True Story: How the Tribune almost went to Paso

June 28, 2010


The Tribune, I guess what would be formally called the San Luis Obispo County Tribune, used to be the Telegram-Tribune, and the newspaper offices used to be in a funky old building on Johnson Avenue, where Scolari’s stands today.

The memories came flooding back recently when I spied former T-T publisher Julia Aguilar’s mug staring out at me on the cover of a local magazine. It’s no secret that the two of us have no use for one another, but I was raised not to pick on senior citizens, so I won’t dwell on the reasons why.

Whatever one may think of Ms. Aguilar, she did play a critical role in local media history. This is the person who stopped the county’s newspaper of record from moving to Paso Robles from San Luis Obispo.

I first signed on with the T-T in August of 1989. By then, the Johnson Avenue facility was woefully outdated. It was a two-story affair, with Editorial and Sales at the front of the main floor. Circulation was in the back. Everything to do with the actual printing was downstairs.

Staff was crammed in tight. People could lean over the little gate at the front and almost touch the reporters working at their computers. The building was older than most who worked there. As the new guy, I was hardly privy to what management had in mind for a new facility. I just heard stories.

In those days, the T-T was part of the Scripps Howard chain. The editor was a crusty old guy named George DeBord, who fancied himself as another Steinbeck or Hemingway. Each Monday, instead of an editorial, the paper would run a short story written by DeBord, usually having something to do with Wyoming and some guy named Lee–I am not making this up.

But I digress. The real character in this story is The Publisher, and for reasons that shall soon become abundantly clear, let’s just refer to him as The Publisher.

I had little contact with The Publisher. He struck me as being the classic Good Old Boy, most likely in Rotary, and seemingly a popular fixture in the local business community. Well-dressed. Business-like. Successful. He tended to stay out of the newsroom and on his side of the cramped building.

The Publisher was married to a woman beloved in the community. Then one day, The Publisher decided he no longer wanted to be married, at least not to Beloved Woman. I won’t repeat rumors here, but I recall Beloved Woman being completely surprised by the news and treated rather shabbily by her husband.

Either before or after the breakup, The Publisher became involved with a beautiful, younger woman. A real estate agent. A real estate agent who had lots of property in North County, especially Paso Robles.

The Publisher, to put it mildly, became seriously infatuated with this woman. Our Features Editor at the time was downtown one afternoon and allegedly spotted The Publisher in a store, fondling women’s lingerie. Poor guy had it bad.

Do you see where I’m going with this?

By this point, talk had filtered around the newsroom about the search for a new building. It was expected. And clearly needed. But talk always centered around somewhere in San Luis Obispo.

Then The Publisher made his decision. We would not be staying in town. Instead, everything would be moving. Up north. Up over the grade. Up to Paso Robles. The publisher had made an offer on a piece of property just east of Highway 101. Yes, his friend apparently was the real estate agent attached to the vacant land.

The news was met with stunned silence by the reporters and editors. Paso Robles? The newsroom is going to be shifted to Paso Robles? What will that do to our deadlines? What will that do to our ability to cover government bodies based in San Luis Obispo? What will it say about us when the county’s main newspaper leaves town?

The Publisher would hear none of it. He got a great price on real estate and this would save money in the long run. The Telegram-Tribune was going to Paso Robles. Make it happen, he told the editors.

Instead something else happened. Scripps Howard replaced The Publisher. Was it because of Paso Robles? Did it have something to do with his alleged public (mis)behavior? Twenty years later, let’s be kind. It doesn’t matter now. But one day, The Publisher was gone and Julia Aguilar was in.

Aguilar had been the HR director for the Scripps Howard paper in Thousand Oaks. Katherine Graham, she wasn’t, but Aguilar was smart enough to recognize the albatross that her predecessor had created with this proposed move to Paso Robles. She quickly put a stop to the plan and insisted that the paper stay in San Luis Obispo.

Eventually, Aguilar struck a deal for vacant property on South Higuera Street. The beautiful new building you see today was constructed and the old Johnson Avenue facility was soon demolished. The first edition of the Telegram-Tribune from Higuera Street was published on April 12, 1993.

Aguilar stayed on as publisher until Scripps Howard sold the paper to Knight Ridder in 1998.

And that, to the best of my recollection, is the True Story of how the Telegram-Tribune almost moved to Paso Robles.

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Hi Dave: Interesting article, but Dave, aren’t you a senior citizen too, like Ms. Aguilar? Just sayin……

I blame Jerry James.

Every newspaper ought to be positioned in the downtown core. Location is a traditional and necessary part of reporting. I find it annoying to see newsrooms and their staff shuttered up away from the public in slick industrial crow’s nests. Newsrooms ought to be functional, yes. But the offices ought to be more accessible, as should their reporters.

This is one of the seemingly simple things that help keep communities vibrant and more involved. There’s also the major bonus of reporters who have constant interaction with the public they are held accountable to serve..

“…Location is a traditional and necessary part of reporting.”

It might be “traditional” but it’s certainly not necessary or a good thing. That’s what transportation and different communication methods are for.

More and more we will see viable newspapers with their reporters and sales people working out of their vehicles via laptops and cell phones. We’ll see print operations (while they still exist) in the industrial sections of town. The newspapers will of course have an office but the smart ones will have more than one smaller office strategically positioned in the areas they cover rather than one monumental downtown edifice that adds nothing to either the newspaper or shareholder value.

Crusader, thanks for your comment.

I’m very aware of how reporting is done these days, that is, via remote means. This is precisely why we still need storefronts, both singular and plural. By the way, not all publications have a physical office made accessible to the public.

So I stand by my observation that, yes, “location is a traditional and necessary part of reporting. Traditions, just like technology, are a wonderful thing. Having both is entirely doable. Again, it isn’t solely for the convenience of the reporter, but for whom they serve.

I’m afraid Dave is the victim of office gossip.

There were never plans to move editorial to Paso Robles, at least in the immediate future. The property was purchased for the printing operations. What killed the deal was the then lack of access to fiber-optic cables which were essential to transmitting the page layout from San Luis Obispo to the plant.

They intended to keep the Paso Robles satellite editorial and advertising office, which was then under the helm of Phil Dirks. With the stagnation of SLO because of its slow growth policies, the Trib was looking at the faster growing Paso Robles demographics. If a decision was ever reached in the future to move the SLO editorial and advertising to Paso, then they would have opened an office near the downtown core.

Dave, It’s a gossip piece. No way around it. Try and sell it anyway you want. It’s just plain gossip. True or not, it’s gossip. There was no reason to write the story other then to boost your own ego. “Hey, look at me now Tribune.” You could have written the story without the adultry issue. Not much seperates this site from Star Magazine. I know this comment will be taken off within 30 minutes but at least two people will probably read it. You guys have taken down all my other comments. What’s wrong, can’t handle the criticism?

You got me there, Dave. I will never claim to be a good writer. I did do pretty well at math. Minus my spelling and grammar errors it appears you got my point.

Read the guidelines, you are invited to comment and make your opinions known here on our web site, unrelenting negativity is unwelcome behavior from invited guests in most any social situation, including posting your opinions here.

I worked for the Trib for a short time in 90′. I almost had forgotten about this. They were looking at properity at the 101-46 west interchange. It was roughly where the Paris Precision building is now. I had hoped that Paso would get it. Would have been nice to have the sales tax. Oh well. For Paso it all worked out better in the end.

I remember the TT was also looking at the former California Cooperage buildings on Industrial in SLO at that time. Back then there just wasn’t that much space available in SLO that was not purpose-built for a business like a newspaper.

Given the dire-looking future for the print media, a move to Paso might not have been such a bad idea in hindsight. Cheaper real estate — for both the TT and its employees…