|Shah filled a void with The Voice
Owner shuns retirement to keep paper’s local flavor
Yatin Shah’s personal office is centered at the heart of The Community Voice’s bureau, where through the wide window he can keep an eye on the door and scurry easily to and fro from the newsroom.
He’s often on the phone, talking with readers, business owners and everyone in between, or buzzing somewhere between the printer and the computer. His office is adorned with San Francisco Giants’ memorabilia and always seems to have hidden stashes of candy. He’s quick with a “good morning,” but even faster with a bad joke.
Dreaming of ownership
“I always wanted to own a newspaper…” said Shah, “That was my dream.”
Shah was born in Padra, India, the youngest of five brothers, and assures he was lovingly spoiled (and seems to show little regret over the matter). His mother was a stay-at-home mom and his father co-owned a newspaper for a time and later was an attorney. Shah attended Maharaja Sayajirao University and acquired a business degree.
Shah left India for the United States and attended San Luis Obispo California Polytechnic State University from 1974-78, where he received a degree in Mechanical Engineering, with a focus in Computer Science. He stayed in the San Luis Obispo area for some time, working to be a district manager to a local paper, The Telegraph Tribune, where he met his wife, Rose.
While working for the six-days a week Tribune, Shah helped with a Sunday edition and came to double as the paper’s home delivery director.
According to Shah, under his management, the paper became the fastest growing newspaper in the area and became a Family Magazine award-winning newspaper. It was also working for the Tribune where his desire to own a paper grew strongest, so that he could make decisions for the paper himself without having to consult anyone else.
The call from Lynch
In 1981, Bill Lynch of Sonoma contacted Shah about a potential job in the Sonoma area, working to help improve circulation for the Sonoma Index Tribune. According to Shah, he accepted what he had originally anticipated to be a six-month job, commuting every day from Sacramento to the Sonoma County-based office.
Not local enough
Needless to say, he found himself still working for the paper 15 years past his original six-month deadline and serving as director of operations for the corporation. He and his family moved to the area in July of 1990. He felt like something was missing though: the paper just wasn’t local enough for his taste.
In December of 1992, opportunity presented itself when the Rohnert Park and Cotati Clarion newspaper went under. The paper had been alive and covering local news since 1972, and its absence in the community was hard to ignore, said Shah.
“There was a void there,” he said, “I lived in Rohnert Park…and knew there would be a void in the community without a local paper.”
The first edition
So, with the help of some friends at the Tribune, he created The Community Voice, with the goal of delivering local news to Rohnert Park, Cotati and Penngrove. The first edition was published on Feb. 3, 1993, with a front page featuring articles about Cable TV rates going up, a certain golf course planned for Cotati’s west-side and a strangely compelling image of gun-toting police with a headline of, “Tense police drama ends quietly.”
Support in place
“There was a lot of support for a local paper,” said Shah. Many of The Voice’s first writers (such as Jud Snyder) and staff members came from the Clarion and from The Tribune.
In 2003, Shah had initially intended to retire, but it was at this same time that the Tribune had decided to sell The Community Voice. According to Shah, the small local paper had attracted a number of potential buyers in big-name, large corporate newspapers. The idea of his paper falling into such hands did not sit well.
“I knew those papers would turn this paper into a shopper, a throwaway paper, as they do, and nothing else,” said Shah. “I turned to my wife and said ‘Okay, we’re going to make an offer.’”
Making the best offer
And, so, he and his family made an offer that exceeded that of the other buyers and officially owned the paper.
“(We bought it with) the goal in mind that we would make this the strongest community newspaper in Sonoma County,” said Shah, a goal he says he believes the paper has reached in the past 10 years. “We definitely have loyal readers, loyal advertisers and tremendous amount of support from cities.”
While the newspaper has remained the same size in pages and story content, readership and community involvement has steadily grown over the years, resulting in an increase in participants in the biweekly poll question, a solid supply of local advertisers and 25,000 readers each week between the web and print editions. The paper has also seen a change in exact size, and was the first paper in Sonoma to convert to a 21-inch paper, the standard now, said Shah.
Of the 25,000 weekly readers, approximately 16,000 are new, unique readers, oftentimes from around the globe (The Voice gets a notable surge in readers from around the world whenever it runs an article or picture for Warriors’ Cheer).
Shah said he anticipated The Community Voice living long enough to reach its 21st birthday from the start of its creation.
Local news is vital to a community and will always find a way to strive, said Shah, and with the mutual community support from local business, charities and citizens, he has no doubt of the paper seeing another 21 years.