Wed 13 Dec 2006
Biographical information on newspaperman Dave Mitchell
Editor & publisher emeritus
The Point Reyes Light
Born in San Francisco, Nov. 23, 1943
Point Reyes Light, editor & publisher (1975-1981 & 1984-2005)
San Francisco Examiner, general assignment reporter, war correspondent, transportation writer (1981-1983)
The Sebastopol Times, editor (1973-1975)
The (Sonora) Daily Union Democrat, county government reporter (1971-1973)
The Council Bluffs Nonpareil, city hall reporter (1970)
Upper Iowa College, instructor of World Literature, Freshman English, English Literature, and Journalism. Faculty advisor to the student newspaper, The Collegian, and the black-student union, The Brotherhood (1968-1970)
Leesburg (Florida) High School, teacher of Speech and Literature and faculty advisor to the student newspaper (spring semester 1968)
Marvel Academy in Rye, New York, teacher of English and history (fall semester 1967)
Stanford University, master’s degree in Communications, 1967
Stanford University, bachelor’s degree in English with minor in History & Political Science, 1965
Principia Upper School in St. Louis, Missouri (1960-1961)
Berkeley High School in California (1958-1959)
An English major at Stanford, I graduated a quarter later than the rest of my class; in a moment of bohemian romanticism, I had left Stanford for three months in 1964 to attend the California College of Arts and Crafts. After graduating from Senator Leland Stanford’s “Farm,” I returned to Stanford in 1966-67 and received a master’s degree in Communications with a concentration in print media. My return was just as impulsive as my earlier fling at becoming an artist; I didn’t apply for graduate school (or even choose a field of study) until the first day of fall registration. To my parents’ surprise, as much as my own, I ultimately left Stanford as a budding journalist.
I taught high school for a year divided between Rye, a suburb of New York City, and Leesburg in Lake County, Florida. Lake County at that time was still mostly segregated, and I briefly worked to register black voters in an unsuccessful attempt to unseat a brutal, racist sheriff, Willis V. McCall.
Two years teaching at Upper Iowa College followed. Along with teaching in the English Department, I was the faculty advisor to the black-student union and the student newspaper.
Next came three years reporting for daily newspapers in Council Bluffs, Iowa, and Sonora, California, followed by editing a weekly in Sebastopol, California. In 1975, my former wife Cathy and I bought the weekly Point Reyes Light on the rural coast 40 miles north of San Francisco.
The Light won the Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service in 1979. It was only the fourth year since the Pulitzers began in 1917 that a prize in any division (e.g. editorial writing, foreign correspondence, breaking-news photography) went to a weekly. In The Light’s case, the prize was for an exposé and editorial crusade, both of which I mostly wrote, of the increasingly violent Synanon cult. Working with me on the investigation were Cathy and a UC Berkeley sociologist, Richard Ofshe. With their help, I subsequently wrote a book about our investigation, The Light on Synanon, which was made into a two-hour movie for CBS called Attack on Fear. Actor Paul Michael Glazer (AKA Starsky) played me.
I reported for the old San Francisco Examiner from 1981 to 1983 following Cathy’s and my divorce, which forced us to sell The Light. At The Examiner, I covered — among many other things — the post-war refugee crisis in Southeast Asia and the civil wars in El Salvador and Guatemala.
I reacquired The Point Reyes Light through a default action in late 1983. Although the paper remained small (about 4,000 circulation with a staff of eight), I sent reporters and photographers all over the world to research historic waves of immigration to Point Reyes. Over 20 years, reporters tracked immigrant families to relatives in southern Mexico (three times), Switzerland’s Italian-speaking Canton of Ticino, Croatia during its civil war, the Irish Republic along with pre-cease-fire Ulster, and Portugal’s mid-Atlantic Azores. The series revealed why five waves of immigration (beginning in 1850 and continuing to the present) have left the Old Country for Point Reyes and how they have fared since reaching West Marin’s shores. The lives of immigrants and their descendants were compared with the lives of relatives whose part of the family stayed in the Old Country.
In 2000, I myself returned to Central America to write a report on Guatemalan politics for the online Miami Herald, as well as The Light. This led directly to my brief marriage to a Guatemalan. Indirectly it led to The Light’s winning state and national awards for a series on an undocumented Guatemalan immigrant who in 2003 was found beaten nearly to death in Bolinas. Light reporters and photographers (including my wife Ana Carolina and stepdaughter Anika) working both in West Marin and Guatemala revealed how the man’s personal misfortune was a catastrophe for his family. As the series showed, he had been supporting nine children and an extremely ill wife living in rural poverty in a remote region of Guatemala. The series helped raise funds for the family, and eventually $30,000 was collected to finance a heart operation for the wife and schooling for the children.
In November 2005, I retired. A former Monterey County deputy district attorney, Robert Israel Plotkin, bought all the stock of The Point Reyes Light corporation. Plotkin, who had recently moved from Taos to Bolinas, was raised in San Diego but attended college and law school in New York.
The Point Reyes Light won 108 national, regional, and state journalism awards, as well as the Pulitzer Prize, during my 27 years as editor and publisher. After my retirement, I received a Career Achievement award from the Society of Professional Journalists Northern California Chapter, and the Marin County Board of Supervisors held its own ceremony to present me with a resolution honoring my work at The Light.
The front of the Pulitzer gold medal contains an image of Benjamin Franklin, who was a colonial printer and publisher along with being a statesman and inventor. It is inscribed: “Honoris causa. Awarded by Columbia University to Point Reyes Light.” The back of the medal, which shows a printer at a colonial, hand-operated press, says: “For Distinguished and Meritorious Public Service Rendered by a United States Newspaper During the Year 1979. Joseph Pulitzer Medal.”
When Pulitzer in 1917 created the Pulitzer Prizes, he opted to give a cash prize to every winning writer or photographer. Only one prize — “For Distinguished and Meritorious Public Service” — was earmarked for a newspaper, not individuals. Pulitzer assumed a cash prize wouldn’t mean much to a newspaper, so he decided that Public Service winners should instead receive a gold medal. Under the rules he laid down, the medal was to contain exactly $500 worth of gold at the time it was minted, so over the years, the amount of gold in the medal has been shrinking. This 14-carat-gold medal is the size of a Mason Jar lid.
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