After Three Years, Little Paper That Couldn’t Will Fold
The Torrance-South Bay New Times, a weekly with a name almost as long as its list of subscribers, is going under. Its final edition as a weekly--a “historical” retrospective--will be out on Saturday.
Publisher Rami Rodriguez said he may resurrect the paper as a biweekly or a monthly, but plans after Saturday are indefinite. Editor Tom Rische is looking for a job.
“Goodby,” Rische wrote in the lead editorial in the current issue. “This will be the last regular issue. . . . We have tried to find a place. . . . Money-wise, we have not succeeded.”
Founded 3 Years Ago
And so fails an attempt at maintaining old-fashioned, small-town journalism in the increasingly urban South Bay.
The New Times Headlight, founded three years ago as the New Times, concentrated on Torrance, then--in its one expansionist move--absorbed the Lomita Headlight. The paper devoted its coverage almost exclusively to those two cities and could be picked up free at businesses.
To be sure, the demise or reorganization of the New Times Headlight will not end hometown journalism in the South Bay, with papers such as the El Segundo Herald, the Hawthorne Wave, the Gardena Valley News, the Easy Reader, and the Peninsula News appearing weekly or twice a week in their communities.
Dailies Take Over
But in Torrance and Lomita, where weeklies have been published for decades, local news now becomes the province of daily newspapers with bigger budgets, bigger staffs and few of the quirks that mark the homespun news exemplified by the New Times Headlight.
With a diet of names, high school athletic events, local news and calendar items intermixed with columns and public relations releases, the paper attempted to reach a neighborhood whose triumphs remain largely unchronicled in the surviving papers.
For example, these headlines appear in the current issue:
“Scholl hits double.”
“Arthritis talk scheduled on May 7.”
“Lomita secessionists plan May 9 meeting.”
“Puppet show set.”
The issue also has a photo of an Eagle Scout and a feature on how to get a book published.
“We’ve heard lots of complaints that larger papers look down their noses at grass-roots events which aren’t particularly ‘sexy,’ ” Rische wrote in his farewell editorial.
“A few years ago, the majority of kids probably got their names in the local paper through Little League or Scouting programs. Today, only the ‘superstars’ do.”
Rische concedes that his office and equipment are also relics of an earlier era.
Rische, 57, a retired Torrance high school teacher, and a crew that included some of his former students and former school colleagues labored in a painted brick office decorated with a cast-off couch and high school lockers. The walls are covered with old photos and clippings. Stacks of old papers lie in heaps on the floor.
Rische knocked out columns, editorials, features and news stories on an ancient Smith-Corona portable typewriter. Type was set on a battered Compugraphic IV typesetting machine that occasionally blotched the film when it leaked light.
“Stone Age,” Rische said.
And the newspaper itself, he acknowledges, was also a relic.
Rische laughed when asked about his biggest story.
“I don’t know,” he told a Times reporter. “I can’t think of any scoop. We got some stuff before you did. I don’t think anyone’s head was blown off by it.”
Rische took over eight months ago and, abandoning his predecessor’s penchant for running photographs big, opted for a newsier format and beefed-up coverage of school issues.
For example, “Torrance teachers will vote on salary issue” was the headline of the lead story on Sept. 4, 1986, one of Rische’s first issues.
Rische said he experimented. “I tried a lot of things--even a little bit sensational. Unfortunately, not many noticed.”
The New Times Headlight’s venture into racy journalism was a piece running across the top of the tabloid on Nov. 11, 1986, about the availability of sexually explicit magazines in local stores. A photo montage showed the covers of several of the magazines--complete with bare buttocks and displays of bounteous breasts.
Skeptical readers told Rische that they doubted the magazines were on sale in Torrance. “I told them, ‘I can tell you where to get them,’ ” Rische said.
As editor, he allowed his staff considerable freedom in choosing what they wrote. Assistant Editor Kevin Woo, a senior at Loyola Marymount College, said he particularly enjoyed having a “forum for me to write and get published and that is kind of neat--to see your name in print.”
Woo liked doing “thought” pieces.
“I did one, it came to me when I was sitting at a Laker game. What aliens would think if they came to this crazy world. Every paragraph started out ‘I wonder what they would think . . . ' about this, about that.”
In another piece, Woo wrote an open letter to a youth who had asked whether he should go to college. “I encouraged him to go and he did,” Woo said. Teachers at Torrance’s North High passed his column around to their students, he said.
Although he is losing his platform, Woo said the closure has one benefit: “It gives me a break to study for finals.”
As an advertising medium, the New Times Headlight was cheap but sometimes lacked professionalism, said George Tasker, manager of Seymour Hamm’s Restaurant and Lounge in Lomita.
Always Someone New
“It seems like every time you turn around, you are dealing with someone new and they don’t know what the scoop is,” Tasker said. “It makes for a complicated situation. Their accuracy in ads has not been there. Billing has always been infrequent and not up to date.
“We advertise with them basically because they seem to be a gossip column that the older folks in Lomita read. Every restaurant would like to have the seniors” as customers.
Woo acknowledged that billing was sometimes late but said the restaurant had made mistakes in the advertising it submitted to the paper.
Tasker said a quarter-page ad cost $75 but the expense was frequently discounted by a swap arrangement that he said would be unthinkable with a larger newspaper.
“They would come in and run a tab and we would take it out of the tab,” he said. “It worked pretty well.”
Publisher Rodriguez, a Torrance multimillionaire with real estate interests, said he hopes to find someone to revive the paper.
“The readers needed a community newspaper and I was willing to put one out for them. I am still interested in doing that. I am looking for someone who could continue the paper,” he said.
Although he said the paper lost $100,000 last year as circulation dropped from a high of 15,000 to 7,000, almost all of it unpaid, Rodriguez said time, not money, was the reason he had to give up the paper in its present form.
“My other business takes the majority of my time. I just don’t have the time,” he said.
Rische said he is unsure what he will do.
“Something else, I guess.”