David Arthurs didn’t create the Citrus County Chronicle.
That happened many years before Arthurs, 89, was born. And the weekly newspaper had gone through numerous owners when Arthurs bought it in 1964.
By the time he sold it to Landmark Communications in 1980, The Chronicle had gone from a weekly to three days a week, survived ferocious competition from big-city daily newspapers and had established itself as the newspaper of record for a growing Citrus County.
Arthurs, who lives in Inverness but has also called Floral City and Crystal River his home, found the Chronicle almost by accident. He was formerly working for a group of newspapers in South Florida when he came to Inverness to see if a radio-station license was available. What he found instead was the weekly Chronicle, for sale. And so he bought it.
It’s been several years since Arthurs sold the newspaper, and yet people still stop him in town with an opinion on the Chronicle, its editorials and news coverage. Sometimes they aren’t happy. Arthurs has to tell them he doesn’t own the paper and they should call the editor, or Publisher Gerry Mulligan, who Arthurs hired 40 years ago.
Now, as the newspaper celebrates its 125th year and is Citrus County’s longest running continuous business, Arthurs sat down with Chronicle senior reporter Mike Wright to reflect on those years and the decades that followed.
CHRONICLE: I always pick up my paper, I go to the editorial page, and I see this quote: “You may differ with my choice, but not my right to choose.” It says David S. Arthurs. Did you say that?
ARTHURS: Well, as a matter of fact, I did.
CHRONICLE: When did you say that?
ARTHURS: When I was making up the paper, the first day.
CHRONICLE: What was the thinking behind that?
ARTHURS: I have no idea. We were building the paper. ... All I can remember doing was saying to somebody, well we need a motto on here.
CHRONICLE: What does that mean to you?
ARTHURS: Damn little. At the time it occurred to me that it was a good thing to say on my editorial page.
CHRONICLE: What year did you buy the Chronicle?
CHRONICLE: Where were you before you moved here?
ARTHURS: I was living in Ocala, but had just moved up there from Palm Beach, where I had just resigned as somebody working for the John Perry group of newspapers, which means nothing to anybody today.
CHRONICLE: What did you do?
ARTHURS: Well, I sort of describe it to anyone today as a sort of liaison to the small papers the Perry group owned. The Perry group owned a lot of newspapers: Palm Beach, Jacksonville Journal, Panama City, Ocala.
CHRONICLE: What brought you up to Citrus County?
ARTHURS: I had a friend in Ocala ... and he said why don’t you go over to Citrus County and see if they’ve got a radio-station application there, because I was working for an AM radio station in Ocala at the time. So I came over here, and where’s the first place to go to find out if there’s an AM radio station application, go to the newspaper. They said, ‘Yes, there was.’ And it so happened the mayor of St. Petersburg was making the application for the radio station and he also owned the newspaper, the Chronicle. I knew enough about broadcasting to know you can’t own the newspaper and the radio station in the same market, at that time. So I said, that must mean the newspaper is for sale. And the guy who was here said, yeah.
CHRONICLE: Did you look at the paper? What’d you think of it?
ARTHURS: It was a weekly newspaper. I’m from Kansas, where there are 100 counties and every county has a weekly newspaper, so I was familiar with small, very small, newspapers. I ran a group of newspapers out West after I got out of the Army, and I ran the Delray Beach paper, which was a small weekly.
CHRONICLE: Was there anything about the Chronicle that jumped out when you looked at it?
ARTHURS: It was for sale. It was the only newspaper I could find that was for sale at a price I could afford.
CHRONICLE: Do you mind telling me what that price was?
ARTHURS: Uh, the mortgage was $60,000.
CHRONICLE: You bought it. Then what?
ARTHURS: It was six pages. It had four employees and I was one of them.
CHRONICLE: Did it feel different running your own paper?
ARTHURS: That’s a funny question. It didn’t feel any different when I ran it. I had worked for small newspapers, small radio stations for a long time, so it was a natural.
CHRONICLE: So you’re running the paper. How is it going? Is it going well?
ARTHURS: I was writing a check to myself every week along with the payroll and I put the check in my desk drawer because we weren’t making enough money to cover it.
CHRONICLE: What was Citrus County like then?
ARTHURS: There were less than 9,000 people in the whole county. Beverly Hills was just getting started and the Highlands had already started.
CHRONICLE: You signed them up as subscribers?
ARTHURS: We were growing, slowly but surely. After all, it was 5 dollars a year.
CHRONICLE: Five dollars was the subscription rate?
ARTHURS: Yeah, as opposed to $180.
CHRONICLE: When you owned the Chronicle, did you write for the paper?
ARTHURS: Oh, yeah. In Delray, I went down there to take over that paper. I had to dismiss the editor of the paper. And so I walked in the next day and I realized I was it. There was nobody there to do his job. So I wrote for the newspaper. Even in Palatka, the daily, we didn’t have enough writers to do all the work, so I was editor and publisher.
CHRONICLE: Is there anything that jumps out about that time that people would give you a hard time about, or wanting you to see things on their side?
ARTHURS: I was a Republican and everyone was a Democrat. So I joined up with the Southern Democrats for a while.
CHRONICLE: The Democrats didn’t give you a hard time about that?
ARTHURS: No, but my partner, not in the newspaper business but in other things, was Walt Connors and he was Mr. Democrat around here.
CHRONICLE: Was there anyone in office that, with you, it never clicked?
ARTHURS: No one I can think of.
CHRONICLE: Ever get threatened?
ARTHURS: No ... that’s an interesting question. I probably did but I don’t remember. I’ve never been able to remember people who didn’t like me. I could name names but I won’t name names. For instance, I couldn’t go to Griff’s because I’d run into guys who weren’t too fond of me.
CHRONICLE: When the growth was going on — the Chronicle is a real pro-growth paper, right now. There’s nothing that can’t happen fast enough for the Chronicle to get more people here. Was that your position as well, that growth was good?
ARTHURS: Yes, we promoted growth. We didn’t promote unplanned growth or arbitrary growth.
CHRONICLE: Was the county growing in that time pretty much in the way you wanted it to grow? The people in charge of these things, were they paying attention to the newspaper’s opinions on that?
CHRONICLE: So the county’s growing, the newspaper’s growing. Things are going good. Were there any bumps in the road?
ARTHURS: Some of the things we’re overlooking is the Chronicle had a tremendous amount of competition. And there were others interested in that growth too. At the time I came here and through that period the competition was increasing that whole time. We had the Marion Sentinel, which was the Orlando Sentinel. We had the Ocala Star-Banner. We had the St. Petersburg Times. We had the Tampa Tribune. We had the Advertiser. Beverly Hills Visitor. So we had plenty of competition and had to keep up with that, too.
CHRONICLE: What was it about this place that was attracting that kind of heavy hitters?
ARTHURS: I think it was growth. There’s potential in the future.
CHRONICLE: But eventually those other publications left. The growth was still happening...
ARTHURS: But they were spending the money, too. I think St. Pete was the last one to leave.
CHRONICLE: The Chronicle’s position all along has been community news. When you had those big-city papers here, were you really pushing that?
ARTHURS: I learned early on that’s what a local newspaper was for — community news. There was no way to keep up with the national, world news without an entirely different kind of staffing and finances. I’ve always been strong on community news. That was first and foremost.
CHRONICLE: Wasn’t that your big competitive edge against the Times and Tribune?
ARTHURS: That was our only competitive edge. That was the way we played it.
CHRONICLE: Did either of them ever come to you and say, ‘I want to buy you?’
CHRONICLE: Did you expect it?
ARTHURS: Not really.
CHRONICLE: Did you reach a point where you had an opportunity to sell?
ARTHURS: I didn’t want to sell, but I was getting to a point where I couldn’t afford not to, because we just weren’t making enough money to keep up with the competition.
CHRONICLE: Was it a weekly for as long as you had it?
ARTHURS: I had gotten it up to three days a week, but they were costly.
CHRONICLE: So you knew somebody from Landmark? He came to you and said, ‘Would you be interested in having conversations with us?’
ARTHURS: He was publisher of the Dade City paper. He was working for a newspaper broker who had papers. We socialized together.
CHRONICLE: How did the Landmark thing happen?
ARTHURS: He was working for Landmark and doing acquisition for Landmark. I had a paper for sale out West and told him to go look at that. He did, and that was part of the conversation. He said, ‘Do you want to sell this thing?’ and I said, ‘Well, what do you think it’s worth?’
CHRONICLE: How much did you sell it for?
ARTHURS: Uh, ample. Ample.
CHRONICLE: I wouldn’t be a good reporter if I didn’t ask you that question.
ARTHURS: I understand that.
CHRONICLE: But you’re not going to tell me?
ARTHURS: No. I wouldn’t want people to think I had that much money, at one time.
CHRONICLE: What do you think about the paper today?
ARTHURS: I think you guys have done a great job keeping it alive. It’s a tough market. I think it’ll all come back.
CHRONICLE: Newspapers are struggling so much right now. I’m a newspaper guy, like you, I grew up with newspapers. I read the newspaper every day for as long as I can remember reading. This whole online thing? It’s discouraging to see circulation dropping and more people going to read stuff on the phone.
ARTHURS: I don’t understand how they do it.
CHRONICLE: Does it concern you?
ARTHURS: I feel like there will always be newspapers. There will always be print. There may be some that will go online. But, hell, look at all the people who rely on TV for news. That’s a terrible source. We’re losing readers to other things anyway. But, in the end, I don’t think all the newspapers will die.
CHRONICLE: What about the community? Is Citrus County still a good place to live? Do you encourage people to come here?
ARTHURS: Oh, absolutely. I think it’s still a great place to stay and to make a living. I came here, what, 60 years ago? And I made a living. You can come here today, and make a living. And enjoy the fruits of not being in the city. ... I grew up in a small town. I like my small town. Sitting downtown, Saturday night, outside one of the wine bars, watching people who come and go, knowing half of them — what a joy!
CHRONICLE: What is it about the relationship between communities and their community paper?
ARTHURS: It goes back to the origination. A lot of those towns that have newspapers, they’re long-lasting because some printer came there and set up a print shop and put out a newspaper. Everybody wants to know what’s going on. The old line ‘and a good time was had by all,’ I think that was created by small-town newspapers. There’s a curiosity about what’s going on in the neighborhood and that the best way to keep up with it.
CHRONICLE: It’s 125 years that we’re celebrating this year, which means you’ve been involved for half of that.
ARTHURS: I thought about that the other day. One thing I like about this event you’re having is a lot of people come up to me and introduce me and say, ‘He started the Chronicle.’ And I say, ‘Please, that Chronicle started in the 1800s and, no, I did not start the Chronicle. I’m too young for that.’
CHRONICLE: But you started the modern Chronicle. You led the Chronicle through extraordinary growth.
ARTHURS: I was very fortunate. I got it at the right time. Didn’t know I was getting it at the right time. But got in at the right time. The first few years, there was still only one grocery store here and they weren’t advertising. Then Kash n’ Karry came, and we got a full-page ad. Then this, then the other thing. Gradually the business built up.
CHRONICLE: Do you ever look back and wish there was something you had done different?
CHRONICLE: How was this career rewarding for you?
ARTHURS: Every day I go down to my box and get my newspaper. My name is still in it. Gerry has never taken my name out of it. Where else do you get your obits? You don’t get them off TV. How do you know who dies here? ... I’m just an old newspaperman. And I just love it. And I always will.