Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Paper Turns 125

Paper Turns 125
Reporter celebrates its storied past
By Jennifer Gentile
Article Launched: 03/10/2008

Museum Director Shawn Lum reads over archived editions of The Reporter. (Rick Roach/The Reporter)

When he founded the Reporter in 1883, publisher James D. McClain made his mission plain with his inaugural editorial.

"So far as the Reporter is concerned," he wrote, "We hope to make it a welcome visitor to every voter in Solano County. To the best of the publisher's ability, it shall be made newsy, discuss live questions and criticise whomsoever lay themselves liable to criticism."

The first edition of Vacaville's hometown paper, which celebrates its 125th anniversary today, is preserved in a collection by Richard Rico, who would himself take the helm of the newspaper in 1972. Reflecting on his journalism career in a 2004 editorial, Rico wrote, "this newspaper has been more effective in positive aspects of Vacaville than anyone will ever know."

"Decision makers by the score have come and gone ... and many have been positively effective," he continued. "But since 1883, The Reporter has always had the advantage of perspective and history. It drafted it, and it helped make it."

The Reporter's Beginnings

The Reporter's story began with McClain, who was formerly a newsman with the St. Helena Times. In the book "Vacaville, The Heritage of a California Community," he is described as a "Missouri democrat with a hot temper" who soon became "the community's most vocal booster."

McClain's weekly paper rolled off the Main Street presses on Saturdays, and some of the earliest editions are stored alongside other local artifacts on the Vacaville Museum's second floor. The front pages lacked photos but featured ads for undertakers and blacksmiths, train and church schedules, property transfers and even an occasional poem.

A March 1884 edition shows that traffic accidents have always made the news. A team of horses "took fright," according to one story, "and after running a quarter of a mile, threw the occupants of the wagon out."

Less than two years after starting his paper, McClain sold it to Raleigh Barcar - a New England-educated attorney and faculty member of the California Normal and Scientific School.

Barcar gave the publication a new name: the Judicion. McCain resurrected The Reporter shortly after, which competed with the Judicion for two years.

Yet another local paper came on the scene in 1889, when Henry Fisher and Albert Sears launched the Vaca Valley Enterprise. The papers co-existed only until the early 1890s, when Barcar bought out the competition and consolidated all under the title of the Vacaville Reporter.

The Rico Family Legacy

Clayborn Adsit and Edward C. Andrews, both of Oakland, each bought half-shares of the paper around the turn of the century. Asdit's resume included the St. Helena Star and the Oakland Enquirer.

The Rico family entered the picture in the 1920s when the owners of the paper hired Louis Rico, one of seven children of a local fruit rancher, Costanzo Rico, and his wife, Filomena. While the work didn't suit Louis, his 15-year-old brother, Johnny, proved a perfect fit.

Johnny Rico started out as a printer's devil before moving on to typesetting, writing and selling advertising. His wife, Grace, ran a stationery shop in the business office, and the couple welcomed their only child, Richard, in 1934.

"My mother and father worked shoulder-to-shoulder," Richard Rico said. "It's basically all I've ever known; I was a newspaper kid raised in the back shop of a newspaper." In school, he took photography classes with the "express intent" of applying his skills to the family business.

Adsit died in 1932, and his share of the paper was sold to Johnny Rico. Andrews also sold his interests to Rico when he retired in 1942.

Like his father, Richard Rico worked his way up through the organization, becoming assistant publisher in the 1960s. It was also in the '60s, Richard said, that "we felt the community had become big enough" to warrant a semi-weekly paper. With the addition of Fridays in 1977, it began publishing three days a week.

On the occasion of its centennial anniversary in 1983, The Reporter became a five-day daily. Its frequency bumped up to six days a week in 1985 and then to seven in 1986 .

All the while, Richard said, his paper was entering various competitions and winning "hand over fist." He was named publisher of the year in 1981 by the California Press Association, and organizations including the California Newspaper Association and the National Newspaper Association routinely recognized The Reporter.

Like the community it served, the paper continued to grow, Richard said, and "we realized we needed more space." In 1992, the Reporter moved from the downtown site it had occupied for more than a century to a new Cotting Lane plant, where it remains today.

The Reporter reached another milestone in 2002, Richard said, "when it became more and more obvious that we didn't have the resources to make The Reporter grow any more than it already had." He announced that year that he would sell the family business to Denver-based MediaNews Group, which at the time owned approximately 50 daily newspapers.

The former publisher said the decision was "impossibly hard" and "a painfully difficult thing to do."

"I'll never get over it ..." he said. "I never knew where the paper ended and I began."

Richard Rico was succeeded as publisher by Steve Huddleston, who accepted a position as NorthBay Healthcare's vice president for public affairs this year. With his departure, Gregg McConnell became only the eighth publisher in the history of The Reporter.

Looking to the Future

According to Richard Rico, the best part of his Reporter life was "just being a part of the community and watching the community grow."

"I'd like to think we had a part in its growth and stabilization," he said, "being there in the front lines of watching Vacaville grow from a small town to a small city." As for the future, he said he hopes that "we get through this rough patch, all newspapers are in it together."

"And I hope print never goes away," he added. "I really believe there is a sense of touching ink on newsprint that gives you more of an intimacy with the day's news."

Vacaville Museum Director Shawn Lum seemed to agree, referring to newspapers as "one of the richest sources of primary evidence."

"One of the things that's so impressive about newspapers is that its something that's meant to be temporary, but its one of the best resources we have," she said, adding with a laugh, "We even know the hair color of some of those young bachelors in 1884."

The Reporter's impact on Vacaville through the past 125 years, she continued, could only be described as "huge."

"Vacaville, like so many California towns, has really grown with its own self-image ...," she said, "and we rely on The Reporter to help us understand who we are."

The story behind the roots of Reporter's beloved rooster

This story, reprinted from the 1983 centennial edition of The Reporter, explains the proud tradition of the Reporter's esteemed mascot. - Editor.

The proud rooster, the cock-of-the-walk that perches atop Page 1 with each Reporter edition, just isn't there by chance, you know. He's not just another pretty face that works where all others have failed.

No sir.

The more conventional, albeit plucky, rooster was used regularly on Reporter pages starting in 1884 when publisher Raleigh Barcar first placed him atop an editorial. It was a November edition of his Vacaville Judicion, the local newspaper that came on the scene after Barcar purchased The Reporter from its founder, James D. McClain (and later changed Judicion back to Reporter in the 1890s).

The rooster was the symbol of something new (a new administration for one thing), something to crow about in the new Judicion. Then he was sent to the barnyard for a few months. But on March 7, 1885, the beginning of the third year of publication for the Judicion, Barcar called on the fowl again. It graced the top of an editorial that read:

"We resurrect our rooster from the dusty shelf he has occupied since last November and today his clarion crow is as clear as when in the autumn days of doubt he proclaimed his faith in the ascendance of the democratic Sirius. And now while the young administration is taking its first steps, we invoke the cheering inspiration of Sir Chanticleer in the struggle toward Reform. We find reason for joy, too, in the closing of our second volume and the pleasant prospects greeting us on the threshold of our new journalistic year. Crow, you cuss, and may you never weary in well-doing."

After that, the rooster was used whenever Reporter editors wanted to emphasize news of import, such as the date in 1892 when the township voted to incorporate.

The rooster emblem was not used as a front-page "flag" log until he was reincarnated by Vacaville and Nut Tree graphic designer Don Birrell.

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