Commonwealth Club Features SF Community Newspapers

Forum at Commonwealth Club
Glenn Gullmes, Willie Ratcliff, Earl Adkins and Juan Gonzales take questions from the sold out audience at the Commonwealth Club

The San Francisco Neighborhood Newspaper Association and the impact of community journalism was the featured topic last week at a forum sponsored by San Francisco’s prestigious Commonwealth Club. Four local publishers, Earl Adkins (Marina Times), Juan Gonzales (El Tecolate), Willie Ratcliff (SF BayView) and moderator Glenn Gullmes (West Portal Monthly) represented the neighborhood news collective in leading a discussion on the state of local journalism and its impact on informing and bringing together citizens for community action.

The problems of the major daily newspapers have been well-documented and reported on nationwide … the advantage that the neighborhood papers have … serving the needs of the residents…”

Gonzales, who is also a Professor of Journalism at the City College of San Francisco, described how over 44 years, El Tecolate has been a hub in the Mission District and for the Latino community, helping to define and strengthen the “community identity” and serving as a training ground for generations of journalists and community activists looking to be involved in their communities, and to make a difference in the future direction of their neighborhood.

The underlying thread of community involvement and connectedness is a unifying factor for each of the 15 community newspapers, and the main differentiator between the hyper-local news in each community and the difficulties that the major daily newspapers are having. The problems of the major daily newspapers have been well-documented and reported on nationwide, and the Bay Area is not exempt, with downsizing being evident at both the San Francisco Chronicle and The Examiner. Both Adkins and Gullmes spoke on the advantage that the neighborhood papers have when covering community-focused events and concerns, “We are at the forefront of what is happening in our neighborhoods,” said Gullmes. “We have local journalists and citizens that are tuned into the concerns and needs of the communities and they are well-represented to report on meetings at the school districts, neighborhood councils, and police stations, as well as at City Hall and Planning Commission meetings.” Adkins used a recent community outreach process concerning the opening of a chain restaurant on the Marina Green as the type of community involvement and coverage that local papers such as the Marina Times can cover best. He stressed that his publication is focused on serving the needs of the residents of the Marina primarily as a “lifestyle and local news outlet.”

Some of the newspapers tackle a larger scope. Ratcliff, publisher of the Bayview based SF BayView tackles both local issues as well as African-American-focused issues from as far away as Haiti and the continent of Africa itself. “It’s a labor of love,” said Ratcliff, who has owned the paper since 1991. He cited important local issues such as crime, gentrification, education and the redevelopment of the Hunter’s Point shipyard as areas where the community looks to his newspaper for detailed information and coverage. When asked about topics that are still relevant for his newspaper, he cited the “inequality within SF, especially for African-Americans, people of color, and women.”

Moderator Gullmes, involved with the SFNNA throughout its 25-year history, used numbers to show the impact on the city that the 15 publications have. Together, the neighborhood publications are the largest source of print media distribution in San Francisco, with a reach of over 275,000 households each month, and advertising revenues that have reached their highest in it’s history during this period where “print is supposedly dead.”

The sell-out crowd was able to ask questions; topics ranged from the future of journalism (there will always be a need for information to be well-researched and distributed, in whatever format it will be in the future), to the differences in what the major papers can do versus the smaller neighborhood-based monthlies.

Following the conclusion of the forum, which was also broadcast via the Commonwealth Club’s affiliated radio outlets, the publishers remained to continue the discussion with individual audience members. It was an apt conclusion to the topic which helped to convey that community journalism is alive and well in San Francisco.

October 2014