Palo Alto Weekly 25th Anniversary

Our Town: The first issue

by Don Kazak

There's an old saying that no one should watch sausages or laws being made.

Add newspapers to that list. At least, the first edition of this newspaper, published on Oct. 11, 1979, a date burned into my memory.

To say we didn't know how to publish a newspaper would be an understatement. Sure, we had written the stories, sold some ads and contracted for a great cover illustration.

But the part about actually producing the newspaper was something none of the small staff then had any experience in.

Realize that this was back before everything was done on computer screens. Everything had to be hand-pasted on large, stiff paper boards. That included the copy, the photos and the ads. Everything had to be cut and mounted exactly right to be camera-ready for the press.

We had hired a California Avenue graphic arts company to do that cut-and-pasting, and it took a solid 24 hours to get it all right. Bill Johnson, the publisher, was there for all of it.

That now seems like the Dark Ages of journalism.

Now, we can redesign an edition at the last minute, and sometimes do.

After the flood of February 1998, we threw out a scheduled cover story on Monday night --after our press deadline for Wednesday's edition -- and scrambled to do the reporting and photos.

We started in 1979 with donated old manual typewriters, working on metal desks on a plywood floor. The typewriters were labeled as being property of the Stanford Law Review. Some current U.S. Supreme Court justice maybe once used the typewriter I pounded out my early stories on here.

Not a bad thing to think about.

This newspaper has always had an extraordinary ability to rise to occasion when the bell rings on big stories. It's a continuing challenge to keep up with the less glamorous job of government reporting, and of finding the small spaces inside people's lives that make a difference to them, and to this place we live in.

But we'll keep trying and the paper will always be a work in progress.

The first edition had a wonderful, whimsical cover illustration of a map of Palo Alto, in The New Yorker style, by Palo Alto artist Jim M'Guinness. The main story was a my profile of Bill Zaner, the then-new Palo Alto city manager.

No one knew then how Zaner or the Weekly would fare, but we both went on to some respective success. The readers will always judge how well we do, since it's all done out loud, so to speak, in full view of everyone.

During my 25 years with the Weekly, I've had one true loadstone of journalistic principles and ethics -- a professor when I was at Northwestern University 34 years ago who continued to teach me since, becoming one of my best friends until he died last year.

What he taught me is that what we journalists do is truly important and serves a purpose, even if the words are fleeting and of-the-moment. There is a tremendous responsibility we hold in our hands, and an equally tremendous accountability to the reading public. We must strive to be true in everything we write, and we always have to answer for our words.

We just don't report what happens in the community, we necessarily help shape the understanding of what others know. That's something never be taken lightly.

The extraordinary thing about being with the Weekly from before the start, when we were working out of Johnson's living room, is to have gone from a idea 25 years ago to the success the company has become since then.

We've gone from the young kid on the block to the established newspaper in the community that a new young kid on the block wants to dethrone. Been there, done that. Since journalism is involved, I'm not too worried.

If there is a disreputable corner of heaven reserved for ink-stained old reporters, my old professor and friend, Dick Schwarzlose, is there.

I still feel him looking over my shoulder when I write these columns, maybe muttering a little.

Weekly Senior Staff Writer Don Kazak can be e-mailed at [email protected].


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25th Anniversary • 1979-2004




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