Thirty years ago, I was in the right place at the right time. The place was my house on Croydon Lane off Fernwood with a view of the Canyon for realtors to rhapsodize over. The time was when a few crisp pages of what appeared to be vellum arrived in my mailbox.
On closer inspection, this document revealed a few photos, some notes on local events, charming line drawings and a scant smattering of advertisements. It was, of course, an early issue from the team that made it happen, an effort that would become the Messenger, but was then such an infant it had no name.
I was entranced. Newspapers are in my blood. After I left school in England, I worked for three local papers. Then I was employed by three papers in Fleet Street and edited a national paper in Scotland. I lived for two years in the Soviet Union and for five years in Vietnam as a foreign correspondent.
With all this experience, I could see that the no-name paper was struggling. Sid Francis on Cheney Drive printed the thick newsprint, which was very costly. And all newspapers need a sensible modicum of advertising to survive
After enough thought to say blink, I ventured into the new papers cramped office in a trailer on Grand View and discovered that, as I suspected, the inspired and dedicated team had no money. So, in a wild act of enthusiasm, I offered to ensure the papers future by investing my savings of $10,000. My wife Bridget, along with other folk, thought I was crazy.
The papers founders did not meet my gesture with unanimous approval, understandably so.
I was a strangera foreigner! How were they to know I was legit, and that my gift did not require invasive equine dentistry? Even worse, I worked as West Coast correspondent for the Daily Telegraph, a staunchly Thatcherite, right-wing publication. Hmmm something fishy here. This country was still in the turbulent wake of Watergate, and suspicion of conspiracy ran rife.
Happily, the slaves on Grand View soon took me on trust, gave me the title of publisher and let me make suggestions, rather than issuing orders. The first thing I decided was to move from the minuscule office. It was depressing and could be bad for morale. I thought the paper needed a higher public profile, somewhere in the commercial center of Topanga where we could be seen by lots of passers-by. Happily, again, we found a space close to the Post Office, a few doors down from Joe Gersons Market. We have been there ever since, although Joe has goneto Stowe, Vermont, I hear.
We had to do something about finding a name. Woodcraftsman Merrick Davidson, undisputed leader of the team, launched a name-your-newspaper contest. There were dozens of suggestions. My favorite was Coast and Canyon News, but this descriptive phrase had already been taken by a local realtor. Todd Haile, an artist, won agreement with his entry the Messenger. He also drew the Messenger logo boy who, to this day, strides on his lonely way in the title block at the top of page one. I can find only one other paper in America with Messenger in its title, so we are one of just two.
Another thing. All the original volunteers were either artists or art enthusiasts and there was total agreement that the phrase News and Arts Publication would be on our masthead. I think we honor those early wishes with our coverage of the ever-creative Topanga arts scene.
In time, we found a newspaper printer in the Valley and we bought cautiously into new technology to make the paper simpler to assemble. Now, the completed pages are e-mailed directly to the printer.
It was so Topanga!
The cover of the first issue of the as-yet unnamed Messenger, published December 1, 1976, pictures nine of the ten founders. Colin Penno took the photograph. Publisher Ian Brodie came on board soon thereafter, providind vitally needed financial backing and professional journalistic experience.
Look at the front-page photo of the founders, which appeared in the first edition, and you can see the excitement of being in a co-operative where everyone agreed to work prolonged hours for no pay for the satisfaction of spreading the word.
I am proud to say we fought the good fight, most notably when the Messenger railed against plans to develop the pristine rural acres at the north end of the Boulevard. With solid backing from TASC, we argued against plans that would have brought in housing estates, golf and country clubs, radio masts, even an airport. We believed, with TASCs support, that these proposals would light up the night sky, aggravate the already heavy traffic and put an intolerable strain on our water resources.
After a decade or more of argument, a throng of Topanga protesters went downtown where they made their objections heard by elected representatives and appointed officials. Amazingly, all the development plans were denied. The spread of exurbia was stopped cold. Now, as you drive past the unspoiled expanse of Summit Valley and beyond, it is good to reflect on what press- and people-power can achieve.
Al Martinez nominated the Messenger for a Pulitzer Prize for its 16-year coverage of Summit Valley development battle, most of it under the pen of former editor Colin Penno. Alas, the paper didnít qualify as it came out only once every two weeks.
More recently, the Messenger watch-dogs have tried to ensure that residents evicted from the Rodeo Ground receive the compensation they were promised.
The Topanga Historical Societys brilliant volume, The Topanga Story, says of the Messenger, Considering the shaky start and low-budget operations, the paper frequently publishes outstanding articles by professional writers on topics of local, national and international interest while providing a forum for the community. Well put.
At the bottom of page two, the paper says the following: Your independent newspaper dedicated to defending the public interest in our Topanga community for the past 29 years, (now 30). God Save the First Amendment!
Ian Brodie is retired and living in Bethesda, Maryland with his wife Bridget.