Walker retires after 43-year journalism career
From 'scooping' the Graham
murder case to teaching local
reporters, Walker's seen a
dramatic change in newspapers
By TOM McCLURE Editor-in-Chief
Whether it's investigating an old murder mystery or teaching his photo journalism classes at Bakersfield College, William Walker has always scored high marks as a journalist.
Although his early journalism days have long since passed, Walker has busied himself teaching journalism classes at BC for the last 13 years, producing some fine journalists while he has advised the production of the Renegade Rip, Raconteur and the Reneguide.
Walker's distinguished journalism days took place long before he ever thought about turning in his retirement papers to BC President John J. Collins, which he will do at the end of this semester.
Included in Walker's long list of achievements is the College Newspaper Advisor of the Year award he won at the 1972 University of Southern California Press Day, where BC students swept four of the six state awards.
Walker also has taught many of the current journalists in Bakersfield, many of whom are currently employed at the Bakersfield Californian. He has instructed such Californian reporters as Pete De Armond, Mark Grossi, Tim Heinrichs, Patti Keller, and John Esparza plus showing Californian photographers Liz Snyder, Felix Adamo and Alan Ferguson their initial steps with the camera.
But Walker's journalism accomplishments go far beyond BC, The 64-year-old
Los Angeles Arizona native started his newspaper career in 1934 when, as a freshman, he joined the news staff for the Santa Monica Junior College Samojac.
In the meantime, Walker worked as a sports stringer at the Santa Monica Topics, an old rival to the Santa Monica Outlook, before leaving his job at the Topics to join the merchant seamen for one year.
Returning from the service, Walker went back to the Samojac where he was named managing editor before taking over the editor post. After leaving the Samojac, Walker went to UCLA as a pre-law student but it wasn't long before he returned to newspaper work, entering USC in 1938 to work on the Daily Trojan.
Walker graduated from USC in 1940 with a dual degree in English and Journalism. He then began a 23-year professional career with the Los Angeles Herald-Express, one of five L.A. newspapers in business at that time.
At the Herald-Express Walker used his diversified talents to do photography work, feature writing and a bit of sports to help the Herald-Express become the largest nightly paper in the United States, with an evening circulation of over 735,000.
Perhaps Walker's biggest 'scoop' was the work he did on the famous murder case of Los Angeles' Barbara Graham in 1953. Graham was later convicted of murder and sentenced to death in the gas chamber but not before a movie 'I Want to Live' was made that won an Academy Award for the best actress in 1961.
The movie pictured Graham, played by Susan Hayward, as a lonely girl, convicted of murder and sent to the gas chamber although she was completely innocent. As a result, Hayward won an Oscar for her performance in the picture.
Walker was working as a court correspondent for the Express at the time of the murder and ended with the assignment of following the case and haring all of the testimonies of the
incredulous [incredible?] trial before finally hearing the death sentence.
But the movie was a complete contradiction of the actual case and Walker, with the help of a few friends in the L.A. District Attorney's office, wrote a book recreating, with signed documents and actual court tapes, how the case proceeded up until the final verdict.
"The book, The Case of Barbara Graham, sold 75,000 copies," says Walker. "I came right out and called the movie a fraud because I had all of my information documented before I made any accusations."
Walker also enjoyed covering former California Governor Edmund G. Brown, Sr. for 16 years, as well as working as a photographer for many of the Rose Bowl games in Pasadena while at the Herald-Express.
After leaving the Express, Walker came to BC, and under the guidance of his good friend, Charles Katzman, began working in the communication department with the Rip, Raconteur and Reneguide.
"I did all three for the first eight years, but after I came back from sabbatical leave in '75, Bona Dillon had come on to take over the Rip," remarks Walker, who now helps out former student Ralph Neilsen in the Public Information Office in addition to doing the Raconteur and Reneguide.
In a career that has spanned 46 years, Walker has seen many changes in the way journalism is written and managed. "More of the newspapers now are going to a feature type of writing than the quick and accurate style that we used when I was at the Express," says Walker.
"Papers have gone to a more liberal style of layout and management has changed the way many of the papers operate these days," comments Walker, "although some of the changes have been good and some have not turned out so well."
Walker also has seen a big change in the way papers are produced with expensive computers and larger, more efficient presses, that could be changed easily from one edition to another.
"The computer system that the Californian has now makes putting out a paper much
more easy easier," adds Walker. "They have also changed page formats and the general layout of the paper. It was different when the Express turned out seven editions daily. The Californian can only put out three even with their new equipment."
It's been a long road for Walker, but far from unexciting, and if grades were awarded for performance Walker would surely rate a grade 'A'.