Jay Gamel retires after long newspaper career
By Alec Peters
The founder and long-time reporter and editor of the Kenwood Press is retiring after decades working in all areas of the publishing business.
Jay Gamel has had a distinguished life in journalism for over 40 years, earning the respect of colleagues and local, county and state officials along the way.
Melissa Dowling, publisher of the Kenwood Press along with her husband, Paul Goguen, said working with Jay during their first year as publishers has been “a pleasure and an adventure.
“Jay has unmatched expertise on local issues and the recipe for the secret sauce that goes into putting out the Kenwood Press twice per month. He has always been generous with his knowledge. We’ll miss having him around day to day, but we know that he’s only a text away. We hope to have him as a guest contributor for the Kenwood Press from time to time, and we look forward to publishing some no-holds-barred Jay Gamel opinion pieces in future issues,” said Dowling.
Jay, now age 77, can trace his first foray into publishing back to his sixth-grade mimeographed newsletter at Ben Murch Elementary School in Chevy Chase, Maryland.
His first story was on Father Damien, who cared for people with leprosy on the Hawaiian island of Molokai (Jay had just read a book on the subject).
His taste for writing and production took him on a journey that included stints at Commerce Clearing House in Chicago; Terra Linda, Calif., where he reported on federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) rules; at Rolling Stone magazine in San Francisco, where he worked in the photography department for two art directors; and Kenwood, where he worked as a researcher and writer for law firms and private investigators.
At that point, Jay decided to make a transition to journalism and, with the help of one of the very first Apple computers and rudimentary software, began to work on the Kenwood Express newsletter in the mid-1980s.
“I loved Kenwood and I wanted to be here,” said Jay. “I felt the town didn’t have a sense of self; there were demographic changes going on, and I said, ‘This town needs a newspaper!’”
The Kenwood Press was born in 1988 as a monthly paper, and mailed out to the community. At that time, Jay also started working at the Sonoma Index-Tribune, learning the reporting craft under the tutelage of legendary Sonoma Valley newsman Bill Lynch.
During his two years at the Index-Tribune, Jay was also publishing the Kenwood Press, while at the same time learning the ins and outs of covering Sonoma County government and the benefits of cultivating relationships with decision-makers.
“County government is where everything starts. This is where government happens,” said Jay. “I loved it.”
Jay soon began working at the Petaluma Argus-Courier in various roles, as the business editor, government editor and covering the Petaluma City Council.
It was at that time, the early 1990s, that he realized he didn’t have enough bandwidth to give his attention to the Kenwood Press. As luck would have it, in 1994, into his life walked Kenwood newbies Alec and Ann Peters with an offer he couldn’t refuse.
As the Peterses took over the reins of the paper, Jay continued to work for the Argus-Courier until 2000, when he quit to become the editor of the Novato Advance.
That job wasn’t the right fit for Jay, so for the next two years he worked for DealFlow Media, a publisher of online hedge fund magazines.
After learning the esoterica of complex financial instruments, Jay took the next natural step in his career and came back to work for the Kenwood Press, which by that time had gone to twice a month and begun mailing the paper to all of northern Sonoma Valley.
Once Jay was back onboard as an employee, Ann began editing his stories, and the two of them developed into a strong journalistic team.
“Jay and I worked really well together,” Ann said. “He would write a first draft (always on a deadline) and give it to me to clean up and sometimes rearrange. Jay got the meat of the story and was always willing to rewrite parts that I didn’t understand, or go back to someone for a clarification. Not all writers are that accommodating.”
At the paper, Jay did just about everything, covering multiple important stories over the years (as well as the goings-on of everyday life), handling the classified advertisers (you try it), and performing the all-important role of keeping the Kenwood Press computer systems working (most of the time).
Jay helped create a strong connection between the community he loves and its newspaper and is one of the main reasons the publication still thrives, and will continue to thrive.
“It has been such a privilege to work with Jay Gamel over the years that I have served as First District supervisor,” said Sonoma County Supervisor Susan Gorin.
“Jay consistently chooses the most important issues to Sonoma Valley for incisive, well-researched articles and reporting — fires, homelessness, the Sonoma Developmental Center, redistricting, potential development, etc. Jay, thank you so much for your passion, interest and reporting skills,” Gorin said.
In addition to his work at the Kenwood Press, Jay’s willingness to help anyone in town with computer issues is legendary, as over the decades he has developed advanced skills with just about every Apple product. Jay also has been an important player in other ways — his extensive involvement in a group that developed Plaza Park and his work on the Kenwood Community Club board are just two of the many volunteer projects that come to mind.
As for Jay, it’s only right he gets the last word:
“ The Kenwood Press has been the center of my life and the most consistently enjoyable part of it from day one,” said Jay. “It gave free play to my sense of wonder at the world, to be nosy and curious and learn about what makes a community work, or not work. It made me think about everything it takes to have a life: food, water, entertainment, neighbors, roads, parks, restaurants, bars, churches, schools, police, bad guys, good guys, the whole enchilada. What incredible fun it has been. And talking it all over with everyone at the office was something to look forward to every day.
“And I’m not giving it all up, by any means. I’ll continue to write about stuff for Melissa and Paul when they ask, and take part in community life. I moved here to have a home and a life after being a service brat and moving around every few years. I’m rooted and not anticipating transplanting any time soon. Maybe work on a book or two. Time will tell.”