Joseph R. Knowland's Oakland Tribune
by Anthony Drewry
The Tribune Tower sits at the center of downtown Oakland. Its combination of art deco and renaissance revival architecture reminds us of a time when there emerged a thriving market-capitalist economy that shaped Oakland into what it is today. Yet the Oakland Tribune did more than just stand as an icon. The purpose of this research is to look at the influence of the Oakland Tribune, under the ownership and editorial dictation of Joseph Knowland, over the political and economic fate of downtown Oakland. Through his political connections in the Senate, Knowland was able to head an elite class of capitalists known as Knowland’s Machine or, the Downtown Regime. It was comprised the Oakland Chamber of Commerce, the then Mayor Fred Morcom, and the head of the Downtown Property Owners Association, Harrison Robinson. They “embodied a specific relationship between organization of local government” and big business. The “Regime” was able to sway local politics, make or break local businesses, and generally operate in favor of their own interests. Literature also refers to this group as the “middle-class caretakers,” because of their tendencies toward favoring policy that benefited a home-owning, upper-middle class demographic. The Tribune’s response to the Oakland General Strike of 1946 reflects this type of sentiment, as it ran anti-union and anti-labor advertisement campaigns, clearly aligned against working class rights. Furthermore, the Tribune deliberately published editorial attacks on members of the Oakland Voters’ League, openly naming certain individuals as supporters of Communism. While this abuse of power had a negative impact on the social equity of Oakland’s working class, it shaped downtown nonetheless.
The significance of the Tribune’s power played into its fate as downtown Oakland diversified, and the paper had no choice but to broaden its target audience. The Downtown Regime also sought to appeal to the public’s interests by endorsing several public infrastructure projects. Knowland’s legacy faded, and the paper could no longer only cater to the upper-middle class and expect to stay afloat. Thus, the paper began to change its editorial tactics to better suit its downtown readers, and adapt to changing social conditions. Ultimately, the Tribune had an immense impact on the rise of Oakland’s downtown, and certainly helped shape it into what it is today.
Gothberg, John A. “The Local Influence of J.R. Knowland’s Oakland Tribune”. Journalism Quarterly, Vol. 40, No. 3 (1968): pp 487-495.
Kahn, Steven. “Can the Large Metropolitan Daily Newspaper Survive? A Case Study of the Oakland Tribune.” MBA Thesis, California State University, Hayward, 1973.
Kirp, David. “Race, Schooling, and Interest Politics: The Oakland Story.” The School Review, Vol. 87, No. 4 (Aug., 1979): pp. 355-397.
“Oakland’s General Strike.” The San Francisco News, December 4, 1946
Rhomberg, Chris, “Collective Actors and Urban Regimes: Class Formation and the 1946 Oakland General Strike.” Theory and Society, Vol. 24, No. 4 (Aug., 1995): pp. 567-594.
Rhomberg, Chris. No There There: Race, Class, and Political Community in Oakland. Berkely: University of California Press, 2004.
Various Articles from the Oakland Tribune. Ranging from 1915 to 1965. Accessed via microfilm at CSU East Bay Library and Oakland Public Library.
Photo Credit Bancroft Library University of California and Oakland Public Library digital collections, accessed 12/01//2013.
Photos from Oakland Museum of California photo collections accessed 12/01//2013.