by Judy Hodgson
EUREKA, Calif. - The North Coast Journal has tapped veteran San Francisco Chronicle reporter Tom Abate to lead an ambitious expansion that will fuse the paper's weekly print edition with its continuous online coverage. The goal is to develop a hybrid form of journalism to better serve readers and advertisers in Humboldt County and perhaps become a model for other alternative papers.
Hank Sims, who has been the Journal's editor for nearly six years and created its cutting-edge website, will play a crucial role in this evolutionary process by working with Abate as web editor and senior staff writer while also continuing his popular weekly column, the Town Dandy.
Abate, a daily newspaper reporter since 1992, is returning to Humboldt County where he lived during the 1980s and co-founded the Journal in 1990.
Journal Publisher Judy Hodgson said the new hire represents a major reinvestment in the newspaper and its nascent website.
"While newspapers across the country have been cutting staff and downsizing, the Journal has continued to grow and gain market share. We've doubled in size in the last six years," she said. "To separate the duties of editor and web editor is a natural progression of growth for the paper."
Abate and wife, Mia Ousley, founded the North Coast Journal in January 1990 as a monthly. But shortly after they launched the paper Abate, bitten by the daily journalism bug, accepted a series of scholarships to the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University. After producing just six editions, Abate and Ousley sold the fledgling monthly to a trio of businesswomen -- Hodgson, Carolyn Fernandez and Rose Welsh -- who at the time owned an advertising agency called Adworks.
Within two years, that company split. Welsh continued with the ad agency and Hodgson and Fernandez became co-owners of the Journal. In 1998, the monthly was successfully converted to a weekly covering all of Humboldt County. The paper currently has a circulation of 21,000.
Just last year the newspaper celebrated its 20th anniversary and announced that three key employees had become stockholders. They are Sims, Arts and Entertainment Editor Bob Doran and Sales Manager Mike Herring.
The Journal is a member of the California Newspaper Publishers Association and has won more than three dozen awards in the past 10 years. It is also a member of the national Association of Alternative Newsweeklies based in Washington, D.C.
Abate has had a distinguished career in daily journalism. He earned his graduate degree from Columbia in 1991, where he was awarded one of the school's three top prizes, a Pulitzer Traveling Fellowship. In June 1992, he joined the Hearst-owned San Francisco Examiner as a staff writer covering science and technology. In 1997 he moved next door to the San Francisco Chronicle, where he penned columns on technology (Digital Bay) and biotechnology (Bioscope) before becoming the paper's economics reporter with a special focus on the culture of innovation in Silicon Valley.
A native of New York and a veteran of the United States Navy, Abate was twice nominated for Pulitzer Prizes for his coverage of biotechnology, and is the author of a book (The Biotech Investor). Abate, who resigned his Chronicle position last week in a teary farewell to his Chronicle newsroom colleagues, said he is thrilled to be returning to Humboldt County where he still owns a homestead in Bayside.
"Second chances are rare, and this one is incredible: to use what I've learned in Silicon Valley to invent new ways of doing journalism in a community I love," said Abate, who is eager to re-connect with old friends and former business associates.