Thursday, May 7, 1857. “Now that the American party has a controlling voice in the Common Council, there ought to be some changes in the old, lifeless system of city policy,” wrote R. Hubbard in Santa Barbara’s first newspaper, the Gazette, which was first issued in May 1855.

Hubbard was determined to convince Santa Barbara to improve itself. He deplored the lack of business enterprise that prevented profitable agricultural cultivation. “Shall we ever get awake here, or sleep on in the same drowsy way, dull, stupid method which has been characteristic of the blessed and ever to be remembered pueblo of Santa Barbara,” he wrote.

Appalled by the indifference toward the 1856 presidential election, he wrote, “Why, there is not a tap room in the whole American empire whose walls do not echo in one day more spirited political debate than will have occurred throughout (California) during the whole campaign,” he said.

“But we will vote,” he continued. “By all the powers and the 11th article of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, we will vote. We may not value our stipulated citizenship enough to seek to learn how to vote, but vote we may and will.”

Because of Hubbard’s exasperated and exasperating editorials, the Gazette was unpopular with many Santa Barbarans who were offended by his constant harangues to change a lifestyle that suited them very well. Kept solvent by publishing legal notices, the paper was doomed by a new law allowing legal notices to be posted on buildings rather than published in the press. It folded in 1858.

After the Ten-Year Gap

In 1868, E. B. Boust created the Santa Barbara Post. Continuing the tradition of offending the Spanish-speaking citizens through its editorials, the Post found itself in financial straits and sold out after a year to the Reverend Joseph A. Johnson, a fundamentalist Protestant minister, who renamed it the Santa Barbara Press.

Johnson’s vitriolic personal attacks on prominent citizens were to bring him grief. When Johnson published a criticism of District Attorney W. T. Wilson for consorting with unsavory characters, Wilson responded by calling Johnson “a dirty, presumptuous dog and a slanderer.” He then knocked Johnson down and horsewhipped him.

In 1871, Johnson’s verbal attacks on his predecessor, E. B. Boust, prompted a new paper, the Times, which Boust sold to Jarret T. Richards, a young attorney, the following year. The Panic of 1873 ruined the paper and it was assimilated by the Press, much to Johnson’s glee. Never one to refrain from kicking a dog when he was down, Reverend Johnson wrote, “Richards is an ass, as stupid as he is brazen.” Apparently the citizens didn’t agree, for they elected Richards mayor in 1875.

By 1876, even the staunch Republican, Colonel Hollister, had had enough of Johnson. He brought Colonel Harrison Gray Otis of Ohio to Santa Barbara and financed his purchase of the Press. An experienced newspaperman, Otis arrived to find a sleepy little town of 3,000 citizens, only half of whom could read English.

That same year, E. B. Boust tried his hand at the newspaper business yet again, this time in concert with B. W. Keep, one of the founders of the long defunct Gazette. Together they created the Democrat as a counterpoint to the strong Republican viewpoints of the Press. They soon sold to Fred A. Moore, who changed the name to the Santa Barbara Independent. Now, with two rival papers in town, a long and bitter feud developed.

Santa Barbarans were largely Democratic, but Otis was a fanatical Republican. A bitter war of words commenced between the two papers. In 1880, Otis had had enough. He was frustrated with the bucolic nature of Santa Barbara and recognized that his ambitions could not be realized here. He eventually headed for Los Angeles where he purchased a quarter interest in the Los Angeles Times. Otis found the success he sought in Los Angeles and by 1894 was searching for his successor. He found him in the person of a clerk in the circulation department, Harry Chandler, whom he eventually promoted to business manager, son-in-law and editor-in-chief.

A Fatal Editorial Dispute

After Otis’s departure, the Press foundered for several months until it was purchased by John P. Stearns, one-time mayor, lumberman and wharf builder. He hired Theodore M. Glancey, who announced that it would be a Republican paper, “not blindly mudslinging but dignified, impartial, yet vigorous and outspoken.” Oddly enough, it was Glancey’s criticism of a Republican candidate for district attorney, Clarence Gray, that led to his demise.

Glancey had investigated all the candidates for the Republican slate and found Gray wanting. The name, Clarence Gray, it turned out was an alias for a very married Patrick McGinnis. Nevertheless, Gray married an “estimable” young Santa Barbara woman, presumably without the benefit of divorce. During his 10-year stay in Santa Barbara, he was convicted of 13 misdemeanors, involved in drunken brawls in saloons, had drawn his gun on several individuals (at times with shots exchanged), and given vent to “the vilest billingsgate and vituperation, with no regard to age, sex or condition.” His crowning achievement, however, was the pistol-whipping of an aged Catholic Priest.

When it came time to endorse the candidates, Glancey would only write, “The charity of our silence is more than he (Gray) can expect.” An incensed Gray threatened Glancey.

It then became known that the government was challenging the County’s right to hold an election on the same ballot as the presidential election. As the County waited for the Supreme Court to decide the issue, Glancey wrote, “the Republicans here may be relieved of the necessity of defeating their candidate for District Attorney....Santa Barbara County will not submit to having the officers of the law chosen from among the hoodlums and lawbreakers.”

That afternoon, Gray found Glancey on the street, pulled out a gun and shot him. Glancey died 19 hours later with these last words on his lips, “Tell my friends that I die like a man, die for a principle; and that I would not go back on it now if I could.” Gray was immediately arrested but let out on $5,000 bail. Three trials later, in what many considered to be a gross miscarriage of justice, Gray was acquitted.

The News-Press

By 1900, the Independent was foundering and 24-year-old Thomas M. Storke purchased the paper for $2,000. In “California Editor,” Storke describes his first plant as being a “claptrap false front at 26 East Ortega. The press was held together with bailing wire and turned by an old, asthmatic gasoline engine.” Storke persevered in bringing the Independent back to its former glory.

Storke took a three-year hiatus from the news business in 1910 when he sold the paper to a Michigan editor, a move he very much regretted. But he regained control over the paper in 1913 after acquiring the Daily News, which was going downhill fast. By 1932, the Morning Press was foundering and Storke stepped in to buy it. Concerned about forming a monopoly, Storke kept the papers editorially separate from each other and gave the Morning Press editor, Paul Cowles, assurances of editorial freedom.

As the Depression deepened, it became financially impossible to continue two separate publications. In 1938, the merger of the two papers gave birth to the News-Press, which continued the platform of the Daily News and Independent, which said:

l. Keep the news clean and fair

2. Play no favorites; never mix business and editorial policy

3. Do not let the news columns reflect editorial comment

4. Publish the news that is public property without fear or favor of friend or foe

5. Accept no charity and ask no favors

6. Give “value received” for every dollar you take in

7. Make the paper pay a profit if you can, but above profit, keep it clean, fearless and fair

Storke admitted, “I cannot claim that these seven principles have never been violated under my editorship. Publishers, editors and reporters are human. But I do know that whenever my staff and I have failed to live up to this platform, something of value was lost to my newspaper, and I was plagued by my own conscience.”

Storke ran the paper for six decades, selling it to Robert McLean of the Philadelphia Bulletin in 1964. During Storke’s tenure at the paper, he became a powerful force in community affairs; too powerful and wielding too much influence some said. Storke died in 1971, but even his critics agreed when his friend, Chief Justice Earl Warren, eulogized Storke as “the most powerful citizen of the century” in Santa Barbara. Though Stoke admittedly slipped up on occasion, he was committed to using the power of the press responsibly.

(Sources: “California Editor,” by Thomas M. Storke; “Santa Barbara History Makers,” by Walker Tompkins; Noticias, “Santa Barbara Journalists, 1855-1973,” by Walker Tompkins; contemporary news articles.)