Full-time watchdogging

A pitch to CN&R readers to help fund investigative reporting

How awesome would it be to have a full-time investigative reporter sniffing around our region? A person whose only job is to dive into the North State’s most pressing issues, complicated matters that take days, weeks, even months to fully ferret out, analyze and write about cogently.

In Butte County, having someone in a position like that could be policy-changing, even life-changing. It could be the best thing to happen in the local media landscape in, well, decades. I’ve lived in this area since 1998 and in that time not a single newspaper here has had such an employee. Over in Glenn County, the Valley Mirror’s Tim Crews manages to do investigative pieces regularly. It’s about time somebody on this side of the river created such a post.

That’s what I intend to do.

One of my priorities as editor of this newspaper is continuing the CN&R’s long history as a community watchdog. And what better way to do that than having a reporter dedicated solely to in-depth journalism? To that end, we’ve partnered with the North Valley Community Foundation, the local nonprofit clearinghouse whose leadership believes in the power of print journalism and its potential to arm citizens with the information that can make their communities better places to live and work.

So, here is what’s happening. This newspaper is starting a nonprofit arm in collaboration with NVCF to fund specialized reporting that goes above and beyond the scope of not only what’s currently in our pages, but far beyond that of any other local media that have existed here. The mission of the nonprofit Chico News & Review Foundation is simple: to inform, engage and empower citizens and the communities of Chico, Butte County and the greater region by producing enterprise and investigative editorial content on complex issues.

I know, I know. It sounds amazing.

But it gets better. That’s because, once we’re operational, we’ve chosen in our initial phase to focus on two grossly underreported topics. The first is governmental accountability and transparency. Think pensions, salaries, elections funding. The second is poverty—homelessness, crime, neighborhood blight.

Remember contributor Dave Waddell’s enlightening piece (see “Strong-arming the budget,” Feb. 27, 2014) on the exorbitant costs associated with Chico’s public-safety departments? Dig deeper in our archives and you will find the late Richard Ek’s seminal piece (see “Breaking the bank,” March 29, 2007) that basically predicted the city’s financial collapse.

In short, the CN&R has been a go-to source for investigative journalism for a long time. But we want to do more of it. The community needs it. And this paper, as the largest-circulated one in Butte County, has the ability to empower citizens like no other.

But here’s the rub: We need help from members of the community to make this happen. Yes, I’m talking about money. I’m asking the community to fund this position. Our small staff has its hands full. We do not have the manpower to adequately report on these important subjects.

To be clear, we aren’t eliminating any jobs here at the CN&R. This money won’t pay for a current staffer’s salary. In fact, none of it will go to the newspaper’s bottom line. Moreover, it won’t even go through our company. It will be directed to a fund set up by NVCF (see page 6 for details on making a donation). We will hire someone new to fill this position. I will oversee that person’s work. It will be badass.

This, dear readers, is my pitch. It’s a hell of a vision. Will you help make it happen?