20 big stories
Just in time for SN&R’s 20th anniversary —two decades’ worth of best stories
Guide to the gangs
April 27, 1989
SN&R’s associate editor Tom Johnson wrote “Guide to the gangs” in our first month of publication. The piece revealed, for the first time, what kind of journalism SN&R intended to introduce to Sacramento—especially with its inclusion of a map outlining which local gang held what territory. Johnson interviewed dozens of people for the story—including gang members, their families and police—and went on to author dozens of additionally compelling cover stories over the years.
Down by the river
November 25, 1992
Reporter Curt Guyette began a series of “immersion” stories with his award-winning “Down by the river” cover in late 1992. In the series, the writer went out to live, work and sleep among Sacramento’s poorest working and homeless people –camping along the river, checking in to single-room-occupancy hotels, getting hired as a day laborer—so as to better tell the stories of the region’s disadvantaged and dispossessed.
From here to paternity
June 16, 1994
Just in time for Father’s Day, 1994, SN&R’s R.V. Scheide wrote “From here to paternity,” about how he discovered he was a father 13 years after the fact. The piece was one of many riveting, memorable cover stories Scheide has authored at SN&R.
What’s up, Chuck?
September 12, 1996
This award-winning investigation by reporter Nick Budnick found that California Insurance Commissioner Charles Quackenbush was having his strings pulled by the very industry he was elected to watchdog. After the story, Quackenbush’s office came after SN&R in an attempt to discover Budnick’s sources and a resulting First Amendment battle was joined. SN&R won, both in the court of law and the court of public opinion.
In this memorable cover, SN&R CEO and owner Jeff vonKaenel became one of the first in the newspaper industry to predict the demise of the daily newspaper. He claimed dailies would go out of business in the next 10 years. (He was just a few years off.) The story received lots of national attention—and much derision—from industry people who recently have seen vonKaenel’s prediction come all too sadly true.
I was a teenage spy
December 12, 1996
SN&R reporter Rachel Leibrock spent three weeks during 1996 as an undercover student at McClatchy High School. Her mission was to reveal truths she couldn’t otherwise find about the thoughts, feelings and experiences of the newly scapegoated generation. The story caused a giant stir; the publisher, editor and Leibrock later appeared at back-to-back schoolwide public forums at the high-school to defend the story. SN&R is still dealing with aftermath of “I was a teenage spy” to this day.
SN&R’s Chrisanne Beckner wrote “Mothers, interrupted” about a crew of local women who, after high-conflict divorces, entered mediation in family court thinking they would retain primary custody of their children. But that’s not how things turned out. The story attracted attention far and wide, drew fire and remains one that causes SN&R’s phones to ring to this day.
O brother, where art thou?
SN&R’s Cosmo Garvin’s “O brother, where art thou?” cover was the first to reveal an out-and-out suicide epidemic at the Sacramento County Jail. His story—which chronicled the deaths and put a focus on family members of the dead seeking answers—put an early spotlight on an issue that remains unfortunately relevant to this day.
The killing game
SN&R reporter Gary Webb rose to international fame as a journalist with his disturbing San Jose Mercury News series of articles linking the CIA-backed Nicaraguan Contras with the spread of crack cocaine in inner-city America. After being banished from mainstream journalism for the controversy that ensued, Webb came to work for a short time at SN&R. He wrote a memorable cover story about the U.S. Army’s new recruiting strategy and the millions it spends on first-person-shooter computer games. Sadly, Webb experienced grave depression after his fall from grace with the mainstream press and took his own life two months after “The killing game” was published.
Round up the hood!
In this award-winning story, SN&R’s Cosmo Garvin was first to report that West Sacramento police had put hundreds of its citizens on a gang-suppression list that limited freedom of speech, travel and association. The Yolo County district attorney lauded the gang injunction for reducing crime, but its use was prohibited anyway when the court decided this version of the list swept up people who had no connection to gangs or gang crime.
The war issue: 3 years later
On the third anniversary of the war in Iraq, SN&R decided to hand over its space to seven local artists. SN&R’s Don Button led the project and orchestrated the issue wherein artists had the opportunity to add their voices to the public dissent and discourse about the invasion and occupation of Iraq. The artists’ works were reproduced and sold as 11-by-17 printed posters, with the proceeds donated to a local group that uses artistic expression to challenge assumptions about violence in the world.
A mother’s prayer
In this compelling and award-winning cover story, SN&R’s R.V. Scheide tells the dramatic personal tale of Rhonda Erwin, perhaps Sacramento’s most outspoken advocate for disadvantaged at-risk youth. The story ushered readers into Valley Hi, a south Sacramento neighborhood many of our readers barely knew existed.
Will Doolittle do time?
Reporters Ralph Brave and Kel Munger’s investigation “Will Doolittle do time?” was a takedown of the various corruption charges faced by former U.S. Rep. John Doolittle. The cover contained a graphic feature—“Doolittleopoly”—that conveyed the results in the context of a well-known board game, and that “game” wrapped around the country and back on the Internet and was posted on blogs and Web sites from here to Washington, D.C.
Shortly before being diagnosed with the lung cancer that took his life in September of 2007, SN&R’s Ralph Brave wrote a scathing investigative story revealing that some UC Davis scientists collaborated with the tobacco industry over a 35-year period, from the mid-’60s to 2000. He discovered, for the first time, that the scientists had conducted research that directly aided tobacco companies in designing their products with the goal of expanding the sales market for their cigarettes. As usual, Brave’s reporting was exhaustive, and included a review of more than 2,000 internal tobacco-industry and UC Davis documents. “Smoked out!” went on to win a first-place award in the Freedom of Information category from the California Newspaper Publishers Association.
SN&R lead 53 alternative weeklies across the country in a joint cover project—organized in league with the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies—to mark the 10-year anniversary of the Kyoto Accord, the first international attempt to get the world’s countries working together to halt climate change. Along with a team of SN&R writers, editors, designers and techies, author and activist Bill McKibben wrote a lead piece for the package detailing how little had yet been done in the fight against global warming.
Take a ride on the pink couch
No shortage of print and broadcast media members were on hand last June when gays and lesbians all over California were at last able to legally marry. How could SN&R honor the landmark development in an alternative way? The answer involved living-room furniture. A team of SN&R talent—Kel Munger, Cosmo Garvin, Nick Miller, photographer Jeremy Sykes and art directors David Jayne and Andrew Nilsen—found a classically memorable way to cover the local newlyweds. They asked the new couples to pose in iconic environs all over Sacramento on an amazing pink couch.
30 gigs/30 days
SN&R’s two music writers, Nick Miller and Josh Fernandez, gave each other a dare. Could they each attend a different music concert in the region every single night for an entire month? Did the local scene offer enough bands and venues to keep them busy? They could and it did. The resulting “30 gigs/30 days” documented their adventures racing from venue to venue and, also, signaled SN&R’s deepening commitment to coverage of all facets of a thriving local music scene.
The new evangelical
Pastor Rick Cole transformed the Capital Christian Center from a bastion of right-wing values into the hub for a kinder, gentler approach to God. SN&R writer Nancy Brands Ward wrote this compelling and far-reaching story about Cole; his father, Glen Cole, who led the CCC in its earlier, ultraconservative days; and the national “softening” trend going on in the evangelical movement. The story triggered a huge response, especially in the local religious community.
R.V. Scheide was the first journalist to reveal the existence of a tent city near downtown Sacramento in the shadow of the state Capitol. Last fall, in his cover story, “Hell’s half-acre,” Scheide spoke to residents of the makeshift town and led (by months) what was to become an international media howl about the existence of Depression-era housing cropping up again in America, circa 2009.
Run, Josh, run
SN&R’s Josh Fernandez’s story “Run, Josh, run” described how the rituals of long-distance running—plus the training for and running of marathons—helped him recover from an addicted past. The outpouring from readers after the story hit the stands was huge. Within days, more than 100 people contacted Fernandez with praise, censure and dozens of tales of recovery from readers’ own pasts as alcoholics or drug addicts.