Don Morrison Nixon · 1984
The seed for Nixon Newspapers, Inc. was planted in 1904, when a young, no-nonsense newsman named Don Morrison Nixon founded the Terre Haute Saturday Spectator with John C. Rutherford.
Born in 1880, Nixon was only 24 at the time, but by then he had worked for the Terre Haute Morning Express after being graduated from Wiley High School. And at 21, he had gone to New York, where he became a ship news reporter, gaining valuable reporting and writing experience.
Equipped with a keen mind, a competitive spirit, a determination that couldn’t be broken and several 25-hour days, Don. M. Nixon converted the weekly Saturday Spectator into a small group of fledgling newspapers — only to have his noted career cut short in a Michigan City automobile accident.
His death in 1934, at 54, left the newspapers in the hands of his widow, the former Eugenia Hubbard, a noted concert pianist. As principal owner of seven newspapers, she formed Nixon Newspapers, Inc.
The seven newspapers had been acquired by a man who can best be described in one word: crusader. Throughout his 40-year journalistic career, Don Nixon battled political corruption and special interests detrimental to the public good.
Two journalistic efforts, steeped in press courage and freedom, illustrate Nixon’s crusading spirit.
The first occurred in 1913, when Nixon charged that Terre Haute Mayor Don Roberts used fraud to get elected.
In his investigation, Nixon revealed that names of dead persons had been removed from tombstones and given to “floaters” to vote for Roberts and his associates.
Week after week, Nixon pounded away at Roberts, exposing new facts and questioning Roberts’ dealings with the town’s traction company.
Aroused, the public forced the naming of a special prosecutor to sift evidence and uncover the whole truth.
The traction company retaliated by hiring “Bat” Masterson of frontier fame. Masterson was told to slug Nixon, and the noted gunfighter went to Nixon’s home — only to find the newspaper publisher not at home. Later, Masterson, in a sworn confession printed by the Spectator, said he was hired to keep Nixon “quiet.”
Nixon’s efforts earned him a reputation as a militant publisher — and eventually resulted in the 1914 indictments of several city hall politicians, including Roberts. They were convicted and sentenced to the federal penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas.
In 1932, Nixon gained nationwide attention again — this time in Wabash. He was cited for contempt of court for criticizing the appointment of an ill-qualified village garage mechanic as receiver for a Wabash bank.
Nixon had come to Wabash 10 years earlier for the first time. He found the Plain Dealer in receivership because of financial troubles besetting the Service Motor Truck company, which owned the newspaper’s controlling interest.
In the spring of 1923, Nixon acquired the Plain Dealer and a short time later the Times-Star. He immediately began revamping their content and appearance, and in 1926 he merged the two papers, eliminating the morning Times-Star.
In 1926, too, The Citizen was established in Wabash, but existed less than 18 months. Nixon bought the paper and sold its press to interests in Elizabethton, Tennessee.
When the Elibethton (Tenn.) Star owners couldn’t make payments on the press, Nixon acquired the paper in late 1927.
The Star remained in the Nixon family after Nixon’s death in 1934. One of his two daughters, Helen Margaret, acquired possession in the settlement of his estate after his death. She and her husband operated the paper for awhile and then sold it.
The Peru Daily Tribune joined the Nixon family in 1928.
The Tribune was established when striking printers claimed they had been locked out by other Peru area newspapers. The incorporators, holding $10-a-share stock, were William Tripeer, Frank S. Days, Royce Hall, William C. Orpurt and Clarence W. Jones.
The paper was eventually acquired by Paul Poynter, who owned papers in Kokomo, Sullivan and St. Petersburg, Florida. Nixon bought Poynter’s interest in 1928.
Two years later, Nixon added the Middlesboro (Ky.) Daily News to his group. During his travels to Elizabethton, he would stop at Middlesboro, in the Cumberland Gap, and read the Daily News, which began in 1911 as a weekly called the Thousandsticks. The paper derived its name from a stream in Letcher County, in which congregated thousands of sticks washed down from the mountains.
A group of businessmen bought the paper in 1920 and formed the Citizens News Co. By then, the Thousandsticks had become the Pinnacle Daily News. The business group changed the name to the Middlesboro Daily News.
The majority of stock was acquired in 1922 by F. D. Hart, Jr., an engineer. In 1923, Robert L. Kincaid became manager, and in 1926 he purchased Hart’s stock. Nixon bought the majority of Citizens News Co. stock in 1930, and it remained in the Nixon family until the fall of 1944, when local businessmen acquired the Nixon interests.
A short time later, Nixon acquired the Southwest Times of Pulaski, Virginia.
In 1932, Nixon added the seventh paper to his organization, buying the floundering Michigan City, Ind., Dispatch. The seller was Pleas Greenlee, who was Gov. Paul McNutt’s patronage secretary, and Wray Fleming, a founder of the Hoosier State Press Association.
The Dispatch was the No. 2 paper in town, badly trailing the News, which had a 6,000 to 1,200 circulation lead.
While Nixon was acquiring the Dispatch in 1932, he was embroiled in his contempt case over the receivership appointment.
Legal wrangling went on for weeks before a special judge found him guilty, fined him $100 and meted out a 10-day jail term.
The decision was appealed to the Indiana Supreme Court — and the case drew attention from several larger papers, including the Chicago Tribune.
While Nixon’s attorneys scrapped in court, Nixon scrapped with the opposition, building the Dispatch into respectability by using methods that had proven successful elsewhere.
The news product improved. Advertising revenue inched up. Circulation rose.
Two years later — tragedy.
On his way to mailing a letter from the Michigan Central Railroad Depot, Nixon was fatally injured when his car and a truck collided at the intersection of Michigan Boulevard and Wabash Street. The accident occurred on a Monday, resulting in head injuries that eventually took his life before the week was over.
His death came before the Indiana Supreme Court would vindicate him in the 1932 contempt case. The conviction reversal made nationwide news again. Extensive editorial comment praised Nixon for his vigilance against encroachment on a free press.
Death, too, prevented Nixon from seeing victory in Michigan City. His underdog Dispatch, staffed by dedicated professionals, surpassed the rival News. The two papers became the Michigan City News-Dispatch in 1938 after the Robb and Misener families sold the News to the Nixon family.
The Michigan City acquisition was the last one under Don Nixon’s direction. In fact, the Nixon family, finding a shortage of strong managers to operate the Spectator, the Middlesboro Daily News, the Elizabethton Star and the Southwest Times of Pulaski, began selling those properties.
Don Nixon’s second oldest son, Joseph, came home from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania and began to play a key role in the development of Nixon Newspapers. Later, his half-brother, John R. Nixon, would join the company and eventually succeed Mrs. Honeywell as president.
Nixon Newspapers acquired the Hammond (La.) Daily Star in 1962. The paper had been established in 1959 as Louisiana’s first full-sized offset daily newspaper.
In December 1968, Nixon Newspapers bought the Auburn (Ind.) Star. The daily newspaper was then sold in December 1971.
In 1969, Nixon Newspapers bought the Frankfort, (Ind.) Times, which had been in the Fowler family since its inception as a weekly in 1885.
One daily and one weekly newspaper were added in July 1973. The Brazil (Ind.) Times was acquired July 1 from Margretta Raper Cassel and George M. James. James had joined the Times as editor in 1910 after completing the first journalism course at Indiana University and working for the Indianapolis Star. The Pulaski County (Ind.) Journal was acquired July 27 from Wiley W. Spurgeon, Jr. of Muncie, who had bought the paper in 1971.
The Swayzee (Ind.) Press was purchased later in 1973, and the Culver (Ind.) Citizen and the North Judson (Ind.) News were acquired in October 1974. The three papers, all weeklies, were later either sold or discontinued.
In April 1979, Nixon Newspapers acquired a group of newspapers from Robert Hemphill — the Attica (Ind.) Ledger-Tribune and Watseka (Ill.) Times-Republic, both dailies; the Newton County (Ind.) Enterprise and Covington (Ind.) Friend, weeklies, and the Warren County (Ind.) Messenger, a free distribution shopper published weekly. The Messenger and The Friend were discontinued, replaced by Shopping Guides, weekly publications produced in most areas where Nixon Newspapers publish newspapers. The Shopping Guides provide total market circulation for advertisers.
In April 1979, Nixon Newspapers also purchased Mills Publications, publishers of the Hoopeston (Ill.) Chronicle-Herald, from Thomas E. Mills.