Members visit Goldsboro where NCPA began in 1873

Members of the N.C. Press Association from around the state converged upon Goldsboro late Friday morning to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the group's formation.

The relevance extends to the specific location chosen — the NCPA met for the very first time on the site now occupied by the Wayne County Courthouse.

The historic marker at the corner of William and East Walnut streets reflects that. Organized May 14, 1873, Maj. J.A. Engelhard of the Wilmington Journal, who proposed the idea of such an organization, was elected its first president.

An article appeared in the Wilmington Morning Star on May 15, 1873 reporting the previous day's "convention of gentlemen conducting or representing newspapers published in the state assembled at the courthouse (in Goldsboro) ... for the purpose of forming an association for mutual benefit and protection."

NCPA board members convened Friday in the Goldsboro City Council chambers, holding a brief board of directors meeting before walking the two blocks to the marker site.

Bill Moss, Hendersonville Lightning publisher and editor and NCPA president, called the session to order.

"We gather here today to celebrate this remarkable milestone in the history of journalism," he said, pointing out that its significance surpassed the past century and a half, as it also serves as a testament to the free press.

At the outset, the association set out to not only broaden the lines of communication but as a "watchdog" for the public they served. More than just a professional union, the NCPA served as a fraternal society, focused on protecting the public's right to know as well as have access to information about local, state and federal governments.

Its history is a rich one, and the role of local newspaper continues to be a valuable part of the communities, several said.

"When they invented the telegraph, they said the telegraph would put us out of business," Moss said. "They invented radio and said radio would put us out of business. They invented television — television was definitely going to put us out of business.

"(Same for) the internet. Next, I guess, will be artificial intelligence. And yet we're still here, with vital print products."

Several on the board are second-, third- and fourth-generation descendants of those who have participated in the NCPA or served in leadership roles.

David Woronoff, publisher of The Pilot newspaper in Southern Pines, is NCPA past president and current board member. He boasts an especially impressive legacy, Moss said.

"He is past president in 2009," Moss explained. "And he's the great-grandson of the seventh president of NCPA, Josephus Daniels, seventh president of NCPA, 1884-1885."

Woronoff is also the nephew of Frank Daniels and grandson of Frank Daniels Sr., the family which started the Raleigh News and Observer, making him a fourth-generation legacy.

Goldsboro Mayor David Ham addressed the gathering from the same podium used by the public when they appear before the city council.

"We're privileged to host this event today," he said. "It commemorates something very important to you all but also the city of Goldsboro.

"Thank you so much for choosing Goldsboro. We're proud of our city."

Goldsboro is vastly different in appearance than it was even 20 years ago, Ham said.

"We did probably a $15 million streetscape on our main street, changed the face of Goldsboro," he said. "Since that time we've received a great influx of businesses coming downtown, people moving here. It's just been a complete revitalization.

"We're very proud of it."

Phil Lucey, NCPA executive director, said it had been "fun researching this 150th (anniversary) — from old photos and mission statements."

The contingent reconvened at the historic marker, assembling for a group photo and remarks from Ham as well as House Majority Leader John Bell IV, R-Goldsboro.

"We're very proud of the work that been done to the downtown community, the business and industry that's moved into our county," Bell said, before acknowledging the reason for the occasion.

"We're here today to honor the press association," he said. "I have been by his sign a couple thousand times, read it a couple thousand times. It's really cool, and it all started here in Wayne County."

Ham echoed the sentiment, calling it an "impressive milestone" in the city.