Manning reflects on years at paper
By Miles Layton
Thursday, May 10, 2018
Pete Manning’s life was dedicated to a noble aim – publishing the Chowan Herald.
“You’ve got to want to do this kind of work – it can be hard let me tell you – but I enjoyed the work and serving the community,” said Manning who retired in 2002.
For 54 years, Manning worked at the paper during its Golden Age. Books filled with past editions of the Chowan Herald bear this out with the newspaper’s coverage of local government news, church announcements, civic groups, lots of school news, farm reports and much, much more.
Manning spoke of the importance of how local newspaper, a business where people have a stake in the community, is vital to the community it serves. Toward that end, Manning provided a very solid blueprint as to how newspaper can survive and thrive. He insisted that if these principles were applied today, the newspaper would continue to grow and thrive into the next century.
“Treat people right,” he said.
Apprentice to publisher
Manning began his newspaper career at the Chowan Herald when he was 16-years-old by sweeping the floor, stoking the coal furnace and doing janitorial duties every afternoon after school. He moved up to running a hand fed job printing press and then the newspaper press.
A John A. Holmes alumnus, Manning was promoted to linotype operator. Put simply, those were machines that prepared the type face needed to publish any newspaper be it the Greensboro News and Record to the Chowan Herald. Being linotype operator, Manning was able to set type so rapidly – between 7-8 lines of clean type a minute – that he was going to be one of the best in the area.
“The linotype operator job was the ‘heart’ of the newspaper until technology came into being with computers that were tape-driven setting the type,” he said.
Newspapers then and now rely on all sorts of technology to publish the news. Manning operated a big newspaper camera (12-14 feet long) that was utilized in the production process.
Manning’s daughters Nelle and Anna Kay enjoyed going with him to develop pictures in the dark room. To quiet Anna Kay so he could better concentrate – she was very talkative daughter – he convinced them that every time the red light was turned on that they had to be quiet.
“He told us we couldn’t talk or ask questions or that it could mess up the pictures,” joked Anna Kay Laughton.
When Manning was in his early 20s, he was promoted to production manager. Not only was Manning responsible for the production of the Chowan Herald, but the company’s printing business. In the early 80’s when Editor and General Manager L. F. “Bud” Amburn moved, Manning was made general manager and publisher.
Amburn said his friendship with Pete goes back to January of 1965.
“He had been made promises that couldn’t be kept when I arrived to purchase The Chowan Herald. However, after initial disappointment, we bonded and operated for 20 years without the first argument,” Amburn said. “Pete is mild mannered with a unique ability to disagree without being disagreeable. He demonstrated a work ethic almost to his own fault. Sometimes the words ‘Christian gentlemen’ are mis-applied in characterizations, but that is what Pete is. He loves his family, his church and his fellowman. Whatever success I enjoyed as publisher of the Chowan Herald must be shared with Pete.”
Manning was an essential part of the Chowan Herald because he had the talent needed to keep all the printing presses and Linotype machines operating even modifying parts to keep it in working order.
“He proved to be a quick study on technology advances, always leading and teaching by example,” Amburn said.
Local historian and County Commissioner John Mitchener recalled how Manning was assisted by the Rev. E. C. Alexander, an extremely talented machinist. Every now and again, the press would malfunction, so Alexander and Manning had to work together to create the right part so the newspaper could be published.
“We will never know how many editions of the Chowan Herald came out on time because of Reverend Alexander’s work in the wee hours of the morning,” he said. “Pete appreciated him immensely.”
Good days and bad
Tough times and high cotton – that’s how life works sometimes.
Tough times was when it was necessary to dip into savings to make payroll and battling the competition in prices and news coverage. Once upon a time, the Daily Advance made inroads into Edenton.
Manning said he was forever grateful and was quick to give credit to local leaders including Richard Bunch, who was the Chamber of Commerce president, for supporting the Chowan Herald during those lean times.
“Dad’s aspiration in life was working closely with friends, colleagues and business associates to successfully provide accurate news for the general public,” said Manning’s daughter, Anna Kay Laughton. “As a result, when there was strong competition from a daily newspaper that endangered the continued success of the Chowan Herald the local merchants rallied to Dad’s assistance to offer support through advertising to keep the Chowan Herald remaining strong.”
Mitchener added, “When times were tough and the future of the Chowan Herald uncertain, local merchants paid for their advertising ahead of due dates to keep it in the black. They kept outsiders from buying and hijacking the paper. Ownership remained local and the Chowan Herald remained an independent weekly.”
Manning said the key to running a community newspaper is to treat everyone fairly while serving the best interests of the community – that’s not always easy.
To illustrate that point, Manning talked about one particular case that left its mark on the community involving the Little Rascals Day Care. Rather than open old wounds, the Chowan Herald and Manning agreed not going to revisit the specific details of that case in this story.
Manning said some folks asked him to do more reporting on the issue. Manning said that unless the issue was brought to court, the Chowan Herald did not print stories based on mere allegations – a policy that this newspaper still strongly endorses today. Only after the issue began percolating up through the court system did the newspaper moved forward with the coverage, he said.
Manning’s point was the newspaper should accurately report the facts as best as possible. That’s not always easy, but it’s best to report on matters great and small always with a mind as to the people that the newspaper serves, he said.
Mitchener added, “Pete saw the good in people no matter the circumstance,”
Other advice Manning offered was about the importance of being involved in the community so an editor can gain perspective so as not only to know what’s going on, but to write stories that capture all sides. Manning served community as chairman of the Chowan County Election Board, director of the Chamber of Commerce, chairman of Chowan Hospital Trustees as well as various advisory committees for Edenton Chowan Schools. During the 1980s, Manning served two terms as a member of Edenton Town Council. Reliable rumor has it that Manning was asked to run for mayor, but he declined the offer. Manning was there when Anne-Marie Knighton was hired as town manager.
“I remember Councilman Manning as being very business-minded – he assessed decisions with a business mind,” Knighton said.
Knighton said the late 1980s were difficult times, the town was having to raise electric rates dramatically due to rising wholesale power costs.
“Councilman Manning and the others on the Council at the time did what was right, even though there was a lot of public opposition,” she said. “Mr. Manning took his councilman responsibilities very seriously. He did his homework, asked questions, listened and then made his decision. He helped orient me to the community, he wanted to make sure I got off to a good start -- which I think he did.”
These days Manning keeps abreast of the news from his home on West Eden Street. Within the home on the wall is a painting of Manning’s family. For nearly 65 years, Manning was married to Betty Letcher Manning and they raised two daughters, Nelle (Hyatt) and Anna Kay (Laughton). The Manning’s three grandchildren’s birth announcements were printed in the Chowan Herald.
Betty Manning passed away Sept. 6, 2016, but her contribution to society deserve a bit of ink.
Mayor Roland Vaughan and members of the Edenton Town Council proclaimed at a recognition service on February 6, 2011 as “Betty Manning Day” in Edenton and, in so doing, urged all citizens of the town to reflect upon the devotion, support, and grace she had provided her church family, many of whom are citizens of Edenton,” according to the newspaper’s archives.
Mitchener knew the family and the publisher well, so he was able to offer this observation about the Manning family’s time in Chowan County.
“Manning was insightful, dependable and honest,” he said. “Pete blessed Chowan County for 54 years as a husband, father and editor. For that Citizen Manning, thanks.”