Former Signal Publisher Buys Chino Paper

Former Signal publisher Will Fleet is the new co-owner of the Chino Champion. From left, Fleet, former publishers Tony Newhall and Ethel Nakutin meet with Signal President and Publisher Chuck Champion, right, at a Signal reunion held in 2016. Photo by Dan Watson.

Will Fleet, publisher of The Signal from 1993 to 2001, is the new co-owner of the Chino Champion, a 130-year-old newspaper in San Bernardino County.

He and partner Ralph Alldredge bought the paper from Champion Publications, owned by Allen McCombs, its editor and publisher from 1956 to 2006.

“I’ve been friends with Al McCombs since 1987,” Fleet said, initially through the California Newspaper Publishers Association.

Fleet and Alldredge, an attorney who specializes in media cases, are both past presidents of CNPA; and Fleet remains on its board.

McCombs and Bruce Wood, publisher since 2006, will stay involved with the paper after the sale, which closes Feb. 1.

The Chino Champion, published since 1887, and Chino Hills Champion have a circulation of 41,000.

“During the last 60 years we have built the 130-year-old Champion into one of the strongest independent community weeklies in the state,” McCombs and Woods said in a statement.

They said the papers have outgrown their capacity to run them, so they “sought out new owners who would keep the newspapers as a vital part of life in the Chino Valley community,” and found them in Fleet and Alldredge.

The purchase expands to Southern California a stable of weekly community papers the partners own farther north. These include the Tracy Press in San Joachin County, Patterson Irrigator in Stanislaus County and Scotts Valley Press-Banner in Santa Cruz County.

Like all publishers these days, Fleet knows that newspapers must adapt to social media and new technology. “But anyone who says they’ve got that figured out is either fooling themselves or fooling you.”

At community papers, R&D, research and development, “is more like T&E, trial and error,” he said. “Still, the Tracy Press Facebook page has more than 14,000 likes, which is pretty good.”

Before going into business with Alldredge in 2012, Fleet was publisher of The Fresno Bee. Except for a brief stint in Florida, he has spent his entire life in California, and has been a publisher since 1987. He was named Newspaper Executive of the Year by the California Press Association in 2013.

The partners are open to buying more publications. “I remain a big believer in the value of print, especially for community newspapers.”

Fleet has “nothing but fond memories” of his years in Santa Clarita.

At The Signal, he founded the Santa Clarita Valley Press Club and Newsmaker of the Year awards, created special sections and magazines, and launched the paper’s website.

Champion Publications is unrelated to Chuck Champion, current publisher of The Signal.

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