NewsPub Notes

The People Paper: How Claude Williams and Glenn Vaughn Orchestrated a Revolution

Millard Grimes, whose life in journalism belies the shibboleth of “fake news,” reminded me recently that the two men most directly responsible for a bold Athens newspaper effort both died earlier this year. The ingenious entrepreneur and supporter of all things Athenian, Claude Williams, is well known here; the relentlessly innovative editor, Glenn Vaughn, not so much.

Williams launched The Athens Advertiser, a mostly-ads weekly, initially as a vehicle to publicize the new Beechwood Shopping Center. Claude was doing OK with his new publication, and eventually Millard, visiting back here, saw the AA and dropped by to ask Claude why he didn’t turn it into a daily. Claude got excited, and Millard did, too, so Claude set about figuring out how to go daily, with the understanding that Millard would come back to Athens to become the editor and publisher of the new publication.

Before Claude could get his new offset printing press up and running in the building that is now Little Kings, family illness and cold feet caused Millard to back out. He did, however, introduce Claude to his old friend, Vaughn, who leapt at the chance to come back to his beloved Athens and be in on the creation of a brand-new daily newspaper, utilizing the new, state-of-the art offset printing, which opened newspapers to eye-catching designs, sharp, clear photographs and color.

Williams found a money man to help with the heavy lifting, and the Athens Daily News hit the streets in June 1965. Vaughn’s skill and magnetism attracted a talented cadre of writers, designers and salespeople. The advertising genius Don Smith dubbed it “The People Paper,” and the morning News took off like a rocket.

The other daily, the afternoon Banner-Herald, had been around Athens since the double-barreled cannon was single, and by this time it was managed from Augusta by its deceased owner’s estate, and everybody knew it would be up for sale before long.

That’s why The People Paper was moving so fast. It knew it didn’t have much time to get established, and it was covering sports at all levels, and everything else shaking here, to win the hearts and minds of Athenians before somebody snapped up the semi-moribund Banner-Herald.

That somebody came along sooner than expected in the form of the Morris boys from Augusta, who outbid everybody else based on their inside knowledge that the ABH had around $800,000 in the bank, so even if they bid a million, they couldn’t lose.

The Morrises had deep pockets full of hardballs, and they immediately started putting the squeeze on the upstart and eventually got to the money man and bought the Daily News out from under Williams, who had extended his own credit to the limit in keeping his paper going.

Vaughn stayed around a while longer and then went back to Columbus. Williams got his money back in the deal and went very successfully into the billboard business. The Morrises kept the Daily News long enough to be sure nobody else had the effrontery to start another daily here, and when the coast was clear, they moved the Banner-Herald into the morning slot and pickled The People Paper.

Glenn is still a legend among newspaper folks who remember him. Lewis Grizzard, one of Vaughn’s first hires as an assistant sports editor, immortalized Vaughn in his book (mentioned in these pages several weeks ago) If I Ever Get Back to Georgia, I’m Gonna Nail My Feet to the Ground.

The inimitable Grizzard started working for Vaughn while still in college, and he writes about Vaughn’s love of a good story and the alacrity with which he would construct one when Grizzard didn’t even know it was there.

Perhaps the all-time best Vaughn story is Grizzard’s account of his editor’s determination to be ready in case the biggest story of them all happened in Athens: the second coming of Jesus Christ. Vaughn was serious. He was that kind of newspaperman. He couldn’t just sit around and wait until it happened. He pushed Grizzard to come up with an appropriate headline, but finally had to do it himself, in bold, 90-point type: “He’s Back!” One can hope that the Banner-Herald has maintained this level of preparedness.

Well, Glenn and Claude are gone. Millard is still around, having moved back here for a short stint as owner of The Athens Observer and stayed on, like his friends, out of love for his old college town.

The Morrises left.