Ernest L. Finley, a California publisher for nearly half a century, was a conservationist and humanitarian who frequently used his position — and his newspapers — to fight for causes that were often unpopular.
He was instrumental in accomplishing much for the benefit of Sonoma County as well as the State of California.
Finley was determined that the news media had more responsibilities than simply reporting the news. He felt obligated to take stands on important issues, occasionally risking his own best interests.
Born in Corvallis, Ore., in 1870, Finley moved to Sonoma County in 1876 with his parents, the Rev. Dr. William A. Finley and Sarah E. Latimer Finley.
As a boy, he became interested in printing. As a teenager, he had a small printing press and made his first rent money getting orders to print cards. His printing business expanded, and Finley took on partners. The firm established The Evening Press as a daily newspaper in Santa Rosa in 1895. Two years later, the firm purchased the thriving Sonoma Democrat and her sister publication, the Daily Democrat, merging the three newspapers as The Press Democrat.
With the birth of The Press Democrat, Finley became the lone publisher and editor. By 1927 he had purchased the rival Santa Rosa Republican and was operating the two newspapers simultaneously, though separately.
Nine years later, KSRO was born, fulfilling Finley’s dream of entering the world of radio.
For a time, Finley owned and operated Santa Rosa’s only two daily newspapers and sole radio station—all housed in the same building. Curiously, the editorial stands of each were independent and, at times, conflicting. Finley believed in fair play.
Finley fought many battles and participated in countless crusades. Perhaps the most noteworthy of his campaigns was the drive to construct the Golden Gate Bridge. In this particular crusade, which spanned at least two decades, Finley stood almost alone.
The thrust of his campaign to bridge the Golden Gate was carried through his strongly-worded editorials, often run on the front page of The Press Democrat.
During a period of about six turbulent years, he was opposed by nearly everyone. His business suffered as he lost advertising accounts and subscriptions. But he continued the campaign, insisting, “Damn the circulation! The bridge must be built!”
There were other successful campaigns. During the Depression when farmers throughout the country were losing their lands to bank foreclosures, Finley worked quietly behind the scenes to save Sonoma County’s agricultural bounty for independent ownership.
It was Finley who negotiated the settlement of the famous 1933 Case Foreclosure episode in Sebastopol, which turned out to be the first and the most dramatic mass demonstration against mortgage foreclosure the West had ever seen.
Other crusades included campaigns against what Finley called “tree butchery” (he felt every living tree should be protected) and infantile paralysis, urging local physicians to obtain firsthand information about the Sister Kenny treatment.
He was instrumental in establishing in 1936 the Sonoma County Fair Association. He founded the Santa Rosa Symphony, and he was instrumental in founding Santa Rosa Junior College.
He was an active member of the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce, serving as president in l909 and 1910. He was an active member in the California State Chamber of Commerce.
In 1942 — after 47 years in the newspaper-publishing business, 45 of which at the head of The Press Democrat — Ernest L. Finley died. He left behind a legacy of idealism in action, a record of courage and vision.