40 years of the CN&R: the 2000s
Adapting in the digital age
This was a rough decade for print media in the U.S., especially daily newspapers, whose revenues in 2010 were nearly half of what they were a decade earlier. As digital media took hold, newsrooms were decimated, papers were shuttered and others were swallowed up by conglomerates. Alternative weeklies, with their emphasis on community journalism, fared better. But it was still a challenging time.
At the CN&R, we saw temporary pay cuts and some dramatic changes in staffing, but with a stubborn devotion to print, the paper survived and published many important stories.
At one time, I had a camera person to do our stats; interns who pasted up page numbers; ad and editorial designers. But we shrunk the staff and moved ad design to Sacramento, and the need for a camera person was no longer, the need for typesetters was no longer.
In 2003, when I arrived, there were nearly twice as many employees in the building than there are today. Sales staff was pared down, accounting was moved to Sacramento, followed by ad design; no more staff photographer. It was rough.
Staff writer and news editor at CN&R (2002-06). Indar is currently tutoring coordinator at Butte County Office of Education and a local musician.
Ad revenue was down; we had to redesign the whole paper; there were power struggles in management. There were also a lot of philosophical differences as to which direction the paper should take—much of that played out along generational lines, with upstarts like myself agitating for an edgier tone to attract new readers and compete with the Internet while the old guard worried about alienating the readers we had. There was plenty of wrong on both sides, as our new edginess clearly went too far at times, although people did stop calling us the “Snooze & Respew,” so there’s that.
When I came to the CN&R, my journalism experience was being a freelance arts and music writer for various newspapers in town. Suddenly I found myself in the middle of this very engaged, passionate—and pretty cynical—world of journalism.
I got a crash course taught by Bob Speer, Tom Gascoyne, Josh Indar and Devanie Angel, the associate editor who showed me the ropes. Of course, Tom, Devanie and Josh all left in one fell swoop in 2006 for a variety of disagreements with management. It was a down time, but new blood was on the way.
Years at the N&R: 2005-13. Currently a self-employed entrepreneur, Binyon got his start at the paper as “interfaith ambassador” at the Sacramento News & Review, Chico’s sister paper, before returning to his hometown and helping turn around the CN&R’s finances as advertising manager and eventually general manager.
When I started at the CN&R, it had a major self-esteem problem. Daily papers, who had been basically printing money for a century or more, were making huge layoffs and cutting costs all over the country. The independent weeklies like the CN&R were used to being the little scrappy guys, but were always driven by a powerful sense of mission. Many people at the CN&R had lost their sense of mission. Economically, the paper was in really bad shape. None of that was because of digital media, but the fear of digital media did have a lot to do with it.
Editor-in-chief (2006-09); contributor (2010-present); contributing editor since April; Chico planning commissioner.
The staff was skeleton, half-temporary, when I arrived. Jason Cassidy, then calendar editor, and Arts Editor Mark Lore were the only newsroom holdovers from the previous “administration.” Bob Speer was working part-time on an interim contract. I hired Meredith Cooper, one of my former colleagues from The Press-Enterprise in Riverside, as associate editor. Bob—after a few weeks of feeling out the new situation—signed on as news editor.
I knew I’d inherited a paper that had offended segments of the community at various times recently, most notably with the so-called “dildo issue”: a cover story on sales parties in homes for sex toys that featured a pictorial of products. The paper had lost readers, distribution points and advertisers.
What turned the image around was, first off, the staff. Mark and Jason had unmatched credibility in the local arts scene. That’s the “Review” half of the paper; for the “News” half, no one could bring the depth of knowledge, context and journalistic skill of Bob Speer other than … Bob Speer. Meredith’s fresh energy and all around abilities meant the CN&R editorial staff was an “A team” that became an “A+ team” when Melissa joined us.
There was huge pressure to move toward digital presentation of the news, in part because it’s a beautiful medium that allows you to reach a larger audience in a very immediate way. But publications haven’t been able to make enough money in the digital marketplace to sustain a quality product. That’s been a huge challenge for most print media. Rather than chase the 24/7 digital news cycle, we chose to stay more focused on telling well-designed and in-depth stories in print. And, we always remembered that our relationship with the reader came first.
CN&R director of sales and advertising. DeGarmo got her start as a sales rep in 2007 and worked her way up by breaking sales records.
Jeff and Deborah made the commitment to continue to support our editorial mission and not pull resources away. This was the mistake of too many print media outlets. “Trading print dollars for digital dimes” has been the downfall of many.
CN&R editor-in-chief (2013 to present) who started in 2007 as special projects editor and moved through the ranks, making stops as news editor and managing editor.
In 2007, when I left the Chico Enterprise-Record, then owned by one of the largest media corporations in the country, it was clear management had bought into the new media lie—that prioritizing digital would grow ad revenue and therefore buoy the overall content. Of course, that’s worked only for outliers like The New York Times.
I was the last person hired in my department before the start of the global economic meltdown, so I would’ve been the first one to lose my job had there not been such a commitment by Evan, who’d poached me from the Chico E-R, and the rest of the staff to keep me on. We all took temporary pay cuts.
During those years, despite the uncertainty of the industry, the CN&R never lost sight of the mission—to inform our readers with thoughtful and engaging content that we hope betters the community.
The CN&R is consistently on the right side of history.