VALDOSTA -- The most read thing on the front page of the Oct. 16, 1905 edition was likely the elongated headline reading: "Rawlings Confesses That He Hired Alf: But Says He Told Him Not To Hurt The Children --- A Long Statement from the Condemned Man in Which He Retells the Story of his Troubles ..."

Yet, above this headline, stretching across the width of the front page, was a major change in the newspaper itself. Oct. 16, 1905 marked what is considered the first edition of The Valdosta Daily Times.

For 100 years, this newspaper has remained The Valdosta Daily Times, publishing approximately 360,000 editions under The Valdosta Daily Times name since that first front page of Oct. 16, 1905. Throughout 2005, with stories, events and changes such as the masthead on this edition, The Valdosta Daily Times will celebrate the centennial of this name change which denoted a shift in the newspaper's mission to provide news on a more frequent and eventually a truly daily basis. (See the Opinions page of this edition for related commentary.)

Yet the newspaper's history extends further than 1905. In 1867, a paper called The South Georgia Times opened shop in Valdosta, publishing once a week, according to Edith Smith, who has worked with The Valdosta Daily Times for nearly 50 years and is a second-generation employee of the newspaper. Within a few years, the newspaper printed twice per week under the name of The Valdosta Times.

A twice-per-week newspaper well served a young town. Valdosta had only become incorporated in 1860, but Valdosta was growing. By the early 1900s, according to the Lowndes County Historical Society, the town was becoming a city. Within the early years of the 20th century, Valdosta witnessed the construction of a new county courthouse; the rise of several businesses which would become mainstays of Downtown Valdosta for decades; First United Methodist Church built a new sanctuary downtown; King Cotton held one of its largest kingdoms in the world via Valdosta. The town was booming in the early years of the 1900s, so Valdosta was poised for a more frequent newspaper.

Yet, it took the sensationalism of a murder trial to change the twice-weekly nature of The Valdosta Times to the more frequent print schedule of The Valdosta Daily Times. It was the trial whose headline led the first edition of the newspaper to carry The Valdosta Daily Times masthead that spurred the change.



BLIND OBEDIENCE

In his fine book, "Blind Obedience," Macon newspaper man turned author Bill Boyd writes a narrative that reads like a novel but is solidly based on research into the trial that created The Valdosta Daily Times.

"Blind Obedience" charts the lives of Joe Rawlins (often referred to as "Rawlings"), a South Georgia farmer who had served as a Baptist preacher and was the father of five, and W.L. Carter, who was also a regional farmer, a former minister and the father of nearly a dozen children. For rather murky reasons, in the years of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the lives of Rawlins and Carter repeatedly crossed paths, becoming dysfunctional neighbors in a few South Georgia locations. They dickered about fishing rights, livestock and each other until the contentious relationship festered into a violent feud as they neighbored in Hahira.

"Rawlins moved twice and each time thought he had seen the last of his archenemy," according to the jacket information in Boyd's book published in 2000. "But each time, Carter showed up and bought land bordering Rawlins' farm. ... As the acrimony peaked, Rawlins tried to kill Carter, but failed. Then he hired an assassin and sent his own sons to wipe out the entire Carter family. But the only victims of the attempt were two teen-age Carter children."

The subsequent murder trial of Joe Rawlins, his sons and a hired hand named Alf Moore became a media sensation in 1905. Tried in Lowndes County, newspapers throughout the state followed the trial, covering the testimony and detailing as best they could the information that led to the feud. Newspaper reports also chronicled Joe Rawlins' descent from a man with a solid local reputation before the shootings into a raving madman by the time he was finally hanged for masterminding the murders. Newspapers from throughout Georgia covered the details of the trial. Rawlins often yelled at passersby from the window of his downtown jail cell. Newspapers assigned reporters to stand by the window of Rawlins' cell just to record his almost daily rants.

In addition to the purely dramatic interest it generated, the Rawlins-Carter trial was also one of the first to have a lengthy appeals process following the convictions of the Rawlins family members and Alf Moore; at a time when convicted murderers were hanged usually weeks after a trial, Joe Rawlins wasn't hanged until more than a year after his murder conviction. And given the racial climate of the region, as well as the South in 1905, it is one of the only court cases where a white man (Rawlins) was found guilty based heavily on the word of a black man (Alf Moore).



COMPETITION

The local, regional and statewide interest as well as the legal and cultural ramifications of the trial made it difficult for a twice-weekly newspaper to satisfy the local demand for more immediate copy and day-to-day progress of the case. During the trial, a publication named The Daily Court Reporter appeared in Valdosta. Typically four pages per issue, The Daily Court Reporter supplied fresh information about the trial's proceedings daily while The Valdosta Times did the best it could on its twice-weekly schedule.

"The Valdosta Times was on the streets early and it contained a long account of events leading up to the trial, but nothing on Monday's proceedings," Boyd notes in "Blind Obedience." "The staff -- used to publishing only twice a week -- took two to three days to gather material and write the stories needed for an issue. But that Tuesday was different for those seeking up-to-the-minute results. A new publication hit the streets. The Daily Court Reporter was a four-page, letter-size newspaper published by the Valdosta Printing Company. Stories in the new publication, obviously not written by professionals, contained many errors. ... But the modest publication offered the news, and people rushed to buy copies at 5 cents each, the price of most established newspapers at the time. No doubt, this competition started The Times thinking about going daily. Although there was little time to accomplish that switch during the trials, it was a matter of less than two months before The Times became a daily."

Reports in the Oct. 16, 1905 edition of The Valdosta Daily Times concerned Georgia Supreme Court arguments in Atlanta for a re-trial for Rawlins and his sons, as well as one of Joe Rawlins' many post-trial statements concerning the murders.

Despite the late 2002 discovery of six editions, dated July 17-22, 1905, as well as Boyd's intensive 1999 research for his book, little is known about the publication of The Daily Court Reporter. During Boyd's research, several area historians had never even heard of The Daily Court Reporter, including Albert Pendleton, who is now the retired curator of the Lowndes County Historical Society Museum and former writer of The Valdosta Daily Times' "Way Back When" columns. Pendleton's ancestors were the founders and early owners of The South Georgia Times and The Valdosta Times. In the early 1970s, Pendleton had interviewed many surviving principals in the Rawlins-Carter case for a paper he was writing on the subject. In "Blind Obedience," Boyd lauds Pendleton for supplying a wealth of information that added shape and substance to the book but, as far as The Daily Court Reporter was concerned, Pendleton knew nothing of it in 1999.

Boyd's book spurred research into The Daily Court Reporter. In 2002, Julian Copeland Jr., Valdosta, donated six issues of the publication to the Lowndes County Historical Society. Copeland's parents had found the papers following the death of Copeland's grandfather in 1967.

Still, the mystery of who published The Daily Court Reporter remains. In addition to providing fresh reports on the trial, it also contained several paid advertisements from local businesses. So, from a competition aspect, The Daily Court Reporter would have urged the more frequent publication of The Valdosta Times. Yet, it is remotely possible, too, that The Daily Court Reporter was published by The Valdosta Times in order to provide daily reports on the trial. However the newspaper was published, success of The Daily Court Reporter ensured that The Valdosta Times could successfully transfer to a daily paper.

As for The Daily Court Reporter, it apparently disappeared shortly after the conclusion of the Rawlins-Carter trial. "To the best of our knowledge, The Daily Court Reporter ended with the trial which makes these six editions rare," Renate Milner of the Historical Society said in an interview for a previous story.

To compound the potential for a successful daily run, nearly each edition for the first few months of The Valdosta Daily Times contained articles about the Rawlins appeals, rants from Rawlins' jail cell or some item related to the case.



CHANGES WITH TIME

"Daily" in the 1905 sense of the word meant The Valdosta Daily Times published regularly about five times per week. The newspaper eventually moved to six days per week, printing Mondays through Saturdays for several years, with no Sunday edition. In the 1970s, The Valdosta Daily Times moved to being a true daily, printing seven days per week, a schedule and a promise the newspaper has maintained ever since. In the late 1980s, "daily" went from meaning every afternoon to every morning as The Valdosta Daily Times became a morning paper.

Much has changed in newspapers as well as the City of Valdosta in the past century. Yet, The Valdosta Daily Times remains a daily part of the city's and South Georgia's life, and hopefully will continue doing so for at least another hundred years to come.

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