When they set out in 1996 to buy what was then a single weekly newspaper based in Agoura Hills, Jim and Lisa Rule had no designs on professional acclaim. The husband and wife simply saw a product they believed in and thought they knew how to make it successful.
Today the Acorn Newspapers comprises five editions and nearly 50 employees and reaches more than 140,000 homes between Camarillo and Calabasas every week. It is one of the few independently owned newspapers in the state.
Last week, Jim Rule, publisher, and Lisa Rule, associate publisher, were bestowed the California Press Foundation’s Justus F. Craemer Newspaper Executive of the Year Award, an honor presented annually since 1967 to honor excellence in journalism.
“The couple purchased a single Acorn publication out of bankruptcy in 1996, and through their dogged determination to make the paper a vibrant voice for the community—while others in the industry struggled—they were able to expand operations and add four new Acorn papers to serve the western Los Angeles and eastern Ventura County region,” their nomination paperwork says.
Craemer, former president of the California Newspaper Publishers Association, was just 23 years old in 1926 when he borrowed $1,300 from his grandmother to buy an interest in the Orange Daily News. He later became co-owner of the San Rafael Independent-Journal, making it one of the most respected in the state prior to his death in 1966.
The Rules accepted the honor bearing Craemer’s name during the press foundation’s 140th annual winter meeting Nov. 30 on the 11th floor of the Marines Memorial Club in downtown San Francisco. Presenting them with the award was Chuck Champion, publisher of The Signal in Santa Clarita.
At a time when family-owned publications are becoming rarer and rarer, the Acorn under the Rules’ leadership has managed to flourish by doing things its own way, Champion said.
The Rules kept their comments brief, thanking the foundation and giving full credit to their team of reporters, photographers, editors, design staff, salespeople and office crew for making The Acorn such an essential resource to its readers.
“This (award) really is about them. They’re the ones out there doing the work. Lisa and I, we just give them the support to do their jobs and really cover their communities as best as possible,” Jim Rule told the audience. “Our only request: Keep it local.”
Current residents of Newbury Park and past residents of Oak Park, Thousand Oaks and Agoura Hills, the Rules said the Acorn Newspapers are blessed to serve five communities that still care to know what’s going at City Council, school board and other public meetings and to work with small businesses who see the value of spending their advertising dollars locally with a publication they know firsthand.
“Small businesses are really the engine that drives (the Acorn),” Jim said.
Lisa Rule fought back tears as she told the roomful of newspaper executives how touched she was to see Jim earn the recognition. The couple, who share an office at The Acorn’s longtime headquarters in Agoura Hills, have weathered the ups and downs of life in the newsroom—and at home.
“When I was fighting breast cancer, Jim was my rock. He’s my best friend. We’ve had such an amazing journey,” Lisa said.
The Rules became the 50th recipients of the Executive of the Year Award and just the third husband-and-wife team to win it.
Other Craemer Award winners include such well-known industry names as Eleanor McClatchy (1971), former president of Mc- Clatchy newspapers; Dave and Cathy Mitchell (1979), publishers of the Pulitzer-Prize-winning Point Reyes Light; and Frank McCulloch of the San Francisco Examiner (1987), widely considered one of the great investigative journalists of his day.
The Acorn Newspapers comprises five weekly papers (The Acorn, Thousand Oaks Acorn, Simi Valley Acorn, Moorpark Acorn and Camarillo Acorn) and a quarterly lifestyle magazine, Beyond the Acorn.