The hardest thing to hit me this week, as my gray matter continues to slosh between godlike faith in humanity and a hideous, flaming pit of despair, is when I found out the Chico News & Review was suspending publication after more than four decades.
This news came a week after The Portland Mercury and The Stranger in Seattle halted print publication and laid off most of its employees. This is a result of a massive drop in ad revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic that is steadily spreading and simultaneously crippling small businesses across the country. This is not good at all. First off, many of my friends and colleagues have quickly become jobless, but this also leaves massive holes in local coverage when we need it most. My biggest fear is that these publications won’t recover.
I mention these particular papers because I’ve been writing for the Mercury for a decade, and I’ve been an editor and writer for the CN&R since 2004. I know the grind of putting together a weekly paper. I also know journalists’ dedication to find the truth, and to get people’s stories out there (this may come as a shock, but we aren’t in it for the money). All of this probably sounds insane in this current reality where a reality TV president labels every news organization that doesn’t stroke his fragile ego “fake news,” but I still know many in the trenches who are doing the work, and doing it well.
Losing the Chico News & Review (along with its sister papers the Sacramento and Reno News & Review) stings especially bad. I’d been reading it probably since junior high school–sucked into the pithy columns, band profiles, and enthralled by the ads for the killer shows happening at cool, mysterious venues. I interned there while studying journalism at Chico State University. I was offered a job in February of 2004 when associate editor (and my mentor and forever friend) Devanie Angel went on maternity leave. Just a quick aside: The fact that Tom Gascoyne, Robert Speer and Devanie Angel trusted me to fill her shoes is something I will never fathom nor forget…and I’m weeping as I write this.
I also met one of my best friends, longtime arts editor Jason Cassidy, there. We played in bands. And Jason showed me that if you want make things happen, you just had to fucking do it. I took over as the arts editor in 2005 (the year The Days of Lore was born as a weekly column), and ran the section until September 2008, when I moved to Portland. Cassidy resumed his rightful spot as the voice of Chico’s art scene, and I’ve continued to write for him ever since. I played in a band with then news editor and agitator Josh Indar (along with Scott Derr from Turn! Turn! Turn!). To this day–15 years later–I still look up to Scott and Josh.
In early 2007 I lured another great friend, Melissa Daugherty, to leave her post as a righteous reporter at the daily paper and come work for the CN&R. We went to J-school together and before she came to the News & Review we both covered the happenings at the university, including a story that made national headlines about Matthew Carrington, who died from a freak hazing incident at a local fraternity in February 2005. Melissa became editor of the CN&R in 2013, the first woman to hold that position at the paper. During her time, she continued the CN&R‘s commitment to community journalism–ruffling the right feathers, while dealing with the usual sexism, stress and baggage that comes with the job. The paper continued to scoop up awards, most notably for its coverage of the Camp Fire, which all but wiped out the town of Paradise in 2018. She’s a fucking champion, and I love her (look for an interview with Melissa in the coming weeks).
I need to point out that for the CN&R‘s final issue, Daugherty wrote a moving and educational piece about her son Henry, who has Down Syndrome. It’s worth a read (keep tissues on hand). And it’s a prime example of what the town of Chico is going to be missing. Since its formation on the Chico State University campus in August 1977, the Chico News & Review has been the watchdog, not to mention opening eyes and ears to the art-makers of the town.
All of this may sound self-serving, but A), this is my fucking website, and B) the CN&R–and everyone I’ve worked with there–have helped shape me as a person and as a consumer of art. The Mercury, too. People like Robert Ham, Ned Lannamann and Aris Wales are not only friends, but writers and thinkers I respect immensely. I am a product of these institutions and these people.
The ripple-effects of this pandemic will likely be worse than we think, and will be felt for some time. The future of these publications is uncertain. That’s scary to me. And it’s startling that these local papers are in such dire straits in the year 2020 that they need to ask for donations. But you know what? They’re worth it. Even if you don’t always agree with what they say.