Being a community journalist does have its perks and adventures. But for me, the real fun of my job is getting to know more about my hometown.
Sometimes, that means meeting and learning from people who have long-ago links to the area. For instance, Melody Coe, archivist for the Cambria Historical Society, and I were able to share memories recently with John and Linda McDonald of El Dorado Hills.
The McDonalds stopped by the museum annex during their vacation in San Luis Obispo County, during which he wanted to revisit his own Cambria history. You see, John’s stepfather was Ralph “Scoop” Morgan, owner/publisher/editor of The Cambrian from 1954 until his death in 1980.
I never worked for Scoop, but I knew and respected the savvy, sometimes cantankerous newspaperman who frequently infuriated me ... as he fully intended to do. Scoop and his mother Lucile Morgan bought The Cambrian in 1954 from the Waltz family, who had launched the newspaper almost a quarter century earlier.
The decades of Morgan ownership were busy, busy ones all along the Central Coast, a time of growth and change, along with widely differing opinions about it all. A little context here? In 1958, the state took over ownership of Hearst Castle, an event that eventually had a huge impact on the North Coast, the entire county and beyond.
Editor Scoop was best known for his conservatism, boosterism for the business community, rapier wit, predilection for stirring up a rousing exchange of opinions in the paper’s “letters to the editor” section, occasional “hoax” stories, his hilarious April Fool’s Day editions and the piercing expression in his eyes when he was about to skewer someone.
Occasionally, that someone was me, or (more often) my mom Andy Herrington, a well-connected liberal environmentalist with whom Scoop frequently and publicly clashed. (Eventually, they banded together to sue the county, but that’s another story.) Despite the clashes, I learned a lot about community journalism from Scoop, just by reading his paper and watching from the sidelines to see how he and his staff did it all.
Sadly, on June 9, 1980, Scoop died of a sudden heart attack at the age of 60. Almost exactly a year later, his widow Virginia sold the 50-year- old newspaper to John P. Scripps Newspapers. But back to the McDonalds’ visit. John and Linda seemed excited to interact with people who’d known Scoop and Virginia, a beloved grammar-school teacher. John’s the youngest of Virginia’s kids, he said, the baby in a family tree that included Judi and Nancy, and twins Roberta and Robin.
Scoop had two children, Mike and Kay. The McDonalds shared memories and questions, delights and frustrations, such as trying to find the Cambria house he’d lived in, driving up and down streets to look for something familiar because he couldn’t remember the exact address or location. John recalled Scoop’s ’round-the-clock work on deadline days, and wondered if the paper’s old linotype and other printing and folding equipment were still around (sadly, no).
The McDonalds seemed especially delighted to learn about the saga of The Cambrian’s “morgue” copies of the paper, some of which go back to the early 1900s. The back story: When The Cambrian closed its office at 2068 Main St., the original plan had been to shift the paper’s morgue copies into the vast archival maw of The Tribune’s big office in San Luis Obispo.
Ummm, no. Not happening.
I argued that those newspapers are a community treasure, and as such, they had to stay in Cambria for Cambrians. Others joined the relocation battle, and eventually we won, relegating the historical copies to the protection of the Cambria Historical Society.
I like to think Scoop would have approved. Since then, The Tribune moved to smaller quarters with much less storage space. But Cambria’s newspaper history is snug and safe, right here in town, and Coe has been a super busy volunteer at the society’s Maggetti House on Center Street, lovingly tending and archiving the tangible proof of Cambria’s history.
Yeah, it can be very satisfying to be a community journalist. The best part is feeling that, in little ways, I’ve been able to help to make a difference for the town I love ... something else I learned from Scoop.
Editor’s note: Donations toward digitally archiving the many years of The Cambrian’s issues can be sent to: Cambria Historical Society, P.O. Box 906, Cambria CA 93428. Or donate online at www.cambriahistoricalsociety.com/donations.html.