The Times celebrates 60 Years of ‘Positive Press’
It was 1964, and I was employed as a reporter for the Merced Sun-Star. I made a fateful decision to quit and start my own newspaper.
I was fed up with covering accidents on Highway 99. There had to be something better. Something more positive to write about.
My co-workers thought I was crazy when I came up with the idea of having a newspaper with only positive news. It hadn’t been done before.
The Times was born right on my kitchen table using my dad’s 1932 Remington Noiseless typewriter.
My brother Richard, a salesman for Rath Meat Company, sold the ads. The Los Banos Enterprise did the printing, and we were good to go.
The first issue of the Times was only a dozen pages, and all we could afford to print and mail were 2,000 copies. The lead editorial was called OBSERVATIONS.
I knew nothing about what made a newspaper success. My experience was as a war correspondent in Korea, and the work I did as the bureau chief for the Sun-Star in Atwater and liaison to Castle Air Force Base. I was a writer and a camera man.
In six months, I was broke. I didn’t have enough money to feed my family. I announced I was closing the paper.
That very same day a man came into the office, and said: “I’m the head of the Chamber of Commerce in Delhi. We saw your paper, and we want you to publish one in Delhi.”
“Sorry,” I said, “I am out of business.”
He said: “I own the local grocery market.”
“I might be able to feed my family, but there are printing and mailing costs,” was my reply.
“What if I ran a full page ad in the paper?” he countered.
“Would you do it every week for a year?” I asked.
“YES!” was his answer — and I was back in business!
The Times survived with the money from the ad. It was enough to feed my family and pay for the printing and mailing of both papers.
In 1965, I found a vacant church with stained-glass windows in Winton which was build in 1918 with timbers from the San Francisco earthquake. With my father’s help I was able to buy the old church for our Times office. I moved my family into a home next door.
Two years later, The Times expanded into Atwater, with the Atwater New Times, which was sponsored by 22 merchants, who wanted a better paper in their town.
In 1969, the Merced County Times was born (known as The Merced Guide, at first) and 10,000 copies a week were being distributed at the time on the lawns in Merced.
This was when two Merced Police officers showed up at our door and said, “You have to stop throwing your paper on the lawns in Merced. It is against the anti-litter ordinance”.
The Merced Sun-Star was being thrown on the lawns, what was the difference? I asked.
It would have made a good front page picture — the Times publisher sitting in jail. But who would write and edit the paper if I was in jail.
One week later I decided to speak at the Merced City Council meeting, and ask the Council if my paper was protected under the First Amendment Freedom of Speech? The Sun-Star had their executives and attorney ready to argue the case. I stood alone. I said our paper was just the same as the Sun-Star. The only difference was my newspaper was smaller. Things got quiet as Council member Sam Pipes took the floor. He said my new Merced paper was indeed a newspaper of general news and not litter. The the Council voted, and the vote was unanimous in my favor.
Move to Stanislaus
In 1980, the Times became the owner of three more papers in Stanislaus County.
The Waterford News, The Hughson Chronicle, and the Denair Dispatch. We were printing eight newspapers every week.
The Hilmar Times was up for sale and we really want to buy it; however, the owner of the local grocery market wanted a better newspaper for his community, and even said he would buy it if we would run the operation. I am still publishing the Hilmar Times, but the man who said he would buy it never came up with the money. Nevertheless, we found ourselves with nine community papers.
I started my 10th newspaper, and it was a Spanish-language newspaper with an editor from Mexico City. But when the real estate market crashed, the Hispanic paper crashed with it.
We had our own printing press by then and printed a half-dozen other weekly newspapers, like the Dos Palos Sun and the Linden Herald.
We helped the first Black-owned newspaper in this area get started under the leadership of Felicia Roberts
As publisher, I not only wrote news, took pictures and sold advertising, but ran the printing press at night and did so for 25 years.
This should have been the end of the story as I notified my staff I was going to retire. However in 1998, there was a terrible fire which burned down the production plant. It was Mother’s Day.
I heard myself tell the staff, we would put out all the papers as usual. The next day the papers were designed out on the coffee table in my living room. The Turlock Journal printed the newspapers and the papers came out on time.
The Times took over a Hamburger Joint one block away and it became the office for a year while a new building was being constructed thanks to Dwight Wigley, the contractor, and Golden Valley Engineering.
Elmer Lorenzi handled the insurance companies to make sure they ante-upped the $200,000 necessary to build a new building. It was located right on top of where the previous building had been.
Jeff Denno, of Davis Typewriter, offered all the equipment we needed, on a Buy Now and Pay Later basis. Craig Harringon the former editor of the Atwater Times came down from Redding with his wife and installed the very latest in newspaper programming.
We needed to borrow more money to rebuild the press, but the bank we had done business with for years said the loan was too small to deal with.
It seemed, no bank would make me a loan and that’s when County Bank stepped up to the plate. One of the biggest losses to Merced County was the loss of County Bank because it actually used its deposits to loan to local people.
It was a grand day when the new production plant and the restored larger press started up. I decided to sell lifetime subscriptions for $100 each. I raised $10,000 almost over night.
There was a man on the street who looked homeless; however, he reached in his pocket and gave me $100. He said he wanted to be a lifetime subscriber.
Nine years later the company hit its highest gross income at $1.2 million — then the housing market crashed. The company’s gross went down about $100,000 a year until it hit bottom.
At one time during Covid there was only $3,000 left in the bank account.
It came on a day when my press foreman, Eddie Moreno, said we had a problem. “What is it?” I asked.
He said we were running out of newspaper and ink.
“What do you plan to do?” he was asked.
“Borrow from the bank.” was his reply.
“But banks don’t loan to businesses which are going broke,” I said.
Somehow, Eddie managed to get the newsprint company to extend the payment to three months.
He ran out of black ink, so he blended red, blue and yellow inks to make a kind of brown. No one seemed to notice.
During Covid, the business showed a profit of only $10,000 for the year, but we survived.
We appealed to our readers for help and to our surprise, sponsors started to donate. Our good friend Chuck Meyer was the first to sponsor the paper with a check for $500. Other sponsors followed his lead, and we were able to generate revenue for three months of operating expenses.
Things were finally coming our way. God Bless the sponsors, They continue to keep us alive.
There has to be some reason our newspapers have survived. We attribute it to our mission of “The Power of Positive Press.”
Now, our group of newspapers, which does business as Mid Valley Publications, serves seven communities in Merced and Stanislaus counties. All the papers only print local news, and the editors and reporters are told to look for the positive stories, and let the daily newspapers handle the rest.
There is also free online edition of the Times which can be found by going to: mercedcountytimes.com.
The employees, both past and present, own about 60 percent of the stock in the corporation. Each year, I issue stock in the corporation to every employee who has worked for the company at least one year.
This corporation now has over 70 owners. It is run by a Board of Directors.
As publisher and president, I hope the corporation will last long after I am gone. Or where I am, publishing God’s newspaper, in the hereafter.
After all, it was He who taught me how to write and what to write about.
“And keep the news positive,” God said to me.
Now in this world of turmoil, it is difficult as there is so much negative news all around us.
However, the Times staff and I are doing the best we can.