James Alan Guthrie was a man of enormous talents and boundless energy. He was an outstanding public official, civic leader and journalist. A native of San Bernardino, he served his profession, city and state for 60 years, and upon his retirement, he was hailed as a man who truly matched the mountains of his native California. Born Sept. 14, 1888, his story is inseparably locked into the story of his town and how he and it grew as one.
In 1904, Guthrie, at the age of 16, was hired by The Daily Sun, a small paper in San Bernardino. Guthrie worked as San Bernardino High School correspondent for $5 per month. Times were not easy so he went to work at the Santa Fe Railway. He worked for two years as a stenographer, and even then wrote a railroad column.
Guthrie never finished high school, but he demonstrated what was to be one of his strong characteristics in journalism — an absolute, stubborn dedication to what he believed was right and a powerful drive to see achieved that in which he believed.
Then, on April 17,1905, a vacancy developed on The Sun staff.
“Mr. Harbison summoned me and I jumped at the chance to become a full-fledged reporter,” Guthrie wrote. “It was the joy of my boyhood ambition.”
Guthrie became the best reporter The Sun ever had and possibly ever will have. He knew what made news, he knew the people who were making the news, and he knew how to write the news.
Guthrie’s thirst for news was unquenchable, and he was irritated that a simple mechanical chore such as typing must stand in the way of his getting more news to the reader. He developed the skill of typing 110 words in a minute.
Editor Harbison promoted Guthrie to news editor of The Sun, and in 1920, Guthrie became the managing editor and a partner to Harbison.
Harbison died in 1937, and Guthrie succeeded him as editor and president of The Sun Co. The circulation was 16,872. The Sun Co. by that time had purchased another newspaper, the Evening Telegram. The two papers were merged to save money, but still retained their own identities. The Telegram was published in the afternoon and The Sun in the morning, with a combined Sun-Telegram on Sunday.
To those who knew Guthrie, his years as publisher were the most memorable. He loved the power of the press, the capacity of a newspaper to influence a community. He was a great reporter, but his outstanding talent as a journalist lay in his editorial-writing ability. His terse, sharp style made his editorials classics in effectiveness.
He lashed politicians and ineffective public officials with the same vigor he supported prefects and people he considered good for the community.
Guthrie celebrated his 50th year with The Sun Co. in 1954. The event brought him national acclaim and an avalanche of affectionate congratulations from thousands of friends. He was highly sought after as a director by business and civic groups, which recognized his abilities as an organizer and supervisor.
In 1964, Guthrie was 76 years old and he began thinking of the future Sun-Telegram — The Sun-Telegram without James A. Guthrie.
He wanted to leave The Sun Co. to his descendents, to keep it an independent, San Bernardino-owned company. He had watched with some pain as other local companies had been bought by or affiliated with larger companies from the outside, and he didn’t want it to happen to The Sun-Telegram.
But there was a problem — inheritance taxes. Lawyers told Guthrie that his family would have to sell the company just to pay the taxes if he left it to them in his will. Reluctantly, he announced to his employees that The Sun Co. had been sold to the Los Angeles Times because of the tax situation.
On Jan. 30, 1965, Guthrie received the highest tribute of his then 60 years in journalism when 1,000 friends gathered from all parts of the nation to honor him at a spectacular dinner.
Though Guthrie retired, he kept in close touch with The Sun Co. through his son, James K. Guthrie, whom the Los Angeles Times had appointed publisher.
Guthrie left behind him a prosperous and growing San Bernardino, a legacy to which he had devoted his life. When he died Aug. 23, 1966, the population of the city was 109,550, the combined circulation of The Sun and The Telegram was 75,000 and a staff of 450 put them on the streets. The town of 10,000 people with a paper of 1,900 circulation had come a long way.
*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.*