Paris Goodnight: A newspaper icon with similarities to Hurleys

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 19, 2023

The newspaper world lost another legend this past week with the passing of Jim Boone, who was as instrumental to the Salisbury Post’s parent company as Jimmy Hurley was here for many years.

Both men followed their fathers into the newspaper business and both were in their 80s when they died after spending decades building media empires of sorts.

We’ve heard lots of stories about how Boone ran his newspapers and how he treated employees. He had many similarities to the Hurleys, particularly Jimmy and his brother, Gordon. Boone’s passion for good journalism and his way with words in editorials brought back memories of how Jimmy Hurley operated during the years I knew him. He had stopped writing by those days and left that in other younger folks’ hands, but he made sure the paper was put out on time each day and was filled with the best local news possible, along with as much state and national news that we could get in.

Both Hurleys and Boone sound like they were cut from the same cloth.

Jimmy Hurley also had interesting ideas on improving the city, like which stoplights took too long to turn, and which companies were good bets to invest with. He told me once he had decided to buy stock in Wendy’s because every time he went by the fast food restaurant on Innes Street he noticed there was a long line in the drive-thru lane and figured if people were willing to wait to get food there, it must be worth putting some of his own money into it. He likely used the same logic with Food Town and later Food Lion as the company grew and saw its own stock price rise steadily.

That was part of the old school mindset of seeing evidence of good business with your own eyes, like Warren Buffett has described his reasoning in putting money into a company’s stock on his way to becoming one of the world’s wealthiest men.

The Hurleys got a pretty penny when they sold the Post back in the 1990s and I’m sure they invested those funds as prudently as possible. We heard tales that when they finally decided it was time to give up the family business, part of the reason was because of this little invention called the internet. They just didn’t see how small newspapers were going to thrive in that world.

They were not wrong in their thinking. At the time lots of businesses felt the same way.  Now we are all dependent on the web.

Not long after they sold the Post to the company behind the Post and Courier in Charleston, S.C., we started hearing the lament from readers about how the paper was so much better when the Hurleys owned it. For awhile, we didn’t really have a good response to that,  but it often was from someone like a South Rowan fan complaining about East Rowan getting the top sports coverage for the day or a soccer parent wondering why that sport didn’t get the same coverage football did. It might also have been because an editorial took the other side on an issue that someone felt strongly about.

Nowadays we can say that every paper was better back then when the dollars that advertisers spent were being put into local news coverage instead of going somewhere far away so Google or Facebook can keep their servers humming.

The people who followed Boone in the chain that bears his name have decided to focus on growing a digital audience and are making a go toward the future with that in mind. That’s why we are always looking for ways to increase our online subscriptions and get people to read the constantly changing news on our website.

The Hurleys didn’t want to wade into that world when their focus was making sure the paper was out by lunch time during the afternoon news cycle days. You didn’t want to be the one holding up the last page as deadline approached back then. And when it came time to switch to morning delivery, no one was around to look over your shoulder but questions would be raised the next day if there was any delay in getting the presses rolling.

Now the news is updated constantly as we hear of it and we put stories online as soon as possible, then add details throughout the day until they end up in an e-edition or print version of the Post.

We can all only strive for living up to the standards that Boone and the Hurleys set for those under their watch.

Paris Goodnight is editor of the Salisbury Post.