The Mountain View Voice started as a labor of love: love for the city and for local journalism.
In 1992, Voice founders Kate Wakerly and Carol Torgrimson teamed up to bring Mountain View its own independent newspaper, something that Wakerly had long wanted to do. Their ambitions were somewhat modest: start a publication that could support itself through advertising and hopefully stay in business long enough to make endorsements in the 1994 City Council election, according to a draft of the business plan written in 1993.
"Kate always had a passion for community newspapers, starting with her first job in 1972 after finishing her Stanford master's degree at the long-gone Fremont News-Register," recalled John Wakerly, Kate's husband. Starting in 1982, she contracted with the city of Mountain View to publish its monthly municipal newsletter, "The View."
"She did add a certain amount of quality and class to the publication, but because of its strong ties to city government, she jokingly called it 'Pravda' in private," he said. "She still dreamed that someday Mountain View would get its own independent newspaper."
A reporter and editor for a number of community newspapers, Wakerly sought advice from her contacts in the business, and was told "Mountain View is the graveyard of community newspapers," Torgrimson told the Voice in 2013. "We were advised against it quite heartily. But we never let that stop us."
Launched as a monthly, the 12-page "Voice of Mountain View" was sent out to 25,000 addresses just before Christmas. It included a preview of Mountain View's annual Community Tree Lighting Celebration and, in true Silicon Valley style, the pair produced the paper from the Wakerlys' basement. Hard-pressed for money to put out the issue, Wakerly convinced Costco to run a two-page ad in the center spread for its soon-to-open store on Charleston Road. The paper got more firmly established with its second issue, which came out in February 1993.
At the time, it seemed impossible for local schools and Mountain View community members to get their stories heard, Torgrimson told the Voice for an article about the paper's 20th anniversary. "We felt that the community deserved a real newspaper," she said.
After running it on a shoestring, Wakerly and Torgrimson transferred ownership of the Voice to Embarcadero Publishing, a locally owned company founded by Bill Johnson, who started the Palo Alto Weekly. Now called Embarcadero Media, it also publishes The Almanac and the Pleasanton Weekly, as well as DanvilleSanRamon.com and TheSixFifty.com.
"The only financial windfall that Kate and Carol received in the March 1994 asset transfer was that they would no longer have to put their own money into the paper's publication. They never did take a penny of profit out of the venture, since there was none," said John Wakerly. "Perhaps their biggest reward was a well-founded expectation that the Voice could and would continue with the Weekly's and Bill's support."
The pair stayed on during the transition, and Wakerly returned as publisher of the Voice in 2000, retiring two years later. She died in 2004 at age 56 following a six-year battle with cancer.
The early issues of the Voice were filled with with local news, including City Council coverage and a few feature stories, said Tom Gibboney, who served as the publisher from 2002 to 2014 and helped with running the newspaper in its early days. "As editor and publisher of The Almanac, a long-established and similar weekly in Menlo Park, I was well-versed at applying the technology we needed to get a paper to press every week," Gibboney said. "From that first year, it was a blast helping Kate edit and write for the Voice, which caught on in Mountain View," he said.
Kevin Duggan, Mountain View's city manager from 1990 to 2011, said he came to respect the Voice for not representing any special interests and adding to the flavor of the city. "The community has a better sense of itself," he said for a story on the Voice's 20th anniversary.
Rufus Jeffris, the editor from 1995 to 1998, called his time at the paper one of the highlights of his career. He said he's immensely grateful to Wakerly and Torgrimson for their support and credited their passion for local journalism. "As journalism comes under attack from many fronts, papers like the Voice are critical in keeping citizens informed, exposing them to different and new ideas and holding the powerful accountable," he said.
"The hours were long, the work was hard. But the rewards were immense and extremely satisfying. The community embraced the paper and what it represented. And in only our second year, the Voice captured three statewide journalism awards for excellence," Jeffris said.
Noting that the Voice is this year's winner of General Excellence, the top award given in the statewide California Journalism Awards contest, he said, "it's immensely gratifying to see the Voice continue that record of excellence."
Over the past 25 years, the Voice has chronicled the impacts of the incredible changes in the city, from the Navy's departure from Moffett Field to the influx of tech workers, the struggle to bring light rail downtown and the ongoing pressures of a growing population and massive development projects.
"The launch of the Voice predated the start of Google by five years, so we've given the community a front row seat to the transformation of Mountain View into the diverse and technology-centered city that it is today," said Johnson. "It is hard to imagine a more interesting or important place in which to operate a news organization, where the work of local companies is not only changing the community but profoundly impacting the future of journalism."
In tribute to one its first articles, the Voice staff will be at this year's Community Tree Lighting Celebration on Monday, Dec. 3, handing out treats. Stop by the Voice's table for the chance to win limited edition 25th anniversary swag or just to say hello. The event runs from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at Civic Center Plaza, 500 Castro St.