Local ownership makes the difference between Fallbrook newspaper and Chargers football team

In December the National Football League’s Chargers football team will be concluding their first season since leaving San Diego for Los Angeles. On Dec. 18, the Fallbrook/Bonsall Village News will be celebrating 20 years as Fallbrook’s community weekly paper. The contrast demonstrates the commitment local ownership has in maintaining a local asset.

Fallbrook’s previous weekly paper was the Fallbrook Enterprise. By 1997, the Enterprise and the suburban daily, the North County Times, had common ownership, specifically the Tribune Company out of Chicago. The Enterprise wasn’t losing money, but the out-of-town bean counters decided it didn’t provide a sufficient return on investment. The Enterprise was consolidated into a zone of the North County Times.

The merchants in Fallbrook weren’t happy with the consolidation, since they were paying higher advertising rates for a paper with a shelf life of a day rather than a week. The Fallbrook residents weren’t happy with the consolidation since they had to sort through news about Oceanside and Del Mar to find the Fallbrook local news. The community turned to Fallbrook resident Julie Reeder, who had publishing experience with a monthly current events paper. Reeder responded by publishing the Fallbrook/Bonsall Village News.

Some community leaders didn’t expect the Village News to last more than 100 days; however, as of this coming Dec. 18, the Village News will have been in existence for 7,305 days.

The Village News has gone through some tough times over the years; its revenue is derived largely from advertisements by local businesses, and downturns in the local economy which have occurred occasionally over the last 20 years due to various factors have frequently caused financial struggles for Reeder. Because she lives in Fallbrook, she has a community interest in the paper’s success as well as a desire to make a profit, and she has kept the paper going for 20 years.

During the Chargers’ 56 years in San Diego, the interest wasn’t always in the bottom line alone. Barron Hilton moved the Chargers from Los Angeles to San Diego in 1961 and sold shares of stock for $3 apiece. Some of the leading minority owners had local interests and community ties. James Copley owned the San Diego Union and San Diego Evening Tribune. John Mabee founded the Big Bear Supermarket chain and Golden Eagle Insurance, and George Pernicano probably made more money from postgame meals at his Sixth Avenue restaurant than from Chargers net revenues. The Chargers were a community asset.

Hilton owned 65 percent of the Chargers’ stock in 1966, when an increased role in his family’s hotel chain caused him to sell most of that stock. Gene Klein became the Chargers’ majority owner, and although he lived in the Los Angeles area at the time, eventually he moved to San Diego County and became local.

The local aspect under the ownerships of Hilton and Klein also included commitments to local players. The former San Diego State players who were with the Chargers during those years included Jim Allison, Gary Garrison, Bob Howard, Don Horn, Jesse Freitas, Dwight McDonald and Willie Buchanon. The Chargers’ early 1970s roster even included backup quarterback Wayne Clark, who played at United States International University in San Diego.

Hilton maintained a minority interest in the Chargers, but in 1982, he sold some of his stock to Alex Spanos. When Klein decided that owning race horses would be better for his health than owning a professional football team, Spanos took advantage of a clause which gave a minority stockholder the first right at purchasing the controlling interest. Spanos lived in Stockton, California, at the time. He was an out-of-town owner, and his primary interest was making money.

Under Spanos’ ownership, the Chargers’ interest in local players became rare. The occasional Kassim Osgood, Vincent Brown and Ronnie Hillman didn’t match the recruitment volume of former San Diego State players seen under previous owners.

Owning the Chargers was always about the bottom line for the Spanos family. The community interest was not present.

Village News is now a chain. When the Riverside Press-Enterprise scuttled its Temecula weekly paper, Reeder recruited the Rancho News staff members to her publishing company and founded the Temecula/Murrieta Valley News. When the publisher of the Anza Valley Outlook retired, he sold the paper to Village News, but the Village News is still locally owned. Community interest is still the driving force over maximizing profits in Reeder’s business decisions.

The Chargers, like the Enterprise, was a victim of an owner’s mentality focused solely on increasing revenue. The Village News stands in contrast to the Chargers, and that’s why it remains a solid San Diego County entity even through rough financial times.

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