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Something to be said for being remembered

December 25, 2004

WILL FLEET

I have an idea and a plan to get you more business.

-- Eli Isenberg's advertising sales opening statement

Eli would not be impressed. I have no idea, no plan, how to write

this column.

Like most things about Eli Isenberg, his opening statement was

brilliantly simple.

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For me it started sometime in 1984. I came up with the bright idea

to start a newspaper in the Antelope Valley, and was astonished to

find that I had support.

Young and wannabe brash, I was just barely smart enough to

recognize that I had no idea how to operate a business, let alone

start one from scratch.

So, I called the California Newspaper Publishers Assn. and the

American Newspaper Publishers Assn. to ask the question that my

financial backers wanted answered: "How much is it going to cost to

start this newspaper?"

Today, as I recall the silence on the other end of those calls, I

hear snickering.

Eventually, after a few more pestering calls, CNPA attorney Terry

Francke recommended that I give Eli Isenberg a call. Francke said Eli

was a retired publisher/owner of newspapers in Monterey Park, and a

newspaper management consultant.

Newspaper. Management. Consultant.

Perfect. Just what the doctor ordered.

I called Eli. He immediately took charge. "You work during the

week, right? All right then, I will meet you at 7 in the morning next

Saturday."

At 26, I hadn't seen 7 a.m. on Saturday since I was about 12, and

even then the alarm was set only to catch the Bugs Bunny/ Roadrunner

Hour.

Eli arrived at Carrows on Palmdale Boulevard at 6:50. He wasn't

what I had expected. Eli was old, 70-ish, but he looked older to me.

To describe his suit as "rumpled" would understate history. His tie

didn't match his well-pressed vertical-striped shirt (they never

did). He wore a houndstooth hat that Bear Bryant might have donated

to the Goodwill 20 years prior. His thick head of gray hair -- longer

than you'd expect for a man of his age -- flowed out from the hat.

His shoulders were uneven.

My initial reaction was like Luke Skywalker's when he first saw

Yoda: You've got to be kidding.

For the first of a thousand times, doubt dominated. I thought,

"What in the world made me think I could start a newspaper?"

What a maroon.

Five minutes later, Eli had me convinced that I could pull it off.

By the end of breakfast, he had converted me to ad salesperson,

business manager, editor and publisher.

Through 16 years and three publishing positions, Eli remained my

newspaper management consultant, sometimes paid, usually not.

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