Weekly Asheville Disclaimer Page: 12/23/08

Men’s Wearhouse, Snuffy Smith & Falling Circulation: A History of Publishers at the Asheville Citizen-Times

A recent $15 million lawsuit filed against the Gannett by former Asheville Citizen-Times editor Susan Ihne alleges a pattern of aggressive and unpredictable behavior on the part of current AC-T publisher Randy Hammer. Hammer has served as publisher at the AC-T for just over a year, and may be missed. Hammer follows a long line of notable publishers at the AC-T and the two separate papers that merged to form it: The Asheville Citizen and The Asheville Times. Among them:

Edward J. Snitzel: Snitzel was a Harvard graduate who wanted to rise to the top of contemporary American journalism. When that didn’t pan out, he signed on with the Asheville Times. In a bold move, Snitzel opened the paper’s first international news bureau, located in Ontario, Canada. To prove himself a leader, he volunteered to be the first Times Ontario bureau chief and moved there at the outbreak of the Civil War. From Ontario, Snitzel reported back to Asheville on the happenings of the War Between the States that he feverishly read about in the Ontario Weekly Advertiser.

Samuel K. Levinson: Levinson took over operations of the Asheville Times in 1876, and was fired later that year when it was discovered that the newspaper had been scooped by 1,870 newspapers, both domestic and international, on the centennial celebrations happening all over the nation. When Levinson realized his error, he tried to make good by scouring national papers for any mention of Asheville’s centennial celebration, but, finding none, he could not run a correction in the Citizen.

Junior Johnson, Jr. A rootin-tootin local boy done good, Johnson manned the helm of the Asheville Times’ rival newspaper, the Asheville Citizen, from 1885-1913. Nothing really happened news-wise during his watch, and the paper went from being a weekly to just coming out when something really interesting happened. Because of the lack of advertising, nobody in the market for a new indoor water-chamber knew where to look for one, so people just continued crapping in the woods and reading comic books while they did so.

Kevin K. Kross: K.K. Kross, who hailed from upstate South Carolina, was the Citizen’s next publisher. He was best known for hosting masquerades that featured bonfires in the yards of some of the city’s most prominent black citizens. Known more for his journalistic skills than for his woodworking, Kross was constantly ribbed in letters to the editor for his penchant for errant woodworking, often messing up the construction of a simple cross and having to resort to the public burning of capital Ts and, at least once, a capital “I.” Kross finally went too far when he pulled the “Snuffy Smith” cartoon from the paper.

James McCullough: This 3rd-generation Buncombe County resident became publisher in 1930. He changed the paper’s name to the Asheville Local-Born Citizen. He refused to write headlines that did not feature at least one folksy idiom (The headline for the Oct. 19, 1931, edition read, “Dern it! Tom Edison done died!”). McCullough moved the Sports section to the front of the paper and, by 1932, had entirely removed the Living section, Business, International News, National News and local biz briefs. At the demand of the readers, he restored the crossword puzzle and “Snuffy Smith,” becoming a hero in the process.

Peter Gallagher: Gallagher started his newspaper career as a paperboy for the Asheville Times. When he turned 30, then-publisher McCullough took notice of the paperboy’s work ethic and bumped him up to the newsroom. It was the first time in the paper’s history that a paperboy made the leap to editorial, and that’s why Gallagher was such an awful reporter. Nonetheless, he was promoted to editor and filled the paper with exciting tales of World War II, which he dutifully transcribed from the newsreels shown before feature films at a downtown movie theater. He was banned from the theater in 1943 for “acts unmentionable,” putting Asheville in a complete news blackout. Gallagher became the paper’s publisher in 1945 and promptly moved “Snuffy Smith” to the front page, which pacified the readers until news returned shortly after Gallagher’s retirement in 1971.

In 1972, the Asheville Citizen merged with the Asheville Times, eliminating wind-blown debris on the streets of Asheville by half. It was in 1972 that the newly christened Asheville Citizen-Times became a rudderless shell of a paper that changed publishers and editors every time a strong wind blew. The paper was ridiculed for its constant restructuring and rearranging of its priorities and content, which it did at the direction of readers’ polls conducted each week. While most newspapers presented stories written at a 6th-grade reading level, the AC-T featured stories written sometimes with no words at all, just photographs and crayon squiggles. After the merger, insiders claim that one of the papers — the Citizen or the Times — gained the upper hand in a behind-the-scenes editorial struggle, and succeeded in passing on its unique editorial and management style to the new publication. To this day, nobody knows which paper gained the upper hand in the merger.

Next week: Someone, someone, Virgil Smith, someone, and Randy Hammer: The Modern Era

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