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A Conversation with Eugene Jamison, Founder of the Anderson Valley Advertiser

Mark Heimann: When did you start the Anderson Valley Advertiser?

Eugene Jamison: In 1952, we first came out with an Advertiser that covered the entire Valley. I didn't have a subscription list, it went through the Post Office, everybody got a copy. The main drive that got the Anderson Valley Advertiser started was when the fair started an ad'52. We took all the ads and everything else and put out an eight-page brochure, full newspaper size, of all the businesses that wanted to be in it. That was the first undertaking of the AVA. We did that three times between September ‘52 and January ‘53, printing 1,000 copies each time that we mailed to every resident in the Valley.

You did this completely on speculation, without really selling any ads?

We sold ads, we had to have ads to support the idea, the publication. But we were so lucky to have so many people contributing, some of them with full page ads, some with quarter pages. I don't even have a copy of that. I don't even have a copy of the AVA anymore because I moved so many times.

Did you have news as well as ads?

We had news, and of course with the fair coming on in '52, we dedicated the entire issue to the 1952 fair. After the fair we had all these advertisers still interested, so I thought this would be a good time to capitalize on this and continue the publication. Part of our gimmick to get people to read the ads was to give away a prize to the first baby born in 1953. A woman from Ukiah won that.

I think it was January 1, 1953 that we made up the first edition, volume 1, number 1. In the meantime I was gathering presses and equipment. Our first edition was printed in Boonville on a press that I brought in from Milpitas. I had an old one and a half ton truck that I brought the press to Boonville in. In those days you couldn't secure a label or a patent, what's called offical adjudication, with out printing the paper in the town it was named for. In other words the Anderson Valley Advertiser had to be printed in Anderson Valley. Nowadays you could print it anywhere in the world.

We set that first press up in a 30 by 30 woodshed in the back of the Homer Mannix building; we didn't have room for it in the shop. It was a four-page letterpress, lead type. So our first edition was printed right there in Boonville, which, from the start, made us a real home town newspaper. I think my headline was “THIS PAPER IS PRINTED IN BOONVILLE!” That was the beginning of the Anderson Valley Advertiser.

I was working for the Daily Hearld Review in the Livermore Valley at the time. I forget just what day we published the Anderson Valley Advertiser on; it must have been a Monday because of my duties at the Review. I had other interests at the time too. I was growing 40 acres of tomatoes and cucumbers and 30 acres of barley and oats in South Hayward.

It must have been Saturday and Sunday that I would gather the news, work on the page makeup and set all the type and masthead. I was able to pick up the forms and type from my job at the Review.

What made you choose Boonville?

The Anderson Valley Advertiser was to be my retirerment project. I think most press opperaters want their own newspaper. I was looking for a place to live around there because I like to hunt and fish. Boonville was going to be my retirement place. I was living in Hayward at the time. I wanted to set up the shop, print the newspaper which would take two, three days a week, then go fishing the rest of the time. I was 37, 38 years old. I wanted to retire by age 50.

Homer Mannix, who owned the building, was interested in being the publisher, editor and manager; he wanted to run the whole paper himself. I had applied for official adjudication and after about six months of operation I sold the paper to Homer for $1700.

The old man who owned the Mendocino Beacon was living back in New York and he was running short. He came down to Hayward where I was working and made me an offer that I couldn't refuse. That is why I had to sell all my interest in the Anderson Valley Advertiser to Mannix. I felt like I practically gave it to him but then $1700 was worth more in those days. I then went to work for the Mendocino Beacon. So that's how it turned out. But I always stayed interested in the Anderson Valley Advertiser because it was kind of a pet project of mine.

Did you move up to Mendocino County when you went to work for the Beacon?

To Mendocino Village. The Mendocino Beacon had the same type Cottrell press that I printed the Anderson Valley Advertiser on. One of the old time cylinder presses. Incidentally, a fellow was running one of those Cottrell presses, I think it was in Mobile Alabama, that was the originator of the offset process. One day he failed to put the sheet of paper in and the cylinder was turning round and round and the ink, instead of printing on the paper, made an impression directly onto the cylinder. That was the invention of offset printing or lithograph.

Anyhow, when I was working for the Mendocino Beacon, I flew up to Eureka one time — I had my own airplane — to see my old friend Carl Hovey. He used to be my foreman in Hayward back in '47. I flew up to see him when he was the foreman at the Eureka Times-Standard. I thought I could pick up a couple of shifts working for him. So I called him, told him to pick me up at the airport. That was quite a trip; it was real foggy, but that’s another story. I only put in a few shifts up there, I just wanted to see what the other newspapers were doing.

In the composing room of the Eureka Times-Standard was a big iron plate that covered part of the floor, it was right over the water at high tide. There was a little hole in that iron plate and one day the printer desided to go fishing. He dropped a line down and caught a great big fish but no way in the world could he pull it up through that little hole. Boy was he mad to have to let that fish go. Anyway, after about a year, I heard Carl Hovey bought a newspaper in Lakeport. The other newspapers gave him a big send-up that was out of this world; he was the greatest publisher of all times. Then he died...I wonder what happened to his newspaper over there in the Clearlake, Lakeport area? I’m sure it’s not the same without ol’ Carl.

Tell me a little bit about yourself, where you were born.

I was born right here in Covelo, April 2, 1915. I'm a Nomlackie-Concow Indian. I was raised by my paternal grandfather most of the time. My mother was also born here in Round Valley. In 1926, at the age of eleven, I was shipped off to an Indian school, the Sherman Indian Institute for Orphans in Riverside County. I was there for six years. I went through academic training, military style training. I was 17 when I finished at Sherman, graduating in '32. I wanted to go to the Marines or the Navy because of those six years under military training. You went to bed at somebody's command, you got up at somebody's command.

This was one of the Bureau of Indian Affairs schools?

Yes. I learned the basics of printing in the school's print shop. I received 10,000 hours and six years of vocational training in printing at that school. I never did make it to the Marines, going to work for the Arlington Times instead. That's where I really learned the printing trade. Old J.B. Smith owned the Arlington Times. He was from Mobile, Alabama and his wife was a schoolteacher. He had a big new 40 by 60 brick building put up about six miles south of Riverside and moved his Contrell press down there. The back third of the building was his print shop area. I was with him for five years setting type, running errands and the presses in conjunction with the six years of training at school.

So you were a bona fide printer by then?

Oh yeah, that’s how I learned my trade. J.B. Smith, he wanted to sell me his building, the name of his newspaper and all the equipment that went with it. He had a variety store in one third of his building that was the beginning of those quick market places; “Quick-Mart” I think they're called now. He wanted to sell me all of that for $6500 but I didn’t go for it. I passed by there about ten years ago and that old brick building is still standing as solid as ever.

I remember one time I was setting Linotype and the machine began to rattle and rumble as I was turning it. That was probably the first time but not the last that I sat at a machine with an earthquake rumbling. It didn't last very long but I kept running it. You don’t stop the presses unless it’s really important.

Over the years I’ve worked at a lot of newspapers. Let’s see, besides the Arlington Times there was the Oakland Tribune, the old Livermore Herald & News, the Hayward Review, San Jose Mercury News, and the Hayward Journal. I was a partner and editor-publisher of the Fort Bragg Advocate and the Mendocino Beacon. Plus I had a print shop in Livermore on Railroad Avenue for 30 some years. Oh, and of course the Anderson Valley Advertiser.

That's quite a newspaper history.

It’s been my life, and I have no regrets. I love the business. When I sold it the Anderson Valley paper was going good. I gave it all the support I could to keep it going. And I guess it's still going yet, isn't it?

It's still going today. In fact, it's developed a real national and even international reputation.

How nice! What a contribution.

We owe it to you. Bruce Anderson is the editor/publisher now, and we print up about three thousand copies a week. About half are subscribers in-county and stand sales, the other half are mailed out to subscribers to almost every state in the union and quite a few foreign countries. It’s not a big paper but it’s read in some perty unique places for a small community newspapr; in Chiapas, Mexico, Hong Kong, Germany, South Africa and Australia to name a few.

You mean I had a hand in creating a terrible mess like that? [laughs] The mess of the press.

People either love it or hate it, there's not much in-between.

Well, that's good. Sometimes if you hate something, and it bugs you enough, you have to respond to it, in one way or another.

We take our responsibility to report on the local government seriously. Most everyone in the County government reads the Anderson Valley Advertiser, the judges, law-enforcement, lawyers and department heads. They say they hate it and claim they don't read it but they read it every week. They have to see if their name's in there, see if they got beat up on this week. We take the obligation of the fourth estate seriously.

That’s as it should be. I’m proud of what my little paper’s become. Just one thing: When you write this up, spell out Anderson Valley Advertiser; none of that AVA stuff. It’s a lazy practice to get into.

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