Exactly two decades ago this week, the Los Altos Town Crier changed ownership for the fifth time since its birth in 1947. The path of ownership started with founder and longtime Los Altos resident Dave MacKenzie, a brilliant writer and promoter who kept it going for 25 years. His partner, graphic artist Warren Goodrich, created the “little guy” bell ringer as a logo, which the paper still uses today. That same artist created the “little guy” that cheers or boos movies in the San Francisco Chronicle.
The first issue of the Town Crier in 1947 was an 8.5-inch-by-11-inch sheet of paper folded in half that contained hand-drawn ads. Along with the bell ringer and the title “Los Altos Town Crier” on the cover was its timeless slogan and mission: “You Can Buy It in Los Altos – Shop Local!” Six decades later, we still consider that part of our message.
MacKenzie sold the paper in 1972 to the first of three different out-of-town owners of networks of weeklies covering Peninsula communities. The third owner was the Chicago Tribune Co., which by the early 1990s owned 11 different nearby titles. However, it wasn’t working for the Tribune, so the company attempted to sell the newspaper group as a package. That did not work, either. Finally, in March 1993, the Tribune closed down the entire group and sold only the assets of each. The Town Crier assets included its trademark, a stack of old issues, two small Mac computers, some very tired office furniture and file cabinets of old black-and-white photos.
My wife, Liz, and I had a thriving magazine business that we had launched approximately 10 years earlier, including Homes and Land magazines, Renter’s Digest and Designers Illustrated. As longtime residents of Los Altos, we had made an earlier offer to purchase the Town Crier that was pending. Suddenly, on a March Friday at 10 a.m., the Tribune laid off its entire staff, closed the doors and gave us a call to come talk.
We did. And by 10 a.m. 24 hours later, we had a deal. By 8 p.m. that Saturday night, we had rehired two key people who are still with us today: Chris Redden, ad services coordinator, and Howard Bischoff, circulation manager. We also snagged additional staff and, to make a long story brief, had a paper out to press by Monday and in residents’ mailboxes the following Wednesday. We did not miss a beat and have been on schedule every week now for 20 years.
One of our primary objectives with the weekly has been to bring back more “hometown” coverage, which had been minimal during the out-of-town owners’ reign. We adopted as our operating spirit the motto, “Easy to do business with.”
Bruce Barton took over as editor-in-chief shortly after we acquired the paper, and several others have been long-term employees: Pete Borello, sports editor, 15 years; real estate advertising rep Janice Fabella, 15 years; and Dawn Pankonen, 16 years. Clyde Noel, who was working part time in 1993, continues as a freelance volunteer writer.
Over the past two decades of ownership, we’ve added color photos; a Town Crier “50” Weekly Stock Index; a Spiritual Life page; a children’s sports page; comics and puzzles; and special sections on seniors, health, automotive, travel and books. A series of all-color magazine inserts – Living in Los Altos, Family Spotlight, Home & Garden and Home for the Holidays – add value for readers.
The Town Crier has stimulated the launch of new events and activities in town. We founded the Los Altan of the Year award in 1995; the Millennium Celebration on New Year’s Eve 1999, attended by 1,500 celebrants; and the Town Crier Holiday Fund in 2000, which in 13 years has raised $2 million for Silicon Valley area nonprofit organizations. We were also, I believe, one of the first newspapers in the country to forge an Internet presence.
I want to emphasize for all readers that the paper would not exist without you and the continued, faithful sponsorship of hundreds of advertisers. Why do they continue to advertise? They get results. So thank you, faithful readers and advertisers, and keep it up. We will do our best to match your interests while maintaining our spirit of being “Easy to do business with.”
Paul Nyberg is publisher of the Town Crier.