Reprinted with by permission of The Daily Reflector, November, 2001
Friday, December 1, 1995
In December of 1881, brothers David Jordan and Julian R. Whichard faced a decision.
The two had been working in Greenville for The Express, a weekly newspaper, since 1877. In fact, during these years David Whichard had the distinction of being the youngest newspaper editor in North Carolina. But The Express was shutting down, and the brothers found themselves at a crossroad.
The path they chose would prove to be a long one.
On Jan. 26 the following year, after purchasing The Express' printing equipment, the Whichards published the first edition of The Reflector, also a weekly. Headquarters for the new business was their mother's one-room school house on the corner of Pitt and Third streets in Greenville.
The Reflector, which was the original name, quickly evolved into The Eastern Reflector, published every Wednesday, and for $1.50 a year its owners called it the "cheapest home printed paper in the First Congressional District" in ads of those days.
In 1885, Julian Whichard moved from Greenville, continuing his association with newspapers by purchasing the North Carolina Herald in Salisbury in 1891. The Eastern Reflector of April 29, 1885 had in its first column: "By D.J. Whichard, editor and proprietor." It was the first edition with only his name at the top as publisher and sole owner.
The papers of those days regularly reported lists of taxpayers, county government financial records, goings and comings, letters to the editor, stories and a daily poem. The emerging community, an "Eastern" community as its newspaper's name came to show, was alive, well and bustling in these small gray pages. This bond of family and community would deepen as the The Eastern Reflector took firm root.
Firm enough that in another December the decision was made to add a daily paper to build on what the parent weekly had begun. And so on Dec. 10, 1894, Greenville and Pitt County saw the first edition of The Daily Reflector, still under the eye of David J. Whichard. It came out Monday through Saturday afternoons as it would until further expansion in the '60s and after.
But the rise of the daily did not mean the demise of the weekly. Two years later The Eastern Reflector would become a semi-weekly publication and the two papers continued to be published on up to 1912 when finally the parent gave way to the child and The Eastern Reflector was discontinued.
By the turn of the century, Greenville's population had grown from about 900 in 1880 to more than 2,500. The railroad came in 1889, telephones in 1896, night-time electricity in 1905. And in 1907, the East Carolina Teacher Training School was founded after the community came up with the highest bid among eastern N.C. towns. From January to July of that year, David J. Whichard's editorials hammered away at the importance of this step. Greenville was declared the winner in this education sweepstakes on July 10 of that year, and a new bond was established between newspaper and college.
But as The Eastern Reflector flourished and gave way to the daily, David Julian Whichard was growing up at his father's side at the newspaper office as well as at home. "Big Dave" as he would come to be known, would later recall his first newspaper memory from 1899 when he was 4. He and his sisters helped his father retrieve files from the Reflector building during a fire that nearly destroyed the city.
Big Dave literally grew up in the newspaper business. He learned to read handling the type and copy at the Reflector office.
In 1919 after he returned from France and World War I, he borrowed $300 for working capital and became the new publisher. David Jordan Whichard would die in 1922, knowing that his son had the family business, then in its 40th year, well in hand.
In fact, David Julian Whichard and his wife Virginia Suther Whichard, whom he married in 1926, would go on to lead The Daily Reflector family through the Depression years and beyond. At their side were Whichard's sisters Essie and Hennie and Essie's husband, Sam Bridgers truly a family operation.
In 1948, Big Dave's oldest son, David J. Whichard II, joined the company after graduating from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a degree in journalism. Two years later, his brother John S. Whichard, also came aboard, also with a journalism degree from Chapel Hill.
Just as David Jordan Whichard installed the first linotype machine at The Daily Reflector in 1909, and as David Julian Whichard oversaw the development of the daily through the heart of the 20th century, Dave II and Jack have since brought the paper and the company through the conversion to phototypesetting, offset printing and the beginnings of the computerization of the newspaper business in 1980.
And just as David Jordan Whichard urged the establishment of East Carolina Teacher Training School, Reflector editorials of the '70s did the same for the East Carolina University Medical School, which was established in 1976.
Also during those years, Dave and Jack directed the change from Saturday to Sunday publication in 1966, oversaw construction of a new building on Cotanche Street in 1956 with additions in 1969 and 1978 and directed the expansion of the company to include 10 weekly newspapers in eastern North Carolina.
In 1991, Dave's son, David Jordan Whichard III, became president and publisher of The Daily Reflector. Under his leadership have come the transition to electronic photography, total computerization of newspaper editing, production and administration and the transition to seven-day a week, morning publication on Aug. 31, 1991.
It is clear that over the years the Whichard family has held close to its family traditions and principles of journalism, as the company's pending sale to another family institution bears out.
Big Dave Whichard, who continued to be active in Reflector affairs nearly until his death in 1993 at age 98, once told an interviewer: "We have always placed emphasis, first, on making improvements in the paper itself not to keep up, but to stay ahead of the times.
"Because a newspaper has to adapt to the times, make improvements and be responsive to the needs of its readers, I have always considered it a living instrument a member of the family."
Special thanks to Patsy M. Moore whose 1984 master's thesis, "Big Dave Remembers: The Daily Reflector" and Susan Askew's article "The Daily Reflector: A Public Voice" in the Fall 1991 edition of The ECU Report were used to develop this article.
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