|It began with cup of coffee in 1993
A TRIP DOWN Memory Lane begins with sitting at an outside Starbucks table when it was next to Safeway, sipping coffee with a guy from India named Yatin Shah. I vaguely knew him as general manager from some newspaper in Sonoma.
A few days later I was sitting down for lunch with two guys named Lynch, Bob and his son, Bill, in the Red Lion hotel dining room, (before it became the DoubleTree). I was told they were top executives at this same newspaper in Sonoma, called the Index Tribune. This was in January 1993. The talks took place 21 years ago.
WHAT WAS HAPPENING in Rohnert Park was the weekly Clarion newspaper, owned by Scripps League, was suddenly closed down New Year’s Eve 1992. Came as a shock to employees and the readers. Door locks were changed and we, Clarion staffers, everybody, were without a job or even an office to go to five days a week. Like, as one staffer said, “It’s as if they closed an animal shelter, barred all the doors and windows and let loose all the dogs and cats to scrounge for food.”
For a few weeks back then I got more than several offers in January 1993 to join up with potential backers who wanted to start a replacement weekly newspaper for the recently buried Clarion. They were all strangers to me.
BUT I KNEW the Index Tribune had been around for
100 years or more under generations of the same family. It sounded pretty solid.
Talks with the Lynch team (Jim Lynch was chief financial officer) and Shah proved to be pleasant conversations as we probed each other over coffee and lunches and came up with the new name of The Community Voice after rejecting a bunch of other “newsy-style” names.
We – editors, reporters and advertising staffers – all had computers when we started The Voice. In fact, the Clarion owners had already taken away all our office typewriters and sheets of carbon paper months ago and plopped computers on our desks, gave us all confusing instructions and somehow we stumbled our way to putting out an issue every week in the new digital manner.
THE MECHANICAL work of laying out the paper was done on the Index Tribune calculators, thanks to their efficient, computer-friendly production crew.
The IT even had a darkroom with an enlarger and trays filled with chemicals to develop all The Voice pictures until we all got new digital cameras. The darkroom then became digitalized, too.
EVENTS WERE MOVING smoothly, with the Lynch team and Yatin Shah after the Clarion was padlocked. We later learned Shah planned to leave the IT, buy The Voice and separate it from its Sonoma ownership.
Shah bought a big press, computers to run it and rented part of a warehouse off Todd Road next to the railroad. Later, he ran into problems with his business partners. It was dissolved, and then the economic recession hit the newspaper business. The Internet trampled weekly newspapers nationwide and Shah’s new press printed only a few issues of The Voice.
But it worked out OK, for the Index Tribune had the big press we needed. For more than a few months it meant weekly trips between Rohnert Park and Sonoma with page dummy layouts until other printers were found.
MEANWHILE, ALL WE learned to do on our computers was write stories and columns as if our computers were merely typewriter replacements. The computer industry grew enormously with new upgrades and shortcuts, but unfortunately, we editorial staffers were never taught them. “Just bang out the copy, we’ll do the rest.” I still have this hangup, like a rusty anchor around my neck. Anything beyond a laptop is foreign territory to me. I even have a separate keyboard, for laptop keyboards are beyond my skills. But Shah found methods to solve it through his technological skills.
He realized the main thing in newspapers are the words from editors and reporters, from their brain to their fingertips, never mind the computer processes needed to shape them. He emphasized, “keep it focused on RP, Cotati and Penngrove,” and “write the local stories no other publication will touch.” It made sense and still does. When reporters come to me with a story idea, I always ask them: “What’s the local angle?”
THE VOICE STILL HAS the front page of Vol.1, No.1, framed on its office wall. It has a good photo from photographer Bob Brown (who got a job with the daily newspaper in Tracy) and stories with my bylines on page one.
Shah tried to use Community Voice on our web site, but some other newspaper in the U.S. already was using it, so we had to add “The” in front of it. The computer industry keeps gobbling up names but there are ways to fool it. Just ask Shah. He knows more about computers than Galileo knew about the solar system.
I STILL FIND THE newspaper business fascinating and quite a bit miraculous. My mother was a newspaper columnist, mostly humorous, for the Hicksville, Long Island, Town Topics. I spent three years in the U.S. Navy, including one year in the South Pacific. Came home, got married, and went to college under the G.I. Bill, and got my BA in English at Hofstra and NYU.
I’ve mostly worked with noisy newspaper linotype machines, hot lead lines pouring in racks and pulling proofs from the pages for many years in San Francisco and suburbs.
CAME TO SONOMA County with my wife, Pauline, in 1972 with a UHF television station that died a year later, got involved with election campaigns in the North Bay and then connected with RP co-founder Paul Golis, who had a tabloid paper continually scolding RP city hall and its leaders.
Then Clarion publisher Lyle Amlin offered me a reporter’s job. Later, I was named editor. This was in late 1975 and it lasted until New Year’s Eve 1992.
Retire? I remember years ago when a Clarion publisher (not Amlin) wanted to be called editor and publisher and subtly suggested I should retire. I told him he could call himself whatever he wanted but I’ll stay as long as my salary didn’t suffer. That ended the conversation.
THANKFULLY, THE conversation between me and our readers is a never-ending stream of ideas, suggestions, brickbats, praise and events piling one of top of another week after week, and it’s my job to nurture the connection. I love doing one-on-one interviews with fascinating people and my op-ed columnizing every week.
In idly thumbing through past issues reading my past 21 years of columns, all thoroughly bound and shelved here, it’s a combination of, “Oh, that was real clever and I hope our readers agree,” and, “Good grief! That’s real dumb, incredibly shallow and how could I write that?” I writhe in embarrassment and quickly turn the page.
NEEDLESS TO SAY, I’m now worrying about what I can write about for next week’s issue. And the week after that. After so many years, I’ve kind of gotten used to living with a deadline every week. I grew up with it.
The only consolation is the old motto – there’s nothing older than last week’s newspaper.