(2003 circulation: 114,442 daily and 148,820 Sunday). The State is a morning daily newspaper published weekdays and Sundays in the city of Columbia. The paper was born in 1891 of a bitter political struggle that pitted three brothers against leaders of an agrarian movement that was spearheaded by Governor Benjamin “Pitchfork Ben” Tillman and threatened the state’s political establishment. Narciso and Ambrose Gonzales, the main founders of the newspaper, were joined by their youngest brother, William. All three had worked for the Charleston News and Courier and were supported by the state’s conservative leaders in their fight against Tillman and his organ, the Columbia Register.
The first issue of the State was printed on February 18, 1891, in the basement of the old Columbia City Hall building. The circulation was 2,300, and the pressrun was 3,000. Ambrose raised and borrowed money to keep the newspaper afloat, and in 1893 the State became the first newspaper in the Carolinas to use Linotype machines. Meanwhile, the editor, the feisty Narciso, battled Tillman and his pet project, the state whiskey dispensary system, which the State charged with spawning corruption in general and a bloody riot in Darlington in particular. The State also decried lynching and championed various Progressive causes. Narciso’s opposition to Ben Tillman’s nephew, James H. Tillman, proved fatal. James Tillman was soundly defeated in a race for governor in 1902. Several weeks later, on January 15, 1903, Tillman fatally shot Gonzales as he strolled down Columbia’s main street across from the State House. Maintaining that he thought the unarmed Gonzales was reaching for a pistol, Tillman was acquitted. A monument was erected to the martyred Gonzales on Senate Street in Columbia. The other two Gonzales brothers continued to campaign for the Progressive wing of the Democratic Party, Ambrose as publisher and William as editor.
The State overtook the News and Courier as the largest newspaper in South Carolina by 1910 but lost this position to the Greenville News by 1927. By 1939 the State regained the top spot and held it into the twenty-first century. In contrast to its fiery early days, however, the State became blander and stabilized financially under publisher William Elliott, editor-publisher S. L. Latimer, Jr., and president-publisher J. M. Blalock. In 1945 the State Company bought the Columbia Record. In the 1950s descendants of the Gonzales family returned to more active roles. Ambrose Gonzales Hampton, a son of the founders’ sister, joined the company in 1955, becoming president in 1962 and publisher in 1963. His brother Harry R. E. Hampton served as coeditor, and another brother, Frank, was chairman of the board. Ben R. Morris succeeded his father-in-law, Ambrose Hampton, as president in 1972 and as publisher in 1980. Under Morris, the newspaper successfully campaigned for liquor-law reform and battled for state government debt limitations.
For two decades beginning in the mid-1960s, the State Company embarked on an expansion program, buying and selling out-of-state television stations and newspapers. During this period the State was basically conservative, tending to endorse Republican candidates and causes. The State and its properties were purchased in 1986 by Knight Ridder for $311 million. The daily circulation reached 119,194 in 1987 after topping 150,000 on Sundays in 1984. The new owners closed the Columbia Record in 1988 but beefed up the State’s staff. On the positive side, the State was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for its reporting in 1989 on Hurricane Hugo. On the negative side, it was criticized for its passive coverage of scandals involving University of South Carolina president James B. Holderman, who esigned in disgrace. The newspaper campaigned for the restructuring of state government after public officials were convicted of bribery in Operation Lost Trust.
Pierce, Robert A. Palmettos and Oaks: A Centennial History of The State, 1891–1991. Columbia, S.C.: State-Record Company, 1991.