This is why this newspaper is called The Bee

Originally published: March 24, 1991

A newspaper columnist at the Orange County Register - in an all-in-fun indictment of the capital - reminded us last week that "Sacramento is the only capital in America that has a newspaper named after an insect."

We can only presume that this columnist, whose Sacramento-bashing was generously reprinted by the insect (Tuesday in the Scene section), thinks the name "Bee" is funny. Or somehow provincial.

To each his own. Certainly there's no quarrel that the name "Bee" hung on a newspaper is unusual.

This is, after all, a world of Heralds, Gazettes, Chronicles, Journals, Registers, Stars, Dispatches and Timeses, and the name Bee rather stands out.

Well, after this paper reprinted the Register columnist's observations, a couple of readers - newcomers to these parts (one was from Orange County, I noted with pleasure) - asked me: "All right, why do you call it The Bee?"

Glad you asked. It's been that since 1857 when James McClatchy founded the paper. An editorial on the first day of publication said: "The name of The Bee has been adopted as being different from that of any other paper in the state and as also being emblematic of the industry which is to prevail in its every department."

So, the promise was a paper as busy as a bee. (Quaint, but not a bad marketing strategy, I should think.)

Today, the name isn't quite as rare as it once was.

California has three other Bees besides McClatchy's three in Fresno, Modesto and Sacramento. There's the Soledad Bee, the Brisbane Bee-Democrat, a weekly south of San Francisco, and the daily Lake County Record-Bee. (None of these is connected to the McClatchy papers.)

In New York state there's a veritable hive of weekly Bees - in Amherst, Cheektowaga, Lancaster, Clarence, East Aurora, Canastota and Kenmore-Tonawanda.

In Illinois there's the New Berlin Bee. Utah, whose official state symbol is a beehive, has a weekly Bee in Summit County. There's the Newtown Bee in Connecticut and the Morris News-Bee in Morristown, New Jersey. Danville, Virginia, has its Register-Bee and Sandpoint, Idaho, the Bonner County Daily Bee.

My favorite, though, is a weekly in Arkansas, in a town named De Queen. You're ahead of me. It's De Queen Bee. Really.

The first James McClatchy used a picture of a bee on his business stationery. His son, C.K., ordered the image of a bee depicted in mosaic tile in the lobby of the old Bee office at 911 Seventh St. in 1901. That mosaic now is on permanent display at the Sacramento History Museum.

In 1943 James McClatchy's granddaughter, Eleanor, then president of The Bee, asked Walt Disney to create some new images of the insect to "lend personality and a familiar identity" to the papers and the company's radio stations.

Disney, who donated his $1,500 fee to the Army Relief Fund, came up with "Scoopy" for the papers and "Gaby" for the radio stations. The new logos were announced with great front-page fanfare in The Bee on Sept. 4. That evening, a 15-minute radio interview with Disney from Hollywood was broadcast on KFBK. Eventually, Scoopy drawings were created for all sorts of Bee promotions and events, and the fellow became ubiquitous around the paper. Today, Scoopy's daily public profile has dropped a little - you'll find him each day only on the front page just to the left of the paper's nameplate, but no bigger than a real bee.

Some folks around here tell me they think Scoopy is, well, sort of corny, or that he trivializes the important work of journalism. Humbug. The nostalgia factor is strong and, bless him, he hangs on, showing up as a logo on various promotional materials and even as a person-sized, costumed character at public functions.

If the name "Bee" sounds odd to some American readers, it was positively astounding to some East Germans I visited a few years ago, before that country ended its Communist domination.

They listened gravely to my explanations, and were fascinated also to learn how journalism is practiced in this country.

"You mean to say," said my uncle in Meissen, "that when your newspaper criticizes, say, your president for doing something wrong, nothing happens to the paper? Nothing?"

That's right, uncle. Nothing. Oh, perhaps the president is angered with the paper. But basically, nothing happens. The paper keeps right on publishing.

He pondered that a long while, trying to grasp what was for him an unfamiliar system of unfettered news reporting. Later, we walked into town so he could introduce me to some of his cronies.

"This is my nephew from the U.S., and he works for a newspaper that is called The Bee. Yes, The Bee. And do you know why they call it The Bee? I'll tell you. In America, unlike here in our workers' republic, bees know how to sting."

I'd never thought of it quite that way, but uncle's message and insight were clear.

(The Ombudsman investigates and reports on complaints of unfairness, imbalance or inaccuracies in The Bee's news reporting. His conclusions are solely his own.)