This week in print – An interview with former publisher Charlie Diggle

  • Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Charlie Diggle

Photos

Years ago, Charlie Diggle had no aspirations per se to run a newspaper. He was working for the telephone company and traveling all week. His young wife Pat was at home in Columbia with their son Chuck.

He began looking for a job that would keep him at home more often. On top of that, they had very little social interactions in Columbia. They finally decided it was time for a move.

It didn’t take long for Charlie to land a job at the Orangeburg Times and Democrat.

They moved to Bamberg, Pat’s hometown, and Pat got a job at the hospital.

Charlie had no experience in journalism but managed to sneak into all of the departments there. From sales to news to photography – he got a glimpse of it all.

Charlie was then approached by Camden Chronicle co-owner Clarence Ford.

After some discussion, he was hired on at the Chesterfield Advertiser as sales manager from 1966 to 1969.

Ford was the first to start building a network of newspapers across the state.

They brought in an overall manager for the group of newspapers. About that time, they also bought the North Charleston Banner. The owners instructed Charlie to move there and take over advertising.

They lived on James Island and Charlie joined the Optimist Club.

The club started a little newspaper of their own since there wasn’t one on James Island. Charlie said there were contentious issues on the island at the time and no newspaper to report on them – the new paper was called The James Island Journal. The Optimist Club ran the paper for about a year before selling it to The Press and Standard.

After a year, word on the street was that Whiteman Smoke, owner of the Press and Standard, was selling the James Island Journal.

Charlie made a deal to buy the paper and agreed to take it over in January of 1970.

In October, after Charlie told his supervisor at the North Charleston Banner of his plans, they fired him immediately – just before Christmas.

“We loved the newspaper business. And Pat was a great typist and back in those days you had to type everything twice to justify it properly,” he said. They eventually purchased Justa Writers.

At that time, the Moultrie News was a little tabloid newspaper published every two weeks by Carl Meynardie.

The way the Moultrie News got started is that a man named Dr. Spoonhyme owned Berkeley Drugs. He had seven or eight stores around Charleston and he propelled the Moultrie News with his drug store ads.

Before, collective drug stores and chain stores couldn’t afford the daily newspaper, so they advertised in flyers or community newspapers.

Moultrie Shopping Center, where Berkeley Drugs was located in Mount Pleasant, wanted to do some advertising.

They contacted Meynardie and he published it almost as a supplement to the shopping center, hence the name – the Moultrie News.

In 1973, Charlie had been acquainted with J.C. Long for some time because of his interest in newspapers. He once owned the Tri-City News that covered Mount Pleasant, Charleston and North Charleston.

“It became known that Meynardie wanted to sell the paper for $35,000. Charlie didn’t have that kind of money, so he called J.C. who immediately said “let’s buy it.”

Charlie paid $7,500 for the James Island Journal with a paid circulation of 3,000.

“I was a great opportunity. J.C. always wanted to be a newspaper owner.

He bought 60 percent and I bought 40 percent.”

Charlie ran the paper and would go to J.C.’s house every Friday. J.C. never put any demands on Charlie.

He was a business mentor to Charlie as well.

The Moultrie News was doing well and the Post and Courier began noticing how strong the publication was becoming in the East Cooper market.

Charlie and Pat subsequently received contracts for the military papers, which put the Diggles as the publishers of five papers – The Journal, the Moultrie News, Suburbia (a shopper) and the military papers.

They took the Moultrie News from a tabloid printed every other week to a full broadsheet paper printed every week.

Ron Dunn came to Charlie looking for a job.

And when he learned what was being done with the Moultrie News, he promptly went to the Piggly Wiggly, according to Charlie, and made a deal with them.

He began the East Cooper Pilot and the Diggles lost their biggest advertiser.

The Diggles did everything to support their business, right down to delivering the newspapers themselves. They loaded up the car with rolled newspapers and their children and delivered their papers.

The East Cooper Pilot also delivered newspapers, and many of times, they passed each other at various intersections in town while on delivery routes.

As a matter of fact, the employee who rolled papers for the Moultrie News did the same for the East Cooper Pilot, with the promise to do a good job for both papers, despite the conflict of interest.

Dunn managed to lure the Moultrie News’ top columnist, Tom Hamrick, away. He convinced Hamrick to invest money into the East Cooper Pilot as well.

Pug Ravenel was trying to start publishing neighborhood-type papers before the Post and Courier came out with their zoned editions.

He came to the Diggles looking for a partner in his effort. They declined the offer and Ravenel went to Dunn and bought what remained of the East Cooper Pilot.

Tom Hamrick came back to the Moultrie News and was a hard-nosed military guy and told it like it was.

And sometimes it wasn’t what people wanted to hear.

Charlie and Pat enjoyed a great relationship with the Post and Courier.

They exchanged ads and the Post and Courier was always forthcoming.

J.C. and Charlie discussed their next move. At the time, the Moultrie News was printed either at the Walterboro or Beautfort plant, while the Post and Courier had the Georgetown printing plant.

J.C. and Charlie decided to purchase their own press. They bought a six-unit Harris B22 – the largest in the Lowcountry other than the Post and Courier’s. It was about 100 feet long and weighed 37 tons.

They paid more than $100,000 and expanded a building in Riverland Terrace to accommodate it (8,000 square feet).

When the Diggles bought the Moultrie News, they started with a circulation of 4,000.

When they sold it in 1998, the circulation was at 23,000.

Mount Pleasant was growing by leaps and bounds.

Today, the Moultrie News delivers more than 28,000 papers.

At the time, free delivery was a new thing to South Carolina.

For a long time, the South Carolina Press Association did not recognize free publications as newspapers.

In 1985, an executive with the Evening Post Publishing Company made mention to Charlie that they were interested in buying the newspapers he owned.

Diggle said he was flattered but not interested.

Ten years later, the Post and Courier started the zoned editions and the neighborhood papers run by Pug Ravenel collapsed.

J.C. Long passed away in 1984 and Charlie purchased Long’s share of the newspaper from his estate.

At that time, the Navy newspaper was one of their best, bringing in $10,000 every issue, Charlie said.

The Diggles decided to move closer to the Navy Base and leased a 10,000-square-foot building in North Charleston.

They sold their James Island facilities.

Lo and behold, the Base Realignment Committee shut down the Navy Base. With no Navy newspaper and no need for a 10,000-square-foot building, it was time to move.

Hurricane Hugo hit in 1989 and virtually destroyed the building interiors along Ben Sawyer Boulevard in Mount Pleasant.

Afterwards, the old Channel Four building, owned by Boopa Pritchard, was refurbished and up for lease.

Several years into that lease, another news station leasing part of the building asked to rent the entire space. With a $10,000 incentive, Charlie and Pat agreed to vacate and moved the Moultrie News operations to The Common Ground off of Coleman Boulevard.

The space was home to the former Common Ground Restaurant. It took some creativity to make it a newspaper office, but it worked.

The Moultrie News eventually moved back to Ben Sawyer Boulevard and that is where its production remained until Evening Post Publishing Company purchased the paper in 2002, At 62 years old, Charlie agreed to sell. He would stay on three more years, so he could retire at 65. Vickey Boyd was named publisher, while Charlie’s son Chuck Diggle stayed on for several more years as editor.

Ann Burger replaced Chuck Diggle, followed by Bill Walker and Sully Witte.

Today, the Moultrie News is housed in the Post and Courier building in downtown Charleston.

Read next week’s This Week in Print to get a behind-the-scenes look at the history of the Moultrie News. Diggle tells us about the popular – and not so popular – columnists, the changes the paper saw through the years, where Hurricane Hugo left the paper and more.

See stories and photo archives by visiting www.moultrienews.com.


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