George Murphy Jr. was “The Newspaper” in Manteca for 28 years.
And in many ways, he represented journalism to many people throughout the state.
One of the last of the “one-man shops” in California, Murphy could often be found sitting at a linotype writing editorials or columns. Friends used to kid him about his four-fingered typing, but his hunt-and- peck method was made necessary by the fact that he wrote on both a manual typewriter and a linotype, which do not have the same keyboards.
And whether writing one of his deep and soul- searching editorials or one of his light, front page Batting the Breeze columns, these four fingers would fly even faster than his fast-thinking mind could compose.
When George was battling the cancer that eventually took his life, a publisher from California remarked how he used to read all of Murphy’s editorials even though “I didn’t know anything about Manteca.”
But you didn’t have to know anything about Manteca to know that the writer of those editorials cared deeply for his hometown.
And you didn’t have to be a journalistic expert to realize the work and thought that went into every editorial signed by George Murphy Jr.
A self-taught speed-reader, Murphy could consume and digest huge amounts of written material, and it was this consumption that made him so well-informed about every subject from local building ordinances to foreign affairs.
The best way to sum up George Murphy Jr. and his newspaper career would be to say, “He cared.”
Sure, most of the people in the business care, but George went caring a step further. He felt that as a newspaperman in a small town, he had the responsibility to be as fair as possible with every story. And he felt that it was just as important to make sure the smallest social item was as correct as the most important story in the paper.
He hated the saying, “We don’t make the news, we just report it.” He considered that a cop out that ignored the real responsibility that every paper has to its readers.
He served as the mentor for many people in the business, and he taught them all that every time they wrote a story, it could have a major effect on someone’s life.
He felt that modern journalism schools did a poor job in teaching journalism grads about the ethics of journalism.
And the word ethical was an understatement when used to describe the way George Murphy Jr. ran his newspaper.
He never batted an eye when a Bank of America executive happened to be found guilty of drunken driving in an accident in Manteca. Even though pressure was brought to bear from the main office, and Bank of America was not only an advertiser but the holder of the mortgage on Murphy’s Manteca Bulletin, the story ran.
When he sold The Bulletin in 1972, he wrote a final Batting the Breeze column.
It said a lot about his newspaper philosophy: “But in the last analysis, the awards, the plaques and the recognition that come to a newspaper publisher are rather meaningless. The important thing is people. And the finest award we have ever received, or will ever receive, is when people have come up to us recently and simply said, ‘We’re going to miss you and Pat at the paper.’”
Following his sale of the paper to a corporation, and the eventual startup of a competitor, there was much discussion in Manteca about the “Murphy style of journalism.”
And what was that style?
It was caring. And it was concerned. And it always held that there must be a strong sense of responsibility for everything that appears on its pages.
He also wrote in that final column:
“President Lincoln said at Gettysburg: ‘The world will little note nor long remember what we say here.’ And so it is as we say our few words here. We are under no illusions as to the size dent we have made in the history of a tiny spot on this globe. Neither our survival nor our departure will be noted for long.”
But that was one of the few times he was wrong. His departure will be noted for a long time by the many peers who saw him as a role model in this business.
And for every person who knew him only as stern, tough and outspoken, there were more who knew the other side. The caring nature, the quick sense of humor and the willingness to laugh during the most trying of times.
He wrote: “One might hope, however, that some- time in the future, someone might reflect back on the town’s history and say: Well, I think maybe the Murphys left the town in a little better shape than when they found it.”
And many have said that.
He loved The Bulletin and he loved Manteca. And when he found himself on opposite sides of an issue with perhaps his best friends, he always wrote with conviction on the side of what he felt was best for his city.
Because of his willingness to tackle the toughest of issues, he made many friends and some enemies.
But even his enemies, and that’s probably too harsh a word, admitted the utmost in respect for his integrity and sincerity.
And that’s why it’s pretty apparent that he left the town in a little better shape than when he found it.
He finished that final column:
“If we can even attain that small measure of success, we will have felt that our tenure as publisher of the Manteca Bulletin has been worthwhile.”
It was. It sure as hell was.
Murphy not only chronicled much of Manteca’s history from 1944 to 1972, he lived through several major chapters himself and came from pioneer Manteca families.
George D. Murphy Jr.’s first taste in helping “make” history came on Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941, a day that became known as the “Day of Infamy.” After 1 1/2 years at the University of California, Berkeley, George Murphy enlisted in the U.S. Navy.
Appropriately enough, Murphy was a printer on the U.S.S. Oklahoma when it was torpedoed and rolled over shortly after the 7:55 a.m. attack began. Murphy, 21 at the time, not having yet reached his full height and weight of 6-foot-2, 210 pounds, was the first to crawl out of the 14-inch porthole. Just two others made it out after him.
He was in the print shop when, “Air attack, air attack! This is no drill!” screamed from the ship’s speakers. He had taken but one or two steps before the first torpedo hit. He recollected that 11 to 13 torpedoes hit the ship.
He reached his battle station on the third deck (one deck below the print shop) but after several more hits, the lights went out, as did the speakers. He and some of his shipmates concluded they should have a look topside to assess the situation.
It was a futile attempt to reach topside as he was confronted by hordes of sailors either going up or down on ladders.
The ship suddenly rolled over, and Murphy was trapped in the dispensary with 35 other men. There were several dead, and he remembered having to constantly push them away from him. There was but 6 to 8 inches of an air bubble in which to breathe.
After a couple of hours someone finally discovered a porthole underwater, and attempts were made to crawl out.
Following the Pearl Harbor attack, Murphy was assigned as a gunner’s mate to the U.S.S. San Francisco, a cruiser that would eventually win the first Presidential Unit Citation.
The ship won the first citation for action off Savo Island in Solomon Islands Oct. 11-12, 1942, and action during the Battle of Guadalcanal Nov. 12-13, 1942, the latter in which four shipmates won the Congressional Medal of Honor.
It was during the second battle that Murphy was seriously wounded and subsequently sent stateside for two years of medical aid and rehabilitation. He was feted by San Francisco as its “Warrior of the Week,” an honor giving him carte blanche for a week.
On May 14, 1943, Murphy married Patricia E. Collins. They moved to Manteca in 1944 after his discharge from the hospital and the Navy to begin work as a printer at The Bulletin. Forgoing plans to return to college to pursue a career in law. Murphy bought into the newspaper owned by his father.
During his 28-year newspaper career, Murphy won numerous state and national awards for his writing, and he received in 1950 a Pulitzer Prize nomination for one of his Batting the Breeze columns, one dealing with the Korean War servicemen in battle interspersed with remembrances of his own from World War II.
He rose, in 1968, to the presidency of the California Newspaper Publishers Association. Prior to that he had been the president of the National Conference of Weekly Newspaper Editors, state chairman for National Editorial Association and president of the 3-S unit of CNPA.
While president of CNPA, he teamed up with Tom Hennion, editor of the Tulare Advance-Register and then chairman of the CNPA Newspaper Personnel Recruitment, Education and Scholarship Committee, in an effort to get the California State Board of Education to recognize journalism as an academic subject in the state colleges and university. They mounted a strong campaign and made a successful presentation to the State Board, which thereafter recognized journalism as an academic subject.
Although his principal contribution to his community was through his column and editorials in The Bulletin, Murphy was also an active participant in numerous community development projects. He was an active member of the downtown improvement group and toured the state on its behalf.
He was active in industrial development, and he was chosen to go to the Libbey-Owens-Ford headquarters when that firm was considering locating a plant in Manteca, which it did.
He also took an active role in securing approval and an appropriation to construct the Highway 99 bypass and later the Highway 120 improvement.
While a businessman in Manteca, Murphy belonged to a variety of civic clubs and organizations, was a trustee on the Manteca Union High School board from 1949 to 1953, and in 1949 was named Manteca’s “Outstanding Young Man.” In 1993, he was posthumously inducted into the Manteca Hall of Fame.
He was also a president of the Manteca District Chamber of Commerce and Commander of the McFall-Grisham Post American Legion.
Murphy was a member of Sigma Delta Chi professional journalistic society, Press Club of San Francisco, Disabled American Veterans, Military Order of the Purple Heart, Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, Chapter 26, Guadalcanal Campaign Veterans, U.S.S. San Francisco Association and the U.S.S. Oklahoma Association.
Following the sale of the Manteca Bulletin to Morris Newspaper Corp. in 1972, he served as area representative for Congressman John McFall for several years. He died at his home in Mokelumne Hill on April 27, 1991.
*Hall of Fame inductees are selected annually by a committee appointed by the California Press Foundation. They recognize career achievements of weekly and daily publishers in California who were important and influential in their era, as judged by their peers in the association. The write-ups are a historical and journalistic snapshot in time and not official biographies.*