Local Commentary, National Commentary

Editorial: RIP Precursor to Our News-Press

RIP the journalistic forebear to the mighty Falls Church News-Press. The legendary Santa Barbara, Calif, daily of the same name has shuttered after 168 years with a Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing last week ending its run as California’s oldest and longest-running newspaper.

The Santa Barbara News-Press, founded in 1855, was the place where our founder and owner Nicholas F. Benton first got paid for his journalistic endeavors, notwithstanding the 15 cents a few of his kindly neighbors dished out when he went from door to door as a seven-year-old in little Avila Beach, Calif. to peddle a few of his own hectographed Benton Star newspapers.

“News-Press” is the name our hero chose in founding his newspaper in Falls Church in 1991 among alternative choices, such as “Independent,” as he wanted it to be clear to readers that it was a real newspaper with real news, and not anything else. (He was in recovery from a bad period in his life when everything, no matter what it was called, was a political thing).

Benton wasn’t stealing the News-Press name because there are other papers with that same name across our land. But his appreciation for his first newspaper job was more clearly reflected in his decision to adopt the seven-part Platform that has been reprinted on the editorial page of each and every one of his newspaper’s editions since its founding in 1991.

That noble, classic and aspirational Platform, beginning with “Keep the news clean and fair,” was originally authored by Thomas More Storke (1876-1971), the Santa Barbara native who spent $2,000 buy the first of a series of local papers in 1900 and eventually merge them into the Santa Barbara News-Press. His Platform was published in his newspaper every day from the day Storke penned it in the mid-1920s until he sold it to the Philadelphia Bulletin in the mid-1960s, including through the 1960s when Benton worked there as a stringer in high school and college then as a full-time reporter for a year before he left to attend a graduate theological seminary.

When Storke, whom our Benton, then a cub reporter, encountered on a couple of occasions when the much revered, moderately rotund old man in his signature white hat and dark business suit walked through the editorial offices, finally sold the paper, the new owners immediately ceased publication of the Platform, retaining only the phrase, “Without Fear or Favor,” as a sort of motto.

Stroke was a Democrat who served briefly as an appointed U.S. Senator in the late 1930s and as a FDR delegate to the 1932 Democratic National Convention and he won a Pulitzer Prize in 1962 for his editorials attacking the rabidly right-wing John Birch Society.

Sadly, in recent years the paper fell into the hands of a rabidly pro-Trump owner, which resulted in little sympathy in the community for its steady decline and now demise.