Valley Voice Makes Newspaper History… Again

The Visalia Delta building circa 1895.
The Visalia Delta building circa 1895.

There is much talk these days about the demise of the newspaper—technology, the argument goes, is making the print media obsolete. Despite the obvious shift to electronic information, there are still some who value the printed word, and haven’t given up on newsprint. Catherine Doe and her husband Joseph Oldenbourg are two such people. They have boldly stepped forward and have taken over the proprietorship and publishing of the much revered Valley Voice—a newspaper that began in 1979 and then abruptly stopped in December, 2011. By rescuing the Voice, Catherine and Joseph have made history and have added their names to the long list of newspaper journalists who have for more than 150 years published a Visalia-based newspaper.

Visalia’s newspaper history has been interesting but not always pleasant. On June 25, 1859, Isaac N. Carpenter launched the Tulare County Record and Fresno Examiner in Visalia, the first newspaper in the Southern San Joaquin Valley. He owned it for about two months, and then was sold it to John Shannon and a man named Killmer. The name was quickly changed to the Visalia Weekly Delta—a name that was chosen for the fertile and water rich region around Visalia.

As the Civil War approached, the pro-south Delta openly took on a Confederate states bias and frequently was critical of President Abraham Lincoln. In response to the Delta, another newspaper called The Visalia Sun was born, and took a firm stand in support of the Union. The two newspapers battled editorially and in 1860 Shannon and William G. Morris, who was affiliated with the Sun, took their differences to the street. The resulting gunfight cost Shannon his life.

Three years later more violence erupted involving another Visalia newspaper, the Equal Rights Expositor. This time no one was hurt, but the printing office of this southern sympathetic newspaper was ransacked, and the printing equipment was totally destroyed by Union troops. The Expositor’s editors, Hall and Garrison, were arrested and placed in the guardhouse at nearby Camp Babbitt for treasonous reporting. After their release, they left town. In 1865, Garrison returned to Visalia and established the Tulare Times.

During the early years, other newspapers appeared in Visalia under a variety of names. Most published only a short time under names such as, Spread Eagle (1873), Iron Age (1878), Democratic Free Press (1885), San Joaquin Valley Resources (1888), Visalia Star (1891), Tulare County News (1894), Visalia Morning Courier (1905), Tulare County Press (1912), and Daily Transcript (1918.)

But the Times and Delta were different. They had a lasting quality. A form of the Times has been published since 1865 and the Delta has been present since its beginning in 1859.

In 1928 a deal was reached between, Morley Maddox, owner of the Visalia Daily Times, and Charles Whitmore, owner of the Visalia Morning Delta, and the two men merged their papers to create the Visalia Times-Delta. The newspaper has changed hands a number of times since the merger. William Kampe of Chicago bought it in 1944, Speidel Newspapers took over in 1948, and Gannett Co., the current owners, have published it since 1976.

In 1979 a new paper appeared in Visalia called the Valley Voice. It promised reporting on entertainment, news, views and lifestyles. According to John Lindt, one of the three partners in the venture, they wanted “to see competition in the market” and wanted to offer alternative voices and views. He added, “In addition, I think we wanted to see coverage of business activities that went unnoticed in the region.”

The first monthly issue was published in November. John Lindt and Craig Lindaman were named as publishers and Carmel Jarvis was listed as editor. It was a 32-page tabloid with an eagle as part of the masthead. The inaugural issue listed nine staff members and the same number of contributing writers. 18,000 copies were printed. Carmel introduced the readers to the newspaper saying, “Welcome to the open pages of the Valley Voice. If it were possible I’d put a red ribbon on every copy. A gift to Visalia with love.”

In about 1982, John bought out his partners and became the solo owner. It is his name most closely associated with the paper. In 2005 he sold the majority of the company to a local group of investors who owned it until the Voice stopped with the December 22, 2011 issue. The sudden end stunned the community. The headline to the last issue read “Silenced” and the first sentence to the lead story told the sad news, “Visalia is losing its Voice.” George Lurie, editor and publisher, had to deliver the message. “It is with the deepest regret and sadness, especially at this time of the year, that I share with the community the disheartening news.” The 32-year old paper had become a victim of hard financial times.

For the next several months the disbelieving community waited to see if someone would take over the defunct newspaper, but no one came.

During 2012 and early 2013, there were rumors of a Valley Voice comeback, but none materialized. Finally, help came. Catherine and Joseph decided the old established tabloid that many had given up for dead still had life. Now, Visalia has its Voice back.

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