In 1997, four 20-somethings came together in a unfinished attic to start something big. I was 22 years old and a journalism student. Little did I know that a valuable education was to come in the form of baptism by fire when I joined with three other individuals to launch a local newspaper, the Pascack Press, named after the Pascack Valley region where we lived in North Jersey.

OLD SCHOOL: A 7-year-old Juliana Demarest hard at “work” at her Uncle Tony’s weekly newspaper, The Observer, in Kearny, New Jersey. Courtesy photos

I always had a love of journalism, having grown up going to “work” at my Uncle Tony’s weekly New Jersey newspaper, The Observer. I must’ve been about 7 years old at the time, but I was fascinated by what went on in the office. I can still see the books of clipart and smell the scent of the rubber cement glue used to cut and paste together the pages of the paper to prep them to send to the printer.

A decade-plus later, I was presented with the opportunity to put my still-in-progress journalism education to use. As Gen X-ers, we were considered lazy, unmotivated: the definition of meh. But the four of us founders debunked that reputation. We wanted to work hard, and to have a future in which we could make a decent living.


As a news junkie, I had always looked forward to reading the local weekly paper and keeping up on local current events. However, that conglomerate-owned Community Life, as the area’s paper was called, was no longer helpful to the community. Although pushing nearly 100 pages, it was nothing but advertisements with a few press releases and lackluster stories sprinkled in.

The Pascack Press came about with plenty of hard work. At the time, two friends, Keith and John, were working for a local shop that printed America Oggi, an Italian-American newspaper that was circulated to the New York/New Jersey area’s Italian population. Their mentor suggested they start a new weekly that would take the Community Life head-on. John and Keith brought to the table their graphic design talents for ad design and layout; Another friend, George, was the advertising salesman. As the fourth partner, I brought the only thing resembling a journalism background. Since high school, I had been told I had a gift for writing, but in fact my real-world journalistic experience was minimal.

PAPERS IN THE ATTIC: John DeFina, pictured in 1997, still holds the title of publisher 25 years after the Pascack Press got its humble start in an unfinished attic in Westwood, New Jersey.

We didn’t let that hold us back, and got to work collecting information and selling advertising to back the costs of printing. I can still see myself sitting on my bed in my mom’s house, making phone calls introducing this new local newspaper and soliciting press releases. The weeks passed quickly and before we knew it, we were ready to send our first issue to print. It came out on April 8, 1997.

We hesitated to put our names out there, and the 12-page inaugural Pascack Press was a nameless ghost paper, mailed to every house in two towns. We had a goal of publishing every two weeks. The first few editions were a little bumpy. I think it was maybe the third issue that was anonymously mailed back to us — marked up in red ink pointing out some mistakes and our failure to follow Associated Press style. That was crushing, and we almost gave up.

And it wasn’t much better when I tried to get my journalism advisor to allow me to use my hands-on experience as an internship. Instead of trying to offer advice and encouragement, he presented me with heavy criticism. Deflated, I was once again ready to throw in the towel.

But I didn’t. And we didn’t.

Spending evenings attending municipal council meetings and putting together a newspaper, I also had a packed class load and was working full time in retail. We eventually decided to switch from mailing to driveway delivery, which meant I spent my Saturday evenings bagging thousands of newspapers and Sunday nights tossing them out the passenger side of our clunker Astro van.

After a few more more editions, we found our groove, and Pascack Press started to garner the attention of local officials, residents, and advertisers. We expanded to cover nine towns weekly, and suddenly became the paper that folks were turning to to find local news, events, and human-interest stories. Community Life was feeling the heat. So much so that the corporate higher-ups started a blatant, nasty ad campaign targeting Pascack Press, and meeting with advertisers they were losing to us to see what they were doing wrong.

Several months in, Community Life’s people were dismissing our paper as “the kids’ summer project.” Twenty-five years later, however, that publication is a shell of its former self, while the Pascack Press is not only going strong — it’s got two sister publications.

The key to survival for Pascack Press, much like for Moonshine Ink, is the quality of journalism and the fact that for more than two decades, it has remained an independently owned publication. The remaining founders — Keith, John, and George — were born and raised in the area and still live in the towns they cover. They are not beholden to a giant parent media company and have a vested interests in the areas they cover because they reside there too.

I left Pascack Press when I got engaged to my husband, PJ, so I could go to work at his family’s farm and be on the same seasonal work schedule. We eventually left the farm to head west and landed in Truckee in 2010. Although I had kept writing here and there over the years, I had no idea how much I missed journalism until I became Moonshine’s copy editor in the summer of 2018.

Memory Keeper: Moonshiner Juliana Demarest calls the chest filled with seven years’ worth of the weekly newspaper she helped cofound in 1997 her Pandora’s Box of the past. A small sampling of them is pictured here. Every so often, she’ll pull out an old issue and feel as though she’s traveling back in time.

One thing that appealed most to me was that on the East Coast while I was five years into my career with Pascack Press, here on the West Coast, another Gen-X 20-something named Mayumi Elegado had been following a similar dream with Moonshine Ink. Writing is very personal, and a part of you is in everything you craft. When you create something as grand as a newspaper that goes on to become a respected, trusted resource for thousands of people, the personal aspect is even more monumental.

While Mayumi’s road to two decades in print was different from my own, our paths converged with a mutual respect for one another that can only be shared by someone with a comparable experience. I know what Moonshine means to her, how much of herself she puts into each and every issue — because I have been there too. Even though I’ve been gone from Pascack Press for much longer than I was its founding editor, the paper remains a part of me, of my story, and I can look with great pride at the success they have found 25 years in, much like the mark Moonshine has made on the community in its two-decade journey. Now, although I am taking a break from my role as culture editor, I can proudly look at Moonshine and know that, once again, I had the honor to be part of something truly special.

You, too, can contribute by becoming a member of Moonshine Ink. Today’s news is tomorrow’s history, and your membership will help keep Moonshine Ink thriving as the trusted newspaper of record in Truckee and North Tahoe, preserving the present well into the future. Become a Moonshine Member today at


  • Juliana Demarest

    Juliana Demarest is a Jersey girl with ink in her blood. She fell in love with print journalism at a young age in the '80s when her Uncle Tony would take her to "work" at his weekly paper. In 1997, she co-founded a weekly newspaper in North Jersey. One day, she went to photograph a local farmer for a news story. She ended up marrying him and leaving journalism to become a farmer's wife. In 2010, they packed up their two children and headed to Truckee in pursuit of the outdoor life. She didn't realize just how much she missed journalism until she joined Moonshine in 2018 after taking time off to be mom. Connect with Juliana

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