Ocean Beach Bulletin provides news and views about west side
by Thomas K. Pendergast
According to Tom Prete, there's a simple way to tell if anyone living, working or playing near San Francisco's Ocean Beach will fully appreciate the Ocean Beach Bulletin, an online community newspaper.
"If you're standing on Sunset Boulevard and your first impulse is to think about what's east, if you look east toward downtown and City Hall, you probably won't entirely get what it is that we're doing," says Prete, the Internet news organization's editor. "But, if your first instinct is to turn west and look toward the beach, you're one of ours."
Prete grew up in the City, near Stern Grove, and went to St. Ignatius High School. He graduated from Humboldt University with a journalism degree in 1991 and has either reported for or edited many newspapers, including the SF Independent, SF Examiner, Redwood City Tribune, Sunset Beacon and Richmond Review.
By 2006 he was married and had a daughter. Yet his job as an editor at the Examiner took up so much of his time, he says, that the pressure on his family became intense and he had to make a choice, so he quit journalism.
Instead, he went to work for the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR), as a publications and communications editor.
In 2008, a son was added to the family.
Eventually he parted ways with SPUR and became a "full-time dad," the primary care giver for his children as his wife was working full time in the wine industry.
Although faint in the background at times, the call of journalism never really went away and Prete eventually found himself drawn back into it.
About three years ago he started what he calls a "Twitter-only news organization." Although in the end he decided that that technology wasn't really practical for what he wanted to do, it did lead to him meeting his current business partner, Mark Lukach, who also had a Twitter account.
Prete says they met by chance one day at the Java Beach Cafe, across the street from the SF Zoo on Sloat Boulevard, after he Twittered about feeling an earthquake from inside the cafe and Lukach tweeted a response from a table outside the cafe. In the ensuing conversation, they discovered that they had both been thinking about starting an online community news organization for the general Ocean Beach area.
They launched the website www.oceanbeachbulletin.com on Sept. 21, 2010.
"We did it because we live here. My personal belief is that every healthy neighborhood needs its own locally-focused news source," Prete said. "A city-wide paper, for instance, is not going to pick up on everything that's important to people out here. It's certainly not going to pick up on everything that's important to people out here in time for them to do something about it. So, we strive to write about things that are important to people in this neighborhood, regardless of whether anybody else thinks it's important."
Geographically speaking, the area that the Ocean Beach Bulletin covers starts roughly at Lincoln Park to the north and covers all points south of that, including the Golden Gate Park, Sunset District, SF Zoo, Ft. Funston, Stonestown Galleria, SF State University and the Lake Merced area down to the county line.
Prete points out, however, that they really don't think in terms of geography, so much as in terms of what he calls a "neighborhood of interest."
"We decided, right away, that we were just going to bust all of the neighborhood boundaries that were on paper, just completely ignore the paper boundaries that people drew decades ago for where a neighborhood exists, because that's not where a neighborhood exists. It's not on a map," he says.
Although he will not divulge financial details, like how much income the website generates from ad revenues or donations, he says he is making a profit.
Prete was trained in the old-school newspaper environment of having a "wall of separation" between the editorial side of a publication and the advertising side generating the revenue, so he is now faced with the challenge of having to do both tasks himself. Yet, he does not think there's anything particularly novel about the conflicts inherent to the situation because he's seen the bigger picture before, back in the day when he edited for that grand ole dinosaur, the newspaper press.
"This cultural separation is not serving us very well," says Prete. "What we end up with, if there's no money, is a dead newspaper. This is a business. It's always been a business and if you don't think it is, you are putting blinders on. You better knock them off quick because you're going to end up with a dead paper and that doesn't do anybody any good."
But this situation does leave him with the same old dilemma.
"The problem is minimizing the interference of the two poles, not having the desire for making money interfere with the desire for producing good journalism that serves your readers," he says.
Although he hopes that people view his website as a community forum where issues can be discussed and debated, so far he has refrained from editorializing much on the hot topics of the day, although he won't rule it out for the future.
"We're serious about wanting to cover this neighborhood," he said. "We didn't want to just come in throwing opinions around before people had an idea of who we were."
For more information, go to the website at www.oceanbeachbulletin.com.