Giants fever may have caused a few to be late, yet the editor's annual Halloween party for the Sunset Beacon and Richmond Review newspapers was in full-swing. More than 50 people gathered at the home of Paul and Susan Kozakiewicz on Oct 27.
Not everyday does the home team get to play in 3 Yet, a busy editor does not always get to visit with staff and supporters in a low-key setting. Paul and Susan are always very busy and with a family to raise, even more so. This is why this reporter made the effort to pull himself way from the World Series that Saturday night to attend. And, I am glad I did.
At the party I met many people, some I am only acquainted with by name, such as a fellow journalist. Or, I get to chat a bit more with someone I only see occasionally, like a photographer, when on an assignment.
It is important also to meet new people at these gatherings like Dee Caliman, a Richmond District resident who was just featured in the October issue. She entered a new career in pre-school education after retiring from the world of finance working with major clients at Goldman Sachs. "I wanted something completely different," she said. "I applied and was chosen," said Caliman. And, she is grateful for the new career because it has given more meaning and purpose to her life than ever before.
Did any of the mainstream papers cover this interesting human interest story? No. With all the attention given to concerns about education and the economy this story about Caliman should fit right into the San Francisco Chronicle or the San Francisco Examiner. But, try searching for it on the web. Only the Sunset Beacon has the story. And, the Beacon and the Richmond Review do not shy away from difficult issues such as the controversial topic of a sports complex with artificial turf in Golden Gate Park; or, the various opinions as well as hard to get facts about the political mess with our local sheriff Ross Mirkarimi.
None of this would get covered in depth if it were not for little papers like the Sunset Beacon and Richmond Review. This is why it was important that reporters and staff be there. Not only to say "thanks for all the great opportunities" but also to take the time to visit to be there in person.
In this current high-tech age of instant mass communication, it is important to have "face time." No, not the "social network" site browsing or tele-commuting, type of routine, but real in person "live" visiting. It is so easy to allow oneself to stay indoors and "phone it in" or "shoot an email." Yet, perhaps that is why print media is still around. It is something tangible, tactile and present in the material world, not on a screen or in "cyber-space."
The Sunset Beacon and Richmond Review, owned and published by the Kozakiewicz (most often referred to as Kozak) family has been a steady and reliable source in the community for much needed local news for more than 20 years.
And, despite the recession economy, cut-backs and everyday chaos of doing business in a City that keeps getting more expensive to live in, the little papers endure. Last night's Halloween gathering was both an affirmation and a celebration of that. The amazing aspect to these two little newspapers and much credit to Paul and Susan Kozakiewicz is the fact that they were willing to take risks. So much so that in 1995, Paul with then fellow owner and editor Chris Rivers decided to take their neighborhood newspaper format city wide in a weekly publication venture called "The City Voice."
"That was hard," said wife Susan. "it took us out of the neighborhood away from the office in the Cournale building on Geary and Paul moved his office to the South of Market area on Folsom Street." The focus while citywide and with more territory to cover, was a challenge Paul wanted to meet. But there were also more obstacles too. And, with it, more expenses to cover. "It was a learning experience that if I had to do over again, said Paul, I think I would." Where there mistakes I made?" "Definitely, and I would not wish on anyone." "Yet it was the best training I got, more so than any formal business school curriculum," he said.
The venture of the City Voice lasted a brief three years. The team of Rivers and Kozakiewicz parted ways; amicably as Paul bought out Rivers' half and became sole proprietor of the two newspapers. Paul's shortfall at going citywide was not in vain, the experience lead him to be considered as chief editor for The San Francisco Independent. In the 1990's, The SF Independent was in essence the city's "third paper."
Paul was honored to be considered, yet as he noted, "I have to run the paper my way or I don't take the job at all." And, so true to his gut, Paul knew that the only way he could do justice to any publication was if he owned it. All publications whether large or small must stay in-tune with the people they serve and know the format that reaches the readers.This is something Paul and his staff have not strayed from.
People need to connect and not just in a "virtual" or "Internet" way but in a real in person sort of everyday way. And, it seems to this reporter, simply the longevity of the Sunset Beacon/Richmond Review gives witness to that. Combined, the two papers reach over 120,000 people in one of the most residential areas of San Francisco. And, an area where the working middle class still reside consistently. Other more trendy or upscale areas of the City often reflect the transient aspect of one of the worlds "most popular" cities.
Okay, so it's not the San Francisco Chronicle or the SF Examiner, but little "hyper-local" papers (that's the term now used) cover important news that mainstream papers miss. Or, they deliberately ignore.
If you don't believe me, then just look at the obvious evidence, the two little papers are still here. And, they are not the only ones. For example in San Francisco, there is the Westside Observer, The West Portal Monthly, the New Fillmore, Castro Courier,, Noe Valley Voice and The Marina Times. All of them are long-standing little papers covering local news that the mainstream media excludes.
And to prove my point even further, just this year (this past April) the Peninsula Progress was inaugurated. Like the Sunset Beacon and Richmond Review this little weekly paper covers the upper SF Peninsula from Daly City to Burlingame. It is an area that has been in need of local coverage for years. And, like the Kozakiewicz', editor/publisher Victoria Monroe and her team are braving the obstacles to meet deadlines and to help a community connect to one another in real time in the world, not in a "virtual" one.
"It is not easy," said Paul. "Usually, one person does many jobs, editing, writing headlines, doing the page-layout, and so on." "And, while that one person is doing the many jobs, bills have to be paid," he said.
Originally from the East Coast, Paul is no stranger to hard work and risks. "I always knew I wanted to own my own business and be my own boss," he said. Always following his gut, Paul tried on many hats of different types of work in his life, eventually settling in to being a publisher editor as he migrated to California. He enrolled at San Jose State University. "It was the only J-school at the time that was aiming towards use of computers in publishing," he said. With that training and eagerness to get into business Paul set his aim on San Francisco.
"One thing I saw as important when I looked around at this neighborhood was a voice for the merchants, the local business." "They are the backbone of any community," he told this reporter some time ago, when we had a chance to meet briefly over a cup of coffee and to talk about a story assignment.
David Heller, president of the Greater Geary Blvd Merchants Association would agree unanimously. "We need to band as one to deliver a strong unified message that draws attention to the needs of the community," he said. And, perhaps no one knows that more than a local business owner like Heller. Standing up to City Hall is not easy and having a voice that comes from the community is vital especially in a place were special interests take center stage.
Yet, the diversity and the ever-changing social landscape requires that voices be heard and facts be known, no matter how complicated they are. This perhaps is another reason for the endurance of local neighborhood papers; the people, the everyday people that is, need to know.
Juan Gonzales is editor and publisher of El Tecolote a bilingual paper that serves the Mission District serves also as chair of the Journalism Dept at City College San Francisco. He knows Paul and understands the day to day struggles. "The Internet has changed everything, yet I think print media will still be around for a while-longer because it provides news to people who are not tech savvy and who don't have a computer." "There is a 'digital divide' and it is right here in our midst, so that is why I think local neighborhood papers are still important," he said.
Paul is grateful for all the support he has received over the years, "I am always happy to help others in their venture to start a publication," he said. "It is a lot of work and yes, there are obstacles, but a community needs a voice, people like to read news about their neighborhood."