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Interview with Josiah Cantwell, February 18, 2009 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with Josiah Cantwell, February 18, 2009
February 18, 2009
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Interviewee: Cantwell, Josiah "Si" Interviewer: Jones, Carroll / Boyle, Erin Date of Interview: 2/18/2009 Series: SENC Notables Length 90 minutes


Josiah "Si" Cantwell is a local news columnist for the Wilmington Star-News, profiling people and organizations contributing time and talent in the area. In this interview he discusses his personal and professional history, as well as items from recent local history and the current state of the newspaper industry.

Jones: Today is Wednesday, February 18th, 2009. I am Carroll Jones with Erin Boyle with the Randall Library Special Collections Oral History Program. We are in the Helen Hagen Room at Special Collections Randall Library. Our special guest this morning, Si Cantwell. How often do people call you Sí?

Cantwell: I get that sometimes.

Jones: Sometimes. Si Cantwell, who is features and local news columnist for the Wilmington Star News, which is our local daily newspaper, Si is a native North Carolinian a rarity in Wilmington, and as well he is on the paper staff. Welcome Josiah, and thanks for coming to visit us.

Cantwell: Well thanks for having me, Carroll.

Jones: This out to be fun. I wondered about that, your wife is South American isn't she?

Cantwell: She's from Puerto Rico.

Jones: From Puerto Rico?

Cantwell: Mm-hmm, Mm-hmm, Maria.

Jones: And when you first met, you must have said your name, so she got it right.

Cantwell: Actually the time it came up the most I worked for awhile in Miami Beach and there was a Spanish deli bodega down on the corner where we would go get sandwiches, and I remember calling one time, it was humorous, my name is Si. "How do you spell that?" "S-I." "Oh, sí." "No, S-I" "Sí." And finally I said, "My name is Joe, and I'll be down there." Yeah it was really like that.

Jones: That is too funny.

Cantwell: So yeah. So I'm Joe in Miami Beach.

Jones: You are Joe.

Cantwell: (laughs)

Jones: Very forgettable. Well let's start from the beginning. Talk about your background. I know that your father was-- was your father a native Wilmingtonian?

Cantwell: Oh yeah.

Jones: He was?

Cantwell: I'm going to correct you on one respect.

Jones: Okay.

Cantwell: I was born in Charleston, South Carolina. Dad was in the Navy November 1955 and he used to say he was keeping the Atlantic safe for democracy during the Korean War.

Jones: Yeah, well I have heard that from some people who were down there at that time.

Cantwell: So I was born in the naval hospital there, but there have been Cantwells in Wilmington since before the Civil War. And my great, great grandfather, Colonel John Lucas Cantwell, played a pretty significant role in local history. He was a commander or the commander of the Wilmington Light Infantry. A bunch of hot heads went down and took over Fort Caswell near Southport and Fort Sumter hadn't happened yet. And so the governor sent word and made them give the fort back to the Yankees. So they returned the fort to the Yankees and a month or so later the Rebels fired on the fort at Fort Sumter and the Civil War began and they went back down and took over the fort again.

Jones: Now where was your family living then?

Cantwell: Wilmington.

Jones: In Wilmington? So you go back for how many generations?

Cantwell: My ancestors came from Ireland in the early 1800's.

Jones: I was going to ask you if there was an Irish connection there.

Cantwell: Yeah, oh yeah.

Jones: Because there was a famous Arch Bishop for many, many years in Los Angeles, Cantwell.

Cantwell: I don't know about him. There is a quarterback named Cantwell for college football.

Jones: Everybody knew about him if you lived in L.A. It is where I grew up.

Cantwell: Mm-hmm.

Jones: Okay go ahead.

Cantwell: Irish yeah, they got here either early 1800-- probably early 1800s Patrick Cantwell came over. They came to Goose Creek, South Carolina. Made their way up, and I think by the 1840s or 1850s they were in Wilmington. And there have been Cantwells here every since. If you know a Cantwell who was born in Wilmington, I'm probably related.

Jones: That is it. How in the world did the Irish get here, when this place was full of-- well there were Scotts-Irish, Presbyterians.

Cantwell: Our theory is that they came to escape the tithe in Ireland. You had to give 10 percent of your income to the church and they probably didn't like that. And we think that because they became Protestants when they came over here...

Jones: Sure.

Cantwell: ...but we think they were Catholics over there. And Colonel John Lucas Cantwell, the afore mentioned Civil War character, was the vehemently anti-Catholic. He had stuff in his wishes for burial that priest not wear robes like Catholic priest. So we think it was some kind of reaction to the Catholic Church, but we don't really have much evidence for that, and I have researched it. I would like to know more about that.

Jones: That would be fun.

Cantwell: But my great aunt use to say they came over way before the potato famine in Ireland, so.

Jones: That is what my family said.

Cantwell: (laughs)

Jones: Well all right, so they got here. You were born in Charleston and I guess as I said, I have heard this from several other people from here. Their fathers were in Charleston in the Navy.

Cantwell: Mm-hmm.

Jones: Charlotte Hicks, you know her, she was one of them.

Cantwell: I do know her. I don't know that about her.

Jones: And John was in the, that's where their parents met. Anyway, so go ahead from there.

Cantwell: Oh okay, yeah Pop was in the Navy. He got out. We moved to Wilmington. We lived here for a short while when I was very young. There was house at Sixth and Market called the Blue House and it was owned by the Cantwell family. There have been four Robert Calder Cantwells so far. My cousin Bobby being the fourth in the real-estate business and in the insurance business. And they owned this house that was divided into apartments and we lived there for a while. It seemed like it was full of Cantwells. They had an office on Princess Street between Third and Second Street, and Uncle Bobby said they called that Robber's Row, because there were so many lawyers and insurance agents that had offices on that road.

Jones: Yeah, and bankers.

Cantwell: So that is Robber's Row. There's still a lot of lawyers.

Jones: Yeah, there are.

Cantwell: My cousin Bobby was R. C. Cantwell III and he was my father's first cousin. And I believe he owned that building at the time and it was, as I have been told more than recall, it was fired by a big coal furnace. And, you know, it was really kind of an old fashion place and it is gone now replaced by the building currently houses cousin Bobby's insurance place of business, real-estate appraisal.

Jones: Is it Sixth and...

Cantwell: Sixth and Market.

Jones: Sixth and Market.

Cantwell: I believe that building is for sale now. Bobby's getting towards retirement age.

Jones: Yeah, okay so...

Cantwell: So we lived there for awhile when I was young. We lived at-- Dad was a stockbroker--

Jones: Would you excuse me. You lived in that house?

Cantwell: Lived in that house.

Jones: The Blue House?

Cantwell: The Blue House. The Blue House at Sixth and Market. Dad was trying to sell life insurance for New England Life, wasn't a great success at it, wasn't happy in it, so he became a stockbroker. He joined Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith. Went up to New York, took the course, came back, and he use to like to say, that when he was up there he would talk slow like a southerner. He had a drawl and he'd pull them in thinking he was dumb and he would close the trap. He thought that was very clever, so he began selling-- he became a stockbroker, moved to Wilson, North Carolina, which is tobacco town up not far from Raleigh. It is in the Rocky Mount. Worked for Merrill Lynch up there and was a success at that. People in the Early 1960s, I think he started in 1960, liked to talk to stockbrokers and enjoyed talking about the markets. It was a time of growth and he did that. We moved to Charlotte when I was going into the fourth grade and he joined Goodbody and company up in Charlotte. Worked there until that company folded, the fourth largest house on Wall Street. He wound up back in Wilmington, a couple of interim stops, but he wound up back in Wilmington in 1975. My family moved to Echo Farms and still have the house.

Jones: Oh really?

Cantwell: Mm-hmm.

Jones: That's when you were developing Echo Farms.

Cantwell: Yeah, it was one of the first maybe 10-12 houses out there. It was former dairy farm.

Jones: Yeah, I remember. Well I know that history, yeah. And did he move back here and continue?

Cantwell: He moved back here-- stockbroker, wound up opening the Dean Witter Office here, which is now Morgan Stanley and retired. And I wrote a column, I was business editor at the Star News by the time he retired, so I wrote a column about the changes he had seen in the business going from ticker tape to telequote machines, to personal computers.

Jones: Now I want to ask you this, when he went with-- we use to call it, "We the People".

Cantwell: Dean Witter?

Jones: No.

Cantwell: Merrill Lynch?

Jones: Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner and Bean and everybody called it, "We the People." And so he went with them after Bean did.

Cantwell: Bean had a Wilmington connection, right? The Wrights?

Jones: I don't know.

Cantwell: Susan Taylor has told me that, I can't remember what it is now.

Jones: Well I'm not sure that is totally accurate. The Beans were bought out. Whatever, you know.

Cantwell: But it was Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith when Pop was with them.

Jones: Yeah, that made a big change. Everybody--

Cantwell: There was the biggest one.

Jones: Well great, so anyway where did you go to school?

Cantwell: I went Myers Park High School in Charlotte for a year, and then two years at a prep school in New York, The Storm King School in Cornwall, New York and then returned to Charlotte, UNC Charlotte. Started out as an English major, but switched to psychology thinking it was a little bit more-- would be an easier way to make a living. And I was writing for the school paper up there just doing some features work.

Jones: This was all in Charlotte?

Cantwell: In Charlotte, UNC Charlotte.

Jones: Is that where you graduated from?

Cantwell: Graduated with a BA in psychology.

Jones: Okay, psychology?

Cantwell: Mm-hmm. Joined the Charlotte Observer in August 1979, just for something to do while I figured out what I wanted to do and I have been in the newspaper business every since.

Jones: How did you get your job at the Charlotte Observer with a BA in Psychology?

Cantwell: Well, I was night metro clerk. It was not a very skilled position. I wasn't a journalism major, so it was a way for me to get in and learn about the news business. And it was a great laboratory for learning. As a metro clerk, I would answer the phone and do obituaries and do the weather and just try to get bylines however I could. But I was also talking a lot to the people around, to the copy editors, to the other reporters, to feature writers, got to know a lot of people. Kays Gary is one of my mentors in this business. He was a columnist for the Charlotte Observer and he would write about the poor and down trodden, and Virginia Burrows, who was kind of a mother hen of all the clerks, would say that when someone would come in and their faces were downcast, and they look like they had no hope, and they had kind of shabby clothes on we just point them to Kays' desk. And Kays wrote marvelous columns, and every year I helped him with the Great Bicycle Giveaway. He would give away bikes to needy children in the inter city around Christmastime. So I became pretty good friends with him and I think he has been an influence on me as a columnist.

Jones: Is he still around?

Cantwell: No, no he is gone, but he was a good fellow. Native of Shelby maybe, and worked for the Charlotte Observer and became an institution in Charlotte.

Jones: How long were you with the Charlotte Observer?

Cantwell: I was there from '79 to '83. I left to join another Knight Ridder newspaper. Charlotte was a Knight Ridder paper. Kind of interesting, it was called View Tron [ph?], and it was an experiment in online Journalism way before the internet. From '83 to '86 I worked in Miami Beach at View Tron View Data Corp of America [ph?] and we would-- I was editing wire stories and putting them out over the wire. Just as quickly as we could over View Tron people would...

Jones: What years now? 1980?

Cantwell: 1983 to 1986. I was there before they started and I was there after they ended. We had news. We got local news from the Miami Harold, which was a Knight Ridder paper. We had online shopping, with Burdines Department Store. You could buy airplane tickets from Eastern Airlines.

Jones: Did they buy time from you or did you have to pay for their services for news?

Cantwell: Our customers would subscribe to View Tron for a monthly fee and they would also rent a set top box that was a 1,200 baud modem, which these days is painfully slow. You would watch a screen paint down from the top, and then you would hit more and the next screen would paint down from the top. But we were doing some ground breaking work. The morning that flight 007, Korean Airlines flight 007 was shot down by the Soviets, I was working that morning and we were getting reports in from the L.A. Times and the Associated Press and a lot of them, and I was weaving them together into one story and posting updates as it occurred. And it was one of the most exciting days of my career because--

Jones: Si, how did the news come in? By phone?

Cantwell: Wire service.

Jones: By wire service.

Cantwell: Wire service. So you are at a computer and you're calling up a queue of stories and here's, you know, maybe it is called flight 007 31st Lead, and you are looking to see what is new and then your slotting that in either at the top of the story or a few paragraphs down keeping this running thing. We boasted that we had news of Uri, Soviet Premier Uri Andropov's death up on our service 17 minutes before President Regan found out.

Jones: You probably did.

Cantwell: We use to joke that they couldn't wake him up.

Jones: Okay, so what happened with that news service?

Cantwell: Pulled the plug on it eventually. They wanted to see if that was--

Jones: That was quiet forward for that time.

Cantwell: Yeah well, they thought that might be the future of newspapers. In the end they poured I don't know how many millions of dollars into, and weren't getting that kind of revenue out of it and decided it maybe the future but the future is not here yet. So they pulled the plug, sent me out to the Journal of Commerce, which was a business publication based on Wall Street but copy edited and printed in Philipsburg, New Jersey. I worked there for a year.

Jones: Good Lord.

Cantwell: Got more of a bus-- I was finance editor at View Tron and then got more of a business background there, and then jumped over the Delaware River.

Jones: Who is they? You said they sent you.

Cantwell: Knight Ridder.

Jones: Knight Ridder.

Cantwell: Knight Ridder Corporate. They paid my salary for the first year, which is kind of awkward, because there was a lay off at the Journal of Commerce and I was exempted from it because they weren't paying my salary. And it created kind of an uncomfortable moment, everybody realized what the situation was but here is their old friend who are getting laid off and I'm the newest guy in and I got to keep my job.

Jones: So you went to New Jersey?

Cantwell: Yep, the Journal of Commerce in Philipsburg, New Jersey. Stayed there about a year and then joined the Easton Express in Easton, Pennsylvania.

Jones: My God. (laughs)

Cantwell: Bouncing around. In the newspaper business you-- to get a better job you usually go to another paper, so there is a lot of moving.

Jones: Well I know that it is not at all uncommon to cut your teeth as you did, and they bring you along slowly, and you really have got to have a mentor on the paper, somebody who believes in you.

Cantwell: Yeah.

Jones: And then you might get sent one or two other places, then maybe end up on TV, radio, or whatever news, you know, bigger news. You really, just taking to Charlotte to Miami.

Cantwell: Well I went from a clerk to wire editor, to copy editor in the Journal of Commerce, then copy desk chief at the Easton Express a short stent, and then business editor there and I was back up editorial page editor too. The editorial page editor got sick, so I was writing editorials and won an award from the New Jersey Press Association, for this little small town called Alfa, New Jersey. They had a police force, but no money and they had one police car, and the floor board had rusted out so you could see the street underneath it. And finally they had to take the police car in for repairs, so the policemen were patrolling the town in a big street sweeper, a big orange street sweeper. It was hard to make people stop, you know, like a car chase wouldn't be very good if you were driving a street sweeper. So I wrote an editorial saying, "Alfa do you really want police?" The state police could have probably patrolled the town more effectively then this two man police force with no car. So I got a second place award form the New Jersey Press Association for that one. That was fun. I was at the Easton Express from '86 to 1990, when I came to Wilmington. My wife saw an ad in Editor & Publisher Magazine.

Jones: You stopped to get married along the way?

Cantwell: Oh, my gosh. I met Maria at the Observer. She worked in ad alley. She was between the news-- if you were going from the news room to go get coffee in the back shop, you had to go through ad alley, and she worked in ad production.

Jones: So you drank a lot of coffee--

Cantwell: Yeah, I drank a lot of coffee in those days. We got on the bus one day. I asked her for change. She gave me some, and then walked down the aisle at the bus and she sat down expecting me to sit down next to her and I just walked right by and sat in a different-- I was the rudest guy in the world.

Jones: God bless.

Cantwell: So we got together. She moved to Miami with me and we got married October 1st, 1983.

Jones: Really?

Cantwell: Mm-hmm and she is the love of my life.

Jones: Oh that is wonderful that you can still say that. That is sweet.

Cantwell: Yeah, oh yeah. She teaches cooking classes for UNCWs Continuing Education Department.

Jones: Does she?

Cantwell: Mm-hmm. And she sells glasses, eyeglasses for a living.

Jones: And you have no children?

Cantwell: No children, two cats.

Jones: I was going to say do you have at least a dog.

Cantwell: (laughs) Two cats keeps us busy.

Jones: So you've been back in Wilmington since 1990?

Cantwell: Yes.

Jones: And you went directly to Star News?

Cantwell: Went to the Star News as assistant news editor number two on the copy desk.

Jones: Really?

Cantwell: Number two on the copy desk and in charge on Sunday afternoons. News paper here had and still has around 50 to 55,000 daily circulation, higher on Sundays. It was about the size of the Express. And in Wilmington in 1990 it was a lot smaller town. Interstate 40 was completed in, I forget, 1991 or so.

Jones: When that opened up, boom.

Cantwell: Yeah that is when the growth hit, so I was kind of here before that when it was still a sleepy town. I remember a friend of mine coming to town and we drove around down town on a Saturday night and at one place we didn't want to pay the cover charge, and there wasn't much else going on. The streets were empty. There wasn't anything going on down town, so.

Jones: My mother-in-law use to say, "Well, Wilmington is growing by leaps and bounds. I don't know where these people are coming from."

Cantwell: Well they were coming down I-40, because that was our link. Before then it was a pretty aguish journey to get here. You would come out 421 or 74.

Jones: We would come down to Wrightsville in the summers and Highway 17 was murder.

Cantwell: Yeah.

Jones: More cops out there waiting to get you at night.

Cantwell: And drive through small towns, stuff like that. So all the roads in were like that, so when 40 was completed it just opened us up and that is when all this development began and we really started booming. Couple of stories about working on the copy desk, one night hurricane--

Jones: Excuse me, who was your editor then?

Cantwell: Oh, Charles Anderson was the editor. John Meyer was managing editor and I worked for them. And like I say on Sunday's I was kind of in charge and there was a lot of news that would break on Sundays. It was Sunday that we learned that the night before four Marines had beaten up a gay man named Crae Pridgen.

Jones: That John Burney [ph?] was involved in?

Cantwell: Yeah, gay bar called Mickey Ratz, so that story broke and that became a huge story. Nationwide Crae Pridgen went on...

Jones: It was on Court TV.

Cantwell: Yeah. It was on one of the network morning shows, maybe Good Morning America or one of those, so that was a big story that broke on a Sunday. I the one I always remember is there was this hurricane Bob that brushed up the coast. Hurricane Bob in Sunday morning's paper there were maps and stuff about hurricane Bob might hit Wilmington. Well Bob passed about 50 miles off shore, so it really just kind of grazed us with some effects. But I was working that day and we had a cop's reporter named Mark F. Eppaleto [ph?] and just three of us on the desk. Usually it was four of us, so that was smaller than usual staff. Somebody was on vacation, so it was pretty skeleton staff. Eppaleto calls me from maybe Johnny Mercers Pier says, he has heard that there is a shelter open up in Pender County. I said, well go up there, that seem to be the only story. I brought in another reporter Tracey Rose, asked her to come in and she covered the regular cops beat that day that Eppaleto would have been doing. A lot of car wrecks and falling tree branches, and things like that throughout the area, and it was an exhausting day. And we finally got all that stuff put together and got the paper put to bed. And Eppaleto went home and about 11:45 he called me on the phone, and he said, "Did you hear? Gorbachev quit or something." It turned out Soviet Premier Gorbachev had been deposed in a coup in Russia, and that story was just breaking. I looked on the World Wire here is tape one, two, three, four, and five, you know, as they got in these sketchy reports. So we had to turn around and redo the front page and move hurricane Bob into the secondary spot, and put Gorbachev up in the lead and get it out the door by 12:30.

Jones: I was going to ask you--

Cantwell: Our deadline, second edition deadline, so that was an exciting night.

Jones: It kind of makes it worth it doesn't it?

Cantwell: It does, it does. Your adrenaline flows, if it's a big story. I moved over to become business editor in 1994 and one of the first stories that was big then was there was a plan to give the Water Street Parking Deck property, I think an acre of it, or a half acre-- an acre to PPD, Pharmaceutical Product Development, a local pharmaceutical research company. And it became a real lighten rod, the first problem was they were going to knock the deck right before Christmas, and the down town merchants screamed, bloody murder that is going to destroy us. And so that kind of stalled the momentum of the thing, and then some critics came up and said it is out of scale with the Water Front. Harper Peterson, who later became mayor, was one of those early critics thought that the building itself just wouldn't fit in with the existing downtown. And it got pretty ugly. People started accusing the PPD head, the founder of the company, of wanting to build the building and then sell it and move back Raleigh, just all these unfounded allegations about a man who is still in Wilmington, is committed...

Jones: Yes he is.

Cantwell: the growth of the city.

Jones: Yes he is.

Cantwell: Fred Esterman [ph?] is one of the better citizens...

Jones: If he pulled out...

Cantwell: Yeah, it would have been terrible, so the whole thing fell apart. It's 2009 and that Water Street Parking Deck is still there and PPD has thrived over on 17th street. And for years down town merchants talked about a blow it was when PPD pulled out of downtown. Their employees were no longer going to these lunch counters, a lot of the lunch counters closed. So that was one of the earliest stories I was in involved in. I went and interview Doctor Elshmen [ph?] in his office and talked about all this stuff, and we were working that story for all it was worth.

Jones: Si, let me ask you something, you have brought up a number of items that were of national interest, and yeah, your adrenaline gets going et cetera. How do you feel when you are as a news person and a professional at the scene of or actively involved in making the rest of the world aware of what is going one? You get into it?

Cantwell: You don't really stop to think about that you are just doing your job. I was going to talk a little bit about the hurricanes of 1996 and that was one. And when you are working a big story, whether it is me on the desk advising a reporter, who is covering the Crae Pridgen story or you are out in the field trying to drive around a town with pine trees blocking your way everywhere you drive, it is hard to think of the import of it. You are just trying to get to the next thing and try--

Jones: And in retrospect do you think God, how did I do it?

Cantwell: It is fun being at the epicenter of stuff and stuff. I think what is the most fun about working for a newspaper maybe any newsroom, is all the stuff you know. You know more than gets in the newspaper because there is stuff you can't verify, so you don't print it. There's rumors and there's stuff behind the scenes. Reporters know every politician who ever told a lie to the newspaper. You just remember those things and it gets passed down, so you take that with a grain of salt. This happened 20 years ago. So you know a lot about a town, and that is really kind of fun to just have that level of knowledge. You feel like an insider on a lot of this stuff, but yeah, it is really to be part of a big story your adrenaline gets flowing, you work really hard. The hurricanes were the next big thing that were like that from '96...

Jones: Bertha, Fran.

Cantwell: '99 through hurricane Floyd we were hit by, I think it was six, storms where at least hurricane force winds were felt somewhere in our area. One of them was on the roof of the Blockade Runner so it wasn't-- but it was, you know, I remember sitting home and feeling that one buffet my house so, you know.

Jones: Now it was Floyd that was the big mistake that kept everybody out on the roads and not able to get into town.

Cantwell: Yeah, Fran was the first big one. Bertha had hit--

Jones: We were here for both of those.

Cantwell: Yeah, Bertha had hit in July, an early hurricane. The first one since the 1980s to really hit us, and knocked down a lot of tree branches and stuff and I thought well that is what a hurricane is like. And I remember going and riding around in the middle of it during the eye when the winds calm down and then coming back when the winds cranked back up again. And I have watched so many storms out the back window of the Star News with power off in the building waiting for it to come back on. There was one memorable, March 1993 storm, this incredible hurricane with no name, 100 mile an hour winds, and snow, and cold weather, and it knocked out power longer than any hurricane did for me. We were without power for three days.

Jones: My gosh.

Cantwell: I guess Fran knocked us out that long. So anyway Bertha was followed by Fran, and then Fran really was a serious hurricane. I think it was category three when it made landfall and driving around my town my job as business editor was to go report on how the stores were doing generator sales and that sort of thing. And it was really hard driving around town, and I remember looking for quarters so I could call the office on pay phones. We didn't have cell phones back then.

Jones: Oh gosh.

Cantwell: And you would want to get a report into them. So we had this big spade of storms and as business editor I would wind up doing the same stories over and over. There was one along there, I have no idea which one, and the day before the storm I would go to Lowe's-- I would do the story about the stores gearing up. So I would go to Lowe's and Home Depot, and yeah we have got plenty of plywood and glass and stuff like that. And I would go to Food Lion and interview buying bottled water and canned goods. And I was driving around trying to figure out how in the world can I make this same old story different and I drove past Burt's Surf Shop on Oleander and I turned around, and went back in there, and talked to them. They were doing a landmark business.

Jones: Really?

Cantwell: Surfers were coming in like crazy. One surfer had broken his board the waves were so big. He came in bought another surf board went back out--

Jones: They are a different breed.

Cantwell: Yeah, so that was a good lead for a routine story.

Jones: Yeah it was, yeah.

Cantwell: So that was fun.

Jones: And the paper got out?

Cantwell: The paper got out.

Jones: Does it get delivered?

Cantwell: The...

Jones: Not necessarily.

Cantwell: ...paper has been continuously delivered since 1861, since we were founded in the 1860s.

Jones: Maybe a little late?

Cantwell: The one time we printed but it didn't get delivered was a big snow storm in 1989. It was the Christmas snow of 1989. We got like two or three feet here in Wilmington, and most of the trucks couldn't get through so the papers piled up on the loading dock. We printed as usual and come to the Star News and get one and we got some deliveries around town, but we couldn't get out to Brunswick and Pender County. Back then we were delivering to Duplin and Columbus County.

Jones: I was going to ask you--

Cantwell: And we couldn't make those deliveries.

Jones: Today you have a separate office over in Brunswick county.

Cantwell: Mm-hmm. Actually we are closing that.

Jones: Are you going to?

Cantwell: Yeah.

Jones: Okay, well anyway for delivery do you have printing presses over there or does it all come from one place?

Cantwell: No, no we have the ones--

Jones: It comes from one place?

Cantwell: Yeah, we have eight--

Jones: But trucks come--

Cantwell: [inaudible] presses.

Jones: And they're loaded.

Cantwell: Mm-hmm.

Jones: Okay.

Cantwell: Trucks on the loading dock. It's fun to see the Star News parking lot at 2 o'clock in the morning. It's one of the busiest places you've ever seen.

Jones: I can imagine.

Cantwell: Lights are on, cars are coming and going, trucks coming and going, people out. Parking lot's full of people. It's really interesting to see that. I don't see it very often, 'cause I'm usually asleep.

Jones: I hope not.

Cantwell: I became a local news columnist in 2001. By that time, Allan Parsons was our editor. Charles Anderson had resigned and John Myer had left the paper shortly before that to work with his wife on a venture. And I started--

Jones: I wish him luck, he's still working.

Cantwell: Yeah, yeah. He's a friend of mine.

Jones: Yeah, he's a friend of ours too.

Cantwell: I told Allan I wanted to be a columnist, thinking about Kays Gary. And so I became an opinion columnist. And that's kind of a hard thing. That's not what Kays was doing and it's not what I'm doing today. But I had a column called "Common Sense" and I would write about what city council was doing or local issues, county commissioners, growth and planning and stuff like that.

Jones: That's an oxymoron, calling it "Common Sense." (laughs)

Cantwell: (laughs) There seems to be a short supply and it was kind of an arrogant name for a column, because it's hard for me to be an opinion columnist because I'm cursed with the ability to see two sides of an issue. So I'm not always convinced that I'm right.

Jones: Well maybe that's the best kind though.

Cantwell: Maybe so. People said I was fair. One person said, "I never agree with anything you write but I always read your column." So that made me feel real good. I love that guy. But it's hard not just to get your facts right, but to get the nuances of the facts right and then to reach some kind of conclusion. And sometimes I wasn't always comfortable doing that. Harper Peterson was elected mayor then and he was a real polarizing figure, a lightning rod. One of his very first acts, the very first city council meeting he was at, they met in secret at midnight and reconvened at 10 o'clock the next morning and fired the city manager, Mary Gorantow [ph?]. Harper was elected on a coalition of people who were angry about having been annexed to the city and Northside residents. And I was critical of Harper on the annexation stuff. I still believe that cities need to annex to grow. Living in Allentown, Pennsylvania, which is ringed by townships and can't expand, I've seen a city center that was poor and rundown and dirty and dilapidated and I didn't think Wilmington should get that way and it will if it can't grow and the region around it gets more and more urbanized. So I was critical on Harper on that point. But he was doing this wonderful work with the residents of Northside, the black community in Wilmington.

Jones: That's one of his specialties.

Cantwell: Yeah, he was paying attention to their concerns. He developed this Northside redevelopment plan that was going to try to listen to what the residents wanted and give them as much of it as feasible. He held meetings at Virgo.

Jones: That really kind of subsided though.

Cantwell: Yeah, I mean they had it-- the city actually bent over backwards, city planners were really working hard to make those things happen. And some of them did. The police station got built up there, there were some other measures taken. North 4th Street was beautified. And there's some other stuff I can't even remember. So there were some concrete measures that were enacted.

Jones: It was a great idea.

Cantwell: It was. It got to be hard. The 1898, I mean the Northside Redevelopment Planning Commission got to be smaller and smaller. Northside residents, after a while, kind of lost interest in it. And the city planners would tromp down there, they'd have like six people down there running the meetings and there might only be 10 people in the audience. I was covering a lot those. And some of it got done and some of it couldn't get done. So you kinda did as much as you could and hoped to bring a sense of pride to that area that I hope still exists up there to a certain extent. There's so many changes coming up there now. North 4th Street is developing on its own. We've got some big residential towers going up, up there, new businesses coming in. So it's beginning to take on kind of a--

Jones: Well somebody recently I heard say that, that end of the city is where some of that development should take place--

Cantwell: Yeah, the newer buildings can go up there.

Jones: order not to obscure the view from the historic.

Cantwell: Yeah. Well PPD has built this tower up there.

Jones: Wonderful up there.

Cantwell: And it's a wonderful building and it can be surrounded by modernistic development because there's no existing setting that you can mess up by building up there.

Jones: Right. Right.

Cantwell: So that's working out pretty well. The convention center is going up, up there.

Jones: Right.

Cantwell: Another polarizing Wilmington project.

Jones: Yeah. Well.

Cantwell: It's finally going to be built. And it was, you know, there's a lot of people in Wilmington who are convinced, local taxes are going to end up paying for it even though officials way it'll be paid for by the room tax.

Jones: These people are not broadminded, far sighted.

Cantwell: Yeah.

Jones: Yeah.

Cantwell: Well.

Jones: These people will complain no matter what.

Cantwell: One former editor of the Star News said, "Never underestimate Wilmingtonians ability to be disappointed in their city." Or something like that.

Jones: I think he was probably right.

Cantwell: Yeah a lot of them just don't believe in the growth. The people who think nobody wants to come to Wilmington, why build a convention center, nobody really wants to come here. And I know that's not true because I've talked to visitors from England and from over the state who love it here.

Jones: You know it's that old-- what was that-- Field of Dreams, "If you build it they will come."

Cantwell: The will come.

Jones: And when I stop to think, and I know you know this is true, that the convention center, the new one, would provide jobs, it would put some money on the tax roll. The space is not going to go wanting. There's something going on all the time. The Art League, for one thing could use it. Look at all the high school reunions, high school proms. Instead of coming out here and doing it by day, they could do it-- the whole thing.

Cantwell: Yeah, there'd be a number of rooms they can use.

Jones: Yeah.

Cantwell: So yeah, I think it'll be-- it's worthwhile. And ironically now, 2009, we're in this recession and it turns out to be exactly the kind of stimulus project that they're trying to discuss getting going and it actually is doing that. It's providing jobs up there. There's several hotels going up around it.

Jones: I don't know. I'm not going to get started on that recession thing because I think, again, Wilmington is sometimes its own worst enemy.

Cantwell: Mm-hmm.

Jones: Look at all the expensive housing that went up, boom, like that. Anyway. All right, now you went from Common Sense to-- how did this evolve into "Here and Now"?

Cantwell: Oh well, Bonnie Eksten left as business editor.

Jones: Yeah, she was great.

Cantwell: So I was called back to fill in on the business desk for a while.

Jones: Do you like that?

Cantwell: Suspend the column. Not as much. I mean after being a columnist to go back to a job I had done, I'd done the job for seven years before. So it was familiar territory and people said they were glad to have me back on the beat but I was relieved when Wayne Faulkner was hired as business editor. Tim Griggs was our editor then and he didn't feel comfortable having an opinion column on 1B and he proposed a column about the newcomers. There were so many newcomers moving to Wilmington, he said when he would talk to groups, he would always ask them, "How many of you have moved here within the last 10 years?" I do that too and often 80 or 90 percent of them will raise their hands. So for the first year or so of the column, I was concentrating on newcomers here, that was my beat and newcomer's clubs and kind of things they do and their impressions of Wilmington. But at the same time I worked in covering some of the costal heritage that was being lost. I did a column about a man who makes fishing nets down near Shallotte and different features, the worms and coffee place, which is a store in Midway, in Brunswick county, it's near the corner or Midway Road and 210. And the area is about to explode with growth because that's where the second bridge to Oak Island is going to go. It's stalled a little bit now with the current economic times. And he used to have a sign out that would say "Worms and Coffee." You could get fishing worms and you could get coffee there. And so it became the Worms and Coffee store.

Jones: That's kind of cute.

Cantwell: So I've kind of broadened that. It's not so much newcomers now. It's just the people and places that make Southeastern North Carolina interesting. So it's just a people column and getting around and highlight a lot of non-profits. Julie Martin is our managing editor now. Robyn Tomlin is our editor. And Julie is a real believer if the newspaper has a crusade; it's helping charitable efforts in our town.

Jones: Good for her.

Cantwell: So she kind of directed me that way.

Jones: I talked to her about that briefly. And I think that there's just one thing. Have you found because you have really concentrated on these non-profits, we had found that there's about 400 non-profits in town. This a county of 106,000 plus, more.

Cantwell: There's about 1,200 of them in our three county region.

Jones: And in a way-- have you ever thought or have people talked to you about, so many of them should be combined. Therefore if you've got donations, you can do twice the work?

Cantwell: People say that a lot. Maybe that'll happen. But that wouldn't be my place to tell them that.

Jones: No. But do you find that so much of it's repetitious? Particularly in the issue of children.

Cantwell: Perhaps. But a lot of times differences in emphasis and stuff. Some of them do combine. The CAP center is the Child Advocacy Program and it merged with Parenting Place because they had similar missions and discovered some synergies there. So it does happen every now and then.

Jones: Well I know Domestic Violence Children Services does a fantastic job. I'm on their board and a couple of their committees.

Cantwell: That's a great outfit, I've worked with them.

Jones: They're worker bees. But we run into the Carousel Center, as an example, which is doing great work, and a number of others. And they all could be kind of coming together in a way. Ben David has designed a couple of new programs through the court system for protection and I said "Well, are you going to treat this like a non-profit?" He said "No, it's just going to be a filter." That's the way it should be. But with you, you must have your own favorites, I'm not going to ask you to do that, by the way these CDs and DVDs will be available to anybody who wants them on the National Library Network it's for research et cetera and you will get a copy. And the transcription will go on our internet system here.

Cantwell: I've come across that when I was doing research from my columns. I've quoted from those transcripts.

Jones: Okay. That's fine. I was going to ask, but with all of these I was going to ask you, and I will ask you, how do you get onto-- do you ask? Do you look around? Do you have people to go talk to them and--

Cantwell: Story ideas?

Jones: Yeah.

Cantwell: Some of them I dream up. Most of them people call and say, "Did you know about such-and-such? You ought to look into that." And a lot of them, fortunately for me, come from people that I've done columns on. I always tell people when I write about them I say, "I need spies in the community. I need people out there who get the ideas." And if they're happy with the column I wrote about them, a lot of times they'll say, "Well, you ought to write about this person, my friend who's doing this." And I'll think, "Oh, that's pretty interesting." So you know, one thing leads to another. Sometimes you get into mining little veins. One time I did a lot of independent film makers in Wilmington. Meg Lansaw would mention Adam Alphin and they'd mention, you know, Ross Wells. And so there'd be one after another after another of people who just are doing a similar thing. That works out for a while, artists.

Jones: I've done the same thing in the art community. You've got to do so-and-so.

Cantwell: Yeah, you get recommendations so that's kind of fun. And then it's a matter of talking to them and then just bolstering it. The internet is a wonderful too. I remember stomping around in the Star News newsroom in about 1998 or so going, "I hate the internet." I was looking through the Bureau of Labor Statistics database for some specific thing and just couldn't find it. There was no Google, there was no Internet Explorer. I think we were using Mosaic in those days. And the internet was so rudimentary and there was information there but you had to know the exact path to get to it. So I hated the internet. And of course now, as a journalist, I love the internet and I better love it. I wanted to mention 1898 because that's when a real important thing that I've been involved in. 1898 was essentially a coup where after the Civil War there was very successful black middle class and upper class, a lot of artisans here and a thriving community. Blacks were actually the majority of citizens within the Wilmington city limits. And they held posts in government and business. They were, you know, very important to the functioning of the city. A lot of political wrangling, republicans and fusionists and this and that, democrats opposed them. Democrats were the white people who felt disenfranchised, felt like they'd lost the war and then a lot of them had lost property and that sort of thing or just had been on the losing end of things, they were mad about that, overthrew the elected government. They essentially held a very polarizing election where most of the black citizenry, a lot of them were intimidated into not voting, violence and threats of violence and people riding around on horses saying stay home on election day. So the whites had essentially won that election. But before they could take their office, they rampaged through the city and threw black people out of office. And a lot of good leaders of Wilmington were put on trains and told to leave town and don't ever come back.

Jones: Now that I've not known about.

Cantwell: Yeah it was really, really a violent time. Bertha Todd, who was a librarian at Hoggard High School, wonderful educator and one of Wilmington's great citizens told me when she moved here in, I think it was in the 1950s, black people would talk in whispers about 1898 and she had a hard time figuring out what had happened because nobody really wanted to talk about it. I think there wasn't a lot know at that time. I think a lot of the knowledge of what had happened had been lost and had to be reconstructed later. In 1998, there was a movement towards reconciliation.

Jones: A committee?

Cantwell: Yeah, 1898 Foundation Forum to--

Jones: Right I did all those papers.

Cantwell: Yeah. Partners for Economic Inclusion, look for ways to bring black and minority businesses into the mainstream. And I was reporting on those kinds of things as business editor all the way through. As part of my reporting, it was when Harper Peterson and the Northside stuff. And I started going to those meetings. And I was struck by how immediate 1898 felt to the residents of the Northside. Some of them were descendants of the people. And it was like 1898 had happened the day before yesterday instead of 105 years earlier.

Jones: Well of course the Wilmington Journal was still working then too.

Cantwell: Wilmington Journal. So I became interested in that, started attending the 1898 Foundation meetings. They were trying to put a memorial up. The memorial was stalled because Thomas Wright thought that the property where the memorial was supposed to go, the community would be better served by having a grocery store there. He was trying to work a deal where another property would become available for the memorial park and the grocery store would go there. It pretty well halted fundraising for the memorial for a long time. A lot of people had pledged to give money but didn't because they didn't know what was going to happen.

Jones: It was too wide a period of time to keep up the interest.

Cantwell: Yeah, it was. It just got stalled. Finally the memorial got built. And it was dedicated just a few days after Barack Obama was elected the first black president. And I went to the last meeting of the 1898 Memorial Foundation in the back room of a restaurant. And these people who had worked together for 12 years, longer than that, trying to make all this stuff happen. And there was such a feeling of joy and the fact that Obama had been elected, they really felt like that was a milestone that coincided with the completion and the dedication of the monument. So it was really a nice feeling and I co-wrote a book with Rhonda Bellamy, she's a radio host and black woman, called Moving Forward Together and it tells the story of 1898 and 1998 and the building of the memorial. It's really a nice work.

Jones: Well I'm glad-- Rhonda had called one day and said, "Where are all those papers that you had?" And I told her, I said, "Well, you know, just go on up there, they'll get them out for you." I said, "Sister you were supposed to have done that several years ago." She says, "I've been busy."

Cantwell: Well it was a big job. My job was to take what was known about 1898 and pull it together and I worked with LeRae Umfleet, who wrote the State's historical account. Thomas Wright and the late Senator Luther Jordan had formed a State effort to get the story told. And LeRae Umfleet wrote a masterful work pulling together a lot of stuff. So I read through hers and mostly took hers and greatly condensed it. I had her read copies of what I-- my chapter I had done and Beverly Teterton at the New Hanover County Library, she was the historian there, both gave me a lot of help, kept me out of trouble. And so that's my chapter of the book and then there's some other stuff I contributed to it too.

Jones: LeRae was a professor?

Cantwell: She's with the Department of Archives, I think.

Jones: Maybe that's what I'm thinking of. We had her manuscript, I did go through it. It was very interesting.

Cantwell: And she's real helpful. I've never met her. I've talked to her on the phone, I've e-mailed a lot with her.

Jones: She came down here one day.

Cantwell: I need to see her. I need to have a cup of coffee with her sometime.

Jones: Right. What are you most proud of? Let's talk about right now. You're going to eventually run out of local club ladies and sign painters and so forth. If were given your choice to go do whatever want, what would you write? What would you do?

Cantwell: I'm kind of doing it.

Jones: You're kind of doing it?

Cantwell: Honestly, yeah. I'm just finding interesting people, whether it's the guy who makes fishing nets or, you know, some of its local club ladies, I'm blanking now completely on what all of my columns have been about.

Jones: Well, you do too many, that's why.

Cantwell: Yeah.

Jones: How often do they come out? Once a week? Twice a week?

Cantwell: Twice a week, Wednesday and Sunday and then every other week I write a piece for the "Features" Monday section front, which we used to call the "Conscience Page", and that does highlight the work of a non-profit. But a lot of what I'm doing is just anything I want to do. I wrote about Tracy Davis, who's the town manager of Bellville. Bellville is a long kind of neglected poor community that suddenly is growing like hot cakes. And so she had had a unique position of being head of planning and parks at Wrightsville Beach a few years earlier. So I wrote about her and the challenges that her job presents. I write about just all sorts of people who used to be something, have interesting stories to tell.

Jones: You ever going to write a book? Talking to you earlier reminds me of a book, what's his name, a newspaper columnist, I shouldn't have brought it up, I've gone blank. He's now written two books, that was real Popular. Guy from the South. He lived in Florida, wrote for a Florida newspaper.

Cantwell: Carl Hiaasen?

Jones: No. Anyway and then he wrote a second book about his family.

Cantwell: I'd like to write fiction like Carl Hiaasen.

Jones: You want to do fiction?

Cantwell: Maybe, when I'm retired or maybe history. Somebody should write a history of the Star News. It's a fascinating place.

Jones: What I'm getting at is, do you ever think about writing a book? You should.

Cantwell: Yeah.

Jones: Your experiences, for one thing, just the changes in the modern way of putting out a paper, working on a paper.

Cantwell: Well, I was going to talk for a little bit about the challenges we're facing today because by the time people look at the--

Jones: Okay. Let's talk about something small and then change tapes and I want you to get into that because that's on the list. It is definitely changing. But anyway, is there something that you can fill in just for a few minutes that you want to do that you haven't had a chance to do, whether it's here--

Cantwell: Write fiction. I've got a novel that I wrote back in the '80s about Miami Beach and it's about an old hotel and stuff that went on in the past and stuff that goes on today there. I don't know that it'll ever see the light of day. I tried to shop it around in the '80s and it's real hard to get a book published. And I have written a column about a guy who self-published his own book. And he said, "It's really hard to get published today." He said, "One agent told him she feared that there were more writers of novels than people who still read novels."

Jones: Probably.

Cantwell: Which is sad. I've always got a novel on my bedside table. But I think reading books is getting to be a lost art.

Jones: Too bad.

Cantwell: Yeah. I don't know, I think I'd like to write fiction, because I've enjoyed doing it when I was younger and piddled with it through the years. And I think I would have had a lot of insights. A lot of times you can tell truths in fiction that you can't really tell.

Jones: Sort of a roman a clef.

Cantwell: That's a good word.

Jones: Well you know, this is a great town for something like that. Look at all the characters that are around.

Cantwell: Yeah.

Jones: People who have come here and the people who are third, fourth, fifth generation that are still here.

Cantwell: One of the writers I like a lot, he's gone now, John D. McDonald, was out of Florida. He wrote the Travis McGee Mysteries and he also just wrote a ton of other books. And he was writing about Florida development, developers, things taking place, small town government, the kind of shenanigans that go on, just wrote fascinating books. And they would be a fictional town but it would seem so real and all of his descriptions of the Florida landscape and everything, the gleaming new freeways and the salt marshes being replaced, wetlands filled in.

Jones: Si, let me ask you on this, Wilmington can only develop so much because of the size even if we just filled in all of New Hanover County. So people are really just referring to this as Southeastern North Carolina which, in fact, it is. But I heard from two different people I've interviewed, the most marvelous description of the future. That the future; five, ten years down the road, that's the future. They hope since there's so little land left for development in Wilmington they hope that people will live, particularly if they put the flying bridge over to Brunswick. People will live in Brunswick County, people will live in Pender and they will come to the jewel in the center, Wilmington, to play, for entertainment, to shop, to be educated. Hannah Gage sat here, not two months ago as the new governor for UNC system. And she said, "That's not too far off because we have no classrooms to expand. Everything is going to be online. You get a Master's degree on line and be almost anywhere. And this is a perfect place for people to come."

Cantwell: I guess my fear would be, we're starting to see that development in Brunswick County already, Northern Brunswick County, but it's possible, you look at the development around Raleigh, and what if those people never come into the city center? You can live in Cary and work in Cary, go out to eat in Cary and never really drive into Raleigh more than once or twice a year. Those ladies in the Women's Club I was talking to talked about how you used to always go downtown and shop and you'd dress up to go downtown.

Jones: You dress up.

Cantwell: And now people don't go downtown to shop, they head for College Road or Independence Mall or Monkey Junction. It's possible that as this urban sprawl of houses built on third acre lots for miles and miles goes on and as traffic clogs the region, people stop travailing very far. I've got friends in Charlotte who don't go into town much and they don't see each other very much because it's so hard to get from one place to another. So urban sprawl might actually keep people from coming into the jewel in the center and just keep them out on the fringes.

Jones: But we're surrounded by water on two sides, which kind of helps.

Cantwell: But we can go forever into Brunswick County.

Jones: I thought that was an interesting way to describe it really.

Cantwell: It is.

Jones: To keep the historic part, develop the arts, develop the theatre.

Cantwell: And I like to think Wilmington downtown is pleasant enough that people will go there. We were down there, Saturday night was Valentine's day, and the streets were just thriving and my wife said, "You know, I feel safe on these streets 'cause there's so many people here." So it was really nice. So as long as we keep that atmosphere downtown that would be great and I hope as long as people continue to work downtown, but it's going to be hard getting them in and out.

Jones: Let's stop here. Take a break for just a second while the tape is changed.

(Tape Change)

Jones: This is Carroll Jones again. We're still talking with Si Cantwell, and we're on tape two, still in the Helen Hagan Room, Randall Library. Si, the best for the last. I shouldn't say that, it's all good. Tell us more about the history of the Star News and the changes that have transpired, the changes you've seen, and what we can look forward to.

Cantwell: I'm going to talk in general ways. As long as I've been in this business, the deadline for reporters to do local stories has been five o'clock in the afternoon, around there. Now, the deadline is eleven a.m. And it's a different world that we're living in. The reason we moved our deadlines up is because we're getting our online traffic,, during the day. So what we had been doing operating under the old newspaper model is as long as I've been in the business, a reporter worked on his story throughout the day, turned it in around five o'clock. The city editor would read the story, ask the questions, get it in shape, pass it over to the copy desk. Copy desk would read the story, ask a couple more questions, make some fixes, write a headline, put it on the page, print it out. And the paper would start to print around eleven-thirty, that was like our final deadline. And we've operated under that same model since Adolph Ochs was head of the New York Times, back in the 1800s. But it's not working anymore. Newspapers, even before the current economic troubles hit, have just been really challenged. Young people don't read newspapers. They just haven't acquired the habit. People my age can't get up in the morning and have their coffee without a newspaper in their hand. It's a very comforting kind of thing. And I think for generations, I grew up in houses with newspapers.

Jones: That's right.

Cantwell: But I'd already seen the afternoon paper go the way of the dodo bird. When I was growing up in Charlotte, we had the Charlotte Observer was the morning paper, where I used to work. And there was the Charlotte News was the afternoon paper. And it did real well too. And the competition was good for Charlotte, because although the papers were both owned by Knight Ridder, they competed with one another. There's nothing the news, to light it in more than getting a scoop that we didn't have.

Jones: Well, sure.

Cantwell: When I worked in Easton, Pennsylvania, at the Easton Express, it was an afternoon paper. So I'd report to work about five-thirty or six a.m. and get the copy editing done on the paper. And we would take-- a lot of them were the same stories that the Morning Call, the Allentown paper, a meeting they may have covered and had something brief on. We could come back and flesh it out the next morning and have more on that. But they switched to morning publication while I was there, which was an interesting switch to make. They had to rethink all of what they were doing. Because afternoon papers just weren't thriving. People weren't buying two newspapers. And I think people weren't coming home from work and wanting to read another newspaper. So afternoon papers in the 1980s died out pretty much. Here in this decade, the internet has just taken us by a storm. And newspapers, without really thinking it through very carefully, started putting their content online, figuring we've got to get on this internet thing. So we have basically as an industry made the decision to put our product out there for free and then try to sell advertising to pay for it. With a newspaper, you sell subscriptions, and that pays part of the cost. It really doesn't pay even the whole cost of printing the newspaper. Advertising is by far the largest revenue producer. Newspapers today find themselves in a situation where our online revenues are growing real fast, but they're still just a fraction of what we get from print. Print revenues are falling off. Lot of newspapers are experiencing declines in circulation. We've held steady, and in fact last year, eked out a few small gains in circulation. One, the area has been growing so fast, although it didn't grow as fast last year. And for whatever reason, we're trying to keep the print edition viable just as long as we can. But our mantra at work is "online first." And it's all about switching over to becoming, as I see it, an internet content provider that also publishes a newspaper. So the deadlines are eleven a.m., so that instead of the old way, online, we'd wind up throwing all these stories on there up at about eight-thirty or nine o'clock at night. By the next morning, they looked kind of old, and by afternoon, they were stories from the night before for the online people, and we weren't getting very good traffic. We've had a lot of success with posing news stories throughout the day. And we're training people that if you came to our site and you looked at it at ten o'clock in the morning, you saw this batch of stories. And if you come back at lunch time or in the afternoon, you'll see another other batch of stories on there. We're trying to keep the look of the web fresh. We put a lot of thought into-- we have a featured story on our home page. And it's got a picture and a larger headline, and that's kind of the main story. And we change that out every two hours and put a lot of thought into what story's going to go in that slot. The same way we used to give a lot of thought to what the centerpiece would be on 1-A, and the lead story. The centerpiece being the great big package with art, and the lead story being the great big headline usually beside it or across the top of it. So we're giving the same sort of attention we give to the layout of print edition 1-A to and try to make sure that it's fresh looking and that there are stories up there, and that it's a good mix of stories. And we're trying to develop other types of products that will be online. Looking to try to-- we had never worked very closely with advertising in the newsroom. We always had the mentality that-- of course, you can't let advertising concerns influence how you cover the news. You can't. People will call you up and say, "Well, you need to write about my company because I advertise with y'all." And we say, "That doesn't influence our decision." But we are starting to look at trying to roll out products that advertising will be able to sell and that we think will be useful for people. So we're having building-wide discussions more than I remember us ever having before. Department heads always got together and talked. But I think there's a real sense that we need to keep this industry going. In a way, I see it-- I'm very disappointed in the capitalistic system. My father was a stockbroker and believed that capitalism was-- you know, they always say our form of government's not perfect, but it's better than anything else around.

Jones: That's right.

Cantwell: And, you know, Pop would talk about Jamestown Colony and communism just can't work. And he's right about that. But I look back at a time when the newspaper was owned by the guy who lived in the big house on the hill. And he was real proud of having a business that provided a lot of jobs to local people. And he got to be kind of a big wheel at the Chamber of Commerce. And he had a dedication to his community that went beyond just the dollars and cents. Big chains began buying out those hometown publishers. And the newspapers got concentrated in the hands of these large chains. The large chains are beholden to stockholders. And the stockholders don't seem to consider news any different than any other kind of product. And it's all about how much money you can make from them. And while newspapers, up until last year, I don't know what the fourth quarter of 2008 might bring, they had out earned the average Standard & Poor's 500 company. And I bet we still have profit margins that a grocery chain would kill to get. But it was not living up to the growth expectations of stockholders. And that's how Knight Ridder, this wonderful company, innovative company with the Charlotte Observer and the Miami Herald and the Detroit Free Press and the Philadelphia Inquirer got sold. And a lot of newspapers got bought by McClatchie. Others wound up being sold off for parts. And the chain is gone. And I think that's a loss for our landscape.

Jones: Yeah, I was reading just recently in the Star News about these companies that have sold off. And you say, "God."

Cantwell: McClatchie bought it and now McClatchie is burdened with a lot of debt.

Jones: The Raleigh Observer is a McClatchie paper.

Cantwell: Raleigh, Charlotte, Myrtle Beach, and Columbia were all McClatchie papers. The company that owns the Chicago Tribune and the L.A. Times is in bankruptcy. Again, burdened by debt.

Jones: Those used to be owned by families.

Cantwell: Yeah. They used to be owned by families.

Jones: They were owned by families.

Cantwell: It was taken over. Sam Zell took it over. And I think he was, again, not a newspaperman but a businessman and may not have understood the business. And there's a lot of debt involved in that too. So it's disappointing to me that stockholders, in search of the ultimate efficiencies, are dismantling these newspaper companies. And I think it's really a sad time for our country. I like to think that there will be a market for the news we produce, whether it's printed on a newspaper or delivered online or to your telephone or some other product that we can't even envision today. But I'm not positive of that.

Jones: But Si, you know what I think about-- of course, I'm 110, so I'm one of those people that has to read the paper with my morning coffee, or keep sections of the paper to read again, or whatever, you know. But there's a whole bunch of people out there that don't read it all. There's a whole bunch of people who will keep, like the obits or weddings, or they'll save certain things to go over again. And it's kind of comforting to pick up a piece of paper and say, "That's what I read. That's exactly-- let me understand this." Even in political news, even in business news. "Yes, that's what I heard, that's what I read." You can go online. And you get everything kind of condensed and it's kind of fast. If you don't have a printer, and a lot of older people or poorer people, they're not going to have all this stuff. They can't go back to it at their leisure.

Cantwell: Yeah, see, my dad had the newspaper when Kennedy was shot. Just kept it. And I know people who've got "Man Walks on the Moon," that newspaper, from 1969, they've still got it. Or their team wins the Superbowl, something like that.

Jones: We have all those.

Cantwell: You know, you keep those keepsakes and those physical links with the past are real valuable.

Jones: They are.

Cantwell: But they're going to be lost. Now you Google it and you can try to find that story. But it doesn't seem the same as holding the newspaper that you read that morning.

Jones: So are you getting flak? How long do you keep a major story up online?

Cantwell: Well, you can always find it.

Jones: Yeah.

Cantwell: So years later, the story is there.

Jones: If you're computer literate.

Cantwell: It stays on the homepage for a few hours. And it goes from the featured slot to our top story slot to other local news slot. And then to our news page. And then to New Hanover news. So it'll stay in New Hanover news for a week to ten days. The story still lives on our site. But as far as being featured when you go to and you don't have to scroll down to get to it, it's got a short, short shelf life.

Jones: Are you counting hits for various stories?

Cantwell: We are counting hits like you wouldn't believe. That's one thing that we talk about most news people have relied on kind of gut judgments. We think this will be a good story, we're sure readers will be interested in this or that. Now, we can tell. We can tell the stories that people are reading and what times of day they're reading it. And we have all sorts of metrics. And we're not just looking at stories, we're looking at our photo galleries and the videos we post online. Every day we go over how we're doing that day. And our numbers are going up. We're doing real well. I think the new effort, the attention we're paying to online, is paying off in people coming back to the page throughout the day. And when we put a big breaking story up, we notice a great big spike. So people are finding the stories when they appear on our site. So it's very encouraging that way. I had one gloomy editor, was worried that people of the future just won't care what City Council does anymore, they won't care about this or that. All they want to read about is Britney Spears, or something like that. And that's one thing that would alarm me. Another trend that I see, and it's not so much a local trend, it's just a national trend. But I speak to groups and I talk about this. I worry about the day when we can't agree on the underlying facts of a story. And I think newspapers and network broadcasts had always been seen as basically trustworthy. And then liberals and conservatives might disagree on the approach to take on a problem, but they could agree on the underlying facts. Now, I see conservatives may watch Fox News and liberals may watch MSNBC, and they're almost like hearing two different stories. And I'm not sure that they can agree anymore on what the underlying facts are.

Jones: Don't you see that in print though? I mean people say, well for example the New York Times, even by omission, they present a different side, you know, a slant.

Cantwell: Yeah.

Jones: Mm-hmm.

Cantwell: I think so. Although I think there's an effort being made to--

Jones: Newsweek as opposed to some other magazines.

Cantwell: I think there's an effort being made to be even handed. The New York Times may cover a story differently than the Washington Times, which is conservative. But I think both papers would look for opposing viewpoints. Keith Oberman, on MSNBC, doesn't interview Republicans. He doesn't interview people who he disagrees with. And I think you find that some on Fox News. A lot of times they'll interview them, but they don't put them in a flattering light if they interview liberals. So it worries me that this schism could develop where we don't have an agreed-on news source. You don't have the mainstream newspapers.

Jones: Do you think the possibility of the Fairness Act has had some of these commentators or news people, whether it's print news or whatever, take a second thought and say, "Now, wait a second?"

Cantwell: The Fairness Doctrine? I hope that's a shibboleth. I hope that that--

Jones: You cannot do that.

Cantwell: Yeah. Rush Limbaugh and them have their audiences afraid--

Jones: You can turn him off.

Cantwell: That they're going to be taken off the air because if you have three hours of Rush, you'd have to balance it with three hours of commentary from the left. And as a believer in free speech, I think that's a terrible idea. I think there's plenty of places to get all different viewpoints. And if right-wing radio tends to do better, that's a marketplace thing.

Jones: Fox News. I watched the O'Reilly show here the other day. He had on both liberals and conservatives. And I have to say that I was pleased to see that he gave them all equal time. He listened to them. Hannity, who I've not ever been particularly in love with, but I happened to catch him. He has his own show. He now has a panel, he always has a liberal somebody else, whatever, and then a conservative, and is giving them the opportunity to at least speak. And I'm thinking, that's good. You've got to do that. You've got to do that, no matter how you feel.

Cantwell: Yeah.

Jones: That's the way it is. But for the newspapers, we all hear the jokes about the New York Times, the Washington Post, the L.A. Times, that kind of thing, slanting. Maybe some of them do, but they print the stuff.

Cantwell: Well, I think they're making an effort to be even handed. And people on the far left view those papers as protective of the power sources. They think that they're not doing enough--

Jones: The far left seems to have more online influence.

Cantwell: Yeah, I mean, if you go to

Jones: Yeah, or the Huffington Post.

Cantwell: They don't think the New York Times is a liberal newspaper.

Jones: No, of course not.

Cantwell: Or the Washington Post. They think it's conservative and not doing enough to unearth what they see as the truth. So I think those newspapers are doing their best to present both sides of an issue, and to write about an issue in an as even-handed way as they can. You can point to this story or that story in this sentence and the way it was constructed. But these newspapers are trying to get at the truth of a thing, and trying to get both opposing viewpoints into each story. And I think it's as close as you can get to an objective truth these days. I mean, it's hard unless you're there in the room yourself to know.

Jones: You know, it just seems the newspaper is a comforting thing to have, since Ben Franklin started. And whether you agree or not, even if you're a nosy old lady, who died, who got married. And "Oh my, look at this," you know? And I cannot envision a world without a newspaper.

Cantwell: Me neither. Of some sort. It may be that you read it on a Kindle device or something. Or flexible plastic display screen. But yeah, I hope the market will continue for our news. If it weren't for a newspaper, with all due respect to television, they do what they do well, but they don't really go as much in depth on many local issues as I think we do. And I'll feel like if there weren't a Star News in Wilmington or some comparable organization, City Council, the County Commissioners, Planning Commission, School Boards, could do a lot of stuff and nobody might ever examine the repercussions of what they're doing, really go in depth and talk about here's what this means to the people who live on the next street over.

Jones: Well anyway. So one of these days, you're going to write a book.

Cantwell: Maybe.

Jones: We've got some local publishers here, you know that.

Cantwell: I'll have to look into them.

Jones: And give it a shot, you never know. My gosh. People are writing about all kinds of things. If Marley & Me can make millions and millions.

Cantwell: (laughs) True.

Jones: You know, that kind of a deal. So that's what you really want to do. You're a very happy man, you love your wife. You're just boring as all get out.

Cantwell: (laughs) There's not much scandal there.

Jones: I'm not looking for scandal. And the newspapers are going to go-- oh, I know one thing I wanted to ask you.

Cantwell: Mm-hm.

Jones: Do all newspapers change editors as frequently as the Star News has in the last 10 years? And these people are kind of shoved around. I guess Ken went to California or he came from there or whatever. And they have different points of views. Or are they figureheads, like the flag on the mast, and the paper is really run--

Cantwell: No, an editor really puts his or her stamp on news coverage. Our editors have moved up within our organization. We're a member of the New York Times Regional Media Group, and ultimately owned by New York Times Company. Charles Anderson retired. Allen Parsons has moved up the corporate ladder and works for New York Times Regional Media Group. He's been a publisher in a couple of places. And I think now he's got a corporate position. Tim Griggs has moved up, a very young and innovative editor. And he's working with the New York Times now in their strategic planning, looking at not just newspapers, but online offerings and stuff. He's moved up. Robin Tomlin came here from being editor in Ocala, Florida. She's young. She's real forward looking.

Jones: She's impressive.

Cantwell: She is, she is. She's really sharp. And under her, we're doing far more-- we're turning our industry on its head, and we're really trying to keep our newspaper afloat, but we've been profitable. Again, I don't know what the fourth quarter brought last year, which was an economic disaster. But we have been a money maker in Wilmington. And we're trying to continue that tradition.

Jones: I can understand that.

Cantwell: Mm-hm. I mean, we have a good area we're in. And we have a fast growing economy and so we've done pretty well. And under her, we're measuring, we're being real careful. We're looking that if we're going to start this new news initiative, well, is there revenue to be made from it? I think we're taking on a lot more of a serious business model because we have to. And she's been real good about that. So each editor that's come has brought different strengths to the paper and left their mark. Andy, with his commitment to local news coverage, and Allen with continuing that commitment and kind of really wanting to go behind the scenes and examine how stuff is done. Tim really put us on the road to online first, and the digital age. And we're ahead of most papers in the country. A friend of mine described the atmosphere at another of the state's largest newspapers funereal last year. And we're not funereal at the Star News. We're really kind of engaged and hopeful. We're realistic about the newspaper's position that the industry finds itself in, but we have fun. We're doing new things. I'm doing a blog now. I'm taking a lot of my own photographs and putting photo galleries up and stuff like that.

Jones: I noticed that. You're given credit.

Cantwell: Yeah, we're all learning new skills and just making ourselves useful. And there's far more of a feeling at the Star News that it belongs to us and we all have a stake in pushing it forward, as opposed to taking marching editors from the top and being scared if you get something wrong.

Jones: Doesn't that come down from the top? It's the leadership?

Cantwell: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.

Jones: Well that's good to know.

Cantwell: So that's evolved through the years. And so each of these editors that comes, I think brings a new strength. And Tim leaves with the commitment to online first-- and in fact, I asked that question. When they announced this person named Robyn Tomlin was coming, I was like, "Well, how is she towards the digital stuff?" And they said, "You won't be disappointed." So each one of them kind of leaves, makes their mark.

Jones: That's great, that's great.

Cantwell: But that said, we do have some talent that's been there for a long time. Good writers, like Ben Steelman and good editors, like David Innis.

Jones: Yeah, he is unto himself.

Cantwell: Mm-hmm.

Jones: But you're right.

Cantwell: And those go on, and we continue covering the beats that we cover, and just trying to unearth the stories that we unearth. And I think the one thing that our industry should depend on is a commitment to good journalism. Just getting the story out, being right, being thorough, going behind the scenes, going beyond the obvious angle and really looking. And I think if we continue to do that, I think we'll be all right.

Jones: I think that you're right too, that every paper, every magazine, news magazine, they have writers you become familiar with and you look for them.

Cantwell: Yeah.

Jones: And you have those that, I don't want to read that, you know. And it does seem though that as soon as you really kind of get into it, they're going to retire and move on.

Cantwell: (laughs)Well, they're moving up. And that's natural in an organization like that.

Jones: I'm sure. I'm sure. Si, this has been a lot of fun. And you are a busy man.

Cantwell: Keep myself busy.

Jones: Yeah, and I do enjoy your news on various people in town. And I think it's good for the community, because they wouldn't know about a lot of this.

Cantwell: Well, one slogan we had around 2000 was "celebrate community." And I feel like in my own work, if I can make people move in here or people who've always been here feel like Wilmington's an interesting, vital place, and in order to be part of it, I need to read the newspaper. So that's kind of my angle.

Jones: That is true.

Cantwell: Mm-hmm.

Jones: That is true. Well, okay.

Cantwell: I got no more.

Jones: For today.

Cantwell: That's everything I know.

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