I remember seeing my first copy of The Argonaut, probably at the corner of Dell Avenue and what is now Washington Boulevard, and thinking, “Oh, what would it be like to work there?”
One day, I responded to a help wanted ad for a sales representative, and I was hired. It was August 1980, and I learned then that my new employer published six newspapers, one of which was The Argonaut.
The newspaper staff was a complex family, with the employee equivalent of stepsisters and stepbrothers — there were two corporations and one partnership, and we all sort of worked together to varying degrees on all the entities.
Our young and energetic publisher, David Asper Johnson, had recently acquired four newspapers, and was now operating out of the former South Bay Publishing office in Hermosa Beach. The El Segundo Herald, The Manhattan Beach News, The Hermosa Beach Review and Redondo Beach Record, were now published by Beach Cities Newspapers, which Johnson had renamed the group.
In addition to these and The Argonaut, founded in 1971, we also published a Venice and Ocean Park community newspaper called The Ocean Front Weekly, a partnership between Dave and Tom Victory.
Earlier, Johnson had co-founded The Beach Reporter in Manhattan Beach with Richard Frank, but they eventually parted ways.
Realizing that Johnson now wanted us to put out six papers, we felt like the Viking rowers learning that, tomorrow, their admiral will water-ski. Once deadlines passed, however, it could be relaxing.
From the windows of our office at 36 14th St., one-half block from the Strand in Hermosa Beach, we could see bicyclists, skaters and skateboarders sail by on the nearby strand.
Employees brought a towel to work so they could sit on the beach during lunch hour.
Those Beach Cities Newspapers had been around since the very early 1900s and the Hermosa Beach building had defunct press equipment locked away in a storage area off the former pressroom. With newer technology, the completed “paste-up” of the newspapers was now driven weekly to our printer in Santa Fe Springs.
We had two other vestigial offices — a tiny place on Grand Avenue in El Segundo, which came with The El Segundo Herald, and the former offices of The Argonaut, at Washington Square in Marina del Rey. As The Argonaut’s lease took months to expire after the move to Hermosa Beach, sales and news staff would retreat to the seventh floor suite at Washington Square, seeking great views and a substantially less supervised work environment.
Everyone jokes about the grandparent who tells younger generations “how tough it was.” How tough was it? Well for starters, we had no copy machine. Sometimes we’d be sent with a handful of change to a neighboring insurance office, to politely beg for copies.
We had computerized accounting and typesetting equipment, but individual computer terminals were not yet on our desktops. Classified ad takers used phone and electric typewriter simultaneously, typing the ads onto a form with carbon copies, one of which was deposited into a cardboard tickler file for the typesetter. The typesetter, arriving around 5 p.m., worked late into the night typing ads, news copy, legal ads, letters and more.
Occasionally when I would dial a number I would be confused by a horrible screeching sound. At that time, I was unaware that the fax machine had been invented, and it would be years before we got one.
With no fax, voicemail, cell phones or desktop computers, everything had to be driven everywhere. Our one company car, used for errands, was a yellow Opel.
Herman Silverman, a newspaper consultant, would meet with our publisher and sales department periodically and, soon after, the paper would have bridal pages, football contests and other special sections.
One February when we were unable to sell enough Valentine hearts to fill up the page, employees were invited to place their personal Valentine wishes. In an unplanned Valentine war, some of us wrote what we really felt about our coworkers.
In the early ’80s, I briefly expanded my advertising duties into writing restaurant reviews, and soon learned a lesson about the term “conflict of interest.” We had a family member, the story goes, who complained at a restaurant that his meat “still had the saddle attached.” That comment might not fly in a review, but we could say that the restaurant had a “Western theme.”
One word we never ever saw in print was “massage.” Our publisher didn’t want his paper to end up looking like some other papers, and his curious strategy, probably a first in the industry, was to prohibit — oh, don’t let me say it — the word “massage” from appearing, in any form, inside ads. Even though the publisher was awarded a certificate for a free massage one evening at a chamber of commerce event, legitimate licensed therapists could not get their ads into our paper if they used that forbidden word. As rank-and-file workers, we held the front lines in this battle.
For me, our freedom of the press is our unofficial fourth branch of government.
When I meet new people outside of work, and they find out I’m part of The Argonaut staff, I often hear the most wonderful praise for our paper. While our staff’s dedication to putting out a quality product continues today, we owe many thanks to the community, including our readers, letters-to-the-editor writers, advertisers, and more.