The Point Reyes Light Newspaper

Approximately 15 inches of badly needed rain fell in drought-stricken West Marin during the past week, with much of it falling last weekend.

Although the rain flooded numerous roadways, including sections of Highway 1, roughly 50 people showed up at Tomales Regional History Center Sunday to hear Jacoba Charles and me read a few selections from our book, The Light on the Coast: 65 Years of News Big and Small as Reported in The Point Reyes Light.

In December, the History Center published the book, which draws upon news coverage in The Light to tell the post-World War II “history of West Marin’s lively little towns and their Pulitzer Prize-winning weekly newspaper.”

Jacoba and I looked through more than 3,300 back issues in choosing representative selections of writing, photography, and political cartoons to include in the book. We then wrote background narratives for many of the news stories.

The crowd filled the History Center’s conference room, where awards and other mementos from the newspaper’s past were on display. After our readings, Jacoba and I signed copies of the book while directors of the History Center served refreshments. (Photos by Lynn Axelrod)

Jacoba started the readings with Wilma Van Peer’s 1998 account of working for the paper’s founders, Dave and Wilma Rogers, half a century earlier. Mrs. Van Peer described Dave as a “little man” with a “nose for news” who liked to “tease” people.

The Light, which was called The Baywood Press for its first 18 years, has had 10 sets of owners in the past 65 years. I published the paper for 27 of those years and wrote the chapters covering news from the first eight ownerships.

Jacoba reported for The Light during its previous ownership and is on the paper’s board of directors under today’s owner, Marin Media Institute. She compiled the chapters dealing with news coverage under the last two sets of publishers.

I unexpectedly found myself getting choked up while reading aloud an item from a June 22, 1950, column of social news:

“Mr. and Mrs. Anton Kooy and sons Peter, 13 years, and Walter, 11 years, have arrived at Blake’s Landing ranch from Amsterdam, Holland. They have come to join their friends Herbert Angress and Bill Straus, and Anton is going into business with Bill and Herbert. The Kooys will live at the Clark home, which the Harold Johnstones now occupy, near Marshall.

“During the last war, Mr. and Mrs. Kooy took Herbert Angress in to stay with them, thus saving his life from the Nazis. The two boys will be attending the Tomales schools — Peter being of high school age.”

While reading this short item to the crowd, I was once again struck by the horrendous danger in which Herb Angress had found himself and by the Kooy family’s heroism in putting themselves at risk to shelter him. Then — five years after World War II ended — they followed him to West Marin.

What choked me up was the sudden realization that when this potentially tragic drama came to a happy ending in Marshall, it made West Marin seem like part of a wartime miracle.

Jacoba reads the late historian Jack Mason’s account of former publisher Don DeWolfe changing the paper’s name from Baywood Press to Point Reyes Light in 1966. Full of wry humor, the story is set in the Station House Café, which Mason operated for awhile after he retired from an editor’s post at The Oakland Tribune.

Víctor Reyes, who writes a Spanish-language column for The Light, filled in for Dewey Livingston during the readings.

The book’s designer, Dewey Livingston, lives in Inverness where he is the historian at the Jack Mason Museum of West Marin History. He had been scheduled to take part in the readings but had to bow out at the last minute. Second Valley Creek behind his house was flooding and undercutting his bedroom, forcing Dewey to stay home and deal with the rising water.

The Light on the Coast reprints the paper’s entire series on the five waves of ethnic immigration to West Marin during the past 160 years. To research the series, the newspaper sent reporters abroad four times in nine years — to Croatia, Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, Switzerland’s Italian-speaking Canton of Ticino, Portugal’s mid-Atlantic Azores, and the Jalostotitlán region of Mexico.

Víctor, who was one of the reporters on the immigration stories from Mexico, described Jalostotitlán and two neighboring towns. Most of West Marin’s Mexican-immigrant families hail from that area.

He stressed how traditional and conservative people are in Jalos (the city’s nickname) although it is only a 90-minute drive from Guadalajara. The priest virtually runs the city, Víctor said.

West Marin’s non-Latino residents that are familiar with large Mexican municipalities, such as Mexico City, may think they understand the culture of Mexican-immigrant residents here, Víctor said, but Jalos is a world apart, and the difference can sometimes lead to confusion.

Two more readings and book signings are scheduled in West Marin. From 3 to 6 p.m. Saturday, March 1, there will be a reading, a public open house, and a reunion of former Light staff in the newspaper’s new office behind the Inverness Post Office.

Point Reyes Books will sponsor a third reading and book signing at 3 p.m. Sunday, March 9, in Point Reyes Station’s Presbyterian Church.

The April 12, 1956, edition of Point Reyes Station’s Baywood Press reported: “Mrs. Joe Curtiss’ television set caught fire last week, and the wall behind the set began burning.

“Before the fire department could answer the call, Margie picked up the set, threw it out the window, and proceeded to extinguish the blaze.”

That was the entire report, but Margie must have been a hardy soul because that early TV would have been big and heavy as well as hot.

The Baywood Press, as The Point Reyes Light was called for its first 18 years, began publication on March 1, 1948.

The newspaper’s coverage of the past 65 years of West Marin news, big and small, is the focus of a book its publisher, the Tomales Regional History Center, has just released.

The book’s cover at left.

I’m particularly interested in the book, The Light on the Coast, because I, along with Jacoba Charles, authored it.

The graphic artist was Dewey Livingston, formerly production manager at The Light. He is now the historian at the Jack Mason Museum of West Marin History and is an historian for the National Park Service.

The Light is in its 10th ownership, Marin Media Institute, and the evolution of the newspaper itself is part of the story. As editor and publisher for 27 years, I was responsible for the chapters covering the first eight ownerships. Jacoba, who is on The Light’s board of directors and formerly was a reporter for the paper, was responsible for the most recent two.

Flooding in Bolinas. The ferocious storms that periodically hit the coast have always received extensive coverage in The Light.

Highlights of the 354-page book include the evolution of West Marin agriculture; the effects of the arrival of the counterculture on local politics, law enforcement, and the arts; the creation of the Point Reyes National Seashore and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

Examples of The Light’s Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage of violence and other illegal activities by the Synanon cult are, of course, included in The Light on the Coast.

The newspaper’s complete series on the five historic waves of immigration to West Marin is also a central chapter.

The forefathers of many longtime families in West Marin arrived in immigrations from specific locales in: Ireland, Switzerland’s Italian-speaking Canton of Ticino, Croatia, and Portugal’s mid-Atlantic Azores. Researching their journeys to West Marin, as well as the more-recent immigration from Mexico, involved sending Light reporters abroad four times between 1988 and 1997.

This illustration for Sheriff’s Calls by cartoonist Kathryn LeMieux’s was often used in Western Weekend editions. The final section of our book consists of some of the more unusual Sheriff’s Calls from the the past 38 years.

The Light on the Coast features, along with a variety of news and commentary, a sampling of cartoons, advertising, and photography (including 10 portraits by Art Rogers). My partner Lynn Axelrod and I reviewed almost 3,000 back issues of The Point Reyes Light/Baywood Press in compiling the book. Jacoba reviewed more than 400. After making our selections, she and I wrote background narratives for many of them.

Those who’ve read the book have had good things to say about this approach of presenting West Marin’s history through the pages of The Light. Commenting on the book, San Francisco Chronicle reporter and columnist Carl Nolte writes: “The Point Reyes Light is a great window into a fabulous small world.”

Dr. Chad Stebbins, executive director of the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors, is likewise enthusiastic: “Dave Mitchell and The Point Reyes Light are synonymous with top-shelf newspapering. Dave is one of the few small-town editors ever to win a Pulitzer Prize; his investigation of the Synanon cult is a textbook example of tenacious reporting. His witty and colorful anecdotes always make for good reading.”

The Light on the Coast is available at Point Reyes Books for $24.95 plus tax.

It can be ordered online from the Tomales Regional History Center bookstore for $29.95 including tax and shipping.

“The language of the news, like Latin or C++ [a programming language], has no native speakers,” columnist Lauren Collins writes in the Nov. 4 New Yorker.

Nonetheless, she adds, reporters are “sufficiently well versed in it” that British journalist Robert Hutton has written a guide to “the strange language of news.” It’s titled Romps, Tots and Boffins. A boffin, Collins explains, is British newspaper jargon for an egghead.

In the United States, such journalese typically appears in headlines when there is a lot of information to convey but little space to do it. Additionally, as Collins writes, US newspapers use words that rarely appear in the British press, such as coed (a female student at a coeducational college) and to mull (to consider).

At The Point Reyes Light, we used both “eye”and “mull” as shorthand for “consider.”

When I edited and published The Point Reyes Light, we had our own headline vocabulary, most of which we borrowed from newspapers elsewhere. When the word dispute didn’t fit, we’d write flap. When meeting, discussion, or conference was too long, we’d write confab. (It’s a legitimate variation of confabulation.)

Most other headline words had more obvious meanings: supe for a member of the Board of Supervisors; nix for reject; prexy for president (of an organization but not of the country); and probe for an investigation as well as to investigate.

In a Light headline, a cop would nab the suspect when there was no room for a deputy to arrest him. It was also common in Light heads, so to speak, for someone to either slate or set an event rather than schedule it.

And although the ampersand (&) had just about disappeared from formal writing, we at The Light often used it in headlines. After all, an & is neither informal nor slang. In fact, it once was the 27th letter of our alphabet. It originated around 100 AD in Roman handwriting and started showing up in written English during the 1830s.

Often misunderstood is the practice of spelling night as nite and light as lite or through as thru and though as tho. Many folks assume these nonstandard spellings are creations of Madison Avenue, but they were primarily popularized by the Chicago Tribune.

Joseph Medill, the paper’s publisher in the second half of the 19th century, became swept up in a small movement that wanted English spelling reformed to make it simpler.

His grandson, publisher Robert McCormick (left), was so enthusiastic that from 1934 to 1975 he had the Tribune use simplified spellings in an attempt to get them into general use.

Many readers were agast.

Prior to that, a few luminaries such as Mark Twain and Andrew Carnegie had also become advocates for simplified spelling.

President Theodore Roosevelt for several months in 1906 required the government printing office to use reformed spelling.

He rescinded his order, however, following protests from Congress and the public.

Recently while paging through a 1957 issue of The Baywood Press, as The Light was called for its first 18 years, I was surprised to find drought spelled as drouth, which was the way the Chicago Tribune was spelling the word at the time. But not all the Tribune’s spelling reforms were widely accepted. One failure was frate, which many readers didn’t recognize as freight.

Of course, the Tribune for more than a century was weird in many ways. For years it called itself “The World’s Greatest Newspaper” although its motto was “An American Newspaper for Americans.” Traditionally a mouthpiece for ultra-conservative politics, the Tribune under Medill regularly editorialized against Roman Catholics and the Irish.

In his 1947 history of Tribune publishers, An American Dynasty, author John Tebble writes, “Joseph Medill did not let his educational lacks restrain him from taking a bold position on scientific matters.

“At one time or another he rode a half-dozen scientific or pseudo-scientific hobbies, such as simplified spelling, the sunspot theory and the blue-glass theory [a belief that people are healthier and crops grow better under blue glass]….

“Medill (right) attributed all natural phenomena to sunspots until one day he heard of the existence of microbes and immediately adopted this new explanation.

“Soon after, an unfortunate reporter writing according to Tribune policy asserted that the plague in Egypt was caused by sunspots. Medill went through the copy, crossed out the word ‘sunspots’ wherever it occurred and substituted ‘microbes.'”

Altho the Tribune in the last six years, has changed ownership, filed for bankruptcy, and is now only a fantom of the operation it once was, its influence on spelling can still be seen in newspaper headlines, as well as neon signs. And as ur now seeing on the Internet, social media are taking yet another toll on common English spelling.

During the 27 years I edited and published The Point Reyes Light, I belonged to a variety of newspaper associations, among them: the San Francisco Press Club; the California Newspaper Publishers Association (CNPA); the National Newspaper Association (NNA); and the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors (ISWNE).

Since retiring at the end of 2005, however, the only membership I’ve maintained is in ISWNE. The society’s purpose, to quote our website, “is to help those involved in the weekly press to improve standards of editorial writing and news reporting and to encourage strong, independent editorial voices.”

Moreover, the society really is international notwithstanding its being based in the American heartland at Missouri Southern State University in Joplin. Three or four years ago, ISWNE listed the locations of its members’ newspapers, and I was surprised to see there were more in Alberta than California.

ISWNE’s annual conferences are often held abroad: Calgary, Alberta, 1994; London, Edinburgh, Cardiff & Dublin, 1995; Halifax, Nova Scotia, 1999; Victoria, British Columbia, 2000; Galway, Ireland, 2003; Edmonton & Fort McMurray, Alberta, 2005; Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, 2009; Coventry, England, 2011. In 2016, the group will head to Australia.

Postings from this blog are occasionally republished in the ISWNE newsletter.

Whether they’re in the US or abroad, most ISWNE members edit community weeklies. One of the more active members, who happens to be particularly savvy about community newspapers in the UK, is Jeremy Condliffe, who edits The Congleton Chronicle in Congleton, Cheshire, England. Perhaps these international editors merely have small-town common sense, but their comments in ISWNE’s publications and on its email hotline reflect a world of wisdom.

Why am I telling you all this? As a member of ISWNE, I receive its quarterly journal, Grassroots Editor, plus its monthly newsletter (above). I also read the bimonthly Columbia Journalism Review (below), which is published at Columbia University in New York City. The difference between New York’s and Joplin’s assessments of the state of newspapers is fascinating.

The July-August issue of CJR contains a review of The Wired City: Reimagining Journalism and Civic Life in the Post-Newspaper Age.

The author, Dan Kennedy, an assistant professor of journalism at Northeastern University, apparently imagines a day when nonprofit websites will replace many newspapers.

Post-Newspaper Age? The impression that newspapers in general are fading away has gained credence mostly from being so oft repeated.

It’s true that several well-known newspapers such as The Honolulu Advertiser and The Rocky Mountain News have folded in the last few years. Several big city dailies such as the New Orleans Times-Picayune, the Detroit News, and the Detroit Free Press have cut back to three days a week. The Christian Science Monitor has had to drop its print edition and publish only online. We’ve all heard the story. It’s been discussed on CBS’s 60 Minutes.

In contrast, the spring issue of Grassroots Editor headlines a spot-check of far-flung weeklies, “Despite predictions of their pending demise, community newspapers are alive and well in: Montana, Bahamas, California, Ireland, Missouri, North Dakota, Atlantic Canada.”

In that issue, the editor of The Winters Express in Yolo County, Debra DeAngelo, commented on a conversation she’d had with CNPA’s director of affiliate relations, Joe Wirt.

“He explained that he’s visiting small Northern California newspapers to see what it’s really like in our world rather than assuming that we’re all in a rush to ditch print publication for online formats and iPhone apps.

“Apparently, the good folks at CNPA noticed that, wait a minute — not every small paper is dying a slow, choking death. Many are surviving, just as they are, despite years of economic stagnation and the explosion of online technology….

“People still want to read the city council stories on paper rather than watch them on cable, likely because waiting a week for the story is less painful than sitting through a meeting.”

Steve Andrist, executive director of the North Dakota Newspaper Association, put it more bluntly: “Those people who say newspapers are dead or irrelevant or dinosaurs — they’re still reading newspapers.” Nor is optimism about the future of newspapers unique to supposedly old-fashioned editors at county weeklies.

Warren Buffett, chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. holding company, is similarly optimistic about the future of bigger newspapers. And Buffett has amassed a personal fortune of $54 billion by knowing when a good business is undervalued.

In the past 19 months, Berkshire Hathaway has spent $344 million acquiring 28 daily newspapers. The company has stressed it doesn’t intend to “flip” (resell) any of these papers but instead plans to be their long-term owner.

In 2011, Buffett (left) was ranked the third richest man in the world. In 2008, he was the richest. He has repeatedly said the US under-taxes the rich and endorsed President Obama’s reelection.

It’s worth noting that Buffett does not interfere with his newspapers’ editorial policies. In a letter to shareholders, he wrote, “I voted for Obama; of our 12 dailies that endorsed a presidential candidate, 10 opted for Romney.”

Buffett also told shareholders why newspapers can survive regardless of widespread lamentations about their future:

“Newspapers continue to reign supreme,” he wrote, “in the delivery of local news. If you want to know what’s going on in your town – whether the news is about the mayor or taxes or high school football – there is no substitute for a local newspaper that is doing its job.

“A reader’s eyes may glaze over after they take in a couple of paragraphs about Canadian tariffs or political developments in Pakistan; a story about the reader himself or his neighbors will be read to the end. Wherever there is a pervasive sense of community, a paper that serves the special informational needs of that community will remain indispensable to a significant portion of its residents.”

Buffett doesn’t dispute the need for daily papers to include national and international news but makes explicit that what sells newspapers is good coverage of local news.

That’s just what the weekly press has been doing all along, informing readers about events in their own community. This, in turn, is why weekly newspapers aren’t about to die off.

As usual, Buffett knows what he’s talking about. The last I heard, there were fewer than 5,000 households in West Marin; nonetheless, two competing weeklies, The Point Reyes Light and The West Marin Citizen, are able to survive here thanks to their both providing intense coverage of local news.

Welcome back for another year. The management of this blog takes great pleasure in announcing that 2013 is being brought to you through arrangements made by Portions of this year have been pre­recorded. Any resemblance between per­sons living and dead would be ghastly.

Last week’s rainstorms here may have made shopping trips less attractive to residents who had waited until the last minute to buy Christmas presents, but in another vein, so to speak, the rains also brought forth a seldom-seen beauty.

Point Reyes Station received more than 10 inches of rain in December, and outside Mitchell cabin, the downhill entrances to gopher tunnels turned into artesian springs.

Thirteen Turns on Highway 1 north of Dogtown.

The State Highway Commission’s engineering staff half a century ago proposed straightening Highway 1 between Olema and Highway 101 at Richardson Bay. For awhile, West Marin residents were divided over the proposal.

Many residents worried that the character of West Marin would change if it were connected to East Marin and San Francisco by a high-speed highway. On the other hand, many members of the business community reasoned they would get more customers if West Marin were accessible to more people.

To demonstrate the need for a straighter and presumably safer highway, two men, Frank Myer and Lee Sefton, 52 years ago this January counted all the curves on Highway 1 between Point Reyes Station and Highway 101. As was reported at the time in The Baywood Press (the original name of The Point Reyes Light), there are 520 curves in that 30-mile stretch, and “33 of these are blind, sharp curves.”

Kite flying outside Mitchell cabin on Dec. 30.

Here is the Highway 1 survey carried out by Myer and Sefton, whom the newspaper referred to as a “citizens curve-counting committee”:

Point Reyes Station to Olema — 2 miles, 21 curves. Olema to Bolinas — 10 miles, 115 curves. Bolinas to Stinson Beach — 5 miles, 81 curves. Stinson Beach to Muir Beach — 6 miles, 166 curves. Muir Beach to Tam Junction — 6 miles, 132 curves. Tam Junction to Highway 101 — 1 mile, 5 carves.

This abundance of curves prompted a sardonic comment from Baywood Press publisher Don DeWolfe: “Makes us wonder what the motive is behind opposition to the improvement of this wonderful road.”

Despite its support from members of the business community, such as Myer, Sefton, and DeWolfe, most West Marin residents — and finally the Marin County Board of Supervisors — came to oppose straightening Highway 1, and the state abandoned the proposal. In retrospect, most of us are glad it did.

Let me now close by wishing my English-speaking friends and relatives: Happy New Year! And my Spanish-speaking friends and relatives: ¡Prospero año nuevo!

Back in 1975 when I first owned The Point Reyes Light, the paper was constantly getting mail addressed to Mike Gahagan, my predecessor, and even to Don DeWolfe, his predecessor. Why the mail was misdirected could easily be understood; mailing lists don’t get updated very often. More perplexing was the newspaper’s mail from the National Audubon Society, which was always addressed to Mrs. Gloria Eagan. I never met the woman nor knew who she was.

Something similar happened when I previously edited The Sebastopol Times. The paper was constantly receiving mail addressed to B.M. Angel, but I had no idea who the person was. Finally one day, I asked sports editor John Owens: “Have you ever heard of a B.M. Angel?” John thought it over for a moment and replied, “No, but I’ve heard of a tooth fairy.”

From Sparsely Sage and Timely 35 years ago: A young lady created something of a stir in Bolinas by walking her pig through downtown dog-like on a leash. It was a guaranteed double-take until the pig got loose and started down Wharf Road on the run.

It soon caught up with a car traveling slowly in the same direction, causing bystanders to fear the pig might run under the car’s wheels. Pedestrians began shouting, “Pig! Pig! Pig!” to alert the motorist, who unfortunately was a sheriff’s deputy in a patrolcar. Brakes were slammed on; the pig darted past; and everyone breathed a sigh of relief — especially the deputy.

As it happened, a sheriff’s dispatcher a couple of months later alerted deputies to be on the lookout for “a WMA [white-male adult]” brandishing a firearm on Highway 1. He was described as “wearing dark glasses and a t-shirt with a peace symbol on it.” I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who thought: “Young man, you’re a disgrace to the uniform.”

San Francisco for years has been home to numerous events, such as the Folsom Street Fair, where many of those in attendance are nude. However, some residents have begun complaining about too much public nudity year-round in the city, especially in the Castro District. The Board of Supervisors is now trying to devise an ordinance that would ban public nudity — except for special events.

However, crafting such an ordinance can be tricky. Are striptease theaters public places? Should police cite the parents of children who are naked in public places? What’s the cutoff age? Such questions are not as simplistic as they may seem.

If not carefully written, the result will be a law of unintended consequences. One marvelous example of this occurred in the city of Florence, Oregon, back in 1977 when the City Council decided to shield that city from indecorous sights. In doing so, the council passed an ordinance that made it illegal to have sex “while in view of a public or private place.”

City officials, however, soon realized they had banned absolutely all sex in Florence and decided not to enforce their new ordinance.

I’ll close with an apocryphal story from the world of theater. It seems there was an aspiring actor who had set his sights on Broadway but never made it through the casting calls. Finally after months of frustration, the would-be actor landed a bit part, playing a soldier in an off-Broadway production.

He had only one line: “Hark! I hear a cannon!” Nonetheless, he knew this could be the break that launched his show business career, so he practiced the line day after day, trying to decide just how it should be uttered: HARK, I hear a cannon! Hark, I HEAR a cannon! Hark, I hear A CANNON!

Finally it was the night of the dress rehearsal, and as he stepped onto the stage he was nervous as cat. Just as the time came for his big line, however, there was a loud explosion backstage, and the startled novice exclaimed, “What the hell was that?”

When I moved to Point Reyes Station in 1975, the town’s postmaster was a short, thin, friendly man named George Gallagher. His identical twin Bob ran North Bend Ranch just east of town along the Point Reyes-Petaluma Road.

Sadly, that historic ranch is now for sale. Scott Stevens of Leading Edge Properties two weeks ago told The San Francisco Chronicle the 300-acre ranch is listed for $5.5 million.

The ranch got the name North Bend because Papermill Creek makes a northward-pointing arc as it crosses the property. In 1913, the twins — who both died in 2002 at the age of 89 — were born on the ranch, which their grandfather bought from the Shafter family in the 1870s.

The old Gallagher house is unoccupied but is now being cleaned. Photos by Leading Edge Properties, (707) 695-4448.

Bob and George grew up in a white, two-story Victorian house, watching the North Pacific Railroad’s narrow-gauge trains rumble through their front yard, sometimes hopping aboard for a trip into San Francisco.

“There’s something about a train — you can live right by it every day, and still when one comes by, you can’t help looking up,” Bob Gallagher recalled in a Point Reyes Light interview 11 years ago.

“You could always keep time by the trains runnin’ by there,” his brother George added. “Like clockwork five or six daily trains passed by on schedule from dawn to dusk.”

While the young twins rode a horse and buggy into town to attend Black District School, their older siblings rode the train to high school. “They used to get the train up to Tomales High and get there by noon,” George said. “Then they’d have to catch another train back at 3 p.m. That cut into their learning some, but they turned out just fine.”

The cattle-feeding barn with the ranch’s old barn at right.

The tracks ran right between the Gallaghers’ front door and their barn. “The dairy was on one side, and the house was on the other,” Bob said. “We had to cross the those tracks. [The train] always whistled before it got there, but comin’ one way, it came right out of the woods.”

The Gallagher children weren’t the only ranch residents who had to be careful. Sometimes turkeys and cows got dangerously close to the tracks while foraging in the right-of-way.

George Gallager (left) and Bob Gallagher in 1997.

Bob told of a time when a young ranch dog followed him and George as they ran across the tracks to beat a speeding train. The twins made it across safely, but the dog disappeared under engine. However, after the train had passed, the dog — which had crouched under the cars — got up and was able to walk away although it no longer had a tail.

The trains made it possible for the Gallaghers to take quick trips into San Francisco. Both Bob and George fondly remembered playing cards on one trip with Jackie Coogan, the child actor whose well-known roles included starring with Charlie Chaplin in The Kid. As it happened, Coogan had a grandfather in West Marin whom he frequently visited.

It was easy to catch the train as it ran through their ranch, Bob and George noted. “You’d just wave down the conductor, and he’d stop and give you a toot-toot,” George said.

The brothers would then board the train and ride it to Sausalito, where they would transfer to a Northwestern Pacific ferry. They’d reach Fisherman’s Wharf in about 90 minutes — less time than it takes most commuters today.

The main ranch house, where Kevin and Katie Gallagher live, was built in the 1960s and has three bedrooms.

There is much more that could be said about the ranch.

• To the south, it borders on federally owned land within the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. In the 1980s, the GGNRA’s boundaries were extended to include North Bend Ranch. This means the Park Service has Congressional permission to buy the property; however, the Park Service hasn’t had the funds to do so. The Park Service has also discussed extending the Cross Marin through the ranch, and on Oct. 14, 2001, bicyclists took a trial run. But nothing has come of that idea either.

• Another government agency, North Marin Water District, has a well on the property. It’s one of several wells along Papermill Creek for the water system that serves Point Reyes Station, Olema, and Inverness Park.

•  The Gallagher family hadn’t wanted to sell the property but needs the money to help pay for retirement and medical bills, real estate agent Stevens told The Chronicle. The owners of the ranch are George Gallagher’s sons Kevin and Paul, along with Bob Gallagher’s son and daughter Dan and Maureen.

This story starts with Adrienne Baumann, whose family lives in the Chileno Valley. She was a reporter for The Point Reyes Light in 1994 and later moved to Albino, Italy. When the Kosovo War broke out, Adrienne accompanied a Catholic aid group, Caritas, to do relief work at Kosovar refugee camps in Albania where she heard stories from the victims of Serbia’s ethnic cleansing. When she returned to Italy in May 1999, she sent The Light an account of  the horrific events in Kosovo.

In one refugee camp, an 18-year-old girl, Albana Berisha, gave Adrienne a journal she had written in broken English about what had happened to her family as the Yugoslav government under Serbian President Slobodan Milošević tried to drive ethnic Albanians out of their formerly autonomous province of Kosovo.

NATO missiles on April 21, 1999, set fire to upper floors of Belgrade’s CK skyscraper, where MiloÅ¡ević’s Serbian Socialist Party was headquartered. Air strikes also destroyed numerous buildings elsewhere in the capital and ultimately knocked out the city’s power grid,  forcing Serbia to accept defeat.

In March 1999, NATO warplanes entered the fray to stop the ethnic cleansing, and in June, the Yugoslav government pulled its soldiers out of Kosovo. In September 2001, Milošević was turned over to NATO and put on trial at the UN Criminal Tribunal in the Hague, where he was charged with numerous war crimes. In 2006, he died of a heart attack before the trial concluded.

Albana and her family returned to Kosovo after the war to find much of their homeland devastated. The “International Red Cross listed 16,000 killed, 2,047 missing, and 20,000 cases of sexual assault,” she recently wrote me. “The territories of Kosova were filled with mines, and almost everything was burned.” (In Albanian, Kosovo is called Kosova, and its capital Pristina is called Prishtina.)

As for Adrienne, she married an Italian and returned to West Marin where she became executive director of Marin Organic. In May, Adrienne resigned from that post, and this summer she and her husband (who’s with Apple), along with their two children, moved back to Italy.

Here are: 1. Adrienne’s original account published in The Light on May 27, 1999; 2. Albana’s wartime diary published in the same issue; and 3. Albana’s post-war account, which is appearing here for the first time.

By Adrienne Baumann

At a refugee camp in Derven, Albania, I met Albana Berisha. She’s a bright, assertive young woman who had been an enthusiastic student, aspiring to become a teacher.

That was two months ago. Today, Albana’s plans have been shattered. Torn from her hometown Slattina, Kosovo, she has been robbed of her youth and hopes for the future. At 18 years old, the victim of a war she does not understand, she has witnessed atrocities that surpass imagination.

Adrienne Baumann at right.

I also met Albana’s brother Kushtrim Berisha (an overly thin, timid 12 year old with a quick, endearing smile that belies his haunted eyes) and Albana’s older sister Arta; she can speak nearly impeccable English but rarely utters a word. They all have seen their lives ripped apart.

Another family member, Bardha Berisha, is my age, 27. Two months ago she worked in her hometown as an art instructor and painter. If you inquire about her profession, Bardha’s usually stoic demeanor crumbles. “My paintings were a part of me,” she whispers, covering her face with her hands. “The Serbians burnt everything to ground. There is nothing left.”

Refugees helping refugees

Today the Berisha siblings volunteer their time teaching and providing aid to other refugees at a camp in Derven, close to where their family now stays. Thanks to an Italian humanitarian organization, Caritas, an abandoned elementary school now houses and feeds approximately 400 refugees. Donations help supply food, clothing and medicine while volunteers assist in running a newly built kitchen, infirmary, and makeshift classroom.

From afar, the refugee camp seems a pleasant enough place. Children play in the shade of the trees, adolescents engage in a game of soccer, women wash clothes and hang them up to dry.

But a close look reveals crowded rooms where people lie motionless in oppressive heat, where silence reigns except for flies buzzing. Sanitary conditions are poor; crabs and body lice infect children and adults, fumes from burning garbage choke the air, and no one knows how long the well will hold out or if it’s contaminated.

NATO & KLA the heroes

Paging through drawings done by the camp’s children, I counted 70 pictures, each identically gruesome: burning houses, decapitations, hangings, rape, bombs, blood, tears… Serbian militants appear as grotesque giants with machetes and guns; Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) soldiers and NATO forces are portrayed as heroes.

Unfortunately, for the refugees who have escaped Kosovo, the suffering does not end here. Even the Berishas, who have found shelter in a building that was abandoned unfinished, live in poverty. Their “home” has no window panes, electricity, or water. Two rooms are shared by 25 family members from five to 70 years old. A patch of earth serves for a latrine.

Albania holds no hope for Kosovo’s people. This desperate country, ravaged by unemployment, bankruptcy, communist sentiment, and Mafia control offers opportunity to no one. Here – where abandoned World War II bunkers dot every hillside – the unpaved, bumpy roads, piles of garbage, and omnipresent misery serve only to remind refugees of what they have lost.

“In Kosovo we led a normal life,” remembers Bardha. “We had a nice house. I had my own room. We had everything we needed.”

Milosevic’s wrath against Kosovars

Driven into exile by Serbian forces, Kosovars have lost their homes, their relatives, their friends, their very roots — that is, the identity that comes from having a place of one’s own. And while humanitarian missions aid in their survival, no one can erase the refugees’ memories of brutality, torture, and death inflicted by Slobon MiloÅ¡ević’s wrath against Kosovo’s Albanian population.

Albana’s diary gives one person’s account, and more than 800,000 other refugees, young or old, could tell similar stories of atrocities and fear. With vacant eyes, the victims look at the future with little hope. Perhaps an old woman huddled on a camp’s steps expresses the sentiment best. Beating her cane methodically on the ground, she repeats over and over again: “Better dead and under the ground, better dead and under the ground.”

Since the war, Albana Berisha, now 31, has earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Prishtina and, thanks to a scholarship, pursued a master’s degree in Norway. Her English has significantly improved since she wrote the following journal entries as a teenager.

My Story During the War in Kosovo 1998-99

By Albana Berisha, 18 years old, born May 26, 1981, High School: Eqrem Çabej – Prishtine

March 22, 1999, Monday. It was monday when they stoped the whole city. They stopped everything. The cars, the buses. They stoped me and my friends to go to school, that was so [such a] lonly day for me. Since that day I never saw my friends again. Our lives was in danger, the time was come to say “to be or not to be”

I am 18 years old and I lived in one house with 8 members of my family. I started to study and I was happy about my profesion but sudenly something came up and I had to forget all that, and I had to fight, to run, to suffer, to cry!

I had to leave my best friend and go away. I had to leave my books. I had to leave my life behind and to start another one.

All day they shoot at people, people who has no guilt. The people who wants liberty and independent world. We had demostrade so many times but I guess it was no use.

One day as we were going to school a civilian Serb, a strong boy beat my best friend in front of my eyes. I was standing there. I haven’t done anything. In that moment I became a killer because it was the first time that I wanted to kill somebody. He ran away when he beat her, and she was laying by the ground.

A USAF F-15E takes off from Aviano Air Base in Italy to carry out air strikes in Serbia.

March 23, 1999, Tuesday. The tuesday came with bombs and airplanes, with police and dead peopel, it was unforgetable… We Albanians were so happy that day. NATO started the war with Serbs and we thought that the war will (would) finish for [in] 2 days, but that was not it.

We prayed to god that the police will run away, but they were getting closer and closer us.

We were so afraid, we stayed one week in the basemant, in there we didn’t sleep al night. Because NATO faught with Serbs all night and we just lisen to them in the cold and darkness room.

It’s hard to explain something like that, only Albanians knows those moments.

One day as we were staying in the basemant dirty, frighten, we heard that somebody was screaming. Yes, it was an old man who screamed. He and his grandson has been killed in the street.

His granson was already dead but he lay there screaming for 8 hours and no one helped him because it was dangerous to go in that street. So they stayed there lying in the blood all over the place.

Slobodan MiloÅ¡ević, president of Serbia (right). In 2010, the Life magazine website included him in its list of “The World’s Worst Dictators.”

The other day was so danger [dangerous], so we decided to go away. When we decided that, I was thinking about my life and I was willing to die, my hopes run away, out of my life, my body was aking [aching] all the time, everything was black and cold.

March 29, 1999 Monday. We made 1 week in basemant until we decided to run away because the situation was getting so dangeres. That night I said to my self, “I will sleep,” but I slept so little because I heard them calling my name. I woke up to see what’s up. I saw that everybody was getting ready to go away.

Sudenly… they started, the police started the war with Albanian peopel who is not guilty. They started the war with children and women, with peopel who has no guns, no force, who has nothing.

It was one a clock at night when they started to shoot. They didn’t stop al night so we had to leave our houses. When we get out and everything was burning, the houses, the school, the hole country.

That’s the night wich I was born again!

So we started to run in the midle of the night. It was raining and cold, but the most painful part was that we left my grandmother al alone because she refused to come with us. The raod was danger and hard. We were very tired and we just kept walking and walking until we knew that we have lost our way.

The other peopel stayed in the wood. Some alive, some dead. I cryed so much and I just kept walking and crying with my family. We have heen walking for 8 hours until we arrived in one house.

Albana today (at right)

In that house we stayed 9 day. These was happy times for me because my grandmother was alive and she returned to us. 9 days, and then we had to run again from that place, because the Serbian police was all over the place in Kosovo.

Where would we go? That was an easy question but difficult answer. The time was running fast and the police was getting closer and we were there standing thinking what should we do? The only way was to go in woods to live there.

Yes, we ran away from that place and we went in the woods, we lived there, in one plastic house we slept 15 members of our family. It was hard for us, we didn’t have nothing to eat. So bad place to sleep, we eate one time a day. NATO fought with Serbs every day and night. Everything was like a dream. A bad dream…

So we made 7 days in woods. 7 days I never washed my hair and my body. I never eate enough and I never slept. I started to lose my mind.

The police came again, but this time I was not afraid and I said if they want to kill us let them do it. I just can’t run any more. Those times reminds me of a song of Soul Asylum, “Run Away Train.” Like these words:

I think that this song is for Albanians cause it has the same meaning and the same touch.

The Serbian police came again like always with the most teror way. Killing people and shooting people and all that…

They didn’t want us even in the woods. They considered us like animals, peopel who works hard and get nothing.

When they came, they started to shoot. One man took the white flag and saved us all. They said that we have to go in Albania or they will kill us all.

In the 1990s, the former Republic of Yugoslavia began unraveling and by 2006 had become seven countries: Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Serbia, Macedonia, and Montenegro. Serbia, which considered itself the successor to Yugoslavia, at first tried unsuccessfully to thwart the breakup with wars in Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosovo.

We started to travel in the most dangeres road of our lives because during the way police tortured people in the most terrible way. They still [steal] money, cars, gold. They do what ever they want. Kill, rape, beat and all that.

So the way to Albania started that day. I saw them. I will never forget them as long as I live. I saw their faces with black hats [on their heads], red eyes, skin heads, guns, bombs. I had my little sister near me. I close her eyes, she was afraid to look at them. They [took] all our dokuments.

In the start our truck passed by but some other trucks didn’t. Only god knows what has happen with them.

During the way a boy 12 years old was killed by them. I knew that boy. He was so smart, every day he drove a bicycle around and around. He was a friend of my brother.

When I heard about his death I couldn’t stoped myself thinkin about him, one minute he exist, in another he don’t.

In one truck we were 25 members and as we were traveling we heard an explosive that was from NATO and so the Serbs got mad and they started to shoot at us. They got so mad that they through bombs in the trucks. We were more than hundred trucks the [column] was so long.

Minute by minute we were getting closer. But when we arrived in a placed called “Gy” they turned us back. But the [column] found another way through the place called “P.” [For reasons not clear, but perhaps to avoid revealing their escape route, the writer uses the initial “P” to refer to a town.]

The way through “P” was with dead horses and with bags who peopel left. Running away we saw blood all over the streets but I don’t know that it was a blood of animals or somebody else.

I’ve asked my father, he said that it’s nothing, but I didn’t believe him.

During the way among [through] “P” was killed two women. They were in the truck. We at that time lost our way and 10 more other trucks [or, “at that time we and 10 other trucks lost our way”]. It was something like 12 o clock at night.

We have been traveling 2 days trying to find the way to Albania. Our truck was so old and one of the gears was broke so we had to drive three gears.

God wanted to show us the way and he did, the hope came. When we saw an old woman. She told us the way and when I saw her I thought about god. God send her and she showed us a way. She was like a saint to us that night.

God wanted that we should arrived in Albania so we did.

April 12, 1999. I don’t know what exactly day it was but it was a big day. A day that me and my family finished the most dangerous road of our lives. I was happy…

But now I am sad because I would like to return. I would like to go back to my friends, to my books, to my place where I belong.

May 15, 1999. Now, I’m fine. Everything is okay. I live in one house with two rooms and no bathroom. In this house we live 25 members of my family but still, we are fine. We are lonely but fine. We are living a strange life but still its peace and we don’t have no more dangeres road. We don’t see dead peopel and Serbian police.

We hope that one day we will return.

Back home in Kosova. Albana lives near Prishtina at her parents’ house, which is in the village of Sllatina e Madhe within Fushe Kosova Municipality. After the war, the name Sllatina was changed to Albana, “so the village has my name, but it hasn’t anything to do with me. It’s just a name,” she notes. “We still call it Sllatina, though. It sounds a bit strange to call it Albana.”

After the War

When we got back from Albania, we  found our house in a terrible state, and our dog was lying dead in the garden. We checked carefully the surroundings before we entered in case there might be any mines around. The grass had enormously grown everywhere. We weren’t surprised. It’s not like we have been expecting something good.

I only thank God for being alive together with my family. Shortly after our return in Kosova, the priest of Italian Caritas came and visited our family. He thanked us for all the help we provided in the refugee camp in Albania, and he wished us a new beginning in the land of Kosova.

Every time that I stepped on the streets, I saw plenty of peacekeeper patrols around. My sister Arta was working as a translator/interpreter for them [and for awhile supported the family].

I have always loved languages and especially English, so I enrolled at the University of Prishtina where I earned a Bachelor degree in English Language and Literature.

Albana’s view of a cold Norwegian winter.

After graduation I pursued a Master’s degree in Norway, where I also learned the Norwegian language. I enjoyed being in Norway, learning Norwegian, and meeting new people there, but I don’t miss the cold weather and rainy summers in Norway. They have extremely cold winters; however, Norwegian people are nice and warm. I do miss my friends there.”

I am a language lover, traveling the world and communicating with other foreign cultures is my passion. In the future I want to learn how to play a piano, travel the world and write poetry and literary criticism.

I like to write poetry — sometimes because I think that poetry is the language of our soul. “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” they say. I have become pretty much what my parents have done with their lives.

Today we find Kosova in crisis and critical situations, always suffering from something whether it involves politics, corruption, the weak economy or high unemployment. The government has turned into business. This country does not belong to its people.

How life functions in Kosova today is not normal. We need our government to think and work for people, not against them! I personally despise corruption; it bothers me profoundly, and living in such society makes me unhappy.

There have been plenty of [foreign] missions, supervisions and [political] transitions; we’ve had them all. Obviously the critical situation in this country suits the government as well as Serbia, who is not recognizing us [as independent]. Kosova has been independent since 2008, with a new flag and 91 countries recognizing us. There is no turning back, and Serbia is only wasting time.

Visa liberalization is more than necessary. It annoys me that this process is not being approved and practiced yet. We shouldn’t be considered a non-integrated part of Europe any longer. We are the young Europeans, and the world should view Kosova as a partner.

— Albana Berisha

With all the talk of bullying in schools, I was surprised to read a Page 1 headline in the June 14 Point Reyes Light that said that none of the bullying laws attempts to make students more compassionate: “No bullying law aims to bring compassion into schools.”

For the record, the unintended double entendre was the result of leaving out a grammatically required hyphen. The correct usage would be: “No-bullying law aims…” When two or more words before a noun add up to an adjective modifying the noun, they should be hyphenated. We write a “well-stocked refrigerator” but not “the refrigerator is well-stocked” because in the latter case “well stocked” follows the noun.

There is one exception to this rule. When one of the words describing the noun to follow is an adverb ending in ly, it is not hyphenated. In other words, we do not write a “nearly-naked damsel” although we do write an “almost-naked damsel.”

The Columbia Journalism Review has helped produce two books of newspaper gaffes, most of which are far more noteworthy than The Light’s. Both books are available online. The first is called Squad Helps Dog Bite Victim (1980). It takes its title from a headline in the Herald Independent in Wisconsin. A hyphen between dog and bite, by the way, would have eliminated the confusion. Of course, not all garbled journalese results from hyphenation errors.

Not only is the caption enigmatic, the word should be “bales,” not “bails.”

Here are other examples from the book. Sometimes it takes awhile to figure out what the headline writer or copy editor was really trying to say. A headline from The Washington Post: “All Utah Condemned to Face Firing Squad.” Or from the Eugene, Oregon, Register-Guard: “Prostitutes appeal to Pope.”

Another case of cannibalism? A headline in The Washington Post: Chester Morrill, 92, was Fed Secretary. From the Norwich Bulletin: Marital Duties to Replace Borough Affairs for Harold Zipkin. From the Atlanta Journal: Connie Tied, Nude Policeman Testifies.

From The Hartford Courant: Rosemary Hall Gets New Head. From The Tampa Tribune: City May Impose Mandatory Time for Prostitution. Or from The Charlotte Observer: Police Kill Man With Ax. And from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer: Tuna Biting Off Washington Coast.

From the Daily Sun/Post in San Clemente: “Cold Wave Linked To Temperatures.” A paragraph from the Metropolis (Illinois) Planet: “Owners of all dogs in the city of Metropolis are required to be on a chain or in a fenced-in area.” From The News in Groton, Connecticut: “Police union to seek blinding arbitration.”

From The Cumberland (Maryland) News: “New Orleans To Get Force of 50 State ‘Supersops.'” Probably to stagger around the French Quarter. And from The Missourian: “Less Mishaps Than Expected Mar Holiday.” Or how ’bout this from the Chicago Daily News? “Woman better after being thrown from high-rise.”

From The (Gainesville) Times: “Missionary risked dysentery and bigamy in eight-day trip to Nigerian villages.” Say what? (Any reader who can decipher this one is urged to send in a comment.)

In the words of singer Rod Stewart, “Every picture tells a story, don’t it?”

From The Lethbridge (Alberta) Herald: “Drunk gets nine months in violin case.” A headline in the Gainsville (Florida) Sun: “Nationwide Heroine Crackdown Includes Arrest of Three Here.” And from the Williamsport (Pennsylvania) Sun-Gazette: “Doe Season Start Called Success; Four Hunters Stricken in Woods.”

From the Yakima (Washington) Herald Republic: “Accused pair of wire cutters arraigned.” While from the upstate Seattle Times: “Bar trying to help alcoholic lawyers.” And from The Arizona Republic: “Scientists are at loss due to brain-eating amoeba.”

From The Contra Costa Times: “Greeks Fine Hookers.” Oh, are they? But never on Sunday. From the Detroit Free Press: “Police Can’t Stop Gambling.” And from the Fort Worth Tribune: “He Found God At End of His Rope.”

From the Buffalo Courier-Express: “Child’s Stool Great For Use in Garden.” And from the Tonawanda (New York) News Frontier: “Teen-age prostitution problem is mounting.” Announcement in the Vermonter: “AN ITALIAN SINNER will be served at 5:30 p.m. at the Essex Center United Methodist Church.”

From the Detroit Free Press: “Milk Drinkers Turn to Powder.” And from The (Ottawa) Citizen: “People should evacuate when gas odor present.” Another scatalogical double entendre, this one from the Lewiston (Idaho) Morning Tribune: “Columnist gets urologist in trouble with his peers.”

The second book of newspaper gaffes collected by the Columbia Journalism Review is called Red Tape Holds Up New Bridge (1987). The book takes its title from a headline in the Milford (Connecticut) Citizen. From The Toronto Star: “His humming rear end is a major distraction.” From The Guardian in England: “British left waffles on Falklands.”

And from The (Kitchener, Ontario) Record: “Woman off to jail for sex with boys.” A horrible double entendre from the Reading (Pennsylvania) Eagle: “How You Can Lick Doberman’s Leg Sores.”

A headline from our own San Francisco Chronicle: “Residents were shocked each time their neighbors went on a murder spree.” And this from The Alabama Journal: “Blind Woman Gets New Kidney From Dad She Hasn’t Seen In Years.”

No wonder one of the Urban Dictionary’s definitions for double entendre is: “a word or phrase that has a double meaning, with one of the meanings usually naughty or rude.”

The editor and publisher of The West Marin Citizen, Joel Hack, will retire after this week’s issue, which will be published Thursday, Oct. 20. Advertising director Linda Petersen of Inverness will take over ownership of the weekly newspaper.

Joel Hack at Drakes Bay Oyster Company

“I’m leaving because I’ve been doing this for 17 years,” Hack, 67, told me Sunday, “and it’s time to stop.” Publishing a small-town weekly, he added, “is constant — 24/7 and 52 weeks a year. I’ve had five weeks off in 17 years. It was approaching burnout.”

Before Hack started The Citizen, he had been the editor and publisher of The Bodega Bay Navigator for 12 years. But after unsuccessful negotiations with Robert Plotkin of The Point Reyes Light and after losing several major advertisers in a real estate market down turn, Hack in August 2006 dropped the print version and began publishing exclusively online.

So why did he start The Citizen in West Marin? In November 2005, Plotkin, a new resident in Bolinas, bought The Point Reyes Light from me. At the same time, he offered to buy The Navigator from Hack, but when they couldn’t strike a deal, “he decided he would just take Bodega Bay over,” Hack said.

As the new owner of The Light, Plotkin (right) told The San Francisco Chronicle he wanted to create a paper with the “sophistication of The Economist” and the “flair” of The New York Observer newspaper. (Chronicle photo by Eric Luse)

Instead of providing highbrow reporting, however, Plotkin quickly offended many West Marin readers with coverage that was often lurid — a full-color, front-page photo of two chickens, whose throats had just been slit, hanging upside down with blood pouring from their necks, a girl chomping into the severed head of a goat during festivities on Mount Tamalpais etc.

When The Light started covering Bodega Bay news, “it was one more thorn in the side of West Marin readers,” Hack said. “We have nothing to do with Bodega Bay,” was their response. “Why should we be reading about it?”

Nor did The Light go over well in Bodega Bay. Plotkin sent three reporters to cover stories there, Hack said, but the venture “lasted only about a month.” With Plotkin unfamiliar with Western Sonoma County, Hack explained, “the coverage was a little off.” Plotkin ran into the same problem when he tried to extend The Light’s coverage to Fairfax in East Marin, Hack added.

Reporter Lynn Axelrod of Point Reyes Station inspects last week’s issue. Her reporting and editing are expanding under The Citizen’s new structure.

Meanwhile, Plotkin and I soon had a falling out, and I stopped submitting occasional pieces, for which I was not charging, to The Light and sent them to The Navigator website instead. In selling The Light to Plotkin, I had signed a non-competition agreement that I would not write for another Marin County newspaper, but attorney Robert Powsner on Plotkin’s behalf  got Judge Jack Sutro to issue a bizarre injunction against Hack and me that barred my posting on Hack’s website.

Powsner told Sutro that my posting on the website was “damaging or destroying” The Light, and the judge accepted the claim. In chambers, Sutro told lawyers for both sides that protecting Plotkin’s $500,000 investment in The Light outweighed constitutional prohibitions against censoring free expression.

Moreover, the now-retired jurist didn’t seem to understand the Internet and ruled that a Sonoma County website is the same as a Marin County newspaper.

Linda Petersen had been my houseguest when Hack began looking for an advertising representative. She took the job and played a major role in getting the newspaper off the ground financially. Her role at the paper eventually expanded to include business and reporting. What will her title be as owner? Hack has suggested “la jefa” [the chief], she responded.

Hack was already feeling “a little thing of anger” toward Plotkin for trying to go into competition with him after he revealed The Navigator’s finances during business negotiations. Then came the injunction. Added to that, “readers in West Marin were pissed off,” Hack said, so in July 2007,  he started his own weekly newspaper in Point Reyes Station. The results were gratifying.

“People popped in and wanted to work on The Citizen,” Hack said. “Outside contributors and staff had a sense of what a community newspaper should be. In the first year, we did very well. We had lots of advertisers and lots of readers — really good readers.

“But within the first six months, the stock market crashed, and the whole economic system collapsed. The recession dug its heels in. Where we had been flying high, things had gotten very much more difficult, and they haven’t improved… Real estate dried up, and in total, Realtors [had been] the largest advertisers.”

Nonetheless, The Citizen “had a winning formula,” Hack said, “because we were also publishing The Marin Coast Guide, and that saw us through.” These days “we struggle,” he noted, “but at times we break even.”

In contrast to Plotkin, who often was viewed as an outsider in West Marin, Hack did his best to take part in the community. Here the mustachioed publisher served a guest at the 2008 community Thanksgiving Dinner in the Dance Palace.

With a second newspaper in town, The Light was “losing between $5,000 and $15,000 a month,” Plotkin himself reported. Across the country newspapers were losing money, Plotkin wrote, so “this is not unique to The Light, although there have been some aggravating factors, namely myself…. My sensibility is at odds with many in the community.”

Of that there was no doubt. “During the first couple of years under the last publisher,” editor Tess Elliott wrote after Plotkin sold The Light in May 2010, “it lost one third of its subscribers; the effects of those years continue to reverberate. Our reporters still regularly hear complaints and flat out refusals to talk.”

As for Plotkin, he had acknowledged he would take a “financial bloodbath” when he sold the paper. He reportedly received about $150,000 for The Light after paying $500,000 for the newspaper and periodically subsidizing it.

What’s next for the two newspapers? Could the 63-year-old Point Reyes Light and the four-year-old West Marin Citizen ever join together as one? Nothing is in the works, which is too bad, for it means two small-town weeklies will continue to split West Marin’s readership and advertising.

Both papers have had to take dramatic cost-cutting measures. The Light can no longer field as many reporters as it once did, and both papers have had to relocate to cheaper quarters. In the last year, The Light moved out of Point Reyes Station and now operates from a small office behind the Inverness Post Office. The Citizen, which had been renting the old Point Reyes Station Library next to the Pine Cone Diner, moved into filmmaker John Korty’s former studio on B Street.

The Light is now owned by Marin Media Institute, and friends of The Citizen have begun looking for investors from the community to become part owners, along with Petersen.

As for Hack, what will he now do? “I don’t know,” he replied, “but I’m sure I’ll come up with something.”

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