ROCKINGHAM — Now celebrating its 85th year of publication, Richmond County’s newspaper of record began as an upstart seeking to carve out its niche in a crowded field of competing weeklies.
Businessman Scott M. Thomas founded the Richmond County Journal, the predecessor to today’s Daily Journal, in 1931. In the first edition published on Sept. 8, Thomas thanked the new venture’s supporters and alluded to a brewing rivalry for readers and advertisers.
“It is no small thing to have people place so much underserved faith in a project that may truthfully be called ‘uncertain,’” Thomas wrote in an introductory editorial headlined “We Make Our Bow.” “And we would be unappreciative indeed of this fine manifestation of confidence if the enterprise were allowed to drift into a state of mental coma as so many weeklies have done.”
Founded in Hamlet and later moved to Rockingham, the Journal joined the Rockingham Post-Dispatch (1915-65), the Hamlet News-Messenger and a handful of other papers circulating near Richmond County.
“We have high hopes of developing the Journal into a county-wide paper that will appeal to the people,” Thomas wrote. “We are starting with a clean sheet and substantial advertising support, without which a newspaper could not hope for success.”
Annual subscriptions were sold for $1 and a six-month subscription cost 60 cents. W.E. Harrison became the Journal’s first subscriber after stopping Thomas on the street and writing him a $1 check.
“This little incident made a strong impression on the editor,” Thomas wrote. “In fact, so much was it appreciated that the check is being framed and will hang on our wall to remind us, when times get slow, that this world is a fine place in which to live, that we are constantly stumbling over treasures unknowingly; that acres of diamonds await the man who will diligently search them out. And some of them, like Mr. W.E. Harrison, will sometimes stumble over you.”
The framed $1 counter check issued by The Bank of Pee Dee, Farmers Bank & Trust Co., still hangs in the editor’s office at the Daily Journal building on downtown Rockingham’s Harrington Square.
In 1937, Thomas sold the Journal to J. Neal Cadieu Sr. for $1,400. The Cadieu family of Rockingham owned and operated the newspaper for more than half a century.
“I do not remember the birth of the Richmond County Journal,” longtime editor J. Neal Cadieu Jr. wrote in a retrospective for the paper’s 75th anniversary. “I was only one year and three days old. I have, however, through the years read and heard so much about those first few years and the legendary Scott M. Thomas, whom I came to know quite well in later years, I almost feel that not only was I there, but watching.”
Publication frequency increased from weekly to semiweekly and finally, to five days a week in 1964. The Daily Journal became the second daily newspaper in North Carolina to publish on an offset printing press.
Under the Cadieus’ leadership, the Daily Journal became Richmond County’s dominant source for local news, advertising and information.
The Cadieu family bought out the competition, purchasing the Rockingham Post-Dispatch in April 1953 and buying the Hamlet News- Messenger in 1974. Two of the Daily Journal’s longest-serving and best-known writers, Bert Unger and Catherine Monk, worked for the News-Messenger when it was acquired.
The Post-Dispatch’s 1923 model Mergenthaler linotype machine remains on display in the Daily Journal’s lobby.
In 1989, New York-based Park Newspapers purchased the Daily Journal from the Cadieus. The paper changed hands again when Community Newspapers Inc. took the reins in 1995.
Heartland Publications bought the paper in 2006. Six years later, Versa Capital Management merged Heartland with two other newspaper groups to form Civitas Media, which currently owns the Daily Journal and sister newspapers in Laurinburg and Wadesboro.
“The Daily Journal very much remains a family newspaper today,” editor Corey Friedman said. “We’re staffed by a close-knit team of Richmond County residents, and we’re proud to carry on the tradition of Scott Thomas and the Cadieu family in seeking out and reporting the truth to inform and enlighten our community.”
In 2014, the newspaper’s coverage of homelessness in Rockingham led to the formation of a group of volunteers who established the Place of Grace Rescue Mission, a sanctuary for homeless adults operated as a ministry of New Life Church.
The Daily Journal was honored with awards from the North Carolina Press Association, National Federation of Press Women and Society of Professional Journalists for its “Hidden Homeless” series.
An online reader satisfaction survey conducted last month generated more than 100 responses. Friedman said suggestions from the survey would help shape the Daily Journal’s coverage and be used to plan new features that will be introduced throughout the paper’s 85th anniversary year.
“We work hard to make Richmond County’s newspaper better each and every day,” he said, “We hope to make continued improvements through our 85th birthday in 2016 and beyond.”
A special section chronicling the Daily Journal’s history will accompany the weekend edition on Sept. 26.
Printed Tuesday through Saturday each week, the Daily Journal circulates throughout Richmond County and publishes local news online seven days a week on YourDailyJournal.com.