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East Valley Focus

SAN FERNANDO : Putting Names in the Paper Is a Family Business

March 30, 1994|MIGUEL BUSTILLO

For longtime residents of the northeast San Fernando Valley, it is hard to imagine an heir apparent to Thelma Barrios.

The energetic, 75-year-old editor and publisher of Mission Independent Community Newspapers, which includes the San Fernando Valley Sun, Valley View and Record Ledger weeklies, has been chronicling Valley minutia for more than 30 years--about as long as some San Fernando City Council candidates have been alive.

The Sun, the chain's flagship paper, is in its 90th year of publication, having withstood the Depression, the 1971 Sylmar earthquake and a brief ownership by the Hearst Corp., among other things. The weekly paper has a circulation of 10,000.

The Barrios family bought the three weeklies, along with the former Sun Valley Scene, from Hearst in 1985.

Over the years, the Sun has carved out a niche as the community newspaper where no local news is deemed unimportant. Barrios once said that the goal of the Sun was to "put the names of as many people as we can in the newspaper."

An Ohio native, Barrios began working at the San Fernando Sun, then a semiweekly, in 1958. She had to work three years at the Sun before she was given an editorial position--as editor of the Sun's "women's pages."

After 20 years of writing and editing the Sun, she quit in April, 1985, frustrated by the way the "people from back East" were running the paper. Hearst owned the paper from 1981 until 1985.

Two weeks after her "retirement," Barrios started her own weekly, the Independent, to compete with Hearst's Sun. In October, 1985, Hearst sold its Valley weeklies to Barrios, who combined the Sun and Independent into today's Sun.

"The Sun, as far as we were concerned, was back to being a community newspaper," she said.

When Barrios is asked who could possibly succeed her, she says there is an obvious choice: Marianne Barrios, her star reporter and daughter-in-law.

"She's got a nose for news," she said of her 46-year-old protege, whose first job in journalism was at the Sun in the late 1980s. "You'd think she'd been doing this all her life."

Marianne Barrios, a jack-of-all trades for the family business, is the chain's main photographer, as well as general business manager.

"It's a lot of work," she said, but with "Mom" as she affectionately calls Thelma Barrios, around, "I've come to really enjoy it."

Marianne entered the business to straighten out what she said was a "sloppy" financial situation after the demise of El Sol, the chain's failed Spanish-language weekly. She stayed because she felt she had to.

"I feel obligated in that this is a family business and I'm carrying the ball," Marianne Barrios said. "There's nobody else to do it. The newspaper is hardly swimming in wealth, but it's got a better identity than ever."

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