What started as a simple fact-finding trip into the newspaper archives has turned into a peek into the tangled webs of history.
It's a tale of how far we've come. But it's also a story of how the past never really lets go.
The search was simple: Find the exact time that The Columbia News and The Martinez-Evans Times merged. With the paper celebrating its 125th birthday this year, researching its history has been one of my labors of love.
In our bound copies of the paper, I found the announcement, on Jan. 20, 1971, that Columbia Publishing Co. was buying The Martinez-Evans Times. In that issue the two names began running together on the front page. That was also when editor and publisher Jay Jaffe began a crusading series of editorials that may have precipitated his departure from the paper.
Jaffe came to the paper as editor in June 1970 from the Augusta Herald, succeeding Ray Sadler. By December, Jaffe also was named publisher.
Jaffe soon began calling on Columbia County commissioners to legalize the sale of alcohol - and stirred up a hornet's nest.
It may be hard for newcomers to believe, but Columbia County until relatively recently was bone-dry - beer sales were allowed a few years after Jaffe's crusade began, but liquor wasn't legal at all until nearly 20 years later.
In addition to editorials on the topic, Jaffe conducted a public-opinion poll and circulated petitions drumming up citizen support. Commissioners still turned him down.
Meanwhile, citizens and ministers (including my childhood preacher, Harold Eubanks) peppered the paper with anti-alcohol letters, attacking Jaffe's support for legalized alcohol.
It all came to a head March 31, 1971, when a letter signed by the stockholders of the Columbia Publishing Co. appeared. From a historical standpoint, the letter is a valuable list of names of stockholders; but for Jaffe, it seemed to signal the end was near.
After noting that the stockholders didn't believe in using the newspaper "(to) influence the readers on issues," the letter summed up with: "We wish to affirm that we neither sanctioned nor approved the editor's opinion on the beer and wine question."
Jaffe's name came off the paper's masthead July 21, and on Aug. 11 the paper announced a new president of the company and named Tom Holton editor.
An editorial about the switch said "Mr. Jaffe felt that he should move on to other endeavors."
Jaffe clearly landed on his feet. He is now president and CEO of Jaffe Associates, a Washington, D.C., marketing and public relations company. But the amazing story is the fate of some of the other players in this drama:
• One of The Martinez-Evans Times' owners was L.D. Waters, who now is a local business owner. But back in 1984, Waters worked with the FBI on the bribery scandal that brought down then-Augusta Mayor Ed McIntyre.
• The first stockholder listed in that letter disavowing Jaffe's crusade was Miller Finley, who nearly 35 years later pleaded guilty in Linda Schrenko's scheme to steal more than $600,000 in federal education funds.
Maybe it shouldn't have been a surprise, then, when Tim Shelnut, who owned The News-Times from 1996-1998, recently admitted to the state Ethics Commission that he had given too much money to political candidates. Or that Merle Temple, who is going to prison for his part in the Schrenko scheme, introduced me to Shelnut when he needed an editor.
Yikes. I'll stick with the good guys in this gig - and hope, like Waters and Jaffe, to come out on the good side of history.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to email@example.com.)
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