Oakland, Calif. — Twenty-five years ago young Bob Maynard couldn't land a job as a cub reporter on the East Coast. Today, Robert C. Maynard is owner, publisher, and editor of a well-known West Coast daily - the Oakland Tribune.
A high school dropout from Brooklyn, N.Y., who in the early 1960s became one of the first blacks to pierce the hiring barriers of the white daily press, Mr. Maynard recently became the first black owner of a metropolitan daily in the United States. He purchased majority stock in the Tribune from the Gannett Company for $22 million.
With optimism that, considering his past experience, is not surprising, Maynard rejects arguments that the task of reviving the Trib's flagging fortunes might be too much for his triple-threat talents. Admitting that the paper has suffered identity problems in recent years and has been through particularly tough times in recent months, Maynard said in an interview, ''Though to some, the future of the Tribune was in doubt, it never was in my mind.''
Founded in 1874, the Tribune was purchased by Joseph R. Knowland in 1915 and remained in his family until 1977. The last member of the family to run the paper was the late William F. Knowland, a Republican US senator from California from 1945 to 1959. Reflecting the political conservatism of the Knowlands, the Tribune in recent decades had become more and more detached from the city's growing black and Hispanic population. In 1979 the Gannett chain bought the Tribune from Combined Communications Corporation. Because it is in the process of acquiring KRON-TV in San Francisco, just across the bay, Gannett was forced by government antimonopoly regulations to dispose of the Oakland newspaper.
Maynard, who was hired as the Tribune's editor in 1979 and added the title of publisher in 1981, negotiated new employee agreements, making work-rule changes and salary adjustments beneficial to management. And he obtained the financial backing of the Canadian Commercial Bank, Crocker National Bank of San Francisco, and the Gannett Corporation to make the purchase.
Among the local and national community leaders Maynard recruited for his board of directors are Shirley Temple Black of Woodside, Calif., the former child actress and US Ambassador to Ghana, and Alex Haley, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of ''Roots.''
''Now that we've got all our ducks in row - got the paper well financed, we will get it reorganized,'' says Maynard. ''Our circulation's at about 175,000, our (advertising) lineage is improving as the economy improves, and we're very close to break-even. From there, becoming profitable is just a matter of doing the fundamentals. We've got some areas where we have to work hard, but I feel it's doable. I think our future's quite secure.''
Maynard's skills as a salesman, negotiator, and manager were severely tested in working out the Tribune reorganization and purchase. Union contracts were crucial.
''Our labor costs would have sunk us at the old level, without some ability to freeze wages and get back some operational control.'' The negotiations involved editorial as well as production workers, but in the end everyone was enthusiastic about the new contract, which included an employee profit-sharing plan. Staffers ratified the contract by nearly a 9-to-1 margin, Maynard says.
There were no pay cuts, just a freeze, he explains, and most personnel cuts are being achieved through attrition.
''We didn't have much of what you might call 'featherbedding' (people doing unnecessary tasks), but we had to be able to staff according to our needs to a much greater degree than we used to be able to do.''
Proving that things are doable is a lifelong habit for Maynard. The youngest child in a family of six children (three boys and three girls), he was the only one who didn't go to college.
The Maynards lived in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, where the father had a trucking business. Dinner-table conversation was not only lively, it was competitive, according to Maynard. Young Bob, four years junior to his nearest sibling, had difficulty keeping up.
''I began writing down things to keep up my end of conversation. Not long after, my father, who dealt in surplus goods, acquired a used Underwood typewriter.'' Eight-year-old Bob claimed it, and ''that's how I began writing. I imagined myself somewhere between Langston Hughes and Ernest Hemingway,'' he recalls, ''sometimes poetic, sometimes trenchant reporting.''
''One Friday night, the dinner-table repartee was fast, even raucous.'' Taking advantage of a rare break, Bob read a short piece he had written. It was followed, he remembers, ''by profound silence. My mother said, 'So, you're going to be the writer.' No one in my family expected me to be anything else after that.''
At age 16, Maynard ''concluded I knew so well what I wanted to do that it was a waste of time to be in high school. So I began cutting classes and hanging around at a little weekly newspaper.'' Brooklyn had many such papers then. ''I began spending more and more time at the newspaper and less and less at school. Finally, I was totally into the newspaper operation.
At 19, he moved into a room in Greenwich Village in Manhattan and ''went into business as a writer.'' It was 1956, and Maynard was pounding out free-lance articles on his old Underwood typewriter.
''When I couldn't earn money from writing, I would do odd jobs - service, sales. . . . I'd keep sending clips (of articles he'd had published) out to daily papers,'' Maynard recalls, ''and at first I wouldn't indicate my race. That got me a few interviews.''
But no job offers. ''One guy said I was good enough to cover suburbs, but the people just wouldn't be able to talk to me and I wouldn't be able to understand them. Another said his publisher would shoot him if he hired a black man.
''Any newspaper I heard of that sounded any good, I'd write the editor. Then I met Jim Higgins, editor of the York, Pennsylvania, Gazette. Heard him speak and introduced myself afterward. He invited me to write something. He used it, interviewed me, and gave me a job.''
It was 1960 when Maynard joined the staff of the small daily in south-central Pennsylvania.
''I did everything'' in the way of reporting, he recalls, ''and loved it.''
In 1965, Mr. Higgins encouraged Maynard to seek a Nieman fellowship at Harvard University, and in 1966 he was selected for the one-year study grant coveted by American reporters. The largely self-educated Maynard used it to fill gaps in his learning, taking courses in ''economics, art and music history, and other areas.''
After the Nieman year, he spent one more year in York, as night city editor, then accepted a reporting job at the Washington Post. ''Once again, I was able to do almost everything under the sun in the 10 years I was there.''
Maynard was able to help other young blacks break into the profession, as well. Fred Friendly, former CBS News executive, had established a summer training program for budding black journalists at Columbia University in New York. He recruited Maynard as a part-time instructor in 1972 and ''it was a tremendous experience. It just made me feel great to see these people who started out not knowing even what a lead was, and in 11 weeks have them writing good stories.''
Other established black journalists took turns working in the Columbia program, but in 1974 the university decided it could no longer afford to continue it. However, the small group of blacks who had conducted the summer sessions refused to quit.
Maynard and others raised $500,000, got newspaper grants for students, and found a new home at the University of California at Berkeley. The first session was held at Berkeley in the summer of 1976, and the Institute for Journalism Education was formed the following year, with Maynard as chairman. Later, an editing program was established at the University of Arizona in Tucson.
The institute, says Maynard, ''is by far the single largest source of minorities entering the field of journalism. One-quarter of all new minority journalists hired last year came out of institute programs.''
Some of those new journalists have been hired by the Oakland Tribune, which faces its own version of a challenge common to metropolitan daily newspapers: how to simultaneously serve an inner city with heavy minority population and the mostly white suburbs in its circulation area.
''There's still a market for us in the 'white' suburbs of Contra Costa County and southern Alameda County,'' Maynard says, as well as closer-in and more ethnically diverse cities such as Richmond, Berkeley, and Hayward. ''We're the big metro paper covering the East Bay.''
''The Trib had good circulation in the 1950s and '60s. When Bill Knowland came along and realized the business was in a somewhat precarious condition, his solution was to reduce the paper's presence in the suburbs. It wasn't a very smart thing to do. Population was going up in those areas, and our circulation was going down.''
Maynard concedes the area south of Hayward to the aggressive San Jose Mercury-News, but says the Tribune can ''do well'' on the east side of the bay against the San Francisco Chronicle, ''because they don't cover the East Bay and lot of other things as well as we think we do now or will be doing.''
What of the sometimes-volatile political and social atmosphere in Oakland and its next-door neighbor Berkeley?
''Berkeley and Oakland are very diverse communities,'' Maynard points out. ''One of the problems here is that the media have tended to overemphasize the radicalism of Berkeley without talking about the stable and traditional parts of that city. We try to be more balanced about that and make sure we cover all elements in Berkeley.''
Reminded of a recent report on residential patterns in major cities issued by the privately run Citizens' Commission on Civil Rights, Maynard said: ''There's a good reason why Oakland comes out in the study as being the most integrated city in America. The people who have had something to say in the last decade about this city - whether they were business people, political figures, in schools, or whatever - have worked hard for successful intergroup relations. . . . This community has learned to live with the notion that mutual respect is the way to achieve the greatest prosperity, harmony, and so forth.
''That doesn't mean we've done it without fights. We're like every other place in America, but we're almost unique in one respect that I know of: In very few cities in America is there a continuous attempt to address the needs of the whole community. Whether it's this newspaper, or city hall, or whatever it may be, no one ought to feel left out. That's the way we feel about life. And whatever group is sponsoring something, they will make certain that they touch base with all the other elements in the community. And that's the way I think we will show the rest of urban America that you can do it.
''Racism has been a dreadful poison in our society, and we've seen cities just ruined by it. Racial polarism was so great that once it looked like the blacks could control the ballot box, the whites just fled the place. That hasn't happened in Oakland. There was some white flight in the '50s, but there's in-migration now, and I suspect there will be more in the future. I also suspect it will not be just the in-migration of young, white professionals. There will be in-migration of minority professionals, and this mixture is going to continue to be the reality of this community. I think for sure we will see a great contribution to the health and growth of the community, because it is dealing with these problems in a realistic way instead of neglecting them.''