‘Our Voices Are Trusted:’ Panel Discussion Lays Bare The Importance Of The Neighborhood Press

SAN FRANCISCO — The neighborhood press has played a critical role in San Francisco covering the issues and topics affecting the residents who live in the communities that are sometimes not featured in the mainstream press.

Now, with the COVID-19 pandemic, more and more readers are relying on their neighborhood newspaper for the latest news on the pandemic and its impact on the lives of residents and businesses marginalized communities.

Three neighborhood newspapers — the San Francisco Bay View, El Tecolote and the Noe Valley Voice — have played an important role for residents in the neighborhoods they serve in not just during the pandemic, but for decades in the city.

Publisher of the San Francisco Bay View Mary Ratcliff, founder of El Tecolote Juan Gonzales and Advertising Manager Pat Rose of The Noe Valley Voice joined an online discussion on the role their newspapers have played during the pandemic as well as the future of neighborhood newspapers. Alex Mullaney, publisher and editor of the Ingleside Light moderated the discussion, which was organized to promote the Save SF News fundraiser.

Covering the Pandemic

Ratcliff said her newspaper focused on pandemic coverage related to the homeless population and prisoners affected by the virus. Over the summer, outbreaks of the virus occurred in state inside state prisons and discussions have been ongoing in the city on what to do next for individuals living in shelter-in-place hotel rooms. 

“So many of the people in this neighborhood are in one of those situations,” she said. 

Gonzales said El Tecolote had to boost its coverage of the pandemic, especially since the district was hit hardest by the pandemic having one of the highest case rates per 10,000 residents, data from the Department of Public Health showed.

“Knowing that, we had to really intensify our reporting on just exactly what was happening and more importantly, what resources were available for people to utilize,” Gonzales said. 

The Noe Valley Voice also focused its coverage of the pandemic on those impacted the most in the neighborhood. Rose said the paper worked with Resilient Noe Valley — a group of neighborhood leaders and community organizations — to help spread the word about the hours of food pantries and where public school children could get lunches.

Additionally, the newspaper was able to find medical journalist Liz Highleyman to write stories about the virus. 

Business Concerns

Ad revenue dropped by 50 percent and the newspaper has had to reduce it’s page count, Rose said, but longtime businesses continued to put ads in the paper.

“The one thing that I found helpful was that a lot of longtime advertisers, especially independent businesses stayed and we offered to update and redesign their ads so that each month,” Rose said.

Many of the neighborhood newspapers have survived on donations, grants, volunteers, freelance reporters and ad revenue over the years with some newspapers not surviving.

Ratcliff, who bought the Bay View in the late 1980s for $2,000, said while most news organizations have gone online to publish and are moving toward social media to tell stories, she cannot see that lasting forever.

“I think that people are going to get back to wanting to read a full story and really find out what’s happening,” Ratcliff said.

She added neighborhood newspapers can still make up the difference in coverage that mainstream media outlets fail to do.

“Our voices are trusted. We are a part of the neighborhood,” she said “People know us personally.”

Rose said neighborhood newspapers have been impacted over the years by larger companies, in particular real estate companies, that used to be a source for ad revenue, but have since gone away with companies moving out of the city or being taken over by another company.

“I just think the business climate is totally different than it was 10 years ago,” Rose said.

Future of the Neighborhood Press

Rose said she would like local newspaper associations to expand and build them up as a place to share expertise and advice.

“I really think that’s where the future of the success of a lot of these papers lies,” she said.

Gonzales, who founded El Tecolote 50 years ago, said he remains optimistic about the landscape of the local community newspaper and has hope that many of the neighborhood newspapers that once flourished will come back.

“We’re seeing stories that are being published around the nation saying the importance of local news,” he said.

He added there should be some effort in individuals who speak about the importance of local, including those with money.

“Let’s make them walk the walk and invest their kind their words into making it happen in these neighborhoods,” Gonzales said.

The Save SF News fundraiser will end on Jan. 16, 2021. To learn more or make a donation, visit www.savesfnews.com.