The report of the demise last month of the ‘precursor’ to our Falls Church News-Press, the Santa Barbara, Calif., News-Press, stirred major coverage nationally. A continent away, in addition to our coverage (“RIP Precursor to Our News-Press,” in our July 27 edition), its demise caused the Washington Post, to treat the news to major coverage, much deserved in our view. After all, the Santa Barbara News-Press was, after 168 years, California’s oldest and longest running newspaper. Among many things, was the incubator of our founder and owner Nicholas F. Benton.
But the coverage in the Post, the Editor and Publisher journal and others, made no mention of what we assert is the most important legacy of that great newspaper, the seminal contribution of its founder, Thomas More Storke, in the formation, development and long-time operation of his newspaper as a vital cornerstone in the development of his hometown and democratic institutions more generally. The book jacket commentary in Storke’s autobiography, “California Editor” (1958), stated, “Seldom in modern times has the impact of an American newspaperman on his community’s growth been as profound as that of Thomas M. Storke on his native Santa Barbara, California.” The book’s forward was written by Earl Warren, former California governor and chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, a personal friend of Storke.
Locally born to biracial parents, Storke the newspaperman was described thusly: “Ask any man on the street to name the five most prominent citizens of Santa Barbara, and Thomas M. Stroke’s name will be mentioned first. He is a rare mixture – a businessman, patriarch, with tremendous capacity for work: he blends civic-mindedness with single-mindedness, stubbornness with an ability to forgive…No one can be in contact with him for long and remain neutral. He is revered by many, hated by some, but respected by all.”
He was a delegate to not one, but five Democratic national conventions, and credited with a primary role along with Sam Rayburn of Texas in securing the first nomination for FDR in 1932. He won a Pulitzer Prize for his editorials in the 1950s condemning the activities of the arch rightwing John Birch Society in his area. It was his work day in and day out through his newspaper that is the basis of his enduring legacy.
In addition to an aspirational seven-point platform that he wrote in the 1920s that appeared in every issue of his newspaper (and also in every issue of this newspaper since its founding in 1991), he penned a short “credo” that stood the test of time: “I believe that the first obligation of a newspaper editor is to his own community,..I believe that an editor and publisher, better than any other single force, can form and develop character for his community, and I believe that with few exceptions, this is a lifetime job, because the development of a community is the slow development of people.”
When mulling the future of newspapers, these critical components cannot be overlooked.