My favorite year
A look back at 2004 in the RN&R
Happy New Year! What a ride 2004 was. The war in Iraq, the election, the tsunami—if there was ever a year that made people look forward to changing the calendar, this was it. I’m almost envious of Dennis Myers; he’s writing about the events of the world outside this newspaper. I’m covering the news inside this paper, or at least my unique view on them. It may sound arrogant to call my view of this paper “unique,” but the fact is that nobody knows better the monumental achievements, general competence and crushing failures that happen on a weekly basis at this small alternative newspaper.
Sometimes it’s not even what appears in the paper that, when I look back at the archive, makes my heart skip a beat or my gall bladder convulse with horror. After a year, does anyone else agonize over the two authors’ names that were misspelled on the cover? How about that time “nuptials” was spelled with a second u? Sometimes it’s the phone calls or conversations on the street that cause me to remember particular issues.
My apologies to those Luddites out there, but this story will be augmented for those with Internet access. Simply go to www.newsreview.com, and there will be links to each of the stories I’m writing about here.
January was a month of personalities in the RN&R. Two profiles immediately catch my eye as I look back: local pimp Dennis Hof and the home-on-the-range family of poets Dave, Dee and Rusty McCall. The Hof story was of particular note because of the way the front desk phone began ringing almost the moment the paper hit the stands. It appeared we’d accidentally exposed more of a woman than was proper. It was obvious from the photo on the Internet that the thing in Air Force Amy’s crotch was a strip of cloth on her G-string, but to some dirty-minded folks out there, the newspaper version looked like labia. Speaking of triumphs, that story of the McCalls was one of those achievements that make it pretty easy to come to work. The story and photos attained the standard we tried to meet here on a weekly basis.
February spawned two of my favorite cover stories of the year: the baseball-stadium story, which, humbly, I wrote, and the gross jobs story, which former arts editor Miranda Jesch wrote. The baseball-stadium story was just a good, solid document- and personality-based story that was able to develop a bigger-picture narrative than the daily newspaper is wont to do. Now, while Miranda did a great job telling the gross jobs story, the cooperative efforts between designer David Jayne and photographer David Robert to make the photo illustration that makes that guy really appear to be stuck in a Port-a-potty makes me smile to this day.
Dennis Myers consented to take the job of news editor in March. He immediately put his mark on the news pages with his incredible memory of the state’s personalities, history and politics. March, too, had one of those weeks where we just couldn’t make a story work. The story was about the band 7Seconds, and despite the professionalism of the band and the long lead time on the story, the four band members just couldn’t get together for a photo. Three could make it, but then three guys isn’t a four-piece band, is it? On the cover, we went with a several-years-old shot. Inside, well, check out the Web site.
April began with a testament to the editorial staff’s abject silliness with the April Fools’ Day issue: the Weekly World News & Review. This issue had one of our highest pickup rates (picked-up papers vs. rack returns) of the year and included such classic works of journalism as “Pesky goblins terrorize employees at mall!” and “Reno City Council is run by aliens” and, finally, “Shocking photos show Lake Tahoe is draining and will soon turn Reno into an underwater city.” The funniest part of this story occurred weeks later, when a woman at the garden nursery told me about the problem of Tahoe draining into Washoe Valley.
Children were on our minds in May, and two of our covers feature children not looking particularly happy. One was a little girl with her allergy medicine, Alivia Ely; the other was a child whose family was getting kicked out of the Comstock. The shot of the child in “Leaving the Comstock” was a heart-breaker, a big-eyed toddler with a tear rolling down one cheek, and we ran it large on the cover. “This’ll rock,” I thought, “people love kid stories.” They may love kid stories, but they apparently don’t like kid stories about kids with big eyes and runny noses who are losing their homes.
June brought a new star to the pages of the Reno News & Review: Mr. Reno. Mr. Reno was made of Play-Doh, and he was the spokesman for our Summer Guide. He ended up with a garden fork through his chest, crushed in a book, baked on the grill and with one of the more pathetic 15 Minute interviews we’ve ever run. I think you may see Mr. Reno again.
Two stories in July again showed that we can do some things that no other media outlet can do. Brian Bahouth’s story, “Dawn of a Day Without Coal,” was engagingly written and told a great environmental story (Bahouth also wrote “Requiem for a Lake” in May, another great piece). Dennis Myers followed up with a terrific historical piece about the anniversary of when television came to Reno, “Telerama.” Great information and old-timey photos.
When I look at the August papers, I’m struck most by our alternative election news, most particularly by the stuff Dennis wrote, from the story about Zephyr Cove attorney John Mason‘s true claim to have toured with the ‘60s teen band the Surfaris and the one taking MoveOn.org to task for lying in a commercial about what Bush said about nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain to, finally, Dennis’ coverage of the trials and tribulations of citizens’ initiatives and petitions. The RN&R also published our biggest issue ever, the combination “Join the Pack” and “Back to School” sections, 76 pages! August also welcomed Mike Lafferty, our Right Hook conservative-views columnist.
September was dominated by one issue and one issue only: The devilish George W. Bush cover story. Deidre Pike wrote a delightful story, “No more years,” about the reasons Nevadans shouldn’t re-elect W. Our designer David Jayne, a staunch Republican, made an absolutely fabulous photo-illustration of the incumbent with a forked tongue and horns. Everything came together to illustrate a candidate who demonizes his political opponents while presiding over an apocalyptic landscape. I didn’t log the phone calls, but now I wish I had. The worst was the threat to “take you out” by a man who claimed to be a retired military officer; the best was the casino floor manager who offered to buy the entire staff dinner at the casino.
October? I don’t know if anyone cares about this but me, but in October, we broke 10 years of tradition and put a story on the cover that wasn’t the longest story in the issue. That was the story, “Eggs for Sale,” that told about the huge sums being paid to young Japanese students at UNR for their eggs to be used for infertile Japanese couples.
For solidly written, meticulously styled cover stories, November and the stories “Alien odyssey” by Brad Summerhill, “A life cut short” by Mike Sion and “The killing game” by Gary Webb would be pretty hard to beat. Check out the Web site if you missed any of them. I must also mention that 2004 is also the year the reporter who exposed the CIA connection to the crack epidemic, Gary Webb, committed suicide on Dec. 10. Our current arts editor, Kris Vagner, joined us in November.
It’s funny. While I always feel like December is a particularly tough month for this newspaper because of short deadlines and holidays, I don’t really see it in the pages. Summerhill wrote a great holiday fiction story to continue the tradition, and local artist and gallery owner Ron Oden provided a couple really cool pieces of art to go along with it. Kris leaped right into the News & Review style of arts coverage with her story of the rural artists in Tuscarora. I’ve got to think, layout-wise, we ended the year on a high note with “Lounge acts"—that’s one, by the way, that looks better on newsprint than it ever will on the Web.
I could continue writing about the great stuff we did last year well into next year. It’s a wonderful version of Mulligan’s stew that we put together on a weekly basis, and it’s not just the issues that for one reason or another stick out in my mind, but it’s the bits and pieces—Brad Bynum’s restaurant reviews, Tim Prentiss’ band stories, Jessica Groach’s theater coverage, Stephanie Perry’s profiles and the efforts of all our contributors—that made 2004 a great year to be in journalism.