Palo Alto Weekly editor to retire in February

Jay Thorwaldson will write regular column and explore teaching possibilities

After a career that included award-winning reporting and editing for more than 50 years, Palo Alto Weekly Editor Jay Thorwaldson announced this week that he will retire from his position in February.

However, readers will probably see more of Thorwaldson's writing in retirement than they have while he has been editor, since he will write a regular online and print column for Palo Alto Online and the Weekly upon leaving the paper.

"We are indebted to Jay for his many achievements during his 10-year tenure at the Weekly and will deeply miss his caring and thoughtful approach to covering the news and his mentorship of the many outstanding journalists that have worked under him," Weekly Publisher Bill Johnson said.

Thorwaldson said he finds it difficult to put into words his mixed feelings about stepping out of the center of community action and news, as well as losing daily contact with his colleagues at the Weekly.

"I will miss the many rewards of working for the Weekly and with the outstanding staff, whom I will miss terribly -- but I hope not to be too far away," he said. As for the Palo Alto/Stanford area, "Nowhere in the world could you find a more interesting community and people than in Palo Alto. It's been a true privilege to be a central part of local history and to have developed so many friends along the way."

Thorwaldson has been a prominent figure in the community for more than four decades, first as a journalist and later as director of public affairs at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation for 18 years -- during which he also regularly wrote freelance newspaper articles on a variety of topics.

At San Jose State University, he served as editor of the Spartan Daily campus newspaper and edited a feature/humor magazine, Lyke. After working briefly at the Los Gatos Times-Saratoga Observer, San Jose Mercury-News and Merced Sun-Star, Thorwaldson began what would turn into a 15-year stint at the Palo Alto Times and then briefly its successor paper, the Peninsula Times Tribune. He covered the Palo Alto city/community beat for more than a decade, reporting on regional transportation and land-use issues; the environment and open space; and many City Council and other meetings. Among his reporting highlights, Thorwaldson helped identify and break up a neo-Nazi terror group that bombed a Palo Alto councilman's home and made a death threat to Roy Kepler of Kepler's Books.

He became an assistant editor and ombudsman at the Times, writing editorials and columns. In February 1970 he drafted an editorial that suggested creating an open-space district to preserve the Skyline Ridge and foothills, an idea that became the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District.

In 1979, Thorwaldson left the Times Tribune to work on a community effort to save and revitalize the Stanford Theater, a project that ultimately contributed to David Packard buying the theater, renovating it and turning it into the beautiful classic movie house it is today. He also spent time working to save Bair Island off Redwood City from a major development by Mobil Land Co. and was involved in a number of community organizations. He served on boards or advisory groups for the Peninsula Conservation Center, the Chamber of Commerce, Adolescent Counseling Service and others.

In 1981, he joined the medical foundation and designed and led many community collaborations, including a groundbreaking public-education program on teen stress and family communications. He also was instrumental in the creation of the foundation's website, one of the first of its kind, in 1994.

When the editorship of the Weekly opened up in 2000, Thorwaldson was an easy pick, Johnson said.

"Jay's knowledge of the community, his solid journalism background and the tremendous respect community leaders had for him made him the perfect fit," Johnson said.

Thorwaldson led the Weekly editorial department through many changes, including a steady evolution to online publishing and becoming a 24/7 source of news for the community. In his 10 years as editor, the Weekly won the coveted General Excellence award from the California Newspaper Publishers Association six times, as well as many other awards.

During his tenure as editor, the Weekly successfully sued the City of Palo Alto twice to obtain documents it believed were public records. The first case forced the city to begin making public all e-mails between the staff and council members, as well as disclose e-mails relating to a dispute between then City Attorney Ariel Calonne and City Councilmember Nancy Lytle. The second case required the city to release documents relating to improprieties in the city utilities department.

Thorwaldson received the 2002 Outstanding Professional Tall Tree Award "for his contributions, continued dedication and commitment to the people of Palo Alto and Santa Clara County."

Thorwaldson is known by his staff as a tireless editor, posting articles on Palo Alto Online at all hours of the night and jumping on breaking news on weekends and weeknights. A stickler on grammar and journalistic writing style, he often engages writers and interns in extensive and detailed editing sessions to sharpen their stories. He considers mentoring younger writers one of his most rewarding responsibilities, an activity he plans on continuing through teaching.

He enjoys hiking and camping in the Sierra Nevada and the deserts of Southern California and Nevada.

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Like this comment
Posted by Paul Kandell
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 3, 2010 at 10:11 am

Kudos to Jay on a job well-done and best wishes for rewarding life in retirement. I've known Jay only for the past decade but have been impressed with his stewardship of the Weekly's editorial staff and coverage. He's been at the helm of one of the nation's most forward-looking, ethically run institutions in community media, and his long memory, news judgment, humor, and dexterity in adapting to the challenges brought on by digital media, have served Palo Alto readers well. One final note: Thank you, Jay, for your generosity in working with the local student press -- and its advisers. We're all better for our connections with you. Looking forward to seeing your byline for many years to come.

Like this comment
Posted by the watcher
a resident of another community
on Dec 3, 2010 at 10:19 am

Thank you Mr. Thorwaldson for always being there for the Palo Alto News. I have witnessed (over the years) your fairness and impartiallity as an editor. When you gave comment to the many post, it seems as though you were always setting the stories straight for those who were missing the point.
I could go on and express a lot of sentimental verbiage of how much you have been appreciated IMO. However my closing thought is please know that you have been a positive force in a city that can sometimes be biased and very opinionated in regard to the little guy. You are a wonderful star. My hopes is that you have a rewarding and happy retirement. You will be missed.

Like this comment
Posted by Bob Harrnington
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 3, 2010 at 10:22 am

Jay provides valued leadership covering Palo Alto issues in a timely, thoughtful and trusted manner.

Jay well deserves the many accolades he has received, and will continue receiving.

Job exceedingly well done, Jay.

Like this comment
Posted by Henrietta J. Burroughs
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Dec 3, 2010 at 10:34 am


It was inevitable that this announcement would be made one day. Congratulations to you for all of the contributions that you have made to the community and for the gift of your journalistic skills that you have shared with so many. Many of us will look forward to reading your upcoming articles.

Best wishes!

Like this comment
Posted by Penny
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Dec 3, 2010 at 10:43 am


I will miss your thoughtful, guiding hand as editor of the Weekly. I am sorry to see you leave this role, but I look forward to enjoying more of your writing.

Warmest wishes...

Like this comment
Posted by Len Filppu
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Dec 3, 2010 at 11:11 am

You gave us all a fair shake... often gave it to those who deserved it... gave all of yourself to the job... and gave this community a first-rate newspaper. Thank you. We are deeply appreciative.

Like this comment
Posted by Henry Breitrose
a resident of Stanford
on Dec 3, 2010 at 11:13 am

Jay Thorwaldson is a local treasure. He's a first-rate journalist, who has been deeply involved over the years in many aspects of what makes our area a great place to live. Under his editorship, the PA Weekly has been a trusted source of information, and a model of community journalism.

(Full disclosure: My son worked on the PA Weekly some years ago as education writer. Fuller disclosure: He said that Jay was a terrific boss and mentor to young journalists.)

Like this comment
Posted by Claude Ezran
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 3, 2010 at 11:35 am


I dreaded that inevitable day. Thank you so much for all the great things you have done for this community over the years. We will miss you terribly, but a least I am glad to hear that you will still remain involved with Palo Alto.

Like this comment
Posted by Russell Hancock
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Dec 3, 2010 at 11:46 am

Jay is a Palo Alto treasure. We owe him a great debt of gratitude.

Like this comment
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 3, 2010 at 11:49 am

Dear Jay,
Thank you for your excellent work. Thank you for your high quality contributions to vital community journalism. I look forward to reading whatever you write.
Best wishes from a fellow San Jose State grad

Like this comment
Posted by Marlene Prendergast
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 3, 2010 at 12:24 pm

Jay is an institution in our community. I am glad you are not letting him fade away. But who will we gab out the good old days with?

Like this comment
Posted by Amy
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 3, 2010 at 12:52 pm

Reading the above comments prompted me to deal with the emotions I feel about Jay's retirement and formulate some thoughts sooner than later. Working with Jay these past 10 years will forever remain a highlight; both professionally and personally speaking. A man, totally dedicated to his community - NEVER in a hurry to rush a conversation with anyone wanting to talk and reminisce. Watching Jay over the years with our young editorial interns has been amazing - wanting to teach and give them guidance as they start out their careers in journalism, as someone must have once done with him. Knowledgeable, kind...a mentor to many.
Mostly, I have been touched by this man's humility and will forever be grateful to call him my friend.

Like this comment
Posted by Jay Thorwaldson
editor emeritus
on Dec 3, 2010 at 2:02 pm

Jay Thorwaldson is a registered user.

Hi all -- I am deeply touched by the sentiments. Thanks. But I really don't plan on being too far away, or too silent. ;-)>
My best to all. -jay

Like this comment
Posted by A Jay Fan
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 3, 2010 at 2:25 pm

Congratulations to Jay. He navigated the fraught, often frothing waters of Palo Alto public life with a calm wisdom supported by unfailing good judgement.

In a community brimming with out-sized egos, Jay was a study in modestly harnassed to keen intelligence. In a place that contained so many know-it-alls, Jay knew a great deal more than most anyone else.

Best of all he didn't need to trumpet any claims about how well he knew Palo Alto.Instead, in his unassuming way, Jay DID know Palo Alto inside out - and everybody else knew he did too.

Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Dec 3, 2010 at 3:06 pm

Jay - what a pleasure to know him, to work with him and to read his thoughtful words. And thank goodness he assures us that he won't be too far away.

Thanks for all the thoughts, words and wisdom. You have served our community well.

Like this comment
Posted by Andrea
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Dec 3, 2010 at 3:56 pm

Bye Jay-hopefully we can now get someone actually who's police friendly running this!

Like this comment
Posted by who cares
a resident of Triple El
on Dec 3, 2010 at 4:36 pm

What? No banner headline stating Jay Thorwaldson "jumps ship" as he proudly pronounced as 20/30/40 year City of Palo Alto employees who served the public with honor were greeted when they recently retired. Mr. Thorwaldson's one sided bandwagon reporting on public employee staff and cowtowing to Palo Alto city management and city council won't be missed.

Like this comment
Posted by Betsy Bechtel
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 3, 2010 at 5:01 pm

Think of the stories Jay can tell about Palo Alto and Palo Altans. He is a treasure, but I am counting on his continuing involvement.

Like this comment
Posted by Joseph Kott
a resident of another community
on Dec 3, 2010 at 6:16 pm

Congratulations to Jay Thorwaldson, a good man who is a credit to profession of journalism and a civic treasure to the community of Palo Alto.

Like this comment
Posted by Sue Dremann
Palo Alto Weekly staff writer
on Dec 3, 2010 at 7:28 pm

Sue Dremann is a registered user.

I just wanted to say that it's been such a pleasure working with Jay for the past 9.5 years. Amy, thank you for expressing the essence of Jay so well in your post.

I have learned so much from Jay. I am forever indebted to him for his kindness, wisdom, mentoring and fine editing. Professionally and personally, I feel so fortunate to know Jay and to call him my friend.

Jay allowed me the freedom to grow as a journalist and if not for the opportunities he helped provide, I would not be a writer today.

Jay is, as a colleague said, irreplaceable. We in the newsroom will feel a huge hole when he retires and will deeply miss his daily humor and stories.

Enjoy, Jay! Finally, no deadlines!

Like this comment
Posted by Nancy Brown
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Dec 3, 2010 at 8:06 pm


How lucky you are to hear these wonderful words spoken about your contribution to our community. I add my thanks and looks forward to some new projects we can do together!

Like this comment
Posted by Ray Bacchetti
a resident of University South
on Dec 3, 2010 at 10:17 pm

We have been lucky all these years to have had Jay telling our stories. With style and integrity he's told us about ourselves in his reportorial work. And in editorials and opinion pieces we've gotten his always useful and often provocatively edgy take on issues. Even though he's good, we don't have to rely only on him because he has hired and mentored a superb cadre of journalists. No one is indispensable, and we can count on the Weekly's leadership to find a worthy successor. But she or he will be different and will take a while to get to know us as well as Jay does. He tells us we can count on him to keep writing, and that's good news. But he'll be missed. Thanks, Jay, for a good long run at the helm, a stretch of first-rate newspapering for which we can all be grateful.

Like this comment
Posted by PAPD-Critic
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 4, 2010 at 8:06 am

Jay will be remembered for his thoughtful contributions to censorship. β€œ[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]”

Like this comment
Posted by stephen levy
a resident of University South
on Dec 4, 2010 at 10:31 am

stephen levy is a registered user.


You have been a joy to read and then to know and work with.
Thanks for your contributions to journalism and to the Palo Alto community.

Enjoy the absence of deadlines and now you can join Town Square in a new capacity.


Like this comment
Posted by PAPD-Critic
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 4, 2010 at 3:03 pm

To Posted by Sue Dremann, Palo Alto Weekly staff writer, on Dec 3, 2010 at 10:23 am
Sue Dremann is a member (registered user) of Palo Alto Online

PAPD-Critic --

Editing of Town Square is done by any one of our editors and not just by Jay.

Content is removed when it is: libelous, baiting, racist, threatening, obscene or serves no useful purpose other than to incite.

Posters are often passionate about their views and do sometimes cross the line, however well intentioned.


The First Amendment was not designed to protect favorable speech. Favorable speech needs no protection.

I have seen the editors whomever they are change the contents of the post in addition to deleting the post altogether.

Even some of the most innocuous postings have been deleted or changed and I consider this the most veiled threat to our constitutional and the right to free speech.

The Palo Alto Online historically, has shown a flagrant attitude of censorship in this regard.

Another tactic the editor(s) use is too cut-off further comments by and through registration.

Like this comment
Posted by Another Weekly critic
a resident of Stanford
on Dec 4, 2010 at 4:21 pm

PAPD-Critic--while I agree with much of what you say, the answer I have gotten from the staff is that this is a private forum and they can edit it anyway they want and if I do not like it to take my business elsewhere--surprising attitude for a newspaper!!!
It is obvious that certain people are allowed to say whatever they want on this forum, even if it is irrelevant to the topic of the thread. Certain members of the community are above criticism on this forum,even though they are public officials and therefore give up some degree of being immune to criticism.
Even though I post here I do not take the Weekly seriously as a newspaper or a source for news--to me it is a weekly 40 pages of advertisement, with an article or two of them leading the cheers for the powers that be in the city.

Like this comment
Posted by PAPD-Critic
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 4, 2010 at 5:40 pm

To: Posted by Another Weekly critic, a resident of Stanford, 1 hour ago. Very well stated.....

"Fear of serious injury cannot alone justify suppression of free speech and assembly. Men feared witches and burned women. It is the function of speech to free men from the bondage of irrational fears."

Justice Louis D. Brandeis

The Weekly / Palo Alto Online have clearly demonstrated these fears (Sue Dremann, Palo Alto Weekly staff writer and others) and therefore have been actively engaged in the suppression of free speech.

Like this comment
Posted by long-time reader
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Dec 4, 2010 at 8:15 pm

You two are amazing. You repeatedly avail yourselves of this forum and the great opportunity the Weekly has provided the community to connect, then you turn around and condemn it! Either accept that the Weekly editors have every right to edit or remove your stuff or go somewhere else. Your constant complaining is just juvenile.

Like this comment
Posted by Sharon
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 4, 2010 at 9:31 pm

The upside is that we will fresh, young, new talent.

It is always hard to get the old guys to give up control---we hope the process happens quickly in this case

Like this comment
Posted by Longer time reader
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Dec 4, 2010 at 11:26 pm

Long time reader-your comments are exactly the same heard from the editors.however some people think that a forum run by a newspaper would have a higher regard for freedom of speech.of course that would assume that the weekly is considered to be a newspaper.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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