Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Allen McCombs, Champion Newspapers, Chino, Calif

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Allen McCombs, Champion Newspapers, Chino, Calif

Article excerpt

SHOULD A SMALL-TOWN weekly editor serve as an elected member of the school board?

Most journalists would say no. But not Allen McCombs, publisher and editor of the Chino (Calif.) Champion -- even if unexpected violence is a result of that service.

Such violence erupted the night of May 19, 1971, when a special board meeting had been called.

Attention focused on the expulsion of a 17-year-old Latino student. Members of the Mexican-American community, who make up about one-fourth of Chino's population, jammed the meeting room. Another 100 filled the hall outside.

Shortly after the session started, police chief Frank Meehan, who had been standing in the corridor, opened the door wide enough to stick in his head. His eyes met those of the editor. Meehan motioned for McCombs to join him.

In his column the next week, the editor told his readers, "His face was deadly serious. He told me that there was a fire downtown and my building might be involved. The mailing crew was there addressing papers. I grabbed the nearest phone and called the office. All three lines were busy."

McCombs dashed outside to his car.

"At Ninth and C as I came around the corner... the front of the building was aglow."

The Champion had been firebombed.

McCombs said his first concern was for the mailers.

Leaping from his car, the editor dashed between firefighters and over hoses toward the parking area behind the building.

There he found all safely outside. They'd even managed to haul the addressed and bundled papers with them and move a Champion truck out of danger.

Much of his building and its contents died that night, including McCombs' rolltop desk. That ancient oak treasure had served Champion editors since the 1920s. It became McCombs' when he purchased the weekly in 1956. He'd even dubbed his personal column "Rolltop Roundup."

The paper was produced in rented quarters the next week. A woman in town offered to set all copy on her IBM Selectric typewriter. And a local contractor already had begun the rebuilding work.

In addition to the Champion, the office of another school board member had been firebombed.

"That was one of the biggest stories of my 37 years in Chino," the editor said. Then he added with a touch of whimsy, "and we were scooped on it."

In an editorial about the rampage, McCombs did not dwell on the past. Instead, he urged positive steps in dealing with concerns of all citizens.

"Representatives of the community at large [must] take concerted action to close ranks and make a determined effort to restore harmony and eliminate fear," he wrote.

Thus, he helped lead the way to healing.

This all fell in line with McCombs' philosophy of operating a community newspaper.

"I have always felt there are two types of weekly newspaper publishers: one, the kind who sit on the sidelines and judge everything that comes along, avoiding close associations in the town. Two, those who take an active part, who get involved."

McCombs definitely qualifies as the latter.

Three months after coming to Chino, he joined the Rotary Club. He served 10 years on the school board, was appointed to the city planning commission and was elected president of the Chamber of Commerce and United Way.

Within his profession, McCombs also opts for getting involved.

He did stints as president of both the California Newspaper Publishers Association and California Press Association.

He chairs the CNPA Freedom of Information Committee and is a board member of the California First Amendment Coalition.

"Locally, I police the school board, city councils and fire districts [to make certain] that they observe the Brown Act [state open meeting law]. I do this because I feel it's real important to the industry."

McCombs, 64, started his journalism career at age 10 in Berkeley, Calif. …

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