What is it that constitutes and is “worthy” of front-page “play” in a newspaper? Well, that obviously is the subjective opinion of an individual editor, influenced by the size and population of the community and the number and type of newsworthy events occurring.
The larger the newspaper and the area it serves, the more news items from which to choose. The smaller the paper and its subscription area, the far fewer newsworthy events are occurring.
So, what a huge difference 60-plus years makes. How about a three-legged chicken making the front page? Yep; a picture of a three-legged chicken appeared on the front page of that former Daily Times-Advocate for which I was a reporter in those early 1950s when the T-A was on Grand Avenue.
This farmer gentleman, carrying his live three-legged chicken, walked into the T-A office that one morning, asking to see the editor. When he showed that “leggy” bird to our editor and co- publisher, Fred Speers, he suggested it might be worthy of a mention in the paper. Fred picked up his Polaroid camera, marched the farmer back outside, stood him against the front wall and took the guy’s picture, proudly holding that three- legged chicken.
I recall this because it happened on the same day that Prime Minister Nehru of India died. And that farmer and his three-legged chicken shared he front page of the Daily T-A with the obituary of a world leader.
I’ve often fantasized how it would be to return to those much slower and different times than it is today.
Saturday was a half-day for us in the front-office staff. So, after we had “gone to press,” six of us (three guys in the newsroom and three in advertising), including the two bosses, Fred and co- publisher Bert McClintock, would adjourn to Hoyt Smithers’ back yard for a rousing game of croquet! Hoyt, an older gentleman and one of our advertising representatives, lived on East Second Avenue between Date and Elm and had a nice, level yard.
Now, these matches were not gentle croquet affairs you might expect in staid, old England. No, sir, these were for “blood money” — all of $1.25. We each put up 25 cents, and it was winner take all. And the object was to beat the boss, Fred, as he usually took home the cash.
During the fall football season, the T-A had a weekly football contest for the nine-game college season. There were cash prizes for the three entrants picking the most winners from among the estimated 40 games each week. The contest page was published each mid-week, with the two opponents of a selected game appearing in each of 40 block advertisements, (The page was a good revenue producer, as advertisers were assured that hundreds of subscribers would at least glance at their ad as they searched for the game to pick a winner.)
The contest elicited more than 100 entrants each week. As all games were played on Saturday and the contest winners were to be announced in the Monday paper, that meant that all those more than 100 entrants and each of those 40- game predictions had to be checked for the score’s prediction. When could they be checked? It had to be on Sunday, a day on which the paper as not published and the office as closed.
So, the six of us I mentioned earlier gathered each Sunday to “grade” those papers. It wasn’t voluntary. We were expected to be there. It took an hour or so to grade all those papers. For our time and effort, Fred gave each of us a dollar bill after each Sunday session.
But, as I reminisce, I wouldn’t give up those days. I have fond, fond memoriesof being part of a small-town daily and watching it grow and evolve into a statewide respected newspaper.
I started this essay talking about front-page news. In those early days of the 1950s, two items that were always front-page news were Escondido City Council meeting results and “rainfall.” Whenever it rained, whether it was only a “trace” or an inch, we always carried a round up of rainfall results from areas around North County. The City Council met each Wednesday night, so the story about the meeting was on the front page Thursday.
While very few people knew it, Escondido’s official U.S, Weather Bureau rainfall gauge station was in the rear yard of Pete Ting’s home at the southeast corner of Fourth and Kalmia. Ting, a long-time Escondido resident, opined Ting’s Pharmacy on Grand Avenue and was the official pharmacist for Palomar Hospital.
I’ve always believed that names, names, names were the life-blood of small daily and weekly newspapers. People love to see their names and those of their friends and neighbors in the paper. The T-A in those early days tried to do that. We published the names of all the birth mothers and fathers listed at Palomar Hospital. We published the names of all the daily admissions and releases at the hospital; we published all the obituary notices obtained from the two local mortuaries, Alhiser-Wilson and Palm. And, all of them free of charge.
If little Sally or Johnny had a birthday party — and if the parents provided us the information we published their names and those of their guests.
We did not publish television listings and we did not have a photographer (except for the Polaroid camera), but we did publish front-page advertising in the days when such generally was taboo, as the front-page was held to be sacrosanct. Those ads were limited to one inch high and one column wide, and cost double the rate of an inside-page ad.
There wasn’t much front-page ad activity until around December Christmas time, and then – oh, boy! — The front page was literally overwhelmed with one-inch ads. If you can imagine, there were some days when the advertising covered the full bottom half of the front page and began to “peek” over the fold. Didn’t leave much room for news!
Editor Fred Speers very seldom wrote any local, editorial comment. We subscribed to a generic editorial service and carried “canned” editorials that I doubt generated any anxiety in our readers. But, we did publish the syndicated column of Dreg Pearson, a liberal muckraker who wrote for the Washington Post, I’m sure his column generated some anxious moments among our conservative readers.
Fred, a conservative Republican, “hated” Pearson and occasionally railed against him. I think Fred purposely carried Pearson’s column to counter any criticism of his conservative philosophy.
Our national and international news was provided by United Press International, a news service no longer in existence. In 1954, I had been “promoted” from sports to the city beat and got a $10 raise to $60 a week. Hooray! (I do have to add that during the 13 years I worked for Fred Speers before he sold the T-A, every employee received an extra week’s pay at Christmas.)
(In the March 3 edition of this T-A, a reader — in referring to my column February 18 — asked if Eloise Stone and Eloise Perkins were the same person. Yes. When I first started at the old T-A, she was Eloise Stone. She later married Frank Perkins.)
Ron Kenney, a 60-year resident of Escondido, was a reporter and editor of the former Daily Times-Advocate from 1952 to 1979 and a copy editor on the editorial pages of the San Diego Union- Tribune from 1985 to 1997.