Westside Observer Publisher Mitch Bull and Ingleside Light Publisher Alex Mullaney present Juan Gonzales with a certificate of honor signed by San Francisco Mayor Edwin M. Lee for Gonzales’ 30 years of service as a journalism instructor at City College. The San Francisco Neighborhood Newspaper Association hosted the event on March 20 at Randy’s Place on Ocean Avenue. Photo Nathaniel Y. Downes

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

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 Light publisher, journalist and U.C. Berkeley graduate student Alexander Mullaney, who credits Gonzales for directing him toward the field as a freshman.

This year also marks the 80th anniversary of CCSF itself and its student-run newspaper, The Guardsman, to 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—as does 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 has also worked as an 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.”

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

El Tecolote, which Gonzales founded, will celebrate its 45th anniversary this August, and many of his students gain experience through it or other San Francisco Neighborhood Newspaper Association publications.

Juan Gonzales, fundador de El Tecolote. John Gonzales, founder of El Tecolote. Photo El Tecolote archives

“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-defunct weekly. Today, Redmond runs the online publication 48 Hills, which also publishes student articles, and guest lectures at the school in an investigative reporting class.

Dan Verel, another former CCSF 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-twenties.

“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 Acción Latina. 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 the city San Francisco. “It’s not over yet.”

*Story courtesy of Ingleside Light