Los Angeles Herald-Examiner
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The Los Angeles Herald Examiner was a major Los Angeles daily newspaper, published Monday through Friday in the afternoon, and in the morning on Saturdays and Sundays. It was part of the Hearst syndicate. The afternoon Herald-Express and the morning Examiner, both of which had been publishing in the city since the turn of the 20th century, merged in 1962. For a few years after this merger, the Herald Examiner claimed the largest afternoon-newspaper circulation in the country.
It published its last edition on November 2, 1989.
William Randolph Hearst founded the Los Angeles Examiner in 1903, in order to assist his campaign for the presidential nomination on the Democratic ticket and to complement his San Francisco Examiner. The Los Angeles Herald Examiner Mission Revival and Spanish Colonial Revival style building, located at the southwest corner of Broadway and 11th Streets, was largely designed by San Francisco architect Julia Morgan then associated with Los Angeles architects J. Martyn Haenke and William J. Dodd whose contribution to the design is not yet determined by scholars.
The newspaper was descended from the Los Angeles Examiner, founded in 1903 by William Randolph Hearst as a union-friendly answer to the Los Angeles Times. At its peak in 1960, the Examiner had a circulation of 381,037. It attracted the top newspapermen and women of the day. The Examiner flourished in the 1940s under the leadership of City Editor James H. Richardson, who led his reporters to emphasize crime and Hollywood scandal coverage.
The Herald Examiner was the result of a merger with the Los Angeles Herald-Express in 1962. And the Herald-Express was the result of a merger between the Los Angeles Evening Express and Evening Herald in 1931. The Herald-Express was also Hearst-owned and excelled in tabloid journalism under City Editor Agness Underwood, a veteran crime reporter for the Los Angeles Record before moving to the Herald-Express first as a reporter and later its city editor.
The Examiner, while founded as a pro-labor newspaper, moved to the far right over the decades. It was pro-law enforcement and was vehemently anti-Japanese during World War II. Its editorials openly praised the mass deportation of Mexicans, including U.S. citizens, in the early 1930s, and was hostile to liberal movements and labor strikes during the Depression. Its coverage of the Zoot Suit Riots in Los Angeles during World War II also was particularly harsh on the Mexican-American community.
Much of its conservative rhetoric was minimized when Richardson retired in 1957. Underwood remained on staff following the merger in an upper management position, leaving the day-to-day operations to younger editors.
The Hearst Corporation decided to make the new Herald Examiner an afternoon paper, leaving the morning field to the Los Angeles Times. But readers’ tastes and demographics were changing. Afternoon newspaper readership was declining. Following the merger between the Herald-Express and Examiner, readership of the morning Los Angeles Times soared to 757,000 weekday readers and more than 1 million on Sunday. The Herald Examiner’s circulation dropped from a high of 730,000 in mid-1960s to 350,000 in 1977. By the time the Herald Examiner folded in 1989 its circulation was 238,000.
Black Dahlia coverage
The Examiner was the first newspaper to break the story of the dismemberment murder of 22-year-old Elizabeth Short, who was ultimately dubbed the Black Dahlia by Los Angeles Herald-Express crime reporter Bevo Means.
Examiner reporter Will Fowler was on another assignment with photographer Felix Paegel on January 15, 1947, when they heard a radio call of a mutilated female body found in a vacant lot on Norton Avenue in the Leimert Park area of Los Angeles. Fowler and Paegel arrived before police and observed the body. Fowler claimed in his autobiography that he knelt down to close Short's eyes before Paegel began shooting pictures. City editor Richardson in his own autobiography had another, more mundane version of the Examiner obtaining the story. He said that reporter Bill Zelinsky called the city desk from Los Angeles Police headquarters to report the discovery of the body and a reporter and photographer were dispatched to the lot where a crowd of newsmen was already assembled.
Whatever the facts were, the morning Examiner scooped the other Los Angeles newspapers by publishing an extra edition two hours before any of the afternoon newspapers hit the streets.
By the late afternoon of January 15, an autopsy on Short was completed by the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office. The victim's fingerprints were scheduled to be airmailed to the FBI fingerprint identification division in Washington, D.C. Examiner Assistant Managing Editor Warden Woolard suggested to Los Angeles police Capt. Jack Donahoe, who was chief of the department’s homicide division, that the victim’s fingerprints be transmitted to the FBI by using the Examiner's new Soundphoto machine. During the early morning hours of January 16, the International News Photo wire service received the prints via photo transmission from the Examiner. Soon afterward, the FBI identified the victim as Elizabeth Short.
In the early afternoon of January 16 an Examiner extra hit the streets, again beating the competition. The Examiner identified Short and provided details of her life growing up in Massachusetts, and details of her adult life in Santa Barbara and later in Los Angeles. The Examiner noted that Short had lived in Los Angeles for a period of time before moving to various other cities in the pursuit of jobs and men. She returned to Los Angeles in 1946 and lived in hotels and rooming houses while visiting a man she had met while living in Florida.
Each day the Examiner came up with more details of Short’s murder and painted her as a lovelorn woman searching for a husband. The Los Angeles Daily News was getting hammered daily by the Examiner. The newspaper's editors were so desperate for fresh stories that they sent rookie reporter Roy Ringer to the Examiner's offices on Broadway. Ringer was new and unknown to Examiner newsmen. He walked into the Examiner’s composing room from off the street and lifted the Black Dahlia story proofs off the spikes and walked out. The Daily News city desk then rewrote the Examiner’s stories. After three days of stealing Examiner copy, Ringer walked into the composing room on the fourth day for a fresh batch of Black Dahlia stories. As he was about to grab a handful of proofs from the spike, someone from behind grabbed his shoulder. Behind Ringer was Examiner city editor James Richardson. “Nice try”, said Richardson, as he sent Ringer back to the Daily News empty-handed.
At one point an anonymous tip led Examiner reporters to the Greyhound bus station in downtown Los Angeles, where a steamer trunk owned by Short was discovered. Inside were letters, photographs and clothing belonging to the victim. The Examiner obtained the contents and led coverage of Short’s life leading up to her death based on her own personal records and in her own voice. In another instance, more photos, newspaper clippings and letters were anonymously mailed to the Examiner. Richardson often said in subsequent interviews about his years at the Examiner that he believed the letters were from Short’s killer.
The Black Dahlia case was never solved, but for three months it led most of the Los Angeles newspaper's front pages until other sensational homicides replaced it.
On December 15, 1967, Herald Examiner employees began a strike that lasted almost a decade and resulted in at least $15 million in losses. At the time of the labor strife, the paper's circulation was about 721,000 daily and it had 2,000 employees. The strike ended in March 1977, with circulation having dropped to about 350,000 and the number of employees to 700. Many veteran reporters left and never returned. As circulation went into free-fall, advertisers were reluctant to use it, and the unions campaigned effectively to its working-class readership, urging them to cancel subscriptions.
Despite Hearst's belated efforts to restore some of the paper's luster, the Herald Examiner went out of business November 2, 1989, leaving the Los Angeles Times as the sole city-wide daily newspaper, though the San Fernando Valley-based Los Angeles Daily News has tried to take its place.
Jailing of William Farr
During the 1970 Los Angeles murder trial of Charles Manson and his followers, who were charged with the 1969 murders of actress Sharon Tate and six others, Herald Examiner reporter William (Bill) Farr reported in an article that Manson had planned to murder Elizabeth Taylor and Frank Sinatra.
Farr was summoned by Judge Charles Older to divulge his sources for the article. Farr refused. But at that time Farr had left the Herald Examiner to work for the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office and later for the Los Angeles Times. Farr cited the California reporters shield law that protected him from revealing his sources, but Older ruled that since Farr was no longer a journalist he was required to hand over his notes.
Farr continued to refuse to reveal his sources and was jailed for 46 days in 1972-73 on a contempt of court citation. Although he was released from custody, his case dragged through the courts for several years. The courts, however, recognized that a journalist could spend the rest of his life in jail if he refuses to divulge his sources on moral principle. In 1974, the California state Court of Appeal determined in Re Farr (36 C.A. 3d 577, 1974) that a procedure had to be adopted that allowed the courts to hold a hearing to consider a contempt of court citation involving the shield law. The first issue was whether a reporter was refusing to reveal sources by invoking the shield on “moral principle.” The second consideration by the court was whether incarcerating the reporter would likely induce him or her to reveal the sources. In 1976, the state appellate court finally set aside the contempt citation.
The Farr case in effect strengthened the California shield law and served as a precedent in future shield law cases involving journalists.
Notable staff members
Writers and editors
- Jim Bellows
- Alex Ben Block
- Carl Greenberg
- Harold A. Henry, later a community journalist and a Los Angeles City Council member
- Andrew Jaffe
- Jim Murray
- Louella Parsons
- Will Fowler; Reporters: Memoirs of a Young Newspaperman; Roundtable Publishing; ISBN 0-915677-61-X (hardback, 1991)
- James Richardson; For the Life of Me: Memoirs of a City Editor ; G.P. Putnam's Sons; (hardback, 1954)
- Rob Leicester Wagner; Red Ink White Lies: The Rise and Fall of Los Angeles Newspapers 1920-1962; ISBN 0-944933-80-7; Dragonflyer Press; (paperback, 2000)
- Wayne Overbeck; Major Principles of Media Law; Wadsworth Publishing Co Inc.; ISBN 978-0-495-05030-8 (hardback, 2006)
- C T White; Website: William J. Dodd 1861-1930 ~American Architect and Designer~ Sources on History of LA Herald Examiner: LA Times and LA Public Library