interest. I don’t remember the first word of praise. He was outspoken and I didn’t mind, it didn’t bother me a bit when he would come in.”
Neal Jr. was a year old when Thomas started the Daily Journal and 7 when his father purchased the paper. He grew up with ink in his veins, delivering newspapers and later working as a printer’s devil, an apprentice who would help mix ink and set type.
“It was always assumed that I would come to work at the paper,” he said. “I started as a newspaper carrier boy on a route. I graduated from that to a printer’s devil at 14 or 15.”
Cadieu apprenticed in the print shop until graduating high school and attending the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. When he came home from college, a job was waiting for him in the news department.
Cadieu said his parents named him editor of the Richmond County Journal in 1955 or ‘56. His father died in 1957 and his mother, Sybil Cadieu, took over as publisher.
Publication frequency had increased to three times a week as the Journal established itself and extended its reach throughout Richmond County. The weekly Hamlet News-Messenger was still being published, which gave Sybil Cadieu an ambitious idea.
“Mother started daily publication in about 1964,” Cadieu recalled. “Her theory was that we were already printing three times a week and the Hamlet News-Messenger made four days a week.”
She reasoned that the Journal could expand to five days a week by adding just one more edition. But her son wasn’t convinced.
“It was just kind of a gut feeling that it was not the right thing to do at that time,” Cadieu said.
He might have said I-told-you-so when the Journal’s linotype machines and lettepress proved too creaky and clumsy to handle the increased workload.
“As events turned out, we found that we were totally incapable of putting out a five-day daily,” Cadieu said. “Our equipment was simply too slow. It was all hot metal and we didn’t have enough of it.
“To Mother’s credit, she decided we should look at offset printing, and we did. We became the second North Carolina daily paper printed by that process. It was a total turnaround, night and day, between hot metal and cold type.”
Sybil Cadieu sold her ownership interest in the Daily Journal to her son in 1967. His early years at the helm were a struggle to balance the books.
“I was just trying to keep my head above water,” Cadieu said. “I had no vision except to try to meet payroll. There were times when we were having to make a very fast deposit in the bank to try to make the payroll checks.”
Newsprint was a mounting expense, and in the current climate of tight credit and cash-on- delivery business, the Daily Journal might not have survived. But Greenville, South Carolina- based Bowater was willing to deliver rolls of newsprint even when Cadieu couldn’t pay.
“Bowater Paper Co. saved this newspaper,” Cadieu said. “They were willing to make shipments of newsprint even when we owed them for the last ones. That was really what made it possible for the newspaper to survive.”
The Daily Journal adapted to advances in technology throughout the 1970s and bought Apple computers at the advent of desktop publishing in the 1980s.
The Daily Journal’s cash flow stabilized in the early ’80s, and Cadieu employed a full-time staff of 30 people, plus four or five part-time workers.
“The newspaper was financially secure,” Cadieu said. “We had borrowed money only one time, and that was to buy some equipment from the High Point Enterprise.”
The paper’s fortunes rose with the community’s. Known as the Star City of the Sandhills, Rockingham was booming with retail stores and restaurants in the late 1970s through the 1980s and became a regional hub for shopping and entertainment, drawing residents from Moore, Scotland, Montgomery and Anson counties.
During the same era, the Daily Journal’s newsroom was churning out some of its finest journalism. Cadieu hired Glenn Sumpter away from the Statesville Record & Landmark to serve as editor while he settled into his business- side role as the paper’s publisher.
“Glenn Sumpter was writing and winning press awards for his editorials,” Cadieu recalls. “We had Clark Cox and Bert Unger and Catherine Monk and C.B. Kirkley.”
Reporters and editors were added to the fold as the Daily Journal absorbed Richmond County’s other newspapers. The Cadieu family had bought out the Rockingham Post-Dispatch in 1953 and phased out the Hamlet News-Messenger in 1974.
Unger, who would later serve as a Hamlet city councilman and longtime Richmond Community College trustee, was a photographer at the News-Messenger before serving as sports editor and later managing editor of the Daily Journal.
In the late 1980s, Cadieu was approached by Roy H. Park, the president of media conglomerate Park Communications. His company owned newspapers in Moore and Robeson counties and “very much wanted to add the Journal because it was in that vicinity,” Cadieu said.
In his mid-50s then, Cadieu hadn’t considered retirement, but Park would eventually make him an offer he couldn’t refuse.
“He was going to pay more than anyone else,” Cadieu said. “I made the decision to see what it would sell for. His interest was the strongest.”
Park purchased the Daily Journal in 1989. With its founder’s health in decline, Cadieu would later call Park Communications “a disappointment to Richmond County.”
Roy Park died of a heart attack in 1993 and his company was sold for $710 million. Community Newspapers Inc. bought the Daily Journal in 1995.
Cadieu said CNI helped the paper rebound following a few years of mismanagement, writing in 2006 that the company “places emphasis on good journalism and takes pride in winning press awards.”
On Sept. 1, 2006 — seven days before the Daily Journal would celebrate its 75th year — CNI sold the paper to Heartland Publications.
Six years later, venture capital firm Versa Capital Management merged Heartland with two other newspaper chains to form Civitas Media, which is headquartered in the Charlotte suburb of Davidson.
The Richmond County Daily Journal has fewer pages and fewer employees than in its 1980s heydey, which mirrors a nationwide trend. Declines in print advertising have shrunk profit margins at newspapers large and small.
Some of the strain, Cadieu said, was local. Richmond County’s retail economy propped up the paper in the ’80s and early ’90s, and the Daily Journal struggled along with the community as jobs and growth favored Richmond’s neighbor to the north.
“Richmond County was leading all the counties in the Sandhills,” Cadieu said. “Gradually, Moore County began to prosper and grow and Richmond County did not. The newspaper’s changed, but the county has, too.”
Despite doing more with less, the Daily Journal of today strives to live up to its journalistic high-watermark of the 1980s. The newspaper’s 2014 coverage of homelessness in Richmond County laid the foundation for the Place of Grace Rescue Mission and earned awards from the Society of Professional Journalists and National Federation of Press Women.
Reporter Melonie McLaurin received the 2015 O. Henry Award for outstanding writing from The Associated Press, the first AP honor the paper has received since 1991. The Daily Journal also claimed second place in public service and best community coverage in the annual North Carolina Press Association journalism contest.
“I don’t know what the next 75 years hold for the Daily Journal,” Cadieu wrote in his 2006 retrospective. “I do believe, however, there will still be a place for a local newspaper in the future. I just can’t imagine not having one.”
Reach Editor Corey Friedman at 910-817-2670 and follow him on Twitter @corey_friedman.