by Nila Priyambodo
photography by Jenna Campbell
The desk is seemingly covered with the work products of countless deadlines, from previous issues of the Courier to important notes and writers’ stories. This desk is home to 72 year-old Martin Weinberger, editor and publisher of the Claremont Courier. With his busy schedule overseeing the production of the paper and writing his weekly column, Martin rarely has the chance to clean the second home he calls his desk.
The Claremont Courier, published since 1908 with Stanley Larson as its only previous publisher, is a rare remaining Southern California single entrepreneurship newspaper. In 1955, Martin at age 22, bought the Courier with his wife Janice and became the editor and publisher of the newspaper, which is published every Wednesday and Saturday and is available to readers for 50 cents.
For his 50 year run, Martin has strived to keep the Claremont Courier open to every opinion, printing both sides of issues, even if they go against his own feelings. “By keeping the paper an open forum, the writers and readers can openly express themselves,” Martin says. “We’re not fussy to let people say what they want to say. The readers pay to get the paper. They should be able to speak their mind.”
This open forum formula has helped keep Claremont’s politics up front to its residents. The paper has provided a parry and thrust opinion billboard for local elections, zoning fights, school board policy decisions, national politics . . . well, you name it. Claremont residents love to voice their opinions, and the Courier is the place they go. Because of the open opinion mandate, the Claremont Courier has thrived and is one of the remaining locally-owned newspapers. Other local newspapers that did not make it to the new century were based in La Verne, San Dimas and Upland. “We are a firm believer of First Amendment rights,” Martin declares.
Despite being a liberal newspaper, most of the paper’s readers are Republicans. “We are more liberal because we believe that the government should better people’s lives,” Martin says. “The larger run newspapers are more conservative because they only care about selling newspapers and are only interested in the business side. We want to make the lives of others better by informing them about the government.”
Martin sees the benefits to running a locally-owned newspaper. “I never had a fascination with bigger papers,” Martin admits. “They are much more impersonal and conservative. It never attracted me.”
He also puts an emphasis on photographs and graphics to attract readers, which has become his prize winning look. A graphic emphasis influenced Martin when he was younger. Growing up, his mother sent him to New York to visit his grandparents. There, Martin read the New York newspaper P.M. “They covered the news through pictures,” Martin says excitedly. “They had whole pages full of photos and graphics. I wanted my paper to resemble that.”
In addition, by being a locally-owned newspaper, the Claremont Courier can concentrate on Claremont. “We think locally,” Martin says. “The readers pay for a local paper, and that is exactly what they are getting. We only cover the city of Claremont.”
There are, however, exceptions. When the United States was struck with the tragedy of Sept. 11, Martin paid to send a photographer and reporter to New York to cover the incident. “It was an important event,” he says. “We wanted our own pictures and stories. We wanted to get the local side of it.”
Because of this local thinking, the Claremont Courier’s circulation has increased. When Martin started his job at the Courier in 1955, the circulation was at 1,123. Now, the newspaper’s circulation has more than quadrupled to a little more than 5,000. “Martin’s editor and publisher credentials stand alone,” says Patricia Yarborough, managing editor of the Courier, who has worked with Martin for 23 years. “He has guided the newspaper for 50 years and not only is it still functioning, but he has brought readership up.” The Courier has won 60 journalism awards for its content, layout and graphics. The Almanac, a special edition journal the Courier publishes yearly, won “Best Special Issue in Country” last year from the National Newspaper Association.
Despite the advantages to running a local newspaper, Martin also sees the drawbacks. “Sometimes, we want to cover an event in Los Angeles, but we can’t or don’t have the resources to. But the good outweighs the bad with a small newspaper.”
With the decline in newspaper subscriptions and the increase in other methods of getting the news across, like the internet and bloggers, Martin cannot tell where the future of journalism or small newspapers are going. “A lot of people are also commuting, and they are spending most of their time in the car,” Martin says. “They are spending so much time on the freeway that they don’t have time to pick up a newspaper. It’s unfortunate, and it’s a shame, but newspapers are still very important.”
However, Martin has hope that smaller newspapers will survive. There are currently 450 newspapers that are members of the California Newspaper Publishers Association, and 120 of them are dailies. Therefore, the remaining 330 are smaller and locally-owned. In addition, there are 9,000 newspapers in the United States and 1,700 of them are dailies.
Martin has received several offers to sell the Claremont Courier, but refuses to do so. Even his staff, some who have worked for larger newspapers like the Los Angeles Times, advises that he never sell the Claremont Courier to the larger papers. “Martin should absolutely not sell the newspaper,” Yarborough says with an emphasis on the “not.” “There is a need for newspapers that have the community’s interest at heart, and this is what the Courier does. It’s a different view of journalism than those of the Chicago Tribune or the Los Angeles Times.” With feelings similar to Yarborough, Martin doesn’t see retirement or selling the newspaper in the near future.
Martin allows aspiring journalists to gain experience by opening the newspaper to them. The Claremont Courier is popular with college interns from Scripps College and the University of La Verne. Some Courier alumni are now well known, such as Jeraro Molina and Vince Campagne of the Los Angeles Times and Paul Rodriguez of the Orange County Register.
The publisher is highly renowned for state leadership as president of the California Newspaper Publishers Association from 1998 to 1999. Then, he was the chairman for the CNPA Board of Directors during its annual meetings. While president of CNPA, Martin was and still is a champion of the Brown Act. “Government should be open,” Martin says. “It is important people understand what is going on in government.”
On his free time, Martin loves to read, watch movies and keep in touch with current events. One of his favorite books is Stanley Walker’s “City Editor,” which he has read so many times the book is getting torn and worn out. City Editor chronicles Walker’s life when he was working at the New York Herald Tribune.
Martin also follows Major League Baseball with the New York Yankees as his favorite team. “Being born in New York, my heart is still with the Yankees,” he declares. If Martin did not pursue his journalism career, he sees himself as a professional baseball player. “But I always knew, even as a little kid, that I would one day become the editor and publisher of my own paper,” Martin asserts.
Martin’s dream and aspiration to become an editor and publisher started at a very young age. His passion for journalism developed as a fifth grader at Third Street Elementary School in Los Angeles where he wrote weather stories for his school newspaper at an after school program.
After graduating from Third Street Elementary, Martin attended John Burroughs Junior High School in Los Angeles where he further developed his passion for journalism. He became the sports editor of his school paper throughout the three years. He did not take his sports editor hat off when he went to Los Angeles High School, where he continued his love for writing and sports. After high school, Martin went to the Los Angeles Trade Tech College, where he majored in English and history. “I couldn’t major in journalism in college because the school didn’t offer that program,” Martin says. “But if they did, you know I would’ve jumped on the offer to be in that major.”
In college, Martin had to live without his love for the newspaper. But he grew to love a different hobby: baseball. Martin played on the baseball team and even received a scholarship for his athletic talent. Even though baseball played a big role in Martin’s life, he knew that his ultimate career lay in journalism because he had the desire to become a newspaper editor.
With that knowledge, Martin matriculated at the University of California, Los Angeles, Journalism Graduate School. After graduating from UCLA, he was unable to start his journalism career. From 1951 to 1953, he served in the army where he aided the military in various ways, such as preparing food. But what came after the army launched his career in journalism. “When I was looking for jobs, an editor for a newspaper told me to work at a smaller newspaper first,” Martin says. “That way I could get better experience. He told me that by working at a smaller newspaper, I could find out what it is to become a real journalist.” Because of this advice, Martin’s first job was in 1953 with a small newspaper in Barstow, Calif., the Barstow-Printer Review.
“After I worked at the Barstow-Printer Review for a few months, a woman joined the staff and told me that she was given the same advice by that same editor,” Martin says while laughing. “He said the same bologna to another writer. And I even found out that he has never worked for a small newspaper. “His first job was at a big conglomerate newspaper.” Martin stayed at the Barstow paper for a year. Then, he met Ray Gabbert, a newspaper broker whose daughter lived in Claremont.
Through Gabbert, he discovered that the Claremont Courier was for sale and decided to buy it, naming himself editor and publisher. “The biggest newspapers only care about selling their papers,” Martin admits. “I wanted to do something different at the Claremont Courier. I actually wanted to match the paper with the people in Claremont. After all, they are the ones reading it.”
The new publisher made the newspaper a family affair. Janice, a social worker at the YWCA wanted to work with her husband and became part of the Claremont Courier staff. “I remember being assigned my first story,” she says. “It was a wedding story, and it took me so long to write, but he was patient. I needed that first story to get the hang of it.”
The two met in 1952 when Martin was in the army in Germany. Janice was a civilian employed by the army, in charge of several programs and services for which Martin was the services officer. “Meeting each other was like the civilian world colliding,” Janice says.
Janice continued writing stories for the paper and even had her own column, “My Side of the Line.” She left the paper about three years ago to follow her love of graphics, which she developed while working for the Claremont Courier. She now designs logos for newspapers. A wing of the Claremont Senior Seminar is named after her for her dedication in helping seniors.
“It’s great to be able to understand what your husband does,” Janice explains. “Not many wives have that opportunity. The Claremont Courier definitely brought us closer as husband and wife.”
Their son Peter was also influenced by his parents’ love for the paper. Peter interned at the Claremont Courier for three years in the ‘70s and was managing editor for five years. He is now the photo editor for a newspaper in Minneapolis, Minn., the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
“It was pretty hard to not be influenced by my father or his paper,” Peter says. “The Claremont Courier had an interesting, clever and creative way to display graphics and photographs. Because of that, I made my own dark room at home.
“I had a great time working with my father. Some of the most memorable moments we have were the days we put out the paper together.”
As editor and publisher for the Claremont Courier, Martin continues to influence Peter, his co-workers and aspiring journalists interning for him at the paper. “If you have a dream, go for it like I did,” Martin says. “Don’t let anyone stop you from achieving your dreams. No one could stop me.”