BY MOTHERLY DESIGN Business marriage lovingly nurtures a growing 'Child'

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Baltimore's Child has two mothers.

Joanne Giza, the birth mother, conceived the publication more than nine years ago and brought it to life.

Sharon Sweeney Keech, the surrogate, arrived when the paper was still a fledgling, teetering and tottering with an all-volunteer staff.

Today they are partners in the monthly newspaper for parents that is successful beyond their imaginations.

Baltimore's Child publishes 65,000 copies a month. Its April issue was the largest ever -- 52 pages. And nobody works for free anymore.

Besides these signs of success, Baltimore's Child has earned the trust -- sometimes more than its founder thinks it deserves -- of its readers. "Sometimes it's a little scary to us how much they trust the paper -- and us," says Mrs. Giza, the paper's editor-publisher.

"People have a real feel for this paper. They know it is written by mothers, primarily for mothers."

Joanne Giza, 42, and Sharon Sweeney Keech, 40, both lived in Charles Village, both were teachers, and both had young children when Baltimore's Child came to be. They were staying home with their children; they were interested in working some, too.

Despite these similarities, the women are quite different, they say, but tuned into each other's strengths. Theirs is a complementary relationship.

When Joanne panics, Sharon invokes reason. When Sharon writes, Joanne edits. While Joanne answers the business phone, Sharon handles the mail.

"Joanne is very much a perfectionist. I'm much more laid-back, a do-it-tomorrow type. If Joanne wasn't here, we'd be putting out our January issue about now," says Mrs. Keech, the associate editor-publisher.

Yet it is Sharon who has more vision, her partner says. "Sharon had the foresight to see what this paper could become -- a profit-making business," she says.

And, so far, through more than eight years of writing, editing, publishing and even delivering Baltimore's Child, when one partner's interest ebbs, the other's flows. "We have different temperaments; it's a nice balance," says Mrs. Giza.

"I don't know what would happen if we both got sick of it at the same time," adds Mrs. Keech.

Though they are partners, Joanne Giza and Sharon Keech aren't necessarily friends. "We're colleagues," says Mrs. Keech. "We don't socialize, we never have."

They talk to each other every day, but don't see each other for weeks at a time -- one of the reasons for their successful partnership, they agree. Mrs. Giza works out of the basement of her Mount Washington home; Mrs. Keech from a bedroom of her home in Catonsville. A business relationship

"Our husbands have barely even met," adds Mrs. Giza. "We aren't invited to the same dinner parties. We're not social acquaintances. This is a business deal. That is why it works. We have a business relationship."

Joanne Giza was a part-time English professor at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, a free-lance writer and the mother of three children aged 1 to 8 when she talked her way into !B newspaper publishing.

"My son was a year. I was at my pediatrician's office one day running my mouth," Mrs. Giza recalls. "I said, 'You know it would be great if there was some kind of publication for parents.' Even though I'd already had children, I still found it was very difficult to get information about activities, . . . about where to go for gym classes, about where to go for ballet classes, even preschools, it was all very much word of mouth."

The pediatrician, Dr. William Waldman, agreed, offering Mrs. Giza money to start such a publication. The seed money was $500; she considered it a fortune.

Mrs. Giza commandeered a couple of her Charles Village neighbors, one of whom had had weekly newspaper experience, and the paper was born. Ten thousand copies. Twelve pages. Enough advertising to pay the printing costs.

"I probably wrote everything," she says. But that was OK because she knew a lot more about writing than publishing -- or distributing -- papers then. With degrees in English from UMBC and the University of Maryland at College Park, Mrs. Giza had taught writing for some time, going back to the classroom after each of her three children was born.

She had also published a number of free-lance stories and co-authored a book, "Great Baltimore Houses: An Architectural and Social History," in 1982.

"I was teaching writing and it was very time-consuming, and I did not want to do it forever. And free-lancing is a struggle," she says, adding that she wanted to stay home with her children. Publishing a then-bimonthly parents' paper looked good.

That was before Mrs. Giza learned what struggling and time consumption were. "If I ever knew how much I invested -- time and money -- I would probably die," she says.

"We didn't know what we were doing; we didn't have the faintest idea what we were doing."

Surely she jests. But no. Of that first 10,000 copies, 6,000 went in the trash because she had nowhere to distribute them. "We thought, well, we'll just give these out. And then you find you didn't have any places to put 10,000 papers -- that's a lot of papers," says Mrs. Giza, laughing now.

The paper also had what she calls a totally unworkable name in those days: PACT, for Parents and Children Together. By its third issue, the paper was re-christened Baltimore's Child after a similar publication in Seattle.

Despite these stumbles, "People liked it from the beginning," Mrs. Giza recalls.

"As pathetic as it was, . . . we thought it was gorgeous."

Now there's a mother talking.

"I think it was a great idea then, and I think it is a great idea now," says Dr. Waldman, the benefactor. "I know it gets read and used. I think people refer to it a lot. I hear this from my patients."

The backbone of Baltimore's Child is local information for parents of children from birth to 12 years and local advertising geared to the same readers. It is the fourth oldest of about 65 similar publications in this country and the 11th largest in circulation, says Kathy Mittler, executive director of Parenting Publications of America.

Baltimore's Child is free; it is distributed at libraries, schools, day-care centers, business offices -- wherever parents might pick it up in the city and Baltimore, Carroll, Harford and Howard counties. The paper employs eight people, some of them part-time, plus distributors and free-lance writers.

"We wanted a publication that would be of service to parents, that would carry a calendar of information, that would have feature articles and that would be very locally focused," says Mrs. Giza. Volunteer to publisher

Sharon Keech was a former special education teacher with a propensity for writing and the mother of two children born only 21 months apart when she volunteered her way into newspaper publishing.

Mrs. Keech agreed to distribute papers in Howard County, driving around with two children -- her daughter only a few months old -- in car seats with papers piled around them. "I must have been really desperate for something to do."

From there, Mrs. Keech's rise was rapid. She was distributing papers in May, was calendar editor by January and associate editor and publisher the following June.

"Sharon just sort of stepped in. The only thing I could offer was, 'Want to be a partner?' " Mrs. Giza recalls.

"The perks weren't very good," agrees Mrs. Keech. "But my cards were impressive."

The partners divided the duties, although they have always remained fluid. "When one of us gets sick of doing something, the other one does it," she says.

Although they did most of the writing, Mrs. Giza and Mrs. Keech have always attracted writers -- usually mothers like themselves -- who would work for a byline and the experience, they say.

One job neither took to, they remember, was selling ads.

"My method of selling ads was to call somebody and say, 'You don't want to buy an ad from me, do you?' " says Mrs. Keech.

"I can remember sitting in Sharon's living room while her kitchen door was closed, and I'd have the kids in the living room and she'd be in the kitchen making phone calls, trying to drum up some business," adds her partner.

"We've never been accused of having good business sense. The paper's grown in spite of us."

For the first couple of years, the paper did not grow. "Our kids were little. Sharon and I were literally doing everything . . . except for production," explains Mrs. Giza.

Then, at about 3 years of age, Baltimore's Child enjoyed a growth spurt. The women hired a part-time ad saleswoman -- another mother who wanted to work from her home -- and they began drawing salaries and paying contributors.

"Our husbands' patience, while it had not run out, was wearing thin," says Mrs. Giza, whose husband, Jim, is a mounted policeman in Baltimore.

"Both of us have husbands who have been saints," says Mrs. Keech. Her husband, Tom, is an attorney for the state of Maryland and a writer by avocation, though not for his wife's publication. "I think both of them really believe in the paper, and they have been very supportive."

For the Gizas, "at times, it's been very trying," she says. "Sometimes in the middle of dinner when the business phone rings, I'll just get up. If I feel I need to do it, I do it.

"I don't know how I would have reacted if my husband had his business in this house," she concedes.

Although the women worked for years at probably less than minimum wage -- given their hours -- they say their salaries are respectable. "People ask, 'Do you make enough to support your family?' Let's put it this way," says Mrs. Giza. "There are people who support families on what we make. That's unfortunate." Other compensations

The women agree now, though, that they are compensated in other ways.

Mrs. Giza says she thinks she's a good role model for her children, particularly for her daughters, Emily, 17, and Charlotte, 15. "They are pretty proud that I can do this on my own."

She's happy that the paper has given her an outlet for her writing and that of other women.

For Mrs. Keech, there's a sense of accomplishment, too. "I did want to write when I was as young as seventh or eighth grade," she says. But be a publisher? "I still feel funny saying it."

And although Joanne Giza is pleased with the critical and monetary success of Baltimore's Child, she is perhaps even more thrilled by its acceptance. "We've had lawyers send messengers [to my house] to get the camp issue," she says.

And the paper's "birthday party issue," published each May, is sought-after all year.

"What astonishes me still is that people talk about the paper. And these people don't know me!"

THE KEECH FILE

Current position: Associate editor-publisher, Baltimore's Child.

Born: Dec. 15, 1951.

Personal: Married for 18 years to Thomas Keech, an attorney; two children, Daniel, 10, and Julia, 9.

Education: Bachelor's in education, University of Maryland at College Park; master's in communication disorders at Johns Hopkins University.

On teaching again: "I would be a very different teacher now that I'm a parent. I think in some ways I would be stricter, but more understanding of what goes on in their lives. I think I'd be a little more nurturing." Current position: Editor-publisher of Baltimore's Child.

Born: Sept. 22, 1949.

Personal: Married for 23 years to Jim Giza, Baltimore mounted policeman; three children: Emily, 17, Charlotte, 15, Jimmy, 10.

Education: f,tem Bachelor's in English from University of Maryland Baltimore County; master's in English from University JTC of Maryland at College Park.

On doing it all at Baltimore's Child: "When 65,000 papers are delivered, 40,000 go into the garage in my back alley. When I see that truck coming down the alley with those papers, . . . I just want to run. I think I'm never going to get rid of them. But in three days they're gone."

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