Dale Fetherling, an author and editor who helped create The Times' San Diego County edition in 1978 and guided it through its closure in 1992 during an economic downturn, died Tuesday at Kaiser Foundation Hospital in San Diego of complications following heart surgery, his family said. He was 69.
Known as an aggressive and fair journalist, Fetherling took on the challenge of expanding the paper's readership in San Diego County with only a dozen reporters to cover 4,000 square miles. He characterized The Times as the underdog in the region's highly competitive newspaper market, which then was dominated by two large dailies.
During his 14-year tenure as editor, he shaped coverage of the county's biggest stories — including the 1978 PSA crash, the 1984 McDonald's massacre in San Ysidro and the court trials of Mayor Roger Hedgecock — and doubled the size of the editorial staff.
"He excelled at spotting terrific talent, and his legacy lives on in the many fine journalists he hired who hold key jobs in our newsroom and others around the country," Times Editor Russ Stanton said Tuesday.
When the recession of the early 1990s hit, it forced not only the closure of the edition but the merger of its two main rivals, leaving the region with only one major newspaper, the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Fetherling later taught in the journalism program at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego and wrote several books, including a biography of labor activist Mary Harris Jones, "Mother Jones: The Miner's Angel" (1974), which earned an Award of Merit from the Illinois Historical Society.
Born in Baltimore on Sept. 5, 1941, Fetherling earned a bachelor's degree in political science from West Virginia University in 1963 and a master's from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism in 1964. After three years as a naval officer, he worked at the Portland Oregonian and the Minneapolis Tribune. He joined The Times in 1973 as one of the country's first full-time environmental reporters.
Divorced three times, Fetherling is survived by his fiancée, Phyllis Erickson; two children, Dane of San Diego and Jill of Denver; a brother, George, of Vancouver; and a grandchild.
A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 29, at St. Paul's Cathedral, 2728 Sixth Ave., San Diego.