40 years of the CN&R: after the Great Recession
A new generation, a new era
We’re still here, so now what? Turns out community journalism is important enough that people still pick up a physical newspaper. The CN&R’s numbers today are comparable to those in its 1980s heyday. In fact, aside from a couple of dips, somehow circulation has managed to hover around the 40,000 mark for the last 30-plus years. But even with the Great Recession behind us, the country and our community still have plenty to worry about. Societal inequalities, ongoing environmental crises and the circus of partisan politics are global and local issues that continue to give this paper tons write about. Meanwhile, the evolving digital landscape undoubtedly will force us to continue to adapt to survive.
Print is not dead. It has just reformatted itself. Storytelling will never become irrelevant.
The fact that we have a new generation of managers and staff gives me hope for the future of the paper. We’ve always had to adapt to changing times, technology and issues; change is in our DNA, and our current team is flexible and creative.
I know I’m technically the new guard, but I feel a connection to the old guard. I think that’s because I worked so closely with Robert Speer (whom I call Jefe), especially in my roles as news editor and managing editor. I tried to absorb as much as possible about local political history before Bob retired in 2013, so that we could connect the dots in our current coverage. It also helps that he, among others, still writes for the CN&R. Several long-timers are still connected: Peter Hogue (aka Juan-Carlos Selznick), Miles Jordan and Zu Vincent, to name a few.
It’s a pretty cool job when you think about it. We live in a city full of passionate people, activists, artists and musicians, and we get paid to experience and write about them all. I know next to nothing about how the money part works, and it seems impossible that we can keep a newspaper afloat in 2017. But I never take it for granted that we do.
What we want to do is maintain what we’re currently doing and then supplement more editorial coverage by raising money in the community to support important community-journalism subjects. Such as poverty coverage, criminal justice, environmental coverage, particularly coverage where it’s really important for the community. … Be able to add pages so that we’re taking nothing away, but giving more to the reader and then having much better impact in the community because of the journalism that we do.
The development of Sweetdeals and Client Publications was also a huge part of keeping us on our growth path. We were able to generate new revenue that we never had in the past because of these two new programs.
We are definitely a leaner staff these days, though. When I look at the mastheads of the paper in the early years, and even into the 1990s, I almost start to drool. There were so many more contributors, in-house reporters and even a staff photographer. We do a lot with very little these days, and we do it because we’re passionate about the work. I’m surrounded by a hard-working, dedicated staff in the editorial department. And it helps that the owners of the company, Deborah and Jeff, truly believe in the mission and they trust me and the other managers and staff to run the newspaper autonomously. It’s such a departure from the corporate environment that some of us—those who’ve worked for giant media companies—appreciate on another level.
The CN&R is a free voice in a national media landscape marked by corporate obedience and group think. The CN&R’s influence in Chico is hard to overstate. It has long been a messy landing pad for Chico’s rebel spirit. Thank goodness. It has challenged everybody who reads it at some point. At one point we had both a faith section and escort ads next to the weed ads.
Latimer is a local attorney, artistic director of Slow Theatre and co-founder of Blue Room Theatre
[The CN&R is] an essential, critical reflection of our community. The fabric of the community is being torn apart every day by cynicism, and as people retreat into their nuclear families they are in desperate need of a reminder that we are a community that is a work in progress.
Chico has grown fast in the past decade, but it would be twice as big and have five times the problems we have now, if it wasn’t for the good work of this publication.
We also have a thriving, vibrant arts scene here. The truth is: In towns without a paper like the News & Review, the arts are almost invisible.
My not-so-secret mission when I first became arts editor was to smash the hippies’ monopoly on culture in Chico. I can’t say that I’ve succeeded, but I’ve put up a good fight on behalf of the punks and art nerds. Truth is, I’ve come to realize that the hippies are what made Chico the town it is today. They started everything. They fought the political battles that transformed the character of the town and they created a lot of the stuff that makes Chico rad, things like KZFR community radio and this here “commie rag”. You still won’t catch me twirling barefoot in the dirt, but I’ll raise a Pale Ale in respect.
I agree with Thomas Jefferson who said, “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”
The CN&R frames conversations, and that precipitates change. Sure, sometimes government officials read an editorial or column and follow our prescription, and some readers clip out our endorsement list as their voting guide, but more often it’s an investigative piece or series of letters that gets action going. The CN&R informs people about what’s going on throughout the community. Our readers cut through socioeconomic lines. No one has to pay to see what we write.
When it comes to politics, especially, this paper is the go-to. No matter how people feel about the CN&R—whether they agree with our op-ed pages or think we’re a bunch of pinkos—everyone reads the paper’s political coverage. It’s honest and it doesn’t pull punches. I don’t pull punches. When a public figure is heartless or clueless or there’s a major gaffe—say, cursing from the dais—you will read about it in these pages. Very likely it will end up in my column. And every politician—no matter his or her ideological viewpoint—is accountable.
I have very much appreciated the support of the CN&R on my stance on environmental enforcement issues, which has not had the support of more conservative media.
As to the question of whether the CN&R ever led me to change or reconsider my thoughts on any particular issue—my lawyer-like answer is that I have to try cases on the evidence in a court of law, not in the court of public opinion. But I would probably go for single-payer health insurance now.
Each week, usually on a Stairmaster at the gym in Sacramento, I read the CN&R from cover to cover. I look forward to seeing the work of Melissa, Jason, Tina, Jamie and the entire Chico staff every week. From Keep Chico Weird to their ongoing investigative reporting to our CAMMIES, to our art coverage, and of course the ads that make the paper possible, the new generation is creating a new Chico News & Review. It is only because of the new generation of staff that we are having a 40th anniversary.
I hope the CN&R stays fearless in our current political environment of blooming American fascism. I hope they can make people angry enough to act. I hope they can maintain historical perspective and not be swayed by all the normalization that comes out of all corporate media outlets. I hope they can maintain the strength to be unafraid and disobedient.
Frequent contributing illustrator to the CN&R since the early 1980s
The CN&R is Chico.