The CN&R’s past three months and the path that’s just begun
It’s impossible to fit everything I’d like to say into this space after what has taken place during our more than three-month print hiatus. I’ll start with how much I’ve missed having this weekly conversation with readers and how happy I am that we’re able to publish this special issue.
I’ve heard from many longtime supporters since the last time the paper hit the racks. That week, I explained how the CN&R’s coffers—like the finances of many other businesses, especially newspapers—were eviscerated by the coronavirus pandemic almost overnight. I learned how dicey things were on a Monday, and by that Thursday, March 19—the same day the statewide shelter-in-place mandate began—everyone in our office was unemployed.
Losing our jobs so suddenly was shocking and depressing. I know that millions of people around the country—including thousands here in Butte County—can relate to what we’ve experienced during this public health crisis. The uncertainty about the future as the virus spreads in the community remains overwhelming. My heart goes out to people who are struggling, especially the loved ones of the two locals who’ve died of COVID-19.
I’m thankful that my friends and family are healthy—at least physically. Emotionally speaking, focusing on the positives to keep the existential dread at bay is easier on some days than others. My medically fragile 8-year-old son, whom I wrote about in our last print issue, struggled with distance-learning when school abruptly ended. He doesn’t understand the threat of the virus or why he can’t play with his friends. It doesn’t help that his mommy and daddy haven’t quite been themselves, though we try to keep him occupied with plenty of bike rides and backyard time.
One of the more painful aspects of the pandemic for me professionally in the early days of the shutdown was thinking about the stories we wouldn’t be able to tell in service to our community.
The CN&R had big things in store for this year. For starters, we’d been chosen as a 2020 Report for America newsroom. We were so excited about adding a reporter to our staff to specifically cover poverty and homelessness, including Camp Fire recovery, allowing us to expand our coverage of those and other important issues. But the pandemic wiped out that plan. The excellent journalist who was scheduled to join us last month had no choice but to find another outlet. I could hardly drag myself out of bed when that happened.
Indeed, it was crushing in so many ways to close our doors, but doing so during a public health crisis that arguably makes our role as community watchdogs more important today than ever was perhaps the most difficult for this career journalist.
Don’t worry, here’s where I get to the good news.
Giving up just wasn’t acceptable to me and my colleagues. We were determined to continue informing the community—even if it meant doing so temporarily as volunteers. In fact, the day after we lost our jobs, several of us gathered together to come up with a plan to help the CN&R move forward. We asked readers to help us financially if possible, and many of you responded immediately by donating to our online fundraiser.
Though the presses were halted back in March, our racks remaining empty, we quickly became an online-only newspaper. Our tech gurus put together an excellent mobile-friendly website—chico.newsreview.com—and we’ve been publishing there ever since on a shoestring budget.
As I penned the main feature in this issue on PG&E’s sentencing in Butte County Superior Court, including the heart-wrenching victim impact statements given during those proceedings, I thought back to how that particular disaster made our small editorial team dig deep and resulted in some of our best work. It was the kind of reporting we want to continue during the current crisis.
I’m so thankful for our supporters—loyal readers, friends, loved ones, former staffers, interns and advertisers—whose donations have allowed us to continue our mission. Reading your accompanying words of encouragement, thoughtful emails and handwritten letters have buoyed me during this difficult time. I’m also grateful for the CN&R’s owners for not walking away, though that would be the easiest thing to do. As Publisher Jeff vonKaenel explains on page 6, the CN&R’s path forward remains somewhat nebulous and we’re looking for help to chart the way.
What I can tell you is that this print issue is progress and I’m hopeful that the struggles of the past three months will lead to a sustainable future. Our plan is to publish one issue a month through October while we figure it out. Thank you for being along for the ride.