I currently have columns running in 3 newspapers;
- Tri-Valley Herald : Looking Back
- Valley Times : Do You Remember?
- The Independent : Do You Remember?
The Articles appear in the Herald and Independent on Thursdays,
and the Times on Sundays.
They will also be found on this page each week as well.
If you've missed any please follow the links on the dates
to catch up.
The newspaper wars saga in the Tri-Valley
By Barry Schrader.................................May
With the bombshell news this past week that the owner of
the Alameda Newspapers Group (Herald included), Dean Singleton,
has acquired parts of the Knight-Ridder chain that cover the
Tri-Valley and Contra Costa County from the McClatchey chain,
which recently bought all of Knight-Ridder, it is cause for reflection
on how the newspaper wars began here.
It is apparent that two-newspaper towns, where opposing forces
battle for the readership and advertising dollars, are going
the way of the Dodo bird.
In the Tri-Valley, Livermore has seen the most competition
over the years. There was the Enterprise, renamed the Herald,
that competed against the Echo. Then other papers emerged like
the Livermore Journal, Livermore News, Southern Alameda County
News, and the Granada Pioneer. But they are all ancient history.
A talk I gave at the Livermore Library last year concentrated
on the more recent newspaper wars. Out of all those papers, two
dailies survive, plus two weeklies. I commented at the time how
fortunate readers in this area are to have a choice of several
newspapers on their front porch or in the mail. Most major newspaper
markets in the US no longer have competing dailies, much less
two dailies and weeklies in their home towns.
The Tri-Valley Herald under Floyd Sparks was alone in the
daily field from the time he bought the Livermore Herald in 1965
until 1972 when Dean Lesher, who owned the Contra Costa Times
(aka the Green Sheet) decided to go head to head
with the Hayward-based Sparks papers in this area. Lesher hired
a staff of editorial, advertising and circulation people, placing
them in offices on Second Street and also K Street, not far from
the headquarters of the Tri-Valley Herald at Third and I streets.
And just a few blocks away at First and South Livermore Avenue,
was the weekly Independent. A year earlier Lesher had opened
a branch office in Dublin to introduce the Valley edition to
that end of the Tri-Valley, and bought controlling interest in
the Pleasanton Times, then owned by John Edmands.
I had been intimately involved in this media melee. I first
joined the Herald from 1967 to 1969. After going back home to
Illinois for four years I received a call from Lesher saying
he intended to challenge Sparks on his home turf and offered
me the job as editor of the new Valley Times, which would move
into its Livermore offices in October 1972. I jumped at the chance
to return to sunny California, so rounded up a staff and we went
head to head with the existing Herald staffsome of them
old friends from the Sixties, like John Oliver, Connie Gross,
and Kitty Archibald. I had just come from a four year battle
between two dailies in DeKalb, Illinois where our paper had won
out and bought the assets of the other. Even though it was exhilarating
to be on the winning team there was a pang of sorrow
in seeing the lost jobs and demise of a newspaper that was a
part of the communitys history.
So the Times and Herald began a battle that has lasted into
2006. But in my opinion it will probably end later this year
when the two valley papers are merged by the new
owner of both.
Back in the 1970s, I changed sides again and returned to
the helm of the Herald, pirating some key staff members
like Walt Hecox, Nancy Ward, Pat Kennedy Radin, Judy Java, Tom
York and Ray Tessler. But the Times quickly filled those empty
slots and kept up the head to head combat on a daily
basis. The readers come out the winners in these spirited reporting
battles as neither paper dared to miss a city council or school
board meeting for fear of getting scooped by the
other. Every morning I would get up and grab both papers off
my doorstep, circling in red every story we got beat on, then
relaying that message to the responsible reporter the same day.
Woe to the poor staffer who found too many circled stories he
or she missed over several weeks. It was scoop journalism
at its peak.
But lets take a closer look at the town weekly, which managed
to score its own scoops. Its secret was loyal staffers who stayed
around forever, getting to know their community and their beats
while the dailies turned over young reporters in most cases on
a two year cycle or less.
Back in 1962 the developer of Sunset Homes, Masud Mehran,
decided his new subdivisions needed a neighborhood paper, so
contacted Semmes Gordon Jr., familiar to the Dublin and Danville
areas as publisher of their Pioneer weeklies. A new paper emerged,
the Granada Pioneer, staffed by Editor Ben Harry, plus Norma
Cook, Phyllis Van Ormer and Connie Duke. Connie has saved several
of their early issues from over 40 years ago and shared them
with me recently. After a few issues the editor changed the name
to Livermore Pioneer and went citywide in coverage.
After perusing the early editions, I learned that a 23-year-old
English major fresh out of grad school at the University of Chicago
joined the fledgling paper. Her name was Joan Kinney. By October
of 1962 she was named assistant editor and a few weeks later
after Harry left she became editor. Soon thereafter the paper
folded, probably because it was costing the developer too much
money. (as an aside--she met a young grad student named David
Lowell at the U of C, so their acquaintance sparked a partnership
that has lasted to this dayhe has been Associate Publisher/Business
Manager of the paper all these years.)
But Joan had a dream, to produce a weekly for all of this
valley, so she sought out investors to fund the startup paper.
She had the right contacts, including the son of former Illinois
Governor Adlai Stevenson, and the first issue of the Livermore
Independent was born. In a talk to a Las Positas journalism class
in 1980 Joan (now Seppala) talked about the ups and downs of
being a struggling weekly among the big dailies. She reiterated
the growth battles which the Independent championed over the
years, culminating in their biggest victory in 1972 when they
backed the Save All Valley Environment (SAVE) growth control
measure which passed, thus slowing the rampant growth that had
swept the valley the past 10 years. But the downside was that
a majority of her advertisers, businesses that thrived on rapid
growth, pulled their ads and the Independent shrunk by a third
overnight. The paper, which had grown to three issues a week,
returned to being a weekly and has never gone back to thrice-weekly
Joan was never one to shrink from a philosophical position
and has continued to fight growth she feels threatens the valleys
quality of life, including last falls Pardee Homes
ballot measure that would have created a major housing development
in north Livermore. By this time she has become such a powerful
political influence in Livermore that the paper now thrives and
she is a major player in all that happens downtown or at city
So now you have a nutshell history of newspapering in the
Tri-Valley. The latest entry in the market is the Pleasanton
Weekly which has established its niche in the Amador end of the
valley the last five years, and just might start up another weekly
in Livermore, like it has in Danville. Watch the local newspaper
saga continue to unfold as the century progresses.
The columnist can be reached via email at :
or by snailmail at:
PO Box 446
Livermore, CA. 94551