Goin’ nuts

How things change. A few months ago we here at the News & Review were truly loved, respected and cherished by the entire local community. Oh sure, the Enterprise-Record refused to print our name in anything it published having to do with us—it was company policy, a former employee told me. “They told us to just say ‘local weekly’ whenever referring to your paper,” the ex-E-R reporter said. Then last month we came out with the early, limited distribution of our annual Goin’ Chico issue, and people went nuts. Chico State grads sent us semi-literate hate e-mails, calling us “Loosers” and telling us how much money they made to evidence what good citizens they’d become. The E-R put us on its front page, twice, even printed our name—several times. The local daily perceived a chink in our armor and proceeded to try to exploit it. The editor told the reporter, we imagine, “Look at this, boy—they have no backbone over there. I knew it! Now write me a story that says just that!” The reporter reluctantly did so and in all fairness did a pretty good job, considering his orders. But the Associated Press picked up the piece and rewrote it to make us look like yellow-bellied varmints. We called their San Francisco office to point out their mistakes. “Oh yeah, I see your point,” the man there said. “Nothing we can do about it now.”

The E-R printed a letter to the editor (highly critical) about us. The letter was penned by a much-celebrated local playwright (he wrote an award-winning play called “A Child’s Christmas in the Belly of a Whale,” or something like that). The E-R even put us in one of its Saturday mini-editorials called “Hits and Misses,” siding with us but unable to resist taking a cheap shot. (One question: What did we expect?) TV reporters were calling. So was the Sacramento Bee. It was pack journalism, and we were the prey. We received e-mails condemning us and praising us, sometimes in the same e-mail. It was nuts, I tell you.

The whole story (as well as 45,000 more copies of the issue in question) will come out Aug. 11. One thing I’ve learned: Don’t trust the media. Except for us, that is.

In the middle of this dark storm of controversy came a positive message descending from heaven like an angel of hope (or a newly elected Chico State A.S. president snowboarding down an incline somewhere near his rustic cabin high in the Sierras). In other words, an image almost too beautiful for words: The Chico News & Review won the California Newspaper Publishers Association’s Better Newspapers Contest’s General Excellence award for large-circulation weekly papers. No kidding. We are the best of the bunch, according to blue-ribbon judging committee of out-of-state newspaper people. (In years when we fail to win CNPA awards, we sniff, “Ah, what do those guys know?” When we win, we call them “all-knowing geniuses.”) What this means is that you are holding in your hands the very best weekly in the state. We learned on July 9 that we had taken first place—news so momentous that Associate Editor Devanie Angel called me at home to tell me, which is a forbidden practice under any other circumstance.

Here’s how one of those truly insightful judges described this paper: “Well-edited, well-designed publication that targets a specific audience [people in Butte County, we like to think]. Impressive longer, more in-depth pieces that fit well with the highly readable fast-paced format. Shows how to be cutting edge and appealing to younger readers without sacrificing quality.” Yeah, baby. That’s what I’m talkin’ about. Congrats to the whole staff here, including Carla Resnick and Mark Lore, who both so ably filled in for a time last year and made significant contributions to the three issues considered in the General Excellence category.