Pacific Sun Sold to Palo Alto Weekly

Steve McNamara: (415) 383-4500
Bill Johnson: (650) 326-8210

Mill Valley, Calif. — August 19, 2004 — Two Association of Alternative Newsweeklies newspapers serving different parts of the San Francisco Bay Area became part of the same organization today as the owner of the Palo Alto Weekly purchased the Pacific Sun of Marin County.

The sale coincides with the 70th birthday of Sun owner, publisher and editor Steve McNamara, who purchased the paper in 1966 and grew it into an award-winning newsweekly known for its quality writing, environmental advocacy and commitment to journalistic independence and for building a strong relationship with the community it serves.

McNamara said, “The decision to sell the Sun was easy and it was hard. It was easy because after nearly 50 years in the newspaper business I wanted to take a deep breath and try some other things. It was hard because I have cherished working with the Sun staff and the community we serve for nearly 40 years. But once the decision was made, it seemed natural to pass the responsibility to my old friend Bill Johnson and his associates at the Palo Alto Weekly.”

The buyer, Embarcadero Publishing Co., owns the Palo Alto Weekly, the Almanac (serving Menlo Park, Woodside, Atherton and Portola Valley), the Mountain View Voice and the Pleasanton Weekly.

“Steve and I have known each other and shared our challenges and ideas with each other for the last 25 years, and this seems like a natural outcome of that relationship,” said Embarcadero CEO and Palo Alto Weekly publisher Bill Johnson.

“When he approached us about buying the Sun, we leaped at the opportunity,” Johnson said. “Our publishing goals and values are as alike as any two companies can be, and the Marin community is a perfect complement to the markets we already serve.”

The Sun and all four Embarcadero papers are distributed free, though the Sun’s 36,000 circulation is entirely through news racks and bulk distribution locations while Embarcadero’s papers are distributed primarily through the mail.

Each of the Embarcadero papers has separate offices and staffs and operate independently of each other, sharing only financial accounting services. Although McNamara will remain on during a transition period and contribute occasional articles, a permanent publisher will be named for the Sun soon, Johnson said.

Prior to purchasing the Sun in 1966 from its founders, Merrill and Joann Grohman, McNamara was the Sunday Editor of the San Francisco Examiner and Chronicle. His goal was to transform the weekly into a high quality magazine-style, locally focused paper similar to the Village Voice in New York City, with an emphasis on good writing and analytical reporting. In the years that followed, dozens of similar papers began emerging throughout the country, and McNamara became the first president of the fledgling National Association of Alternative Newsweeklies (now AAN), which now has nearly 130 member papers. He was also founding president of the California Association of Alternative Newsweeklies (Cal-AAN), president of the California Society of Newspaper Editors and a member of the board of the California Newspaper Publishers Association.

“Steve’s leadership during the early years of alternative weekly journalism contributed to the creation of a new genre of newspaper—one which proved that a local newspaper needn’t be a boring chronicler of minor events, but could penetrate the fabric of a community, advocate for social and political change, and bring that community and its residents alive through good writing,” Johnson said.

Among the Sun’s innovations was the creation of “The Serial” by Armistead Maupin, which later moved on to become a popular feature in the San Francisco Chronicle as “Tales of the City.” And among the Sun’s many acclaimed employees was U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer, who worked as a reporter before moving on to politics.

Johnson started Embarcadero Publishing Company in 1979 with the launch of the Palo Alto Weekly. The paper expanded to twice-weekly in 1993 and circulates to 45,000 homes in the Palo Alto area. It has received dozens of awards from journalism organizations, including first place in general excellence among large weeklies for three years in a row from the California Newspaper Publishers Association.

In 1993, the company purchased The Almanac, a community weekly serving Menlo Park, Atherton, Woodside and Portola Valley, and a year later acquired the Mountain View Voice. In 2000, Embarcadero expanded into the East Bay with the launch of the Pleasanton Weekly.

The company was an early pioneer on the Internet and operates an extensive community website, Palo Alto Online. The Palo Alto Weekly was the first newspaper in the United States to publish its content on the World Wide Web in January, 1994.

Johnson serves as a director of numerous organizations, including the California Newspaper Publishers Association, California First Amendment Coalition, Community Foundation Silicon Valley, Kirsch Foundation and the Haas Center for Public Service at Stanford University. He served as president of the California First Amendment Coalition between 2000 and 2002.

Johnson said his company looked forward to providing the resources for the Sun to grow and continue to be a thoughtful and prodding voice in Marin County.

The sale of the Sun is expected to close by the end of the month. The sales price was not disclosed.

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