Fare thee well
Amid declining advertising revenue spurred by the coronavirus outbreak, the RN&R is suspending publication
After 25 years in Northern Nevada, the Reno News & Review is suspending publication indefinitely. The RN&R’s sister papers in Chico and Sacramento are likewise ceasing production. There’s a glimmer of hope that the small regional chain will be able to return, probably in a drastically different incarnation, after the current coronavirus-driven economic crisis, but it’s also quite possible that this edition will be the very last issue ever of Reno’s long-running alt-weekly newspaper.
This newspaper depends on advertising, and it mostly depends on advertising from local restaurants, coffee houses, nightclubs and bars. With many of those establishments currently shuttered or drastically cutting back hours, they don’t have much budget for advertising—or events or drink specials to promote.
While it’s true that a business like the RN&R is usually able to accommodate for local market fluctuations, at least for a time, the current crisis hit at an especially inconvenient time. As RN&R publisher Jeff vonKaenel explains in a column on page 3, “Over the years, we have experienced numerous crises. We were able to use our financial reserves to pull us through those times when advertising revenues were less than expenses. We were able to keep the paper going and to continue to provide local coverage. But over the last 10 years, as more and more businesses have moved their advertising dollars to Facebook and Google, the foundation of the media business model has crumbled. These large internet companies collected revenues without having to generate expensive local coverage. This has caused a crisis for most media companies, including the News & Review.”
The Nevada Weekly, the paper that eventually became the RN&R, first appeared around town on Nov. 17, 1993. In February of 1995, after it was purchased by the News & Review company, which already owned the weekly newspapers in Chico and Sacramento, it became the Reno News & Review.
In the early ’90s, when the paper began, Reno was a smaller, quieter place. Culturally, there was the casinos and not much else. And the Reno Gazette Journal was essentially the only print journalism in town.
“There was only one voice,” according to D. Brian Burghart, the calendar editor of The Nevada Weekly when it launched and eventually the long-serving editor of the RN&R. According to Burghart, that homogeneity was reflected throughout the valley. There was only one visual arts organization, the Sierra Arts Foundation. Only one theater, Reno Little Theater. The Nevada Museum of Art was housed in a much smaller building. “And Burning Man was years in the future.”
“In 1993, this concept of there being multiple print voices in Reno was radical almost,” Burghart said recently. “And we were middle-of-the-road for an alt-weekly. That was sort of what allowed us to have so much success in a small community, is that we sort of let everyone into the tent. But those people who had never seen anything except the daily paper, they thought that we were Molotov-throwing communists. They thought we were going to blow up the capitol building or something. They literally did not know what to think. As the Reno News & Review grew out of the Nevada Weekly, the town sort of grew along with it. And, in some ways, I think we sort of helped cause it. Like, was there really a concept of Reno being an arts community before we had a paper that covered the arts?”
The RN&R had award-winning news coverage but became well known for its coverage of local food, music, theater and visual art.
“Burning Man was considered an enemy of the state in Washoe County, and the governments were trying to kill it, and the daily newspaper was posturing them as naked, drug-crazed hippies in the desert, which I guess is somewhat true,” Burghart said. “But there was more to it. And the Reno News & Review supported them. And we were the only ones who were supporting them in the community. If this was some science fiction novel, and you pulled the Reno News & Review out of Reno and looked at what Reno would be … it would be a different town.”
According to Burghart, the RN&R was also known for its lively, funny, often profane writers.
“Seeing the word ’fuck’ in print? It was beyond thinking about! And now nobody even thinks twice.”
Sheila Leslie served in the Nevada Assembly and then in the Nevada Senate before becoming a columnist for the RN&R. “The loss of the Reno News & Review is a hard blow to take, both as a reader and as a writer,” she wrote in a recent email after being informed of the paper’s indefinite hiatus. “The paper’s feature stories have provided depth and texture to Reno’s news for decades, offering consistent coverage of the news we wanted to read. As an opinion writer, the paper gave me a regular outlet to engage readers and discuss progressive issues at a community level, with people who care deeply about our little corner of the planet. Readers would stop me all the time to talk about my column or something else that was in the paper, telling me how much they appreciated the RN&R’s insistence on presenting viewpoints not often found in the corporate media diet we’re offered by other sources. The scrappy paper held on for a long time and even though this day seemed inevitable, it’s hard to imagine our world without it.”
Journalism organizations throughout the country are struggling. And the models of alternative journalism—adventurous first-person stories, thoughtful arts coverage, groundbreaking investigative work—are slowly disappearing.
“When I was an undergrad in college in Phoenix, and first picked up a Phoenix New Times, and first came to understand what an alt-weekly was, and what kind of role it could play in a culture and in a city, I was dazzled and amazed,” Said Kris Vagner recently. She became the arts editor of the RN&R in 2004 and has written for the paper ever since as both a freelancer and a staffer. She’s currently the publisher and editor of the arts website Double Scoop. “It opened this new door for thought and communication for me. They’ve always had such a dear place in my heart, so, 10 or 12 years later, when I started working for one, it seemed like the most amazing opportunity to have that kind of voice in the community. And I appreciate so much having had that for so many years—and having been part of this conversation on this particular platform, which is such a champion for free speech.”
Curmudgeon movie reviewer Bob Grimm, one of the longest-running voices in the paper was saddened by the news. “I feel like I saw my first movie for this paper yesterday, and I was ready for another 25 years easy. I had it in my mind that I would just do this until I died. … This has been some of the most fun and rewarding experiences I’ve ever had, and to all of those who said I suck: fuck you. … And I say that in the most loving way.”