‘A newspapering nugget that seldom glitters’

“Charlotte’s Observer, the biggest (circ. 138,183) daily in the Carolinas, is a newspapering nugget of gold that seldom glitters. Its news pages are a typographical mishmash, its editorial voice a whisper. Yet because in its leisurely stride it picks up every crumb of news in its territory, the 82-year-old Observer is one of the biggest profitmakers of its size in the U.S.

“Since its longtime publisher, Curtis Johnson, died last October, the rich daily has been run by an editorial board, overseen by banks, has had no top boss. Last week it got one. In as publisher and part owner stepped Hoosier-born Ralph Nicholson, 52, who has made a reputation for picking up bargains on a shoestring.

“The deal was sealed so secretly that not even Observer editors knew it until they were handed the story to run. If they had any Tarheel resentment at an outlander moving in, they covered it with Southern tactfulness: ‘Mr. Nicholson,’ said the Observer story, ‘was born in Richmond, Ind. [where] his ancestors migrated from North Carolina during the early part of the last century.’ ”

— From Time magazine,  Aug. 13, 1951

Two turbulent years later, Nicholson was gone, squeezed out during a struggle over the estate of former owner Curtis Johnson. Most memorable moment of his tenure: a radical page redesign that temporarily cost the paper more than 8,000 subscribers. But he also air-conditioned the newsroom.

The Observer, where I labored happily, proudly and sometimes productively for more than 34 years, is now celebrating its 125th birthday.