Almanac: Local news hits the streets
by Steven Felschundneff | firstname.lastname@example.org
Imagine in the era before social media, an enterprising youth sitting in a converted garage pounding out news of the neighborhood on a manual typewriter. A stack of notes sits on the desk while a fan oscillates in the corner, occasionally blowing some errant sheet of paper onto the floor. The adolescent pauses from typing, grabbing a notepad and a pen to jot down a flashing idea.
Such a tale could easily be in the biographical notes of Walter Cronkite, Gwen Ifill, Ed Bradley or any number of journalists who grew up before the internet changed the way we all communicate and receive our news. However, this newshound lives here in Claremont, today, and she has just produced the 19th edition of “News of the Street.” (By the time this story reaches the COURIER’s newsstands she will be well past 20 editions.)
Introducing Violet Zuker-Brunzell, an 11-year-old budding journalist and sixth grade Sycamore Elementary student who for the last 10 months has been reporting the news in her Village area neighborhood. The current edition includes a COVID-19 update, a summer gardening feature, a reading recommendation and a invitation for readers to submit questions for Councilmember Corey Calaycay.
But Violet has no ambition to be a professional journalist, in fact she plans to be an actress or a singer. She will continue to write, particularly about homelessness and other issues of importance.
“Now I know that I really love writing, but I know I am not going to do this for a living when I grow up. But I know it’s always going to be a part of my life,” Violet said. “I will probably write a couple of books and I know I am going to help the homeless people a lot. I don’t know why, but it makes me feel good when I am helping people.”
The weekly “News of the Street” started last September after Violet and her mother, Julia Zuker-Brunzell, randomly discovered a similar publication, called “News of the Week,” which Violet’s older sister Olivia had produced when the family lived on Guadalajara Place years ago.
“We found Olivia’s old newsletters in a box when going through things during COVID and she said ‘What? Olivia did a newspaper? I want to do that,’” Ms. Zuker-Brunzell said.
The first few editions were handwritten, but Violet recently bought a vintage typewriter, which has been a boon for production, enabling her to write more without getting a sore hand.
She assembles a master copy on 8.5×11 inch paper using paste-up techniques—similar to the way newspapers were produced decades ago—and the final edition is then photocopied. Violet does all of the work herself, including color illustrations, occasionally asking her parents for copyediting help.
“People have been really nice. They gave me enough donations to buy this typewriter, and they also buy ad space at 50 cents a week,” Violet said.
“News of the Street” is quite thorough and not relegated to issues concerning people her own age. Past editions have included interviews with Claremont Police Chief Shelly Vander Veen, and Mayor Jennifer Stark as well as a story about a home invasion burglary.
It also includes the joke of the week: “Why did the hipster burn his mouth? He drank the coffee before it was cool.” Violet told the COURIER she sources the jokes online but her grandfather helps, too.
“My grandpa Zuker is really good at dad jokes,” Violet said. “He gave me two jokes that I can put in and I am going to call it ‘Grandpa Fred’s jokes.’”
One reader approached the Zuker-Brunzells about taking “News of the Street” digital by including it with a mass neighborhood email list. But Violet opted out because part of the fun is producing the paper and then delivering it by hand.
“We thought it would be good for more circulation and exposure,” Ms. Zuker-Bruznell said. The current circulation stands at about 18 and that is fine with Violet “I want to keep it small,” she said.
Usually by midweek Violet is ready to hand deliver her paper. Walking with determination and purpose, she places the final product on doorsteps or under mats, wherever the customer has requested. She often receives delivery help from neighbor Luke Plotkin, 8, to whom she gives 10 percent of any donations he collects.
Luke and Violet’s entrepreneurial partnership isn’t limited to publishing. In the past they have sold fruit from backyard trees, toys and cool rocks they found to raise money for Priceless Pets and Foothill Family Shelter.
Combing the neighborhood for story ideas can be difficult—however, Violet won’t write about just anything, the stories have to pique her interest to make the cut.
“Stories [should be] something exciting probably. I don’t want it to be dull like ‘this morning I woke up to get coffee and I found a bug in it.’ That is not something I would want to write or read. But the burglary mystery, that was even more exciting.”
Publishing “News of the Street,” gave the whole family an excuse to get out of the house and see neighbors during COVID, even if it was at a distance or through a window.
“During COVID when nobody was answering their doors we would walk up and put [the paper] on their doorstep and they would be at the window waving,” Violet said. “I really enjoy typing it and being able to see my neighbors is a big part. And we get to see them every week and that is really fun getting to know the neighbors.”
She took a little break from publishing when Claremont schools returned to in-person; Instruction and school became hectic with the differing schedules and Zoom classes.
“She was feeling overwhelmed and I said “let’s just take a break,’” Ms. Zuker-Brunzell said. “But now it’s summer and there is nothing to do for school.”
Ms. Zuker-Brunzell said producing the newsletter made Violet a much better writer and it has been gratifying to watch her grow.
“I think I have gotten better, especially with my grammar. I catch more of the mistakes I make with grammar and fix those,” Violet said.
Once COVID times are over she is looking forward to spending time with all her friends again and not having to limit visits to small groups. But Violet remains positive if not philosophical about the last year.
“Life is not always fair,” she said. “I am just excited to hang out with my friends in one big group again, and to be able to see them. I think that will be really fun.”