Scott Newhall in his San Francisco office in 1968. Photos courtesy of Tony Newhall.
Scott Newhall, the colorful and flamboyant former executive editor of The San Francisco Chronicle and owner-publisher of The Newhall Signal, will be inducted into the California Newspaper Hall of Fame on Friday, according to the California Press Association.
At a ceremony during the association’s annual Hall of Fame Luncheon in San Francisco, Newhall will join a revered group of legendary California newspaper men and women, including William Randolph Hearst, Col. Harrison Gray Otis, C.K. McClatchy, and James Copley.
Newhall, the great-grandson of California pioneer and town founder Henry Mayo Newhall, spent most of his career at The Chronicle and The Signal.
He started as a photographer at The Chronicle in 1934 at age 20, and in 1952 he was named that newspaper’s executive editor. Caught in the midst of a circulation war with the San Francisco Examiner, he surrounded himself with talented writers like Herb Caen, Lucius Beebe, Art Hoppe, and Abigail Van Buren. His tactics included staging treasure hunts for the readers, leading a crusade to clothe naked animals, and sending a suburban family into the Sierras to see if a family could survive in the wilderness following an atomic war. By 1961, he established The Chronicle as the leading newspaper in San Francisco.
In 1963 he bought The Newhall Signal, at that time a weekly. He made it twice-weekly in 1965, then thrice-weekly in 1966. His wife Ruth served as editor of the paper in the 1970s and 1980s.
At The Signal, Scott Newhall fought against a rash of competitors, including the Santa Clarita Sentinel, the Valley News & Green Sheet, the Record Press, the Canyon Country Reporter, and the Clarion. He predicted that before he was done he would “bring the Los Angeles Times to its knees.”
To gain readers he sponsored treasure hunts, promoted a contest to name the “Duchess of Valencia,” and wrote editorials that appeared atop page one, calling for the end to the Vietnam War, impeaching President Nixon, and throwing I-5’s speeding truckers into jail.
In a battle with the competing The Santa Clarita Sentinel in the ’60s, after getting fed up with what he regarded as their insults, he challenged the Sentinel’s publisher to a “gunfight with words” at high noon on Main Street in downtown Newhall. The other publisher never showed up.
In 1978, the Newhalls sold The Signal to the Morris Newspaper Corp., but Scott continued as its editor for the next 10 years, leaving in 1988.