Illegitimi Non Carborundum.
From The Signal to The Citizen.
By Leon Worden, January 2019.
The prospects of retirement were calling to Scott and Ruth Newhall in 1972. They'd put four decades into the San Francisco Chronicle, another decade (concurrently) with their namesake newspaper in the Santa Clarita Valley. They didn't want to saddle their boys with the inheritance of a small-town paper as another previous owner had done. The economy was sketchy, and they were still making payments on the $60,000 bank loan they'd used to purchase The Signal in 1963.
The newspaper was always a money-losing proposition, and the old family-company president Atholl McBean had cut off its firey editor, who was prone to taking swings at the family company, from family-company money prior to McBean's death in 1968.
So, in 1972 the Newhalls found an investor in the form of Charles Morris, a young upstart from the South who was compiling a little chain of local newspapers, shoppers and eventually TV stations. They borrowed $125,000 from Morris, based on 1.5 times gross revenues, to pay off the bank. The new loan gave Morris an option to convert it into an 81-percent ownership stake in The Signal after five years.
Five years seemed a long way off. Scott and Ruth envisioned a future life of ease, sipping iced teas around their Piru Mansion pool. (Scott didn't drink.) They thought they had found a worthy successor.
At their core, Scott and Ruth weren't ones to ride off into the sunset. As fate would have it, twin sons Jon and Tony had gotten involved in steering the ship and seemed to enjoy it. Tony launched the Boys (and later Girls) Club Benefit Auction, the Santa Clarita Valley was flexing its political muscles in a breakaway effort from Los Angeles County, and outsiders from "down below" were still trying to dump on us. Nationally, Watergate broke, Nixon resigned, oil prices went nuts, and the Vietnam War finally ended. There was a whole arsenal of above-the-masthead editorials left to unleash. The Signal afforded Scott and Ruth a needed outlet. It was just too fun to give up.
For Charles Morris, The Signal was just too lucrative to give up on his option. Under the Newhalls' helmsmanship, it was starting to make money for the first time in memory. Among Morris' 39 papers at the time, The Signal was his flagship, and now it had a 20-something percent profit margin. So, Morris exercised his purchase option when the proscribed five years expired.
Stated more succinctly: Contrary to previously published material on the subject (including by this writer), the Newhalls didn't exactly sell The Signal to Charles Morris in 1978. At least not willingly. Yes, The Signal changed ownership in that year, but only because the Newhalls borrowed money from Morris in 1972, and the loan had a purchase option with a five-year trigger. The Newhalls wanted to Morris to sell shares back to son Tony in 1978, but Morris refused. The die was long cast.
In one of life's little twists, Scott and Ruth asked to stay on as hired hands. The answer was yes, if they'd sign an agreement not to compete against The Signal for at least 10 years. Scott and Ruth had purchased The Signal in the first place so they could own their own newspaper after running one for someone else in San Francisco. Now they were working for someone else again. As time went on, they grew increasingly frustrated with the budget decisions the new, profit-minded owner was making behind the scenes.
Ten years and (roughly) one day later, Scott and Ruth stormed out of The Signal, marched down the street and hung their shingle on an office suite next to Lumber City at 23240 Valencia Boulevard. The Signal could keep its "Vigilance Forever." Scott's new motto was "Illegitimi Non Carborundum." Roughly translated: "Don't Let the Bastards Grind You Down." The invective had broad application, but there was little doubt as to the real target.
Newspapers, particularly community newspapers, are the best and bravest rampart a free people have to protect themselves from political repression. ...
A fine community must support its newspaper. And a fine newspaper must support its community.
Newspapering is a pleasure and a privilege. Newspapering is the best and the brightest world of all.
— SCOTT NEWHALL
The SCV Citizen
Final Edition, May 3, 1989
Several loyal newshounds and office staffers left with Scott and Ruth. Several loyal newshounds and office staffers stayed behind. Several had difficulty deciding where their loyalties lay — and all of them tussled with the implications of ditching a guaranteed paycheck.
Off to the "Santa Clarita Valley Citizen" went page-one writers Emory Holmes II, Gary Johanson and Kaine Thompson, Johnny-on-the-spot news photographer Gary Thornhill, fastidious editor Jeanne Feeney, the dynamo Sue Mayes and effervescent Judie "JP" Pieper in advertising, Pat Hunnicutt in accounting, the versatile Barbara Morris who cobbled the paper together — and not a lot more. It was a passionate and talented little pirate troupe.
Back at 24000 Creekside, cartoonist Randy Wicks was devoted to Scott and Ruth, but he had created his own legacy over the past decade, and The Signal provided stability that the risky upstart did not. Nobody expected Randy to jump, and nobody gave his decision to stay a second thought. He was soon joined by a cub reporter named Tim Whyte who, with the big-hearted "Mr. SCV" himself, John Boston, would create a whole new legacy for The Mighty Signal. Twice. (Tim is back as of 2018 after a decade-long vacation. JB is back in his umpteenth iteration. Randy will always be with us.)
In 1988-1989, The Citizen battled three days a week against The Signal's six days, and it was all-hands-on-deck. Scott and Ruth committed to $1 million for a six-month trial run. A separate delivery crew wasn't in the budget. So, forget the usual 10- or 12- or 16-hour newsroom work day (to borrow a phrase from Emory). The writers and editors and photographers and office staffers by day became paperboys and -girls by night, tossing their daytime "work product" out of their own car windows and onto their readers' driveways. Or flower beds. Or gutters. In the snow. Yes, it snowed.
Six months came and went. Scott and Ruth rolled the dice with another $300,000, which bought them two more months. And that was that.
For 100 years, anybody who ever started or ran a paper with the purposeful intention of competing head-to-head with The Signal, much less putting it out of business, failed. Art Evans couldn't do it in the '60s. Jackie Storinsky couldn't do it in the '70s. The San Fernando Sun and Los Angeles Daily News couldn't do it in the '80s or '90s or '00s. People whose names are long forgotten couldn't do it.
If Scott and Ruth Newhall couldn't do it, it can't be done.
SCVTV President Leon Worden was a Signal editor from 1998-2007. He wrote sports and delivered papers in the snow for The Citizen, and he thanks Tony Newhall for fact-checking this story.