North Bay Business Journal Publisher Brad Bollinger to retire in 2021
One of Brad Bollinger’s biggest pleasures is to go out to lunch or meet with businesspeople and hear what’s going on in their company and their industry. He comes away with a new understanding of the issues that these individuals face, and the implications for the rest of the economic ecosystem.
It is the kind of engagement Bollinger will miss most when he retires as North Bay Business Journal publisher at the end of December.
Coming from The Press Democrat in 2005, his approach to taking over as Business Journal editor was “don’t fix what isn’t broken.” He credits Business Journal founders Ken Clark and Randy Sloan with “building a great publication. My role at the time was to elevate the editorial product.”
With the two newspapers under ownership of The New York Times Company at the time, Bollinger transitioned from editor to associate publisher in 2007, and then to publisher five years later.
“Under Brad’s leadership, the North Bay Business Journal has become the go-to source for thousands of North Bay executives for relevant and timely business news and information,” says Steve Falk, CEO of Sonoma Media Investments, a group of local businesspeople who acquired The Press Democrat, Business Journal and other publications from the Times in 2012. “Brad has also grown NBBJ events every year — currently they number more than two dozen — as a place for business leaders to convene for important discussions and to recognize and celebrate business success.”
Bollinger responds that Falk has been a great supporter.
“There aren’t many media companies in the United States that have a business journal as part of their portfolio. As a locally owned company, we have managed to completely outperform the industry in many, many measures, and not just in profitability,” Bollinger says. “Our newsroom has been kept intact, and we have been allowed to do what we are supposed to do, which is keep the community informed. When there is a problem, an issue, a fire, an earthquake, whatever it is, the radio stations and the newspapers are the source and the glue that holds the community together.”
Local, local, local might be Bollinger’s mantra.
“I can get a story about Hurricane Sally somewhere, but I can’t get my local news anywhere else except from North Bay journalists,” he says. “Many communities have lost their hometown newspapers and have become news deserts, as they are called. We’ve been fortunate here.”
Asked if there had been a “golden age” for newspapers in Sonoma County, Bollinger replies, “Right now!” He cites the Pulitzer Prize that The Press Democrat newsroom won in 2018 for coverage of the 2017 North Bay wildfires.
Bollinger believes the area has been lucky all along with the ownership of its publications, noting especially the period after The New York Times purchased The Press Democrat in 1985.
“The Times invested a lot of money that we are benefitting from to this day,” he says, “including their journalism fund, which supported the ‘Global Shift’ series I worked on.” Bollinger was an editor and creator of the four-day investigation on the local impacts of economic globalization, which ran in September 2004.
The NYT journalism fund was then and is now a philanthropic arm of the organization that searches for nonprofit funding to expand the reach of their journalism. “Global Shift” won the prestigious Polk Award, as well as The New York Times companywide Punch Award. “That probably would never have happened without the Times as an owner,” Bollinger says.
He considers the late Mike Parman (who was Press Democrat editor at the time of the Times Company purchase) one of his mentors and the person who had the biggest influence on his career. “Basically, Mike gave me opportunities that may have passed me by. And when the Business Journal editorship came up, he helped me transition over. Mike had an enormous personal and professional impact.”
Personal newspaper legacy
Bollinger was born in Santa Rosa on Sept. 5, 1952, and lived there as a child until his family moved to Baker, Oregon, where his father was editor and publisher of a 5,000-circulation daily newspaper.
The family returned to Santa Rosa when Bollinger was a teen. After high school, he considered the medical field (“I don’t know why, I wasn’t that good in science classes.”) but while attending Santa Rosa Junior College, he went to work at the Oak Leaf. “I was about 18 when I took news writing as an elective and my interest continued on from there.”
His first job after graduating from San Jose State in 1974 was at a semiweekly in Crescent City, the Del Norte Triplicate. He then took a position at the Chico Enterprise Record, a daily newspaper.