The Point Reyes Light Newspaper

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 Milošević’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 Milošević’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 Milošević, 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.”

Among the many friends and relatives paying tribute to Missy Patterson during her memorial reception in the Dance Palace was former Point Reyes Light reporter Janine Warner, along with me.

As we were  telling what Missy had meant to us, Janine’s husband Dave LaFontaine, unknown to me at the time, shot a video, which he has now edited. Here it is it for the benefit of those who were not able to be present, as well as for those who were.

Missy Patterson Memorial Service from Artesian Media on Vimeo.

Janine Warner and Dave Mitchell speak about their cherished memories of West Marin matriarch Rosalie (“Missy”) Patterson during her memorial reception at the Dance Palace in Point Reyes Station.

An earlier posting describing the memorial reception and mass for Missy can be found by clicking here.

The Wall Street Journal last Wednesday published the latest in a series of out-of-town-media reports on the dispute between The Point Reyes Light and The West Marin Citizen. The report ran under the headline: “Newspaper War Rages in West Marin.”

With many West Marin residents wishing the “war” would end, more than 300 people as of Monday evening had signed a petition calling for both sides to get together and work out their differences.

The dispute went public a month ago when Citizen owner Joel Hack published an “Extra” edition accusing Marin Media Institute, the nonprofit that had just bought The Light, of attempting a “hostile takeover.” The edition said that MMI was trying to take advantage of Joel’s personal financial problems to gain control of The Citizen.

Joel is married to Kathie Simmons, an attorney in Sonoma County. Kathie, who does business as a one-attorney law firm, had to dip into her IRA several times in recent years to cover business expenses.

The problem, Joel told me, was that because she was under 59 and 1/2, she had to pay penalties for the early withdrawals. Without the  funds to pay the penalties and failing to file some tax returns in a timely manner, the couple saw their initial debt of $4,000 to $5,000 to the IRS and the State Franchise Tax Board balloon to $26,000.

On Feb. 26, Joel and Kathie filed for Chapter 13 protection (from creditors) under US Bankruptcy laws. They then began paying off their back state and federal income taxes at the rate of $600 a month. Under Chapter 13, they could do this over 36 months without incurring additional penalties.

However, MMI’s attorney Doug Ferguson then notified the bankruptcy trustee that the nonprofit had negotiated unsuccessfully to buy The Citizen and would still be willing to buy the paper if the trustee liked the idea.

Citing attorney Ferguson’s letter, the bankruptcy trustee last month recommended the bankruptcy court convert Joel’s and Kathie’s Chapter 13 (individual bankruptcy) to Chapter 7 (possible liquidation) or Chapter 11 (reorganization).

MMI now says it later told the trustee — when he asked — that the nonprofit was no longer interested in buying The Citizen. But the damage had been done. Faced with either Chapter 7 or Chapter 11, Joel and Kathie have now voluntarily dismissed their bankruptcy protection, and Joel told me he will dip into his own IRA to pay off their debts.

[Corey Goodman, chairman of MMI, on Aug. 3 offered a “mea culpa” for letting attorney Ferguson send out a letter that indicated MMI was ready to buy The Citizen. Corey said he should have “proofread” Ferguson’s letter but did not. In reality, Corey added, MMI by then was no longer interested in buying The Citizen.]

[I’m willing to take Corey at his word on this, for he confirms what I’ve said from the start. In a June 23 posting about the newspaper war I wrote, “Whom do I blame? Attorney Ferguson, who seems to have been too clever by half…. Ferguson was clearly looking for the bankruptcy court’s help in getting Joel to accept MMI’s (previous) $50,000 offer for The Citizen.”]

The Wall Street Journal meanwhile quoted me as saying the dispute between the papers “is extremely bitter. We’re reaching the point where an awful lot of people would like everybody to just quiet down the fighting.”

Among those people is Nancy Bertelsen, who has long been active in West Marin civic affairs, especially those involving the arts. On Friday she emailed me a petition that was also sponsored by six other people who are likewise prominent around Point Reyes Station: Steve Costa, Chris Giacomini, Michael Mery, Claire Peaslee, Jonathan Rowe, and Murray Suid.

Prompted by the difficulties between our two weekly newspapers, those of us listed [above] met to discuss how we could encourage the owners of the papers to unite in some way for the good of the community,” the cover letter said.

“We’re writing to ask if you [the public] will support this effort by adding your name in support of the statement below. The intention is to bring the owners to the table to work out a solution that is acceptable to all. Use the following blog website to respond if you agree with the statement intent:

“We hope you will be joined by many other friends, readers and advertisers. The proposal along with all our names and the list of advertisers will be submitted to both papers, with a request that they publish the full list. If you support the initiative and would like to have your name appear with ours, consider signing by Tuesday, July 20th (we hope this will be published on July 22nd).”

The petition to both publishers reads as follows:

“There is broad interest in West Marin in the emergence of a single newspaper that serves us all. The current competition between two weekly papers is not working. It forces both to struggle—journalistically and financially — and it strains the loyalties and resources of advertisers, readers and contributors alike. We urge that you end this situation, which is depriving the community of the strong, stable paper we need.

“Both papers exist to serve the community. The owners of both are clearly committed to that purpose. But the current situation is working against what both papers want to achieve, and against the best interests of West Marin. Readers and advertisers are weary and do not want this fractured situation to continue. We want a unified community.

Specifically, we urge the owners of both papers and their representatives to begin an open discussion to work out a more positive relationship than is the case now. Using the services of a mediator would probably be helpful. A new relationship might include a merger of the two papers or any number of agreements that have not been imagined before now but that would be mutually beneficial.

“In any case, negotiations should be without conditions or preconceptions, and with neither recriminations nor need for apologies on either side. Instead, we call upon you to start fresh and seek a way forward, to restore the vitality and viability of West Marin’s local media.

“We know that resolving this will not be easy. But we feel that the task is important—and a responsibility of our local journalism establishment. We all look forward to supporting you and to helping in any way that we can. Something great can take the place of the current tensions: something can emerge that the whole community can support.”

The petition caught me by surprise, but I’ve signed it, and I urge other West Marin residents to do the same so we can quiet down the fighting. It’s easy. Just click on and type in your name and hometown. The web page includes a list of people who have already signed.

Update: On July 22, The West Marin Citizen printed the cover letter, the petition, the names of its sponsors, and the names of the more than 300 people who signed it. The Point Reyes Light the same day published the cover letter and names of the sponsors but neither the petition nor the 300 signatures.

In preparing this posting, I was able to interview West Marin Citizen owner Joel Hack on the record, as well as Marin Media Institute vice chairman Mark Dowie briefly. Other MMI directors insisted on talking off the record. Corey Goodman, chairman of MMI, promised to make himself available for an in-depth interview Tuesday but stood me up. Much of the information here comes from a letter sent by MMI’s attorney to a bankruptcy trustee and from the trustee’s response.

The ongoing dispute between The West Marin Citizen and Point Reyes Light has become remarkably bitter. The Citizen on June 14 published an “extra” edition to announce the new owners of The Light have “launch[ed] a hostile takeover” because they could not buy The Citizen in a normal fashion.

The Light on June 17 published a brief response, saying its owners no longer have any interest in buying The Citizen. It added that it would “publish a thoroughly documented chronology of negotiations in an upcoming issue.”

What’s occurred has surprised the staff and owner of The Citizen, as well as the staff of The Point Reyes Light and nearly all the directors of Marin Media Institute, the nonprofit which owns The Light. Here’s the story.

Citizen owner Joel Hack is married to Kathie Simmons, an attorney in Sonoma County. Kathie, who does business as a one-attorney law firm, had to dip into her IRA several times in recent years to cover business expenses.

The problem, Joel told me, was that because she was under 59 and 1/2, she had to pay penalties for the early withdrawals. Without the  funds to pay the penalties and failing to file some tax returns in a timely manner, the couple saw their initial debt of $4,000 to $5,000 to the IRS and the State Franchise Tax Board balloon to more than $20,000.

On Feb. 26, Joel and Kathie filed for Chapter 13 protection (from creditors) under US Bankruptcy laws. They then began paying off their back state and federal income taxes at the rate of $600 a month. Under Chapter 13, they could do this for 36 months without incurring additional penalties.

Meanwhile, Corey Goodman of Marshall and Mark Dowie of Inverness, who would later become the chairman and vice chairman of MMI, arranged for an appraiser to estimate the value of both The Light and The Citizen.

Out of all this came MMI’s purchase of The Light but no agreement with The Citizen. In fact, it appears the two sides never came close although MMI and its attorney tell a different story.

Initially both sides talked of a “merger,” but in the end it was clear that MMI wanted an acquisition. The staff and content of the two papers would not be merged; rather, The Citizen would be shut down.

Joel, in turn, claims the personal bankruptcy was disclosed at the appropriate time during negotiations, and the bankruptcy trustee reports that Joel and his wife did, in fact, list all of their assets when they filed  for Chapter 13. In essence, what they failed to do was place a value on three assets.

In their brief statement of  June 17, MMI directors called their offer to Joel “generous.” Their attorney, Doug Ferguson, wrote the bankruptcy trustee that it amounted to “$50,000, all cash for all assets constituting The West Marin Citizen, with this amount payable $40,000 to Mr. Hack and $10,000 to fund severance payments to key employees including editor Jim Kravets….

“Mr. Hack would be required to execute a non-competition agreement precluding for five years his engaging in the newspaper publication business in Marin County.”

As Joel sees the offer, it was hardly generous but ridiculously low. He said this week that at the time the offer was made, The Citizen had “good” accounts receivable of approximately $20,000 and had already sold $20,000 worth of ads for the next issue of The Citizen’s semi-annual Coast Guide, and would sell more.

“By giving me $40,000,” Joel said sarcastically, “they’d be giving me my own money that I earned.” The Coast Guide alone is worth several times that amount, he added.

In addition, Joel wanted to have a responsible position in a merged paper and for his daughter-in-law Shari-Faye Dell, who works for The Citizen, to get a job at The Light. Goodman rejected these conditions, and after a flurry of discussions, negotiations were dropped.

That might have been the end of the matter, but three weeks later, Ferguson, the MMI attorney, wrote the bankruptcy trustee, “The Point Reyes Light and The West Marin Citizen…appear to be finding it impossible to survive in what has unfortunately proven (in terms of necessary advertising revenues) to be a one-newspaper market….”

“I think it’s a two-newspaper town,” Joel responded with a laugh on Tuesday. “I’ve got advertising. I pay all my bills. My payroll is made on time. The newspaper is not anywhere near bankrupt.”

Citing attorney Ferguson’s letter, however, the bankruptcy trustee this month recommended the bankruptcy court convert Joel’s and Kathie’s Chapter 13 (individual bankruptcy) to Chapter 7 (possible liquidation) or Chapter 11 (reorganization).

Trustee David Burchard also noted that although Joel and Kathie had listed The Citizen, the Bodega Bay Navigator website, and her law practice as assets, they hadn’t put a dollar value on them.

Joel Hack in front of Toby’s Feed Barn.

Not to do so was a mistake even though, according to Joel, “[The Citizen] revealed everything to the trustee: payroll records, accounts receivable, accounts payable, bank statements. There was nothing concealed.”

As for the Navigator website, which is rarely maintained, it has virtually no value, and it would be difficult to set a value on Kathie’s law practice if she were not a part of it. She has no major clients, and many of the small ones she does have would probably follow her to a new office.

If Joel and Kathie had merely written “unknown” as the value of all three assets, it is unlikely the trustee would have paid much attention, he said.

As it is, the trustee’s recommendation that the court convert their Chapter 13 to Chapter 7 or Chapter 11 has already cost Joel and Kathie money for legal fees, and more costs are coming. “It’s costing me an extra $20,000 at a minimum that I wouldn’t have had to pay if [MMI] hadn’t f-cked with my bankruptcy,” Joel grumbled.

Joel said he and Kathie at this point have “several options, all of which will result in the debts being repaid and The Citizen standing free and clear from anything.”

As for The Light, I’ve yet to find anyone on its staff or board of directors who — in hindsight — thinks Ferguson’s letter to the bankruptcy trustee has done the paper any good. It’s needlessly given The Light a black eye and caused its staff to catch hell around Point Reyes Station.

From what members of the MMI board tell me, most were unaware that Ferguson’s letter was being sent. Editor Tess Elliott, ad director/business manager Renée Shannon, and front-office manager Missy Patterson knew nothing about it, Mark said. If the public is going to blame anyone, he added, blame Corey and him, not the staff or the rest of the board.

As for me, whom do I blame? Attorney Ferguson, who seems to have been too clever by half. While he did not explicitly ask the bankruptcy trustee to convert Joel’s and Kathie’s Chapter 13 bankruptcy to Chapter 7 or 11, he’s an experienced lawyer who should know how his letter could gratuitously muddle their personal finances.

I assume Corey and Mark signed off on his sending the letter, but I doubt they were in as good a position as attorney Ferguson to foresee the problems inherent in his gambit.

Those MMI directors who now defend attorney Ferguson say he was obligated to file a letter with the bankruptcy trustee because MMI was negotiating to buy an asset in bankruptcy. But it wasn’t. As Ferguson acknowledges in his letter, the negotiations had already been terminated. So why defend the attorney? Possibly because he was one of the donors when MMI was buying The Light.

Ferguson was clearly looking for the bankruptcy court’s help in getting Joel to accept MMI’s $50,000 offer for The Citizen. Sounding a bit too hopeful, the attorney wrote the bankruptcy trustee, “Should such an offer be of interest to your office, then upon so being informed, I will promptly submit a binding legal offer.”

“All it was,” said Joel grimly, “was an attempt to drive the price down. It was hardball negotiating.”

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