Organization Website

Primary geographic focus: Northern California
Organization Type: Media
Acronym or short name: Press Democrat

About the Press Democrat Newspaper

The very first newspaper in Santa Rosa, the parent of today’s Press Democrat, was begun in 1857, just three years after Santa Rosa was chosen as the seat of Sonoma County and seven years after California became a part of the United States.

Called the Sonoma Democrat this newspaper was a four-page weekly. Its name reflected the politics of the Santa Rosa and Russian River valleys, which were settled in the 1840s and ’50s by farmers from Missouri, Kentucky and Tennessee.

The founding publisher was Alpheus Russell, a merchant with some newspaper experience who came to open a general store on Third Street. John Taylor, a prosperous rancher south of the new town, encouraged Russell to establish the paper, giving him a five-dollar gold piece for the first subscription.

At the end of a year, Russell sold the paper to printer E.R. Budd, who sold it again in 1860. The new owner was Thomas Thompson, a young Virginian who had edited Petaluma’s Sonoma County Journal five years earlier at the age of 17.

Thompson was a supporter of the Southern cause and conventional wisdom of the time said that Democratic party money, perhaps Confederate money, helped Thompson buy the paper to oppose the election of Abraham Lincoln.

Thompson and Samuel Cassiday, the Republican editor of the Petaluma paper, carried on a Civil War of words, in which Thompson was victorious.

Lincoln did not carry Sonoma County in either 1860 or 1864 elections.

Thompson played a major role in politics in Santa Rosa, the state, and later as U.S. Amabassador to Brazil. He sold the Sonoma Democrat in 1897 to Ernest L. Finley, owner of The Evening Press who merged the two papers and renamed the new publication The Press Democrat. Finley also bought The Santa Rosa Republican, the paper’s long-time competitor, in 1927. Ernest Finley’s wife, Ruth, was very much a part of the affairs of the newspaper. She encouraged him, also, to establish radio station KSRO in 1936. Control of the newspaper and radio station passed to Ruth at his death in 1942.

Mrs. Finley, described as a gentle, soft-spoken woman, co-published the two newspapers along with her son-in-law, Evert Person, for the next 31 years. During that time circulation of the newspaper rose from 10,000 to 55,000 subscribers. In 1948 the Santa Rosa Republican and The Press Democrat were merged. The Republican was renamed The Evening Press and continued as the afternoon edition. The morning edition continued as The Press Democrat. In 1951 The Evening Press died and The Press Democrat became the sole evening edition.

At Mrs. Finley’s death in 1973, ownership of The Press Democrat passed to her son-in-law and daughter, Evert and Ruth Person.

In 1985, shortly before Ruth Person died, the Persons sold The Press Democrat to The New York Times Company. In August 1985, three months after its takeover of the newspaper, The New York Times Company began construction on a $31 million, 78,000 square foot Rohnert Park production plant. Just one year later, the new Press Democrat rolled off the brand new 4-story presses and the community was urged to “Take A New Look.”

In January 2012, the Press Democrat Media Company briefly joined Halifax Media Holdings, a Florida-based company, ending the Press Democrat’s association with The New York Times Company. In November 2012, Sonoma Media Investments, LLC, ( consisting of a group of local investors and community leaders, purchased The Press Democrat along with the North Bay Business Journal and the Petaluma Argus Courier, and all affiliated websites. This returned the Press Democrat to local ownership after nearly three decades.

Today, with a readership of about a quarter million adults, The Press Democrat is the largest newspaper between San Francisco and the Oregon border.

Even now, the paper remains a reflection of the community it serves, through its Celebrate Community program and through additional contributions to area charities such as Starcross Community (funding for work with AIDS babies), the Holiday Spirit Drive for Coalition Against Hunger, the Helping Hand Fund and the United Way, as well as acting as a major sponsor of the Volunteer Center for the annual Human Race event.

The Press Democrat is also active in contributing to numerous education and other organizations such as the Sonoma State University Press Democrat Youth Service Award for high school seniors, awarded for youth service work.

Additionally, the company participates in community events and agencies such as the 4th of July Celebration of Sonoma County and the Sonoma County Family YMCA.

Unlike most other major newspapers, The Press Democrat has literally grown up with the area it serves. As Northern California continues to develop into the 21st century, so too will The Press Democrat.

The Press Democrat


News Story

Sonoma County housing, homeless and legal services brace for budget cuts under President Trump’s plan

The Press Democrat
March 16, 2017
In Sonoma County, residents are bracing themselves for a decline in services for housing, health care, elderly care, and legal aid.

News Story

Section 8 housing vouchers-holders struggle to stay in community post-fire

Kevin Fixler
The Press Democrat
December 28, 2017
“The displacement can be widespread. There’s really nowhere for people to go.”

News Story

Novato landlord charged with price gouging as prosecutors scour for cases after fires

Kevin Fixler
The Press Democrat
April 18, 2018
Legal Aid of Sonoma County comments on the issue of housing in Novato, as landlords are illegally raising rent prices over 10% after the Northern wildfires.

This page last modified: Wed, April 5, 2017 -- 10:06 am ET