Photos from the Vault

The Tribune’s anniversary marked decades of change

Benjamin Brooks was editor of the San Luis Obispo Morning Tribune for 4 decades. He is standing center in profile, back wall and appears to be final proofing at 4 A.M. for the morning paper. This is from a series of newspaper carrier postcards from 1890.
Benjamin Brooks was editor of the San Luis Obispo Morning Tribune for 4 decades. He is standing center in profile, back wall and appears to be final proofing at 4 A.M. for the morning paper. This is from a series of newspaper carrier postcards from 1890. Special Collections and Archives, Cal Poly

The first newspaper battle in the county took place in 1869, when the upstart Tribune championed Republican politics, an alternative to the Pioneer, a booster of Democrats, that had started up a year and eight months earlier.

The Tribune was moderate and the Pioneer virulently partisan, and it only took four months for Pioneer editor Rome G. Vickers to call it quits.

Readers didn’t like a paper that read like an angry blogger sitting in his basement in pajamas. The Internet did not exist in 1869 — but frothing, angry commentary did.

Competition and change are a constant in this business.

By 1925, a later San Luis Obispo newspaper war had ended in a draw with the Telegram printing the afternoon paper and the Tribune a morning newspaper under the same ownership.

In 1939, the papers would be combined under one nameplate as the afternoon Telegram-Tribune.

This Mary Black story is from the San Luis Obispo Daily Telegram, Aug. 7, 1929. The typos and timeline errors have been fixed and subheads eliminated for readability.

The Tribune Celebrates 60th Birthday

Established on Aug. 7, 1869, when its first issue was published, the San Luis Obispo Tribune marked its 60th anniversary today, the oldest newspaper in the city and the only one to have been continuously published for more than half a century.

Like the events that are recorded in the memory of an old man, the pages of this old newspaper are the printed history of a community and county. Here are told the deaths of the founders of this county, as well as of the state and nation. Notices announce the birth of today’s leading citizens. Events in the building of the nation as well as the city are chronicled.

The Tribune, which has never ceased to exist since it was established 60 years ago, is probably one of the oldest papers of the state. The first newspapers in Sacramento and San Francisco antedate it by not more than a decade.

The paper was established as a weekly by (soon to be) Judge Walter Murray of the Superior Bench here, (five months before) the Pioneer failed. Eventually the Tribune was made a semi-weekly and finally in 1883 made a futile attempt to issue a daily paper.

It was not until after 1885 when Benjamin Brooks took charge of the Tribune that it was successfully published as a daily.

Mr. Brooks, who is now retired and lives at 1518 Chorro Street in this city, published the Tribune continuously from 1885 until 1925 — when he sold it to the present owners, the Scripps-Canfield organization.

There were many editors before Mr. Brook’s time. He recalled with some amusement as he recounted in an interview on the early days of the newspaper given to a Tribune-Telegram reporter Wednesday, the situation as he found it in 1885.

The editors were then Myron Angel and Charles Maxwell. The real sponsors of the paper were the Steele brothers, Republican politicians of the early days here and owners of the famous Steele ranch beyond Edna.

(Brooks married a daughter, Mary Ella Steele, on April 30, 1865.)

The paper would have invoiced, Mr. Brooks believes, at about $1,500 and had about 400 subscribers. But the editorial staff was pretentious, almost equal to the one of today.

Immediately, Mr. Brooks retired all the editorial and business department, keeping the three printers, Dick Leland (now county tax collector), Fred S. Finney, and G.B. Tuley. For a number of years, Mr. Brooks was editor, business manager, and occupied all the positions of the circulation, business and editorial departments.

The Steele brother’s investment in the paper, when Mr. Brooks came, amounted to $5,000 and was somewhat of a precarious one for a number of years.

Attempting to picture the contrast in newspaper publishing of 1885 and now, Mr. Brooks pointed to the different point of view that governed the business in earlier times.

The revenue from circulation and advertising was incidental, he points out. There were no advertising solicitors. If anyone wanted to put an advertisement in the paper, he brought it to Mr. Brooks and asked that it be inserted.

The editorial policy was strongly political, for the Steele brothers were leaders in Republican party circles.

While all this differs from the newspaper of today, which runs as a business expecting revenues to support it, the greater difference of the two eras was in the mechanical field.

Mr. Brooks recalls that there were no typewriters, and the telephone had only been invented in 1876. In the printing department there was a Fairhaven handpress, power for which was furnished by a stout Mexican whose sole function at the paper was to run off the papers. There were several cases of type, and a job press, hand-propelled.

The Tribune then occupied the building where the Blackstone Hotel is now. (Actually, across the street where Luna Red is today.)

The day came when Mr. Brooks sought to install mechanical power. He hired a water wheel built and this propelled the press for a time. Eventually the stout Mexican was released when Mr. Brooks purchased a primitive gas engine fueled by kerosene.

He recalls the first day that he used the engine. The Tribune was located upstairs over a saloon. The men of the town had gathered for an afternoon drink when the gas engine was started for the first time. The building shook and heaved. The saloon emptied rapidly of its patrons, who ran outside to watch the building fall.

Soon, because the building was not suitable for his new gasoline engine equipment, Mr. Brooks bought the lot on Chorro Street and established the office the Tribune occupied when the final sale to Scripps-Canfield occurred.

A whole host of devices including waterwheels, gas engines of all kinds were used and finally electrical power was installed in the plant. One mechanical device after another was acquired until the plant was completely modern.

Mr. Brooks was at the editorial helm while many issues of state and national importance were battled out. He was publisher while the town was built up, its police and fire departments established its first streets paved and traversed by the first automobile.

The Tribune, which has existed only about 20 less years than the state of California, has begun a new period with the passing of its 60th birthday, that shall probably see a different kind of life begun and a new chain of events called progress.