The Tenderloin Times and Future of Community Media

by on October 19, 2017

From 1977-1994, The Tenderloin Times was often the city’s leading news source on the Tenderloin, homelessness, and the Southeast Asian refugee community that found a home in the Tenderloin after 1975. The Times gave voice to those excluded from traditional media, and was the nation’s first four-language newspaper.

I drew extensively on Times reporting for my book on the Tenderloin and content for the Tenderloin Museum. The Times is a remarkable, only in San Francisco story that  arrivals to the city after 1994 probably do not know—which is why anyone interested in any of the above issues as well as the future of community journalism will want to visit a special exhibition on the Times opening November 2 at the Tenderloin Museum.

Kicking off the special exhibit, Voice of the Central City: The Tenderloin Times, 1977-94, will be a November 2 evening event, From Broadsheet to Broadband: Community Media in the Digital Age. The panel discussion on ho technology impacts community journalism  includes Sara Colm and Rob Waters, Former Editors, The Tenderloin Times; Andrew Lam, The Tenderloin Times & New American Media; Juan Gonzales, Founder, El Tecolote newspaper & chair of CCSF Journalism Department; Carrie Sisto, Tenderloin Editor, Hoodline.

For tickets to the opening donor reception for the event, go to

For tickets for the panel at 7 only:

A Short History of the Times

When I came to the Tenderloin in the fall of 1979, Ron Silliman was editor of the Tenderloin Times. The Tenderloin Times began in August 1977 when three homeless men mimeographed 150 copies of the first edition from the basement of Hospitality House. Hospitality House was the longtime Times publisher.

Silliman is an acclaimed American poet. His over thirty books have been translated into twelve languages. He brought a spirit of creativity, a counter-culture sensibility, and a very progressive political orientation to the Tenderloin Times.

Silliman also played a pivotal role in my own life because when I was a law student interested in opening a legal clinic in the Tenderloin I was told to contact Silliman. He suggested I call Leroy Looper, whose support for our plans led us to open the Tenderloin Housing Clinic in February 1980.

Silliman soon gave way to Rob Waters. Under Waters, the Times became a must read for the politically engaged throughout San Francisco. The 1980’s saw the Tenderloin become the focus of national and Bay Area coverage of heatless SRO hotels, homeless, Southeast Asian immigrants, and the land use battles that dominated the Tenderloin until the neighborhood won its rezoning in 1985.

Sara Colm was the organizer who spearheaded the Tenderloin’s rezoning. She later became the Times editor and is the chief curator for the special exhibit, Voice of the Central City: The Tenderloin Times, 1977-94. The exhibit explores the Tenderloin’s past through two decades of reporting, and showcases rare archival images, articles, and political cartoons documenting the Tenderloin during its pivotal years of 1977-1994.

The Times became an award-winning newspaper with a circulation of 15,000 that was published in four languages – English, Vietnamese, Lao, and Cambodian. As the nation’s first four-language newspaper, it was recognized in 1991 by the Smithsonian Institution for its groundbreaking use of desktop publishing technology (thanks to a donation from Apple computers) to produce the polyglot paper.

While the special exhibit continues through March, the November 2 panel offers a rare chance to hear from Times alumni Colm, Waters, and Lam about the nature of community journalism in the pre-Internet era. Colm lives in Virginia and does not get out to San Francisco that often so the panel offers a special opportunity to meet someone who played a critical role in Tenderloin history.

The New Community Media

The Times published monthly. Can such a production schedule survive when news is constantly breaking and available online?  This is one of the topics the panel will be addressing.

Juan Gonzales, the founder of the Mission-based El Tecolote newspaper, understands this issue as well as anyone as his paper survived the digital era. Carrie Sisto, the Tenderloin Editor of Hoodline, knows the time pressures that the online media era poses for community news sites.

Do today’s community journalists yearn for the good old days when newspapers did not have to rush stories to ward off online competition? Or would Times’ staff have preferred being able to report news as it happened rather than when the new edition came out?

There’s a lot to ponder. Remembering the Times’ legacy on November 2 will be a joy even for those who never read the paper—it is an event and exhibit not to be missed.

Randy Shaw is Editor of Beyond Chron, He is the author of The Tenderloin: Sex, Crime and Resistance in the Heart of San Francisco.


Randy Shaw

Randy Shaw is the Editor of Beyond Chron and the Director of San Francisco’s Tenderloin Housing Clinic, which publishes Beyond Chron. Shaw's latest book is Generation Priced Out: Who Gets to Live in the New Urban America. He is the author of four prior books on activism, including The Activist's Handbook: Winning Social Change in the 21st Century, and Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century. He is also the author of The Tenderloin: Sex, Crime and Resistance in the Heart of San Francisco

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