The original Hernando Today was started by a partnership between the Dunn-Rankin family and the Media General newspaper chain. The Dunn-Rankins and Media General have partnered on newspapers north and south of Tampa. We spoke with David Dunn-Rankin to get a first-hand account of Hernando Today’s history.
The origins of Hernando Today started in southwest Florida. David’s father, Derek, is in the Florida Press Association’s (FPA) Hall of Fame. He worked his way up in the newspaper business to become president of Norfolk Pilot and vice president of Landmark Community Newspapers. In 1977, he decided to return to Florida and work for himself. According to the FPA, “He first bought a shopper, then weekly newspapers in Venice and New Port Richey, which expanded into the fast-growing daily newspapers, the Charlotte Sun and the Venice Gondolier.”
Derek had sold everything he owned except the house to fund his newspaper venture. According to David, his mom would not let Derek sell the house, but he sold everything else. He bought a struggling Venice weekly newspaper that, at the time, was losing money.
There was a large mall opening in the area and Derek felt that whoever earned the mall’s business would be able to dominate the market, but to win over the mall, they would need to be daily. Making the move from weekly to daily required significant capital, and Derek reached out to Stewart Bryan at Media General. Stewart was willing to invest if Derek would give him first right of refusal if he ever intended to sell. Derek agreed, as he had no intentions to sell. The move to daily worked out and the paper in Punta Gorda and the one in Fort Myers sold out to them.
Derek wanted to buy a paid paper in Venice, he already purchased the free paper in Venice. The paid paper demanded that he buy some of their other newspapers, which were north of Tampa. One was a green sheet in Pasco County.
David said he hired a guy with experience building papers to run it and it went like gangbusters. They then decided to expand to Hernando County. They bought a large property off of 50, where they intended to build a printing plant. Unfortunately, the guy was a private plane pilot and died in a plane crash. After that, the newspaper went stagnant for a bit.
They brought in Duane Chichester to lead the sales efforts and a general manager. Chichester would eventually become the publisher of the newspaper. The paper was still only a marginally profitable newspaper for them.
After a while, Media General asked for an in-person meeting. Derek and David showed up, not sure what to expect. Media General proposed that they would take full ownership of the newspapers north of Tampa in exchange for Media General’s ownership of the newspapers south of Tampa.
Derek asked for a minute and they tried to figure out the logic behind this offer. The papers south of Tampa were worth significantly more than the newspapers north, so they struggled to understand the reason for this request.
When the meeting resumed, they asked why Media General wanted to make this trade. Media General explained that they had bought the Tampa Bay Newspaper Group and they wanted to consolidate the newspapers, so they needed full ownership of the newspapers north of Tampa. The Dunn-Rankins quickly made the deal. The Dunn-Rankin-run newspaper The Charlotte Sun went on to win a Pulitzer Prize in 2016.
Media General ran the Hernando Today for several years before closing it in October 2014. The staff was laid off and the assets were liquidated. The name was resurrected a few years ago and attached to free weekly newspapers formerly known as the Brooksville Beacon and Spring Hill Beacon.
Correction: The archives are no longer located at Brooksville Main Library. The library contacted several entities including Suncoast News and they did not want the archives so they were recycled.