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The San Francisco Bay View: Business Activist

NCM Profile

NCM, Teresa Moore and Pueng Vongs Posted: Nov 25, 2003

The publisher of the San Francisco Bay View sees the newspaper as a political instrument. "I'm a business activist for black people," Willie Ratcliff says. "I'm an activist for black ownership of businesses and black people having jobs. I see the newspaper as an extension of that. At least people can be knowledgeable."

Ratcliff, a contractor, and his wife Mary, a former attorney, long had been active in political circles in Alaska and in San Francisco when they bought the Bay View for $2,000 in 1992. The paper was founded in 1976, and the Ratcliffs upgraded the publication from bi-weekly to weekly in 1998.

The Ratcliffs run the paper out of their home in the Bay View, historically a black dominated community. They are worried, however, about the exodus of African Americans from San Francisco. According to Ratcliff, 23 percent of San Francisco's black population, 20,000 people, left in the past ten years. Some were displaced by closures of public housing, while others were evicted in the late 1990's real estate boom.

The newspaper keeps close watch on frequent incidents of police violence and racial profiling in the area -- often missed by mainstream media outlets. "We keep it on the frontpage," says Ratcliff who says the paper's coverage helped pass a city proposition that demands more police accountability. Ratcliff says the paper often urges community action on topics that range from environmental racism to rights for homeless. But the scope of the newspaper does not stop locally. The Bay View covers important national stories such as the inordinate rise of executions of minorities and the call for reparations for descendents of black slaves, which is also a global issue, he says. Internationally the newspaper covers black communities from Columbia to Haiti. "We want to pull people of African descent together all over the world. We want to get back the ties that have been broken," says Ratcliff.

For the past year much of the paper has been written by a growing number of young black writers. "They are the next generation. We want to give them involved," says Ratcliff. "If you look at history, nothing really changes until you get young people involved," he says.

Many of the writers work for little or no pay, and like many publishers in ethnic media, the Ratcliffs often put in long hours that far outweigh the monetary compensation they receive.

The publishers say that they must contend with the few numbers of advertisers who see the need to buy ad space when they have already given their business to other newspapers. In order to get around that hurdle, the Bay View joined the San Francisco Neighborhood Newspaper Association (SFNNA), an organization that sells sets of ads in its member papers.

But they also say the quality of their content is paying off. Thanks to the energy of the young writers and timeliness of their content, their website is now getting more than a quarter million hits a month.

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