Chris Kling's North Laguna neighborhood was quiet on Monday morning, the glimmering ocean visible from the balcony of his apartment on Coast Highway. He descended an outside stairway and peeled open a creaky door to a dark, murky world that is all his own.
"Come down to my basement, or the 'morgue' as the journalism world likes to call it," he said.
Kling, 37, has been collecting newspapers since 1992. He can't put a number on his collection — which sits in labeled plastic boxes stacked to the ceiling inside his basement — but he guesses in the tens of thousands. They include historical headlines such as "Kennedy Slain on Dallas Street" in the Dallas Morning News and "All Titanic Saved on Carpathia. No Hope Left, 1535 Dead" in the New York American.
On Monday he held up his phone, showing a new purchase he made on eBay. He was in a bidding war with another buyer and ultimately won the issue of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, which announced Hawaii as the 50th state. The headline "Statehood!" is in large red text and the American flag makes a colorful centerpiece with the newly added star. Although it went for 10 cents on March 12, 1959, Kling dropped $93.50 on it.
"Yup, I think that's a good price," he said, nodding authoritatively.
The most he spent was $180 on "Monroe Dies" in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He said he liked that paper's edition in particular because they used light blue ink in the headline, which at the time was uncommon. It sits framed inside his office besides other favorites: "Astronauts Walk on the Moon" in the Ohio Plain Dealer or the 2002 Los Angeles Times cover of the Anaheim Angels' World Series win with the headline "Fantasyland!"
Headlines and images jump out at him — announcing sporting achievements, political news or global events. He has newspapers covering events such as Princess Diana's death, the war in Iraq and 9/11 coverage across the U.S.
"I always look for big text," he said. "That's really important."
The first newspaper Kling saved was in 1989. His father had the last edition of the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner and he asked if he could hold on to it. When he got a subscription to the Los Angeles Times a couple years later, he started to save more.
He now subscribes daily to four newspapers: The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, USA Today and the OC Register.
"I just had this connection to newspapers for some reason," he said. "I just know that day and that event meant something to somebody."
He hopes to one day have them in a roaming historical exhibit, perhaps through a museum, nonprofit or university. He's been researching but hasn't found anyone interested.
When people ask him about digital journalism, he doesn't flinch.
"Every morning, it's a cup of coffee and a newspaper," he said. "I think online news is very important because it's getting the information to the reader faster but ... having the tangible newspaper tells a story of when this happened. It all boils down to history."
He works two jobs, one at Tricom in Irvine and the other running a town car service called Laguna Corporate Car Service. He said the hobby costs him about $1,000 a month and he pays an extra $200 a month to use the basement.
In July, he applied to be on a reality TV show called "Master Collectors." He said he wasn't called back but the casting company told him they'd seen a lot of collectors but never a newspaper collector.
"I just didn't get my hopes up because at the end of the day I still have my pride and joy, which is my newspaper collection," he said.
Although his apartment has nearly unobstructed views of the Pacific Ocean, he said he enjoys spending up to seven hours below his house — organizing, "gutting" papers and deciding which to send to the framer.
His landlord asks him if he's lonely. He laughs at such a question.
"Absolutely not," he said. "Down in the morgue, the whole world is with me."