Business marriage lovingly nurtures a growing 'Child'


May 24, 1992|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,Staff Writer

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."

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