Conspicuously absent

The E-R was MIA on two important stories

On Monday morning, I headed to downtown Willows to meet with Tim Crews, publisher and editor of the Sacramento Valley Mirror. I’d met him once before, at former CN&R Editor Robert Speer’s retirement party back in May. There, he had congratulated me on being selected as editor-in-chief, and told me to call if I ever needed a hand.

And Crews was sincere. A few days or so into my tenure, he phoned me to see if he could follow through on that offer. He didn’t have anything in mind, and I couldn’t think of anything, either. But I sure appreciated him taking the time to check in because, as he noted this week during an interview with me (see Newslines, “Muckraking goes on,” page 9), “None of us in this business are in it alone.”

I visited the Mirror’s office to talk to Crews about his recent battle to overturn a local superior court’s order from two years ago that he pay court fees associated with a lawsuit he’d filed to gain access to public records from a local school district. A Glenn County Superior Court judge had ruled that the suit was frivolous and ordered him to pay the district’s attorneys’ fees, an amount that would have bankrupted the small newspaper.

Crews appealed that decision with the support of a number of journalism advocates and news agencies, including MediaNews Group, owner of the Chico Enterprise-Record. That’s why it’s been so puzzling that the E-R has been mum on the appellate court ruling that, while dismissing the suit itself, determined the complaint was not frivolous. That higher court subsequently tossed out the order to pay $56,000.

As noted by First Amendment advocates, the decision has far-reaching implications. Namely, it ensures that those seeking public information need not fear having to pay opposing-attorneys’ fees so long as the lawsuit is not frivolous. The decision is a huge win for California journalists and also for each and every citizen interested in government transparency, as the public has every right to access the same records.

Speaking of conspicuously absent stories, I’d like to know how the paper also missed out on Robert Speer’s retirement. When I was a reporter at the E-R, we covered the comings and goings of CN&R editors over the years; then-Senior Editor Speer getting fired back in 2005, and then-Editor Tom Gascoyne’s exit about eight months later. Speer was a founding CN&R staffer, whose career spans more than 30 years. But when it comes to the paper-of-record, it’s as though he never left. Trust me, he’s not here. I sit at his old desk.

Getting back to Crews, there again, not a single word was printed in the E-R about the recent appellate court ruling, though the paper had written earlier stories about the case. I guess the reporters were too busy last Wednesday on stories like that front-pager about Glenn County’s award-winning State Fair display.

A special legal fund aided Crews’ appeal, but he’s still on the hook for thousands of dollars. Donations to help the muckraker carry on should be sent to Crews at 138 W. Sycamore St., Willows, CA, 95988.