By Will Carruthers
Alexander Mullaney was wavering between staying at City College of San Francisco or bailing to become a firefighter like his father when he enrolled in a class with editor, publisher, and trailblazer Juan Gonzales. That clinched it: Mullaney would stay in school and study journalism.
That was in 2005, and Mullaney, now the publisher of the Ingleside-Excelsior Light, still consults with his mentor, as do many other former students.
Gonzales “forges life-long relationships,” says Mullaney.
On an evening in mid March, admirers packed into Randy’s, a popular Ocean Avenue bar, to see Gonzales accept a certificate of recognition from Mayor Ed Lee for his 45 years of service as a journalism teacher, department chair and publisher.
“It’s been a fun ride and it’s not over yet,” Gonzales said to a cheering crowd of about 40 members of the journalism community, many his former students.
“As long as I feel I’m helping folks to move on and achieve their goals, I still think I have some years in place to make that happen,” he added.
The party was a testament to Gonzales’ central role in the local journalism community and the affection for him that his former students retain – including two journalists at the event who studied with Gonzales 30 years ago.
Gonzales was instrumental in securing the Ocean Avenue campus for the Guild Freelancers’ first Spring Training for Journalists and the Fall Tune-Up for Journalists.
His long career in community journalism and education started in 1970 when, at 22, he began teaching a class in La Raza Journalism in San Francisco State University’s newly founded ethnic studies department.
Gonzales had been the editor of several school newspapers and was taking an ethnic studies class at SFSU when he was offered the job. He soon realized he needed a way to get his the work of his students into print.
“(The time) just seemed ripe, I thought, ‘So hey, I’ve got this class that could probably use a vehicle (to publish stories). Why not seriously think about starting a newspaper?’” says Gonzales.
That newspaper was El Tecolate, a bilingual neighborhood newspaper covering the Mission. Writing for the paper was good experience for the students, and more importantly, it filled a gap in neighborhood coverage. The first copy hit newsstands Aug. 24, 1970. Since then, its stories have generated changes in the city’s health and safety services.
El Tecolote is now the longest running Spanish/English bilingual newspaper in California and will soon celebrate 45 years of publishing. With a circulation of 10,000 for its hard copy and thousands reading online, it continues to wield influence in the city’s progressive community.
In 2010, Gonzales had been editing the paper for 18 months when Acción Latina, a non-profit set up to run it, ran out of money. Today he still helps out, offering advice, acting as a public face and seeking resources for the paper.
“It’s like your baby,” Gonzales says. “I will help in any capacity I can.”
After teaching La Raza Journalism at SFSU for 15 years, Gonzales accepted a job as chair of the CCSF journalism department, a position he has held for 28 of the last 30 years.
As a teacher and advisor to The Guardsman, CCSF’s biweekly newspaper, Gonzales focuses on teaching students the core values of journalism including accuracy, ethics, reliability as a reporter and readability.
“It’s pointless if you’re writing in highfalutin words and people don’t understand.”
Will Carruthers is a graduate of Bay News Rising, the internship program of the Pacific Media Workers Guild.