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Barry Schrader
Columnist

 

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.

Archive Page

The newspaper wars saga in the Tri-Valley

By Barry Schrader.................................May 4, 2006

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 staff—some 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 community’s 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 day—he 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 since.

Joan was never one to shrink from a philosophical position and has continued to fight growth she feels threatens the valley’s quality of life, including last fall’s 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 hall.

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 :

Historian2sbcglobal.net

or by snailmail at:

Barry Schrader
PO Box 446
Livermore, CA. 94551

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