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San Francisco Black Paper Dumps Print Goes all Online

San Francisco Bay View, News Report//Interview, JR Valrey Posted: Aug 15, 2008

Six hundred and ninety-seven papers ago, on Feb. 3, 1992, Willie Ratcliff and I watched with wonder as the noisy old Oakland Post press rolled out copy after copy after copy of our first edition of the newspaper then called the New Bayview. Instinctively, I picked one up and hugged it like a miraculous newborn baby. Last week I hugged the July 2, 2008, edition when I had to accept the verdict that, for the time being at least, it will be the last edition of the San Francisco Bay View to be published in print.

This is not a goodbye to you, our beloved readers, though. As the headline suggests, the Bay Views not dead; well see you on the web! Were pouring all our energy into improving our website, www.sfbayview.com, which has already recovered from a bad hacking enough to draw over a million hits a month.

Publishing the Bay View in print has been a labor of love and the love of our lives for over 16 years, but although major advertising agencies recognize the Bay View as one of the top 10 Black papers in the country, we were never able to make it profitable or even sustainable. Now weve had to face the reality that were flat out of funds or any source to tap.

We dared to try our hand at newspaper publishing because we wanted to let everyone know whats going on so we can pull together and tear the barriers down. We found some great writers and photographers isnt that right? and some advertisers too, but never enough of those to cover the barest expenses.

And the costs of the print edition, no matter how much of the work we did ourselves, were staggering: $4,000 cash every week just to print 20,000 copies and distribute them. Moving to an online-only newspaper will save a whopping 82 percent of our direct costs.

It was Willie Ratcliff's wise investment in our property on Third Street that carried us this far. Ten years ago, when the City put Willies Liberty Builders and all the other Black contractors out of business, Willie focused on a century-old building at the main intersection of Bayview Hunters Point, San Franciscos Black heartland. It had been boarded up for 15 years and anyone else would have demolished it, but Willie lovingly restored it to more than its original glory. His work, along with the real estate boom, raised the value nearly 10-fold, allowing us to keep printing the paper by dipping into the equity to augment income from ads and your subscriptions and donations.

Im still reading the paper on the web, I hear you saying, so who needs a print edition? Listen for a moment to mathematician, writer and political prisoner Sundiata Acoli, locked behind enemy lines since the fight-back year of 1973, when he was arrested and convicted with Assata Shakur: I always pass my Bay View along so it circulates throughout the prison, he wrote a while back. You have an excellent newspaper, one of the best in the country, I feel, because it courageously shines light on things going on in the world and next door that our people, and all people, need to know in order to make intelligent decisions about our lives and what were going to do about it. Thats all any good news outlet is supposed to do, but few do it.

Every day our mail is heavy with letters from almost every concentration camp in the country. Thousands of prisoners re-enslaved to exploit their labor and destroy the families and communities they had to leave behind rely on the Bay View. Many, many write to say, The Bay View keeps me alive.

And what about the millions who cant afford a computer or internet access? A half hour at the library isnt long enough to read the Bay View online. For them and the prisoners comprising a large part of our core constituency I harbor a ray of hope that we can one day print the Bay View monthly.

Meanwhile, we hope youll make sfbayview.com your home page. Were posting new stories every day. And if you have website expertise especially in online advertising PLEASE email or call (415) 671-0789. Well need ads and many of our print advertisers have already agreed to switch to the web, bless em to pay for the fun stuff we want to add to the site, especially interactive stuff like a way to comment on the stories and maybe a blog, polls and a store.

The end of the San Francisco Bay Views print edition: an interview with Publisher Willie Ratcliff

MOI JR: Can you tell us a little bit about the history of the San Francisco Bay View newspaper and talk about its current status?

W. Ratcliff: Well, the history ... back in 1991, we decided to go into (reporting the) news because we felt it would help the African American community to be on the same page with everyone knowing what is going on (with issues like) gentrification, also the lack of job opportunities, lack of business opportunities. Thats real heavy out here in San Francisco and in particular in Bayview Hunters Point. We wanted to be able to help people be on the same page (and) pull together so when they go to meetings they know what to talk about.

You know we used to be actually out there going to the meetings, but we couldnt do everything, so we decided to see if we could buy the Bay View (then called the New Bayview). And of course Mohammed (Al-Kareem, the founding publisher) liked what we were doing. People had offered him more money for the paper, but we were able to get it from him because he knew that we would do the things that he would love to do. He just wasnt able to do it.

So we (published the paper for over) 16 years, and we were able (to build up our website) to get 2,200,000 hits per month. And then of course Homeland Security came along and blasted us, (hacking the site and removing the 10,000 stories posted there,) and were getting it back up now. Were getting more than a million hits (per month) on our website. And thats the way of the future, so were going over to the website. However, it will be better, and well be putting out news stories every day and all that was going into the paper.

MOI JR: Can we back up a little? You know that there has been a whole bunch of cutbacks in the print newspaper industry around the Bay Area, particularly with the Examiner. Within the last couple of years it basically shrank its operation. Its barely a shadow of what it used to be. The Oakland Post, another Black newspaper, greatly reduced its size. What is going on in the industry, and what caused the San Francisco Bay View after all of these years to close its doors (on the print edition)?

W. Ratcliff: There is really a downward cycle going on in print media all across the country and, you know, the larger newspapers, they can stand some losses, but they are cutting back too. And for the smaller papers, its going to be pretty well impossible for them to survive in print media. You know (the price of) paper is going up.

Everything is going up, and even with the larger papers. They had a guy on (the radio) this morning that wrote a book talking about how the New York Times and others, that the only place where they are making a little but of money is on the website. That is something that we always thought a lot about. So thats whats happening out there.

I think that you are going to see newspapers falling like flies, especially the smaller ones, and its going to get down to where theres very few newspapers out there. Even the ones that are out there are beefing up their websites, and that includes all of the larger papers. Its almost like the housing market.

If you cant get none of the advertisers to pay for things, then you cant just keep losing. Last year, we lost $248,000, thats right at a quarter of a million dollars. And like I said, we have been losing every year. I mean it wasnt as heavy, but in the last three years its really got heavy on the losses. So we had to move. The industry is suffering.

You can hear the audio version of this Block Report Radio interview in its entirety at www.blockreportradio.com. Email POCC Minister of Information JR at blockreportradio@gmail.com.

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