Reporting from Oroville
As Mercury-Register struggles, Mirror looks to grow
As far as John Loewe is concerned, there’s only one community newspaper in Oroville, and that’s his weekly publication, the Oroville Community Mirror. The Oroville Mercury-Register and the Chico News & Review may distribute papers there, but as he proudly proclaims, in bright-red large-point type on the front-page flag, the Mirror is “The Only Newspaper Actually Printed and Published in Oroville, Ca.”
Loewe could have added that it’s also the only one edited in Oroville, inasmuch as the Mercury-Register is edited in the Chico Enterprise-Record’s offices. The two papers, along with the Paradise Post, are part of the recently bankrupted MediaNews Group chain.
Further bolstering its claim to be Oroville’s only real community newspaper is the fact that these days the Mirror is the only one that has an actual office in Oroville. The Mercury-Register announced recently that it was closing its office and that its few remaining employees would henceforth work out of their homes.
One other big difference between the papers: While the M-R is made up mostly of stories generated by the E-R, with a couple of local news items thrown in, the Mirror is “All Oroville News All of the Time,” as the flag also reads. Loewe is so averse to being seen as anything but an Oroville publication that he refuses to mention Chico at all, except in the “Sheriff’s Most Wanted” column, where he includes Chico’s most-wanted accused offenders because “otherwise I wouldn’t be able to fill the space.”
Loewe is in his early 60s. He’s got a round, friendly face and a small white moustache. He prides himself on being a classic small-town newspaperman, and he looks the part. When he’s talking about the trade, his eyes light up. He not only publishes and edits his paper, but also writes stories, takes pictures, helps run the press, sells ads and even does a distribution route. “There’s nothing I don’t do, including sweep the floor,” he said.
He works 24/7, he says, and keeps his police scanner running. If there’s a story that needs covering in the middle of the night—a gang shooting, say, or a bunch of young men getting busted for illegal drag racing—he rolls out of bed, grabs his camera, and heads out.
That willingness to bust ass to get the story, he believes, is what separates the Mirror from the competition.
In that respect Loewe’s a lot like Tim Crews, editor, publisher and chief bottle washer of the similarly named Sacramento Valley Mirror, based in Willows. A no doubt apocryphal legend has it that Crews sleeps with a scanner under his pillow, so as not to miss a story. One big difference between the papers is that Crews charges a buck for his, while Loewe’s is free, relying on advertising for revenue and, often enough, volunteer writers for copy.
The Mirror’s history has been tied in to the Mercury-Register from its beginning. Loewe purposely published the first issue of his paper on the very day in August 1996 when the M-R packed up its printing press and shipped it off to Missouri.
Before then Loewe had been a commercial printer, but when he heard the M-R was pulling out its press, he decided to become a newspaper publisher, as well. “When you take the press out of town, it’s not the same,” he explained.
The Mirror started as a tabloid, but about four years ago Loewe decided that his readers, a generally older bunch, didn’t think tabs were real papers, so he switched to broadsheet. He also uses an unusually large 13-point body type, out of respect for his readers’ failing eyesight.
There’s a fair amount of fluff in the paper—folksy columns and such—but Loewe isn’t afraid to stir the pot, either. Lately he’s focused on the Feather River Recreation and Park District, which is embroiled in controversy to the point that a group has mounted an effort to recall its entire board.
Loewe makes no secret of his conviction that the district is being run incompetently and that top officials have mishandled funds. “It’s like The Dukes of Hazzard over here,” he said.
Agree with him or not, you have to respect John Loewe’s passion for the business and love of Oroville. He’s here to stay, and with the competition weakened, he’s looking to grow. Most issues are now eight pages, in two sections, but he’s hoping to go up to 10 pages soon and then to twice weekly. His ultimate goal, he says, is to publish three times a week.