After 30 years leading City College Journalism Department, ‘not over yet’ for Juan Gonzales

by Mary Strope

Journalists, local newspaper publishers, instructors and students gathered on March 20 at Randy’s Place in the Ingleside to honor Juan Gonzales for his 30 years as a faculty member and chair of the Department of Journalism at City College of San Francisco.

Westside Observer Publisher Mitch Bull and Ingleside-Excelsior Publisher Alex Mullaney present Juan Gonzales with a certificate signed by San Francisco Mayor Edwin M. Lee honoring his 30 years teaching journalism at City College, where he heads the Journalism Department. The San Francisco Neighborhood Newspaper Association hosted the event on March 20 at Randy’s Place on Ocean Avenue. – Photo: Nathaniel Y. Downes
Westside Observer Publisher Mitch Bull and Ingleside-Excelsior Publisher Alex Mullaney present Juan Gonzales with a certificate signed by San Francisco Mayor Edwin M. Lee honoring his 30 years teaching journalism at City College, where he heads the Journalism Department. The San Francisco Neighborhood Newspaper Association hosted the event on March 20 at Randy’s Place on Ocean Avenue. – Photo: Nathaniel Y. Downes

The mix of former and current students and colleagues attested to his dedication as they mingled, shot pool and enjoyed spaghetti and drinks in the cozy neighborhood bar.

“What Juan does, it’s not an institution, it’s a community,” said Ingleside-Excelsior Light publisher, journalist and UC Berkeley graduate student Alexander Mullaney, who credits Juan for directing him toward the field as a freshman.

This year also marks the 80th anniversary of City College itself and its bi-monthly, student-run paper, The Guardsman, which Gonzales serves as advisor.

One of the oldest community college newspapers in the country, the publication’s mix of local and college-wide news coverage regularly wins top honors – along with the department’s magazine, Etc. – at the Journalism Association of Community Colleges state convention.

“Juan emphasized the importance of learning by doing, holding us to a high standard but also encouraging our independence,” said former student Jennifer Balderama-McDonald, today a Chicago-based freelance writer and editor who once served as book editor for The New York Times.

“Because I had an interest in editing, Juan pushed me in that direction, and his crucial nudge set me on a path that led from an internship with the Dow Jones News Fund to, seven years later, a job at The New York Times.”

Journalists, local newspaper publishers, instructors and students gathered to honor Juan Gonzales for his 30 years as a faculty member and chair of the Department of Journalism at City College of San Francisco.

A community focus has always been part of Gonzales’ work at the journalism department.

El Tecolote, the Mission-based bilingual newspaper Gonzales founded in 1970, will celebrate its 45th year this August, and many of his students gain experience through it or other San Francisco Neighborhood Newspaper Association publications.

“For 31 years, we got some of our best interns and reporters from City College,” said former San Francisco Bay Guardian editor-in-chief Tim Redmond of his days at the now-departed weekly. Today, Redmond runs online newspaper 48 hills – which has also published student articles – and guest lectures at the school in an investigative reporting class.

“Juan emphasized the importance of learning by doing, holding us to a high standard but also encouraging our independence,” said former student Jennifer Balderama-McDonald.

Dan Verel, another former City College journalism student and now a health writer at MedCity News, agreed that the department’s high standards set him up for success after transferring to San Francisco State University in his mid-20s.

“We were far ahead of other students,” Verel said. “I don’t mean to sound dramatic, but he was kind of a savior.”

Today, Verel said his old friends from the department are all working in the field, a journey that began with Gonzales and fellow instructors Jon Rochmis and Tom Graham.

A longtime advocate for San Francisco’s Latino community, Gonzales is a board member of the non-profit Accion Latina that provides educational and cultural services. He’s received a Heroes of Excellence award from KGO-TV and a Distinguished Service Award from the Society of Professional Journalists.

Gonzales has no plans to retire and said he would continue to work as long as he felt he was “helping folks move on and achieve their goals.”

“It’s been a fun ride,” Gonzales told the crowd after being presented a Certificate of Honor from San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee. “It’s not over yet.”

For more information, contact publisher@inglesidelight.com.