He was born July 3, 1896, in Greeley, Colo., the second of four children of an educator at the normal school. When his father was recommended by Columbia University to be the founding president of what is now the Texas State College for Women, the family moved to Denton, Texas, where he grew up amid hunts for bullfrogs a profitable boyhood business and leading circus elephants down Main Street in exchange for free admission tickets.
The family later settled in Venice, Calif., where his father founded and later built Venice High School.
Work demonstrated his interest in newspapers at an early age. After taking printing at high school in Venice, Work got his first newspaper job as a printer's devil in 1912. He also edited and sold advertising for the high school newspaper. The Gondolier, and delivered the Ocean Park Journal and the Venice Vanguard.
When it came time for college, his father bargained with President von Kleinsmid at the University of Southern California for the educator/missionary discount tuition for his three elder children. Thus began his lifelong career as a loyal Trojan.
Perhaps his proudest possession, displayed on the piano of his living room, was the "Tommy Trojan" awarded by his alma mater, not so much for his position as center on the fabled football team as his contributions to the profession of journalism.
As a student at USC, Work took courses in law and worked during vacations as a reporter for the Santa Monica Evening Outlook. World War I terminated Work's academic career in his junior year, when he was editor-elect of the college newspaper. The Daily Trojan. The Army sent Work to Camp Kearny, Calif., where the YMCA hired him to edit Trench and Camp, the weekly newspaper co-sponsored by the YMCA and the Los Angeles Times for distribution to all military personnel in Southern California. Work edited the paper from late 1917 until his discharge from the military in early 1919.
In June 1918, Work married his high school sweetheart, Ada Hindley, and after Work's discharge from the Army they moved to Parlier, Calif., where Work purchased the weekly Parlier Progress in March 1919. Work soon became secretary of the Fresno County Press Association, and as Work described it:
"The principal purpose of the association so far as I could learn was to police the distribution of the county supervisors' proceedings which were printed monthly in rotation by one of the 13 newspapers that were members. As paid county advertising, amounting to as much as a full page and paid for at a prevailing advertising rate, the business was lucrative. But it was difficult to understand how publication of proceedings in the Coalinga Record could inform taxpayers in Sanger or how publication in a Sanger paper another month could benefit the people in Coalinga or in Reedley or in Sanger or in Fowler. It was pretty largely a rip-off device for distributing political pap and it was the illogic and lack of economic justification for the system that led me some six or eight years after we left the San Joaquin Valley ... to seek a solution for the inequitable distribution of legal advertising through founding of the Los Angeles Newspaper Service Bureau Inc. as a sales and distribution agency for such advertising."
In August 1920, the Works and their infant daughter, Margaret Jane, moved to Selma, Calif., where Work added to his Cooperative Newspaper Union by purchasing the Selma Enterprise. During the next six years the Union added the Alta Advocate in Dinuba, the Sanger Times in Sanger and the Del Rey Enterprise in Del Rey. However, by 1926, when the Works moved to Pacific Palisades, Calif., Work had sold the Dinuba paper, suspended the Sanger paper and merged the Del Rey paper with the Selma Enterprise.
As Work observed of this period, "When you buy a newspaper, you find skeletons in closets." In this case, Work found that the prior owners of the Selma Enterprise had sold underpriced lifetime subscriptions to the paper, "and you know, those San Joaquin farmers live a long time," Work said. Work not only had to convince the farmers to pay more for their papers, he also had to line up advertisements during a postwar depression. He was able to treble circulation and advertising lineage, though, because "the key to a paper's success is circulation, not advertising, and to get circulation, you must offer content that people want to read." Work never failed to provide lively coverage in his papers.
While at Selma, Work also learned that USC had decided to award him a June 1918 degree in journalism, although the School of Journalism had not yet been founded. Thus, Work became the first journalism graduate from USC and also one of its most loyal alumni.
Work had a new opportunity to speak his mind when he moved his family, including their second child, Telford, Jr., to Pacific Palisades in June 1926. The town was founded in 1922 by a group of Methodists, and Work was to be director of public relations for the town's governing body, the Pacific Palisades Association, publishing its monthly bulletin, the Palisades Progress.
In May 1928, Work established the town's first newspaper, The Palisadian. In his editorial pages, Work supported the efforts of "the church, the YMCA and all of the good things in the community," said Martha Patterson Wynegar, a resident of the community since 1925. When Prohibition was repealed. Work, a lifelong teetotaler, refused to print liquor ads in his paper.
Work's support for construction of a cement plant in the town prompted his subscribers to boycott the paper for a time. Work responded: "The Palisadian is gratified to note that coincident with the decline in some quarters of its mail circulation, the retail sales at the drugstore counter are going up. No fair-minded editor can reasonably object to people 'stopping' their paper. But if they quit reading it — ah, that is the affront which crushes."
In another editorial on the same day, Work threatened prosecution under the anticonspiracy laws against potential organizers of subscription and advertising boycotts of the paper.
In early 1934, Work began to editorialize on the subject of public notice advertising. At that time, such ads were contemptuously referred to as "legals" and were printed in tiny type by special newspapers with minimal circulation. Work concluded that: "Legal advertising is advertising in fact and should be published where it gives information, service about people's legal rights, and where it gives notice of infringement of their rights on such matters as zoning & assessment procedures, taxes, notices of election and of events in the private realm, such as divorces, summonses, and notices of settlement of estates."
Of course, as the publisher of a small newspaper that had generated a net income of only $2,000 in 1933, Work saw that such ads would provide "a considerable slice of revenue and at the same time a vital contribution to our democratic procedures of law and responsibility for properly and economically distributing mandated advertising."
In September 1934, Work sold The Palisadian to Clifford D. Clearwater and began a daily commute to downtown Los Angeles that was to last for 50 years. Applying the concept of the Selma Raisin Growers' Cooperative, Work sought to organize the publishers of 20 suburban daily and 60 weekly newspapers into a cooperative, the Los Angeles Newspaper Service Bureau Inc., in which each paper held one share of stock, purchased for $1.
Inspired by the epigram "Making calls gets results," Work spent 16 hours a day lining up legal advertisements, which he then distributed to the appropriate community newspapers. In exchange, each newspaper paid to the bureau a percentage of the revenue earned from the printing of the ad. Of those days, Work observed, "Young people don't know what it is to work, to really put out, to have to put out."
The traditional publishers of such ads were enraged by Work's activities, but Work succeeded in the end because in a highly competitive field. "I just did a better job. ... We were decent about it, but we were aggressive about promotion." Also, he said, "Many managements just have no imagination."
Work, as a manager, "was very positive. If he wanted something, I doubt if he ever let anything stand in his way," said John Valentine, a past president and 18-year member of the Bureau's board of directors. According to Valentine, "The CNSB had only one interest — public notice and lots of it." Work was "a magnificent lobbyist" on behalf of public notice, although "he was perfectly willing to pull in his horns if it made no sense to push a proposal," Valentine added.
As owner from 1941-54 of City News Service, a Los Angeles civic center wire service, and as publisher of the Los Angeles Daily Journal, which the Bureau owned from 1950-1977, Work participated actively in the CNPA, the National Newspaper Association, the American Newspaper Publishers' Association, the Association of Court and Commercial Newspapers and the Inter-American Press Association, although according to Work's attorney, Robert F. Tyler, "Work's aggressiveness on behalf of public notice advertising sometimes brought him into conflict with the California Newspaper Publishers Association, which had a wider range of lobbying interests."
As a "One World" internationalist, he was an accredited correspondent at the 1945 organization of the United Nations in San Francisco. At the same time his City News Service was under attack by the CIO to guarantee a minimum of $100 per week for all reporters regardless of inches of copy produced. Work's counter offer to open the books to see what the business could afford, the union refused, saying: "We're not interested in what City News can afford, we want to knock it off as an example before challenging the Herald Express."
Incurring substantial personal debt for City News' survival, Work had the satisfaction in 1947 to hear Phil Murray, then head of the CIO, apologetically admit on nationwide radio that the Southern California organizers were members of the Communist Party.
In 1978, Work received the NNA's prestigious Amos Award in recognition of his success at making legal advertising into "legitimate advertising instead of just a ritual of printing notices just because the law says they must be printed."
Always interested in learning new things, Work and his wife of 68 years, Ada, visited most of the countries of the world, often on trips organized for members of the American press. Work's special interest in the Latin American press came about in part because of a trip that he made to Baja California in 1946. Always observant, Work noticed a building full of unused printing equipment, which was "like blowing the whistle for the old fire horse." Work soon learned that Jorge Carrillo, then-publisher of the Baja Californian, was printing his paper one page at a time. He also learned that the governor of Baja owned the equipment but was willing to sell. Soon Work had arranged to purchase the equipment, lend it to Carrillo and obtain power from a local factory. Thus, for 10 years, Work was co-publisher of the Baja Californian in La Paz.
Work said he had only submitted one resolution to the Inter-American Press Association during his years of membership, but it clearly expressed Work's understanding of the First Amendment. The resolution:
"To remind our respective publics that freedom of the press is not freedom of any newspaper to throw its weight around, to take the injunction as a justification for the right of the press to express itself but that freedom of the press is essential and finally is the right of the people, the public, to be given information, to be given information honestly in support of activities that affect the conduct of their governments. Where the press is persecuted is in countries that have allowed a military government to forget that freedom of the press to print the facts is the right of the people to hear the facts."
In the late 1940s, when the Los Angeles Daily Journal was being particularly harassing of the Bureau, one of the Bureau's publisher-members suggested that perhaps it would be possible to buy The Daily Journal from its publishers. An agreement was reached whereby the paper was to be purchased and paid for over a five-year period. Work's ability as a manager enabled the publishers to pay off the loan in less than three years. Unfortunately, one of The Daily Journal's stockholders was dissatisfied with the price paid by the Bureau. To vindicate the Bureau, Work spent the next nine years in litigation that cost $450,000, the price of The Daily Journal, but the courts ultimately upheld Work's position.
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, the California Newspaper Service Bureau Inc., as it came to be known, and the Los Angeles Daily Journal both continued to grow. By the time that Work retired in 1977, the CNSB had grown to amembership of 117 newspapers, and its annual revenues had increased from $5,000 in 1934 to $6 million in 1976. In addition, The Daily Journal has expanded its holdings by buying several small commercial and real estate newspapers in Sacramento and in Los Angeles.
Work's faith in his fellow man received its most severe test in the 1970s, when the Metropolitan News, a newspaper much smaller than The Daily Journal, sued the Bureau, alleging that its practices violated federal antitrust laws. True to form, Work vowed to defend the suit so long as he had the shareholders' votes to prevent settlement of the suit based on claims that Work felt were unjust.
Finally, in 1976, after years of litigation, the Bureau's board of directors elected to settle the suit and sell The Daily Journal and its subsidiary papers to the New American Fund.
Work, disgusted with the decision of the bottom-liners to settle for a $1 stock now worth $50,000, precipitously retired from the Bureau and The Daily Journal in 1977. He was especially angry because under the agreement, he received no salary for his last 2 1/2 years of work, although he spent "forty-three years down there, sold all the stock, and did all of the selling and did it successfully and did it honestly." So honestly that he never acquired a single share.
Work also became known for his inquisitiveness and for his wide range of his interests. "My basic principle on which I have always operated my businesses since the beginning is to ask, 'Why? Why? Why?', and it's a corollary that you never take anything for granted," Work said. He continued, "You can't believe anybody. That doesn't mean that you distrust them, but you can't believe them. Instead, one should 'Check. Check. Check.' for oneself," Work said. Two additional principles adhered to by Work were: People are basically good, and You can't get something for nothing.
Work also said that he applied "the four P's" in running his businesses: (1) Personnel. Work was very selective and looked for people with intelligence and character. (2) Purchasing. Work emphasized buying only what was necessary and buying that as cheaply as possible. "Many businesses went broke because of an inability to control costs," Work said. (3) Planning. As the Los Angeles legal community began to expand into neighboring counties, the Los Angeles Daily Journal, of which Work was publisher, expanded also, becoming the first legal newspaper to have a regional focus. (4) Promotion. "I was never one to be modest about telling the world how much better we, the Daily Journal, were than the New York Law Journal," Work said.
At times, in justification for a tight-fisted transaction, he prided himself in his Scottish Orkney and Lowland heritage diluted by marriage to a wife of English-Irish extraction so that he repeatedly reminded his progeny that they were "English, Irish, Scotch and Welsh." They in turn diversified to Mexican, German, Ecuadorian, French and West Australian, the generational change to the One World of Wendell Wilkie, whom he held in high regard.
Work's fundamental interest in life ultimately prevailed over his disappointment at the directors' decision, though, and he turned full time to another long-time interest, agriculture. Over the past three decades. Work had been purchasing cattle and land in Nevada. Although younger men did the physical labor, Work kept tabs on developments that might improve the productivity of the land. Also, he joined with the School of Agriculture at the University of Nevada, Reno, to establish the Central Nevada Experiment Farm and was one of the original supporters of the school's Calves for College program, which arranges scholarships for agriculture students.
Telford Work at 96 had survived wars, depressions, strikes and lawsuits to pursue a newspaper career that had spanned eight decades. His efforts to change the nature of public notice advertising and to publish profitable newspapers with worthwhile content often were controversial. Work set an example by his conduct, though, for he achieved his goals without sacrificing the idealism and high principles that guided his efforts. He also had never ceased to be curious and thoughtful about the world around him.
Work died at his Pacific Palisades home on Sept. 28, 1992, at the age of 96. He was preceded in death by his wife Ada, and his son, Robert, who died prematurely of a pulmonary embolism in 1986 at the age of 58. He is survived by one son. Dr. Telford Work Jr. and a daughter, Margaret Jane Pollock.
*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.*