John “Jody” Delzell began his newspaper career as a reporter at the Crescent City Courier in 1947. He was soon doing photography, selling advertising, and writing a sports column. On his own time, he learned to set display type from a case by hand, run a Linotype machine, cast mats out of hot lead, put the pages together, and operate a hand-fed two-page printing press.
One of the biggest problems in those days facing Delzell was typesetting, as linotype machines were expensive, contrary, and the operators he knew were prima-donnas. In June of 1948, to circumvent Linotypes, they began publishing the Courier by a rudimentary paste-up method. The Courier’s owner had dabbled in this new idea a bit, and he and Delzell made up things as they went along – setting the text on an IBM proportional-spacing typewriter, shooting photos through a screen, making page-size negatives which they exposed onto a magnesium plate, and then etching it in sulfuric acid. They then mounted the plate on a board that made it type-high and printed it on a flatbed press. According to Delzell, it was the first such process in the entire southeast, and perhaps the entire country. It was primitive, but it morphed into the “cold type” front-end systems and ushered in the offset presses used by all newspapers today. After an article about the process was published in a journalism magazine, Delzell received a call from The New York Times asking if he could loan them a “courtesy team” to come to New York and demonstrate the process as their typesetters were on strike. Delzell replied that they were a small firm and couldn’t spare their “technicians.” He had to do some fast talking to deter them from sending people down to observe the operation as he didn’t want them to know that they mixed their chemicals in a dishpan, and etched the plates in a crock tub.
After the Courier’s owner started another paper in St. Augustine, Delzell and a partner bought the Courier. In 1953 the Palatka Publishing Company that printed the Daily News asked Delzell to run their job printing operation. He accepted the offer, but found himself having to help put the paper out and doing any other job that needed doing. When they needed an advertising director, he was it. On the side, he wrote sports, and a few news stories just for the fun of it.
When the Daily News was sold in 1957 he became its general manager until 1962, at which time he bought a printing operation across the street. Delzell and his wife grew the business to seven employees, culminating in its sale in 1968 to a man who wanted the printing business much more than Delzell – for cash. Delzell by then had also started an advertising agency and handled promotions for a shopping center, wrote advertising copy for clients, did design work, and ran a couple of successful political campaigns.
In January, 1969, Bob Britt, the new publisher of the Daily News, asked Delzell to help get their plant switched over from the old hot type method to the new cold type process, and when the New York Times bought the Daily News in 1970, he became the general manager. In 1972, he was named vice-president of the New York Times Regional Newspapers and publisher of the Palatka Daily News, and ultimately given responsibility for 12 of the company’s newspapers from Kennebunk, Maine, to Marco Island, Florida.
He served on the board of the Florida Press Association and was elected its president in 1985. During his watch, the association was responsible for launching the First Amendment Foundation and creating the newspaper Hall of Fame.
Delzell retired in 1988, although he still hasn’t quite got all the ink out of his veins.