The Islander - About Us
We offer this history of The Islander and past Island newspapers
beginning in 1947. On Nov. 25, 1992, we published our first edition
as The Islander Bystander.
Island news — since 1947.
Anna Maria Island’s first newspaper was not a newspaper — at least
according to the newspaper.
The Bradenton Beachcomber datelined its first issue
Christmas 1947, announcing in a front-page story called “The World, The
Flesh and The Devil” that “Bradenton
Beach needs a newspaper like a long-distance swimmer needs a toilet. What is
put in, must come out.”
The tongue-in-cheek article continued, “Newspapers
are unnecessary here … except
when other perforated kinds of paper fail. Practically every inhabitant of Bradenton
Beach is a news-hawk, a star reporter or a gossip columnist.”
At that time,
Bradenton Beach was the population center on the Island — where
there were only about 900 people and 470 houses Islandwide. Anna Maria incorporated
as a city in the 1920s, but the cities of Holmes Beach and Bradenton Beach were
not yet incorporated.
“Everybody on the Island is informed of everything
that happens about 35 seconds after the event.… There is no reason why
a newspaper should exist on this Island, where every man is a leg-man and every
woman a crusader.
we have decided to publish a newspaper without news. The Bradenton Beachcomber
will contain only items of human interest.… In general, we
will confine ourselves to generalizations about people and things — about
the world, the flesh and the devil.”
According to the late Jean Blassingame,
who once shared her copy of the Beachcomber with us, Kersh insisted on
writing the ads himself. She said, “I agreed
to buy an ad for the tavern I owned on Bridge Street and asked him to come back
the next day for the copy. ‘Oh no,’ he said. ‘I write the ads.”’
Blassingame’s establishment, Kersh said, “Sunset Lounge: This
is by no means a bad pub. We never saw the sun set in it, but it’s well
worth visiting. Mr. Jones is a friendly, fair-dealing sort of geezer, and the
lady of the house is of remarkable beauty. It is possible to find peace and quiet
Kersh packed up his entourage and left his residence at the Gulf
Park Hotel shortly after his first and only edition of The Beachcomber — never
to be heard from on Anna Maria again, according to Blassingame. She said he was
disgruntled by what he considered a general lack of hospitality from pub owners — toward
Indeed, he wrote an article “Floridian Bites Dog,” which
ended with “Until
the Floridian anti-dog law is altered there must be some other, more tolerant
part of the world for us. We intend to look for it, with our dog.”
Enter the News
The first continuously published newspaper
on Anna Maria Island, Anna Maria Key News, was started in 1949 by Ellen Brackin
(later Ellen Marshall of Anna Maria) and Harriet Williams (later Harriet Blair
she came to the Island in 1947, Marshall was a war widow and stayed at
Lodge on the bay. She became friends with Harriet and together they published
the weekly newspaper. The Key News was an immediate success.
“We were young and had a lot of energy,” said Marshall. “We
soon became secretaries for all the organizations on the Island. Then we got
the idea to produce a newspaper. I didn’t know much about it but I was
gifted with intestinal fortitude.”
On the front page of the Sept. 7,
1950, issue, Marshall wrote how an unnamed hurricane flooded the Island,
causing considerable damage. But she emphasized that the natives rose to the
Marshall took the Bradenton daily
to task for reporting that “helpless
residents were scared and grim and that rescuers from the mainland found
barefoot women wandering around aimlessly.”
In her put-down she wrote, “We
must remember to wear white tie and tails during the next hurricane.”
The major controversy on the Island in the
early months of 1950 was whether Anna Maria Island should have several
municipalities or be one community, the Key News reported.
The city of Anna Maria had incorporated in 1923 with
Capt. W. “Mitch” Davis
as mayor. But by 1950, in the wake of the post-World War II boom, sentiment
had grown for the incorporation of the southern portion of the Island.
strongly worded editorials, Marshall backed the cause of one Island, one
it’s Bradenton Beach, Anna Maria or Gasparilla
It was a losing battle.
On March 13, 1950, 61 of 75 mid-Island residents
voted to incorporate and voted 49-12 for the new city to be named Holmes
Beach with Halsey Tichenor Jr. the first mayor.
On Dec. 21, 1951, Bradenton Beach became a city by
a vote of 84 to 56. Bernard Wagaman served as its first mayor.
News to Islander
The Anna Maria Key News ceased publishing on March 1, 1951.
in the newspaper trade on Anna Maria didn’t last long,
apparently lived unremarked and died unmourned. It was named The Island
News and apparently only one copy survives. It is dated May 24, 1951. Longtime
Island newsman Don Moore said, “If you’ve got a copy it’s
the only one I’ve ever heard of and may be worth a fortune as a collector’s
Our copy was courtesy of Snooks Adams of Holmes Beach. Another
copy we possess — only of the front page — is from the June 15,
paper lists Robert J. Holly as editor and T.L. Tripp as advertising manager,
and notes Holmes Beach was enjoying the “biggest (building)
boom in the history of the Island.”
Holly’s newspaper changed
names from Your Island Newspaper to The Island News, but didn’t last
long either way. Tripp says Holly left the Island for St. Petersburg and may
have stayed in the newspaper business, but didn’t
stay in touch.
“We met somehow and learning of my background in advertising, Holly asked, ‘How
good are you at collecting money?’ I went around to see some merchants — there
wasn’t a lot of them — collected some money and sold some more
ads, but as I recall it was very short-lived. I don’t think it lasted
more than year,” Tripp said.
Indeed, on Nov. 15, 1951, the first edition
of a new Island newspaper, The Islander, rolled off the presses. It was
eight pages with no subscribers and no advertisers. Circulation was 500.
There was no bridge between Anna
Maria Island and Longboat, and wouldn’t
be for another six years. The only way to drive to the mainland was via
a rickety wooden bridge from Bradenton Beach to Cortez.
The way of life on
the Island was summed up in a line under The Islander’s
nameplate, which proclaimed, “Where Life Is Peaceful … and Fishing
Harry Varley was the founder, editor and publisher. Varley
was no newcomer to the publishing business. Having been with a New York
City advertising agency for years, he went on to become president of Schick
Razor Co. before coming to Anna Maria.
Varley originally came from England and was known for
his outspoken manner, weaving editorial comment with news stories.
In his 1971 Islander obituary,
future editors Don Moore and Steve Kimball wrote, “To say he was well-liked
would be only half true. To say he was disliked would be no closer to the
“In the newspaper profession, it is axiomatic that an editor — if
he is doing a good job — never will win any popularity contest. It also
is said that the true gauge of an editor’s worth is not necessarily the
number of friends he has made, but the number and caliber of the enemies he
“Harry Varley scored well on both sides of the ledger.”
tenure at The Islander lasted eight years when in 1959 the paper was handed
over to Judd Arnett. For five months, Arnett and his wife ran The Islander,
then went back north where Arnett became a columnist for the Detroit Free Press.
Steve Kimball took over following Arnett’s
departure. Kimball bucked the popularity trend of editors and later became
mayor of Anna Maria City.
the Island grew, Kimball switched the focus of the Islander to providing
hard news coverage of local events. He is credited with changing the printing
process from letter press to offset printing.
Like Varley, Kimball voiced
his opinions on subjects of importance to the community, but unlike Varley,
Kimball limited his comments to the editorial page. It was a page that
spoke with authority but did not try to drown out other points of view.
In the early 1960s, Don Moore joined the staff and
in 1970 became the third editor and publisher after he and his wife, Roxanne,
bought the paper.
University of Florida School of Journalism graduate, Moore had innovative
ideas and a “tell it like it is” style that would win the paper
Under Moore’s guidance, The Islander expanded into the commercial
printing business on Jan. 3, 1974. The plant not only produced The Islander,
but several other small papers from around Florida.
The Islander won a number of
Florida Press Association awards with Moore at the helm. By 1974, the paper
garnered two national awards, something no other Florida weekly had accomplished.
Moore’s younger brother Colin
joined the paper in 1977 and became editor when Don Moore sold his publishing
business, including The Islander, the Bayshore Banner and the printing operation
in May 1980 to The New York Times.
Ed Warren was installed as publisher and in 1981, on the paper’s 30th
anniversary, he said, “After 30 years of progress, we’re looking
forward to a bright future and another 30 years of progress with our readers.”
that was not to be. In 1984, The Islander was again sold, and again it
became a family-owned paper. Richard Ingham, owner of the Zephyrhills News,
bought the paper and appointed his son Sky as publisher. Ingham eventually
changed the paper’s name to The Anna Maria Islander Press.
a veteran reporter with the paper, succeeded Colin Moore as editor but
left the position in May 1985 to return to her first love — reporting
what she termed “the always fascinating news” on the Island.
Foor, a former Bradenton Herald managing editor, replaced Alder, with Dennis
Ecklund later succeeding Foor as editor.
The Islander Press
printed its final edition in on July 25, 1990.
then editor, said staffers were dismayed over the paper’s
“The saddest part was the loss of an Island institution,” Copeland
said. “It would have been the 40th anniversary year of The Islander.”
In 1954, Bob and Gret’n Daughaday had started a “shopper” based
in Holmes Beach and a local woman (grandmother of former Islander reporter
Mark Ratliff) named it The Beachcomber in a write-in contest.
was sold in 1976 to the Bradenton Shopping Guide and Bette Kissick managed
the popular shopper from 1976 to 1990. They began printing on its trademark
yellow newsprint in 1977, but never published Island news.
Beachcomber was acquired along with a group of shoppers in 1988 by Westminister
Publishing, which in turn eventually sold to TS Publications Inc., an affiliate
of the Toronto Sun Publishing Company.
Moore had returned to Anna Maria in January 1989 to launch a new weekly
paper, The Island Sun, in direct competition with the languishing Islander
Competition for advertising dollars from the Sun and Beachcomber
were blamed for the demise of the Islander Press.
Within just a short time, Moore’s
staff and some investors were stunned by the sale of the eight-month-old Island
Sun to TS Publications. Editor and publisher Don Moore made the agreement
to sell his second Island publication in 1990 following a heart attack.
TS continued to publish The Island Sun
along with a made-over Beachcomber, including entertainment news, for two
years. They renamed it TGIF (Thank Goodness It’s Friday) Beachcomber
and inserted it weekly as a second section in the Sun.
In November 1992, TS Publications announced plans to transform
its weekly newspapers, The Island Sun, TGIF Beachcomber, Longboat Times,
Sarasota Times and two shoppers, Sarasota and Venice, into one regional paper,
With a predicted absence of Island news in The Weekly, advertising
agency owner Bonner Presswood, operating MacBonner Inc. in Holmes Beach,
seized the opportunity to launch a newspaper that would serve the needs of
the Island community.
Presswood already operated a storefront for her agency in the
Island Shopping Center, and agency staff members pooled their resources
and began selling advertisements. Joy Courtney, a former Island Sun writer,
signed on as the paper’s first editor and the newspaper, named The Islander
Bystander, managed to hit the streets with its first edition the same week
that TS Publications converted its publications to The Weekly.
“We were 12 pages the first two weeks, then 16 pages, 20, 24 and so on,
until we hit 40 pages during the first season — based on the volume of
advertising. It happened so fast that we were all swept into perpetual motion,” says
The Islander Bystander staff had many contributors from an assortment
of former Island papers including long-time cartoonist Jack Egan, June
Alder, Pat Copeland, Paul Roat and Courtney, who stepped down from editor
to school reporter when her business, Haley’s Motel, demanded more time.
was an advertising sales representative at the former Islander newspaper
in 1978. She went on to help launch Clubhouse magazine in Bradenton and Sarasota — now
Sarasota magazine — and provided consulting
to other start-up publications.
“When it was evident the Island Sun would cease publishing, I pooled
the resources of everyone that could help generate the news from three cities,
write about the people who live here and sell ads. All the while I sought to
revive the spirit of the former Islander in The Islander Bystander,” Presswood
“I followed Don Moore’s news philosophy: If it doesn’t happen
on Anna Maria, or isn’t about the Island and its people, it doesn’t
get printed. Adding to that, I devote a lot of the newspaper’s energy
to people and kids, particularly the elementary school and youth sports. Helping
them helps us in the long run, to be a better newspaper for the community.”
Islander Bystander evolved, and lacking any copyright or name ownership
for the former newspaper, the new Islander dropped its “Bystander” and
became again, simply The Islander.
The Islander withstood two competitive
challenges from the Island Free Press, February to October 1993, and from
the short-lived Dolphin newspaper that folded in October 1995.
Anna Maria Island’s premiere weekly newspaper — the
newspaper of record for the Island communities and three city governments — maintains
a circulation of 16,000, serving readers on Anna Maria Island, Longboat
Key, Cortez and west Bradenton.
“I’d never have thought this would be possible when I worked for
The Islander in the 1970s. I thought that paper would be around forever. But
I’m happy to fill that void,” said Presswood, who also dropped
part of her name to become Bonner Joy.
The “new” Islander adopted
a slogan for itself along the way, “the
best news on Anna Maria Island.”
The staff works hard at maintaining
that image today, Joy said. “We
have many awards from every year of publishing — since 1992 — from
the Florida Press
Association to validate our credibility. Our awards have
come primarily from news and editorial content, not fluff, and it’s
really something to be proud in when considering our peers.
“We continue to strive to be the best possible newspaper.”