• Story alerts
  • Letter to Editor
  • Pin it

In 1939, Copley targeted the Sun, a scrappy, left-leaning evening daily founded by E.W. Scripps, the wealthy and eccentric Ohio newspaper magnate who had adopted the county at the turn of the previous century and built a sprawling family compound on thousands of acres he called Miramar Ranch. A muckraker at heart, Scripps used the Sun to attack the Spreckelses’ interests, including their 1910 bid for a 50-year city streetcar monopoly.

“We look John D. Spreckels squarely in the eyes and say: We defy you!” wrote the Sun. “Upon that issue there can be no middle ground. Either you are the master and hold in your hand the welfare of every man, woman and child in this town, or the people are their own masters, and will know how to deal with your insolent challenge.”

But Scripps died in 1926 on his yacht off the west coast of Africa, and the Sun had since struggled against the Copley onslaught. “The days of the crusading newspaper and of poorly nourished multiple newspapers were drawing to a close,” observed Union editor emeritus Richard F. Pourade in The Rising Tide, part of a seven-volume San Diego history commissioned by the Copley Press in the 1960s. “The Sun, with its excess of reformist zeal and its occasional support of socialistic causes, had lost much of the confidence of the community.”

As war raged in Europe, Copley bought the Sun and merged it with the Evening Tribune in 1939. With Pearl Harbor only two years in the future, San Diego was poised on the brink of explosive economic growth that would make the Depression and the reformers and revolutionaries it spawned a distant memory. As Copley’s Pourade dismissively noted, “The fever of social change was running down.”

As it turned out, there would be one more San Diego newspaper left for Copley’s heirs to vanquish. The Daily Journal was founded in March 1944 by 37-year-old Clinton Dotson McKinnon, a San Diego Democrat “little bigger than an outsize jockey,” reported TIME magazine that month.

“Newspaper competition comes next week to war-big San Diego (estimated pop. 390,000; 1940 pop. 203,341),” TIME said. “The Journal will break the San Diego general newspaper monopoly of rich, myopic, 79-year-old Colonel Ira Clifton Copley, owner of the arch-Republican morning Union (circ. 44,359) and evening Tribune-Sun (circ. 74,954).

“Turned down by War Manpower’s production urgency committee on a plea to lift his employment ceiling from 42, McKinnon won an appeal to the local War Manpower Commission. His argument, backed by Mayor Harley Knox, labor, religious and other groups: there was ‘community hardship,’ in that freedom of the press existed only for Colonel Copley’s papers.”

Ira Copley died at 83 in November 1947, bequeathing control of the small newspaper empire to his adopted sons Jim and Bill. The same year, McKinnon sold the Journal to an investor from West Virginia and ran for Congress.

As Pourade noted in his San Diego history, “The Union-Tribune Publishing Company, freed of wartime newsprint restrictions which had been imposed on The San Diego Union and Evening Tribune, moved vigorously against its new competitor.” Three years later, the Copley brothers bought the paper and administered the coup de grace.

It was the start of the Cold War, the beginning of a long reign of success for the ever more powerful and prosperous Copley Press. But it would not last forever.

Edith Copley had borne her husband Ira three children; all died in infancy, the last in 1910. Ten years later, they decided to adopt. The story was recounted in 1980 by J.R. “Bud” Fitzpatrick, of Springfield, Illinois, who once ran the Citizens Tribune, a competitor to Copley’s State Journal-Register:

“They went to an institution in New York and saw an orphan baby that they liked. And went home to think about it, and when they came back they were told the baby was gone, adopted by another family. And the lady told her, the superintendent told her, ‘These things don’t last very long. You’ve got to make a quick decision.’ And said, ‘The one you want here now, decide right quick. They decided and they picked the boy and they named him James. And they gave him a good education.”

Another variation of the legend had it that Ira Copley had stalked into the orphanage and demanded to be given the weakest boy there, so that he might build him into a man in his own image. Shortly after adopting Jim, Ira and his wife adopted another boy, William.

“I grew up in Illinois until I was about ten,” Bill told an interviewer in 1968. “And then when my mother died my father moved to California. And I got sent to…Andover and Yale.” Jim also went to Yale, and when war came, both Copley boys served their country, Jim as a deskbound Navy lieutenant in Washington, DC, Bill as a private in the Army.

“I started off in an anti-aircraft outfit,” Bill recalled. “And then I managed to break my arm, and I got put in an MP company. And that bored me so much I volunteered for combat and got sent to Italy. And finally got rotated home because I had gone overseas so early and I had been drafted so early. So I got rotated home and got out of the Army.”

Ira left equal shares in the Copley Press in trust to each of the brothers. They were expected to run the company as equals, but the partnership was short-lived. In the late 1940s, Bill wrote a weekly op-ed column in which he expressed his admiration for progressive causes and attacked the Republican Party. “I worked for the paper for about a year,” Bill said. “The whole idea was that I was going to start at the bottom and work up and sort of take over with my brother. But, well, our politics differed.

“We weren’t really terribly close,” Bill said. “None of us were blood-related. Though we had more or less an identical environment. There wasn’t any real closeness.” The ideological rift between them only widened: “Well, he went right and I went further left. You know, we never really came to any agreement. So it was impossible to think of working together on the newspapers. I got out of that very early.”

  • Story alerts
  • Letter to Editor
  • Pin it


Anonymous Feb. 27, 2008 @ 2:48 p.m.

How did Jim Copley manage to "adopt" David when the boy already had a father? Did the father die or relinquish his parental rights? Or was the adoption merely a name change or perhaps even a fabrication?


maybelar Feb. 28, 2008 @ 7:41 p.m.

No wonder "SOMETHING STINKS @ THE UNION-TRIBUNE!" Let everybody know that this 100+ years old company doesn't care about the family of their ordinary workers who works hard everyday!One after another the dirty-tricks emerge revealing Union Tribune's ruthless campaign against workers' rights. When UT Pacakging Employees attempt to stand up for themselves and try to form a union, we face threats, propaganda, discrimination, intimidation, harassment and even firings. Which are clearly contrary to the wishes and values of a True-American. It's wrong, and it's got to stop now!!!It is not surprising why Copley business is dying....


electric_fish Feb. 29, 2008 @ 5:27 a.m.

I haven't read it yet but this should be GOOD.


Anonymous Feb. 29, 2008 @ 9:27 a.m.

Gee what a surprise! A let's bash the Copleys story from the industrious and gregarious Matt Potter. What will he write about when the newspaper folds?


catoman2 March 2, 2008 @ 3:39 p.m.

Thanks for providing some historical perspective into UT influence and power in San Diego. The bias against Aguierre and the perpetual boosterism for the Padres and Chargers are merely recent examples of their corruption.

Cheers to the Reader for their willingness to challenge the powers that be here in Enron By The Sea.


jv333 Feb. 22, 2015 @ 1:29 p.m.

Re your Aguirre comment .... He was roundly attacked when he correctly cited all the problems with the city pensions....and as soon as he was out of the City Attys office, Sanders et al embraced the pension reforms movement.... No one ever addressed how it got underfunded to the tune of $2 billion in the first place....was there ever a discussion re the way Wall St money whores infiltrate these funds and take them over a cliff?


pete69 March 2, 2008 @ 11:11 a.m.

I wonder if...David gets the reader delivered to his yacht?...


JohnMont March 31, 2008 @ 7:35 p.m.

It's an interesting article but is there any way to find out what the average decline is nationwide compared to the Union. Also I know a lot of friends who subscribe to the NY times or LA times because they hate the U-T so much. Is there any way to track their circulation here? And compare it to the decline of the U-T.

It's a great article but i'd like more facts and figures than just a statement like...

"Almost all American newspapers are suffering in the Internet age, but the Union-Tribune is among the most prominent of the walking wounded. The decades-long decay in its circulation, beginning years before the advent of broadband, owes as much to its peculiar heritage of warped coverage and irregular stewardship as it does to the threat posed by the Web."

I don't disagree but I'd like more research and editing.


maybelar April 1, 2008 @ 11:04 p.m.

Again, I hope someday justice will prevail!

They can run but they cannot hide!!!!

I hope that someday the whole America & the whole world will know what this 100+ years old company is doing to their everyday hardworking people in the Packaging Department.

Their unfair Labor Practices...They are a shame to America's Ideals!

I hope someday my friends & my co-workers there will not be scared to their dirty tricks just to ger rid out of the union. I hope someday they would be bravely enough to stand up for their rights & tell them "ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!"

I hope San Diegans would be aware on "How bad they treat their workers! It is not a joke!!!"

A lot of monkey business there, we want real business...REAL BUSINESS!

copy & paste this URL READ THIS>>> http://thecharmsquad.blogspot.com/


JeffofLincoln Nov. 11, 2012 @ 2:42 p.m.

I was an employee of the Copley organization for 37 years, first under Jim, then Helen and finally David and let go soon after David began selling off the newspapers in the Midwest. It was an incredible 37 years and an experience I would gladly repeat. The organization was very good to me. What's more, I know of no one who regrets being an employee while the organization was owned by the Copleys.


SurfPuppy619 Nov. 11, 2012 @ 5:06 p.m.

Then you didn't know very many employees at Colpey Jeff.

Copley had notorious labor problems, mainly but not limited to, with the rank and file unskilled/semi skilled employees.

What rock do you live under?


Sign in to comment

Win a $25 Gift Card to
The Broken Yolk Cafe

Join our newsletter list

Each newsletter subscription means another chance to win!