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Daily's editorial philosophy consistent for 75 years

Several accomplished editors have worked at Strasburg

By John Horan Jr.
Editor

John Horan

Editor John Horan

"This little newspaper points its prow into the journalistic sea with due humility and a prayer that favorable winds may follow its voyage into the future ..."

So began the first editorial in The Northern Virginia Daily. Its author was Arthur D. Davidson, a former Baptist minister who turned to journalism and came to Strasburg from the Richmond Times-Dispatch, where he was an editor.

"Politically the Daily will be non-partisan and will pursue an independent news and editorial policy," the inaugural editorial continued. "This does not mean that it proposes to make a fetish of its political status or to employ its columns for criticism that is merely destructive. ... Constructive criticism, however, is always in order and a proper interpretation of the news is an essential editorial function. Accordingly, the paper does propose to express its opinion of men and movements freely, irrespective of their party connections."

Davidson took that responsibility seriously. He'd often pace the sidewalk outside his office, collecting his thoughts before pounding out an editorial, frequently on deadline. His editorials were widely reprinted, and he won several statewide awards, including one in 1940 for a series of editorials that lamented the "neglected and run-down" Shenandoah County school system and proposed improvements that were implemented without a "burdensome" tax increase.

After 24 years, Davidson stepped down from his little soapbox. His valedictory editorial on May 31, 1956, expressed humble gratitude and satisfaction that "that first editorial prayer has been richly answered."

His successor, John Alfred "Jack" Hamilton, pledged that the Daily would "continue to be the same responsible paper it has been in the past." In his maiden editorial, he declared that "the press is America's number one public utility, ... a business enterprise dedicated to public service. ... In principal [sic] and in spirit it will always stand for truth. It will always be independent. It will always be a public servant."

Hamilton left after a year to become associate editor of the Richmond News Leader, where his father, Charles Henry Hamilton, had long been the managing editor. Jack Hamilton landed eventually at The New York Times where he spent several years writing editorials on metropolitan topics. William Safire, the now-retired New York Times op-ed columnist and word maven, credits him with coining the term "whistleblower" for someone who calls attention to wrongdoing.

Hamilton's successor, Donald W. Scott, took over on July 1, 1957, and served 18 months before ceding the editor's job to Virgil L. Adams, a veteran journalist who arrived from a paper in Mississippi. His first editorial spoke of the valley's "date with destiny," a reference evidently to the controversy over school desegregation, which Adams decried in editorials as "race mixing."

When Adams died on Dec. 25, 1961, James J. Crawford, the Daily's longtime business manager, added the editor's duties to his responsibilities. He already had been supplying editorials during the interims between editors. Crawford continued as editor and general manager until he retired on June 30, 1977.

Like Davidson and Hamilton, the present editor began his term with an editorial, "A New Voice," suffused with noble aspirations and a sense of responsibility. How well those goals have been realized on a daily basis is for the reader to judge. The more jaded may well say it's been all downhill since July 2, 1977.

Journalism is a transitory trade -- certainly no profession, since it requires no advanced training or certification. We deal with "news," by definition what is new, different, out of the ordinary. We try to make sense of it for readers. These observations are not set in stone but are put down on a most disposable product, paper -- and increasingly not even that but as computer images.

News has a limited shelf life -- although as "olds" it lingers in archives and dusty attics, ready to provide a glimpse of a bygone time -- yet, our efforts, though evanescent, are serious, conscientious and wholehearted with a firm commitment to accuracy and fairness.

Although each generation views issues from a different perspective, those markers laid down 75 years ago by Arthur Davidson -- to inform and to comment insightfully and judiciously -- remain an overarching goal here at the Daily.

* Contact John Horan at jhoran@nvdaily.com.

Related story: Horan's first editorial -- 'A new voice' came to the Daily in 1977


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