Earlier this month, I was able to contact Noah Griffin. He is now a motivational speaker, actor, singer and author. But when I first met Griffin back in the early 1990s, he was a columnist for the San Francisco Independent. For me that time seems not too long ago. Yet, it was 20 years ago. Back then I had just started writing for The Sunset Beacon and The Richmond Review. As I haphazardly traipsed along the path of the neighborhood newspaper scene, I would often pick up the SF Independent and read one of Griffin's columns. His articles were often along side Warren Hinckle, a man with a past
and a patch over one eye. The Independent was published about three times a week, if I recall correctly, and I tried to get published there as a freelancer but no such chance.
I did get the chance to meet Griffin briefly in the Financial District on Montgomery Street
on my way to work. "Hey, I see your column in The Independent," I said. Griffin greeted me with a smile and kind acknowledgement. He was very striking and handsome in person, more so than the photo of him for his column. It was a nice surprise to see him in person, kind of like meeting a movie star or a celebrity for a brief moment. It was uplifting because at the time I was working as an office clerk for a local bank
to supplement my endeavor of freelance journalism.
Some of those days kneeling to reach the bottom shelves filing paperwork with file numbers 10 to 15 digits long were humbling, oh agony! I would often dream of writing that "great American novel" or suddenly being discovered with something I had submitted to the SF Chronicle or Examiner. One of my classmates from that college prep high school
I had attended got a job at The Chronicle. His name and picture appeared each week on the "Sporting Green" section. He now works for ESPN.
It was odd because he was not in any of the journalism classes I took while in high school. And, when I approached The Chronicle building there on Mission Street
, I was told flat out, "you have to have at least five years experience writing for an established daily." The Sunset Beacon and Richmond Review would not do. And, I was not the one to "mention names" saying something like, "Oh I know...he and I went to high school together." Yeah, right! He was a varsity football star. I was nobody. Still I dreamed, hoped. But as I was meandering along with freelance writing for several neighborhood newspapers and some really odd off-beat newsletters, The Internet was about to change publishing forever, especially newspapers.
The SF Independent vanished
and what had been a publisher's town for newspapers at the dawn of the 20th Century, as the 21st Century emerged, San Francisco was left with only one locally-owned major daily newspaper. What a change! So, when I happened to see Griffin's web site I wanted to contact him to get his take on all the change. "As to the digital era media," he said. "To gainsay it would be to say no to the future. The print media will have to adjust and the public be more discerning as to what is factual or counter-factual, substantive or unsubstantiated," said Griffin. When I told him that I used to read the SF Independent regularly, he responded graciously.
"I do remember writing for the Independent which took the place of the old Progress when it went defunct," said Griffin. The San Francisco Progress was once a well-known paper that served "the avenues and other parts of the City." In the 1970s, some people even thought of it as San Francisco's "third paper" back then.
"I liked writing for The Independent," said Griffin. "It was a chance to do a general Man-About-Town column." "I followed the legendary Jack Rosenbaum
, an old friend who wrote opposite Herb Caen
in the Hearst Examiner for many years before moving over to the Progress and then to the SF Independent," said Griffin.
Griffin now writes for the Marin Independent Journal.
"I don't get a chance to miss journalism as I am a monthly op-ed columnist," he said. My column in the Marin IJ as a suburban newspaper concentrates more on local issues, personalities and occasional heartfelt sentiment which might not prove hard hitting enough for urban outlets," he said.
As I took some time to learn a bit more about Griffin, I realized his path was more focused than what I had stumbled upon inadvertently. I was surprised to learn that Griffin had wanted to be a minister early in life. "And, strangely enough my spiritual and religious practice has greatly deepened in the past few years, leading me more in the direction of a God-centered and God-focused life," he said. Griffin serves as Communications Director for Roots of Peace
, whose mission it is to remove landmines worldwide. "I'm heavily involved in 12 step programs and my wife and I have recently joined the Unity Church of Marin where we attend weekly," he said.
I noticed that Griffin, throughout his career, never gave up. And, perhaps that is crucial for all writers and journalists to know. Following a story or just staying in tune with the community in order to report the news takes work. I also had to learn that one does need continuing education. Griffin graduated from Fisk University
and Harvard and worked to expand his talents and interests to better serve the community. Whether as a musician, lyricist, publicist, entertainer, or Master of Ceremonies, the accolades Griffin has received is impressive. Yet what I also recognize is that Griffin established a ground on which to work from. Many of his colleagues, like best-selling author Susan RoAne
, point to his skills. And several others, such as Evan Dobelle, the President of Westfield State University
, note Griffin's work as a historian.
My editor and others like my mom, kept saying "go back to school." Foolishly, I resisted. Paul Kozakiewicz, who still edits both the Sunset Beacon and Richmond Review,
sometimes pleaded, "Even if it is just a few classes, just go!" I was taking acting classes then back in the 1990s. But to actually go back to college, after attending SF State University, why? I protested. Kozakiewicz reassured me, "Journalism school is more down to earth than just going to college; it will help you understand more of what you are doing and will explain things to you I don't have time to."
He, my mom and several others were right, the Journalism Program at City College
was the best place for me to be and a sound investment for my money. Being informed and prepared is essential to being a journalist. That of course leads into another question: with all the news sites and blogs appearing on the web, is journalism school still viable? The debate is out there.
Based the example of Griffin's work, I would say yes. Facing the difficult issues and subjects requires a sharp and dedicated mind. Talking about tough subjects also requires courage and stability.
I also noticed that Griffin diversified his interests and outreach so that his efforts could reach more people. When the Internet took publishing by surprise, Griffin was better prepared. Contacts are very important to a journalist and with Griffin's extensive education and multi-talented skills, he has easily built a network, not simply in social network media but in long-term friendships and collaborations that last decades. And, I am able to discern that anyone who pursues a career in journalism must accept that it is not as simple as it might seem. Yet the rewards are there and not always in the monetary sense. For as Griffin says, "do what you were intended to do in life and you will succeed; do anything else and you will fail."
See why taking time to check in with other journalists is so important? I am glad I did.