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105-Year-Old Santa Paula Paper Closes : Journalism: The news shocks the town and the Chronicle's staff. The recession and ad revenue losses are blamed.

January 01, 1993|CARLOS V. LOZANO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Santa Paula Chronicle, whose proud motto was "The Daily Newspaper You Can Depend On," published its final edition Thursday after 105 years.

Mayor Margaret Ely, who said her christening as an infant was reported in the Chronicle in 1946, summed up the feelings of most residents and city officials.

"It's like somebody died," Ely said. "The whole town is in mourning. It's been such a part of our lives."

News of the Chronicle's closure came as much of a shock to the newspaper's staff as it did to the city's 26,000 residents.

The Chronicle's 22 employees were informed Wednesday that the tiny paper would cease operations Thursday. The reasons cited were the continuing recession and a loss of advertising revenue.

"This is just horrible," said a teary-eyed Pat Untiedt, the newspaper's sports editor. "They're stealing something away from the community, something unique."

Editor and Publisher Donald L. Johnson said he first learned of the impending closure after meeting Tuesday with Barry H. Scripps, president of Santa Clara Valley Publishing, which owns the Chronicle. The two men broke the news to the staff the next day.

"People are upset," Johnson said. "The paper has been here 105 years. It has been the voice of the community."

In a tribute to its down-home style, the final edition featured individual pictures of the entire Chronicle staff, including Scripps the cat, the paper's mascot, on the front page. The paper's final front-page article on the closure of the newspaper was written by a young reporter who started work on Monday.

"It's tough," Johnson said. "There was no warning."

Full-time employees will get up to three months of severance pay, depending on how long they have been with the company, Johnson said. Johnson will keep the cat.

On Thursday morning in front of the Chronicle's office on 10th Street, staff members hung a makeshift sign that read: "Honk If You'll Miss the Chronicle." For the rest of the day, the air was filled with the sound of horns.

Several Chronicle reporters tried to lift their spirits by wearing black armbands and drinking champagne as they gathered on the sidewalk outside the Chronicle building.

"Baby, this is a sign of the '80s," said Peggy Kelly, a Chronicle columnist and entertainment writer. "This is part of Reagan's legacy."

Sharon Brogan, head of advertising, said that although the paper had been losing ad revenue, it was still turning a profit.

"We were holding our own," Brogan said. "But apparently the profit wasn't good enough."

Johnson said he was at a loss as to why the board of directors of Santa Clara Valley Publishing chose to shut down the 2,300-circulation paper rather than sell it. However, he said subscription lists, equipment and other assets will be offered for sale.

Meanwhile, the Chronicle's competitors are already scrambling to win over its readers.

The Los Angeles Daily News recently expanded its county coverage to include Santa Paula and Fillmore. And John Irby, editor of the Star Free Press, said Thursday that his paper plans to do the same beginning in early January.

But Kelly and others said the coverage will not be the same.

"They're not going to cover birth announcements," she said. "They're not going to have a police log. A large paper is not into that."

Les Maland, a former Santa Paula mayor and city councilman who dropped by the Chronicle to pay his respects, agreed.

"The big papers will concentrate on the sensational, which will all be negative," he said.

Johnson said there are already rumblings of another local paper starting up.

"I would back a plan like that," he said. "This town desperately needs a community newspaper."

Doug Huff, editor and publisher of the Fillmore Herald, said he is interested in starting a paper in Santa Paula.

"I'm dead serious about it," he said. "It's an opportunity."

Huff, whose family has owned and operated the Herald since 1907, said he plans to meet with Chronicle staff members in the next few days.

Ely said she cannot imagine the city without its own paper.

"Short of getting on the phone and calling people all over town," she said, "how do you find out what's going on?"

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