By: Michael Ray Smith
Ask most of the faithful readers of Harnett County’s Daily Record (Dunn. N.C.) what comes to mind when they think of Hoover Adams and many will recall his well-read column, “These Little Things.”
Adams made a career of showcasing little things that added up to an Everest of achievement. He died Sunday, July 15, 2012 at 92.
In his column, Adams captured the attention of his readers with an over-the-top fashion, in the style of Garrison Keillor’s “Prairie Home Companion.” All of Hoover’s female sources were beautiful, the men, the very best of their field whether the story was about banking or boating.
A World War II veteran, Adams returned from war with the determination of a conquering general. He served an aide to his friend Gen. William C. Lee. In his towering lifetime, Adams organized the General William C. Lee Commission, may have single-handedly put Jesse Helms in the U.S. Senate, supported conservative causes and founded The Daily Record.
By 2001, The Daily Record actually led the nation in circulation penetration, selling more newspapers in its primary market than there are homes, for a penetration of 112 percent. It went to 117 in 2002 but declined over the years as did many newspapers in the industry.
Adams’s secret was to mention as many of his readers’ names in print as possible and it worked.
His story is told in Chip and Dan Heath’s book, “Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die.”
The Daily Record began publishing Dec. 6, 1950 when founder Adams accepted a $15,000 loan from his father-in-law and took on The Dunn Dispatch, the only other city newspaper and then purchased it 28 years later. Adams spent those early years personally recruiting readers to submit news and instilling in his staff the need to publish as many names of county residents as possible in every issue.
These days the Monday-through-Friday newspaper continues the tradition of printing the names, birth announcements, even reports of birthday parties, according to editor and publisher Bart Adams, one of Hoover’s son, who is continue the tradition of aggressive hyperlocal content.
The son of Alexander Benton Adams and Lou Flora Morgan Adams, Adams was named in honor of Herbert Hoover, the U.S. food administrator and later president. He is married to Mellicent S. Adams and they have two sons, Brent, a lawyer with four offices in North Carolina, and Bart, editor and publisher of The Daily Record; and a daughter, Maere Kay Lashmit, once advertising director at the newspaper. Lashmit and other family members serve on the board of Record Publishing Co., owner of The Daily Record, the Harnett County News and the Angier Independent.
The Adams are a family of personal journalists. In his lifetime, Adams traveled to more than 60 countries, and on one trip to London, he and his wife met Margaret Thatcher, former British prime minister, yet he insisted on keeping the newspaper content local.
Until very recently I often found Adams at his desk, covered with periodicals and papers, wearing a rumbled shirt and tie but scanning the paper and constantly probing for news in the community. He’d look through in his maculated eyeglasses, his thick hair a stark white and begin an interview. He made a point of asking about the next generation of journalism students and Campbell University.
What a journalist. What a person who made his life count.
Adams set the tone for a hard-news newspaper that printed all the crime. “He’s a tough man and he worked hard to sell papers,” long-time editor Lisa Farmer once said.
In this era when branding overshadows content, the press is desperate to reinvent itself as a community talking to itself, an old adage about the function of a lively newspaper. Adams got the community talking, his son Bart continues the tradition, and readers still want to get in on the conversation.
Michael Ray Smith is a professor of communication studies at Campbell University. He was listed as one of top 50 journalism educators in the nation by www.journalismdegree.org and named professor of the year for 2012 at Campbell. “A Free Press in Freehand” examines the life of Harnett County’s first journalist, John McLean Harrington.