RALEIGH (July 6, 2022) – Blunt. Gruff. Contrarian. The remembrances of the aptly named Frank Daniels Jr. after he died at age 90 last week all noted his forthright opinions.
In fact, if there was one thing (and maybe only one thing) Daniels shared with longtime nemesis Sen. Jesse Helms, it was that you always knew where he stood.
“The most important thing you can do is always tell the truth,” Daniels said when he retired as publisher of The News & Observer of Raleigh. “If the people at the newspaper don’t tell the truth, then people don’t know where you stand. You’ve got to be able to depend on truthfulness.”1
Though he reversed the views of his white-supremacist grandfather to make the N&O one of the leading progressive voices in the South, Daniels was more than a newspaper publisher. He was also a friend of the UNC System, serving on the UNC Board of Governors and as a trustee at Appalachian State University.
Higher Ed Works Chair Paul Fulton, who served on the Board of Governors with Daniels, recalls how he always backed the free flow of information.
Once, as the board discussed a journalist’s request for a list of parking tickets issued near Kenan Stadium at UNC Chapel Hill, Daniels told the board to release the list.
“It’s gonna come out anyway,” he said.
“Frank was a big advocate of freedom of information and free speech,” Fulton said.
Daniels was also accustomed to threats from businessmen to drop their advertising over the newspaper’s coverage.
“You will never go wrong if you punch the biggest bully in town in the nose,” he told his nephew David Woronoff when Woronoff was a young publisher, “but you will always be wrong if you fail to offer the weakest person in town a hand up.”2
The Daniels family also embraced the Internet, starting one of the first digital newspapers in the country. Daniels sold The News & Observer to McClatchy Newspapers Inc. for a deal worth $373 million in 1995, more than a century after his grandfather bought the paper at an auction in 1894.
“You want to be in a position that if you decide you want to sell something, you can sell it on your terms,” he said at the time. And he remained the paper’s publisher after the sale.
He went on to become part of an investment group that bought The Pilot of Southern Pines, as well as Business North Carolina and other magazines.3