By Bill Snyder
Paul Grabowicz, an old-fashioned reporter’s reporter who launched a second career as a digital media pioneer and journalism educator, died Thursday, December 24, at his home in Pleasant Hill, Calif., after a 12-month struggle with cancer.
He was 66.
Grabowicz, invariably called Grabs by his newsroom colleagues, started his career at the Oakland Tribune when reporters still smoked at their desks, banged out stories on typewriters, and went to the bar across the street for a belt between editions and after deadline. He was a hard-hitting, meticulous reporter, comfortable writing a murder story on a tight deadline, manning the city desk, or unraveling a complex real estate scam.
“He was the best investigative reporter I knew,” said Tribune police reporter Harry Harris, who has worked with legions of reporters during his 50-year career. “Working with him could be frustrating at times because he would read and reread stories before we filed them, making sure that every fact was correct, and that every bit of spelling and punctuation was right.”
Like many Tribune reporters and editors of the Robert Maynard era, Grabowicz cared deeply for Oakland, but his caring came in the form of tough love. He investigated malfeasance in city government, corrupt real estate deals and the workings of the police department. He believed that good reporting could make a difference.
He was right, said Carolyn Newbergh, a former Tribune reporter who worked on many investigative stories with Grabowicz. “Maybe we saved a few people from living in houses built on earthquake faults and landslides,” she said.
Grabowicz was a grumpy, often profane man, who generally wore a rumpled suit to work and smoked heavily. He never suffered fools gladly, and frequently referred to city officials and newsroom management as meatheads – although he used a much stronger term. But like a character in a vintage movie about the newspaper business, he really did have a kind heart under his tough exterior.
“People loved him,” said Newbergh.
Grabowicz’s career took a sharp turn in the early 1990s when he saw the potential impact of digital technology on the news business. Before long he suggested that the Tribune start a website — a suggestion that was ignored — and before long his two decades at the paper were over.
Grabowicz joined the faculty of UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism in 1995 and was a founder of the school’s pioneering New Media Program. “Grabs made a flawless transition to teaching,” said Professor Tom Goldstein, the dean who hired him. “He instantly became invaluable.”
“He understood the corner that journalism had turned and he figured out how to teach it, and that became a signature of the school. Without him, the school would not have entered the 21st century,” Goldstein said in a story on the Berkeley J-school’s website.
Grumpy as he may have seemed, Grabowicz quickly became a student favorite. When he missed a conference due to his illness, his students attached his photo to sticks and carried them around at the event.
Their affection was on display on Facebook after the university announced his death. Post after post praised his dedication to their careers and to his kindness.
“Grabs was in many ways an old-school newspaper journalist, the kind of guy who loved to swear and piss people off. But he was also one of the kindest, most forward-thinking professors at the j-school, one who always reminded us that the past actually wasn’t so great!” wrote Alana Levinson.
Grabowicz is survived by his wife, Anne Miller Grabowicz, and a large community of friends.
The UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism will celebrate Grabowicz’ life on Saturday, January 23 at 1:00 p.m.
Please note the venue change for the service. It will now be held in the Chevron Auditorium at the International House (2299 Piedmont Avenue) at UC Berkeley. Public transportation is encouraged but if you wish to drive there is a public parking garage on Gayley Road, next to the football stadium.
The program will include a light reception. There will also be an opportunity for friends and family to speak.
Please send Jeremy Rue (email@example.com) any personal photos of Paul to be included in the tribute. Cards and condolences for his wife Anne can be dropped off at the reception table. Donations in Paul’s memory may be made directly to his New Media Fund.
RSVP required/encouraged to help with planning purposes. Please respond by Wednesday, January 13. The venue may change based on the number of attendees.
Contact: Julie Hirano (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Joanne Straley (email@example.com) or telephone (510) 643-5058.