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The T&D’s 140th birthday: Newspaper has transformational history

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The T&D Sept. 29, 1881

The Times and Democrat's first edition was published on Sept. 29, 1881.

The Times and Democrat marks its 140th birthday on Wednesday, continuing as the source of local news and an engine for commerce in Orangeburg, Calhoun and Bamberg counties. Far different today than from its origins in 1881, the newspaper reaches thousands daily via its website and social media, as well as the printed newspaper. Following is a history of The Times and Democrat as adapted from the 2018 book "Palmetto Press: The History of South Carolina's Newspapers and Press Association" by Patricia G. McNeely and Michael A. Smith.

A merger between The Orangeburg Democrat and The Orangeburg Times in October 1881 created The Times and Democrat, a newspaper that traces its history to the merging properties but also to four other newspapers born in the aftermath of the Civil War: The Southron, The Tax-Payer, The Edisto Clarion and The Orangeburg News and Times.

In many round-about ways, the six predecessors of The Times and Democrat played a role, either political or stock ownership, in the final property that today is still known as “The T&D.”

The Orangeburg newspapers that were eventually created into one, like most newspapers of the South during the anguish of Civil War Reconstruction, were embroiled in the political doctrines of either Democrat or Republican in party affiliation. The Orangeburg News was so daring that it was organized as a newspaper of the Democrats but later made the bold move of becoming a newspaper of the Republicans.

Dozens of names were identified with the newspapers of Orangeburg, which during the 1880s possibly outnumbered the city’s grocery stores, funeral homes and other establishments providing the necessities of life in a city that was far from recovering from the ravages of war left by General Sherman’s troops in their march from Charleston to Columbia. One name, however, that of James L. Sims, became historically known as the person who stabilized, led and directed newspapering in Orangeburg on a positive course.

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A native of Charleston, Sims learned the printing trade at the Charleston Courier. His first venture into newspaper ownership came when he purchased an interest in The Spartanburg Herald, but when his wife, Rosa Mouzon Sims, died, he sold his interest in the upstate newspaper and moved to Orangeburg. In 1878 he purchased The Edisto Clarion, a newspaper that once was known as The Tax-Payer. Sims changed the name of the newspaper to The Orangeburg Democrat.

Sims’ editor at the Democrat was Stiles R. Mellichamp, who after a short period left Sims to start his own newspaper, The Orangeburg Times. In 1881 Sims and Mellichamp came together again to merge their newspapers into The Times and Democrat. A close Orangeburg newspaper colleague of Sims in those early days was Hugo S. Sheridan. Some years later Sims married Sheridan’s daughter. Three of their four sons would be involved in the business at The Times and Democrat. James Izlar, the oldest, dropped out of school at age 14 to work at The T&D. He succeeded his father as publisher in 1911 at the age of 21. Twin boys, Hugo and Henry Sims, would share the editorship of the newspaper until Henry was elected to the South Carolina Senate in the 1930s and later became president of Winthrop College. Hugo continued as editor until his death in 1951. The youngest son, Gelzer, chose a career in the U.S. Navy. A graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, he achieved the rank of admiral during World War II. Mellichamp and Sheridan would not continue in the newspaper business. They became full-time educators. Today there are Orangeburg elementary school buildings bearing each of their names.

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Throughout the 1890s, the World War years and the years of the Great Depression, The Times and Democrat progressed into one of the leading newspaper voices in South Carolina. One of the biggest events of the year was the ginning of the first bale of cotton. Automobiles ramming into mules and cows usually got a big news play. Sports received very little attention.

Prior to 1906 The Times and Democrat type setting was done by hand, one letter at a time. During that year The T&D purchased a new Mergenthaler Linotype machine at a cost of $3,500. Two years into the business and five years from becoming publisher, 16-year-old J. Izlar Sims was sent to New York to learn how to operate the new machine that was destined to revolutionize the newspaper industry.

The Linotype machine had a keyboard similar to a typewriter. It would line up molds of letters and numbers to be cast by molten lead. Within a few years more Linotypes were added to the newspaper’s production facilities.

In 1908 The T&D began publishing twice a week rather than weekly as it had been since its founding. It became a tri-weekly in 1909 and began five-times-a-week publication in September 1919. A sixth edition, Mondays, was added in the 1940s and the Sunday edition in 1953.

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J.L. Sims succeeded his father as publisher in 1943. He continued his father’s progressive leadership. In 1951 Hugo Sims Sr. died and his son, Edward, succeeded him as editor. In the 1960s, Hugo Sims’ other two sons, Hugo Jr. and Henry, would serve as co-editors of The Times and Democrat. Hugo Jr., fresh out of Wofford College, served as interim editor of The T&D in late 1941 when his father was ill with a heart condition. He wrote the editorials regarding America’s entry into World War II after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. A few months later Hugo Sims joined the Army and became one of the country’s most decorated soldiers for his heroism in Europe’s Battle of the Bulge.

In 1953 a Sunday edition was added and the newspaper expanded its coverage over the three-county area of Orangeburg, Bamberg and Calhoun. The newspaper was equipped with up-to-date equipment such as photo engraver, automated typesetting machines for input into Linotypes and Associated Press wires and AP Wirephoto.

Among the newsmen who started their newspaper careers under publisher J.L. Sims were J. Douglas Donehue, who later joined The News and Courier and became a South Carolina Press Association president, and David Playford of the Augusta (Georgia) Chronicle.

Sims also brought into the news ranks a young Orangeburg High School student, Dean B. Livingston, who for many years had been a T&D carrier boy. During summers while a student at the University of South Carolina, Livingston worked under Sims in capacities such as interim sports editor, advertising sales and news writing. Upon graduation from USC and completion of a three-year tour as an officer in the U.S. Air Force, Livingston returned to The T&D as managing editor. Sims, who had been stricken with cancer in his early 20s, died in 1962 at age 47. In his final days he had named Livingston as his acting publisher.

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After Sims’ death The T&D’s publishing company was reorganized with Sims’ widow and his sister and her two brothers-in-law, Dr. John B. Rembert and Dr. James H. Gressette, as the principal stockholders. The 29-year-old Livingston was named publisher.

“If I have had any success over the past 36 years as a newspaper publisher,” Livingston said, “I owe much of it to the late Frank Mundy, publisher of The Greenwood Index Journal, for his friendship and guidance. At first I didn’t have the slightest knowledge on how to run a daily newspaper. Almost daily phone calls for years to Frank kept me on a stable course.” Livingston was SCPA president in 1969.

For 84 years, The Times and Democrat physical plant had been at two different locations on or near Orangeburg’s main street of business, near the city’s square. In 1965, The T&D moved to a new location, this time one block off the main avenue of business. It was during this move that The T&D became South Carolina’s first daily newspaper to convert to offset printing. A new press and cold type typesetting machinery were installed in the new location, which previously had served as an automobile dealership.

During the 1960s the newspaper continued to grow. On a Sunday morning in October of 1972, The Times and Democrat’s entire physical plant was destroyed by fire. Nothing was salvaged. A complete rebuilding had to take place. The newspaper, however, never missed a single edition.

While the building was still in flames, the news staff headed by managing editor Paul Jones, later the editor of The Dillon Herald, was dispatched to The Sumter Item to produce the Monday morning edition of The T&D.

During the following week, half of the news staff remained in Sumter and the other half in Orangeburg. Within five days, new typesetting machines and other production equipment were flown in to make The T&D self-sufficient with everything but press capability.

Each weekday night the newspaper was produced in Orangeburg and sent to Sumter camera-ready. Weekend editions were printed at The Herald in Rock Hill. The day following the fire, construction on a new pressroom began in the parking lot of the burned down facility. Ten days later a new five-unit Goss Urbanite press arrived in Orangeburg.

The erection of the press proceeded while the pressroom building was constructed. Both were completed 30 days after the fire and The T&D was again printed at home. Livingston said all South Carolina dailies and many weekly newspapers came to The Times and Democrat’s aid during its period of disaster. “We could not have survived without their help,” the publisher said. “The caring help they gave us was an inspiration to us all.”

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New horizons opened for The Times and Democrat in 1981 when Howard Publications of Oceanside, California, acquired its total ownership. Additional press units were installed, a complete new mailroom was added and the news, business, advertising and circulation departments were computerized.

In 1989 when Hurricane Hugo blasted South Carolina with devastation, The T&D was able to maintain in-house printing and at the same time was able to partially repay The Sumter Item for its help after the 1972 fire. The Item’s plant was severely damaged and was without power. For one week The Item was printed on the T&D press.

In 1989, The T&D became South Carolina’s first daily newspaper to become totally paginated — news, ads and graphics. Pages were output into a full-page ECRM pellbox loaded with continuous film. Direct-to-plate output came later.

Physical improvements at The T&D included the construction of a 6,200-square-foot combination newsprint storage and newspaper processing area, the addition of a 4,000-square-foot newsroom and the acquisition of all new furniture throughout the newspaper’s 22,000-square-foot complex.

Four months after the fire in 1972, the Orangeburg area was hit by a 25-inch snowstorm that brought almost everything to a halt for weeks, including almost all motorized travel. The T&D, despite a retail trade complex that was shut down for almost a week, kept publishing. The newspaper plant was one of the few buildings in the area that did not lose power. All city routes and many county routes were delivered by carriers walking on foot.

It was the same with Hurricane Gracie in 1959. Intermittent electrical power allowed the newspaper to publish a four-page edition the first night the hurricane hit and a full edition the following morning.

Hurricane Hugo was the first test of The T&D’s adaptability to new technology under adverse circumstances. Advertising director Cathy Hughes set up Macintosh computers and laser printers in her home in North, 18 miles from Orangeburg, where electrical power did not go out.

In Orangeburg at The T&D plant where all power was out throughout the first day and night, editor Lee Harter kept his news staff producing stories under power of electrical generators. In early evening Hughes and Harter brought together the productions of their staffs, pasted up the pages and took them to the Bamberg Advertizer-Herald to be printed into a 16-page product.

Hughes, The T&D’s first general manager, joined the newspaper in 1972 and was named advertising director in 1982 after roles in business office, news and production. Harter has been at The T&D since 1978 and was named editor in 1981. Both Hughes and Harter are graduates of the University of South Carolina College of Journalism and Mass Communications and came to the newspaper directly after university graduation.

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Harter was the SCPA president in 1989 and Hughes served as president in 2003. At age 32, Harter was one of the youngest presidents of SCPA. He continues to serve as editor of The Times and Democrat.

Howard Publications operated The Times and Democrat until 2002, when Lee Enterprises acquired Howard Publications and its holdings.

During the nearly 20 years as a part of Lee Enterprises, The Times and Democrat has seen changes in technology that have revolutionized its ability to reach audiences. The Times and Democrat today is a complete digital agency, providing audience solutions that go far beyond the traditional newspaper. While still printing on its press in Orangeburg the traditional print edition 7 days a week, The Times and Democrat through its website TheTandD.com but more importantly through its Amplified Digital Agency and the resources in Lee Enterprises, it can now reach bigger audiences but also highly specific targeted audiences. Video has expanded audience engagement, and breaking news is pushed out of The T&D newsroom all day every day.

Cathy Hughes is the publisher, a post she’s held since the retirement of Livingston in 1999. Today she is also regional publisher of the Florence Morning News and a group publisher for Lee Enterprises, overseeing 10 of the Lee Enterprises newspapers across nine states.

“She has all the qualifications to become The Times and Democrat’s fifth publisher in its 118-year history,” Livingston said in November 1998. “She has done everything at the newspaper but run the press. She will be a hands-on working publisher.”

In April 2017, Hughes was presented with The Order of the Silver Crescent, the state’s highest civilian honor.

It’s awarded based on “significant contributions, leadership, volunteerism, and lifelong influence within a region or community,” the S.C. Governor’s Office website says. “The Order of the Silver Crescent is a once in a lifetime achievement.”

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