30 years of SN&R covers

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The very first issue of SN&R published on April 20, 1989. If you’re wondering, that was two years before some Deadheads in Oakland turned 4/20 into a cannabis holiday, so, no, it wasn’t intentional.

The headline on the cover was “Selling Sacramento,” and the story was about Newsweek magazine naming our fair city one of America’s 10 “hottest.”

That kind of publicity was a big deal in those days. It’s also a reminder that the more things change, the more they often stay the same.

Sacramento is “hot” again, but the praise now comes from travel guides (Lonely Planet calls it one of North America’s best emerging destinations for 2019) and online publications (Thrillist says we’re “about to blow up as a food destination”).

That first issue 30 years ago also featured stories about local industries harming the ozone layer and a true crime story about a wife who killed her husband. The Streetalk question: The celebrity you hate the most. The answers: Madonna, Jane Fonda and Barbra Streisand.

The inaugural editorial, headlined “Something New,” introduced SN&R to the community. It promised to encourage “vigorous debate,” to “hold up a mirror” to Sacramento, to bring new points of view and to inject “a new level of passion and (hopefully) humor.” And it declared that SN&R’s goals were “to publish a top-flight news and entertainment weekly” and “to help make a better future for the Sacramento region.”

Thirty years later, those goals haven’t wavered. But a lot has happened.

SN&R has chronicled elections, including Kevin Johnson as Sacramento’s first black mayor and Barack Obama as America’s first black president, both in November 2008.

We’ve also covered the local impact of wars. The week before “shock and awe” hit Iraq in March 2003, the cover story profiled Charlie Liteky, a Northern California peace activist who went to Baghdad despite the imminent hostilities.

SN&R has also helped readers understand huge shifts in society—LGBQT rights, including gay marriage; the legalization of medical and then recreational marijuana; and the digital and social media revolution, just to name a few. And we’ve tracked the transformation of the criminal justice system—from “three strikes” and the “war on drugs” to sentencing reform and today’s spotlight on police killings.

As a weekly, our deadlines create some challenges responding to breaking news. On September 13, 2001, two days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the cover story was about fish poisoned by mercury. More recently and closer to home, SN&R redid the planned Music Issue cover on March 29, 2018, after Stephon Clark was killed by police officers.

But being a weekly also gives us the freedom—and responsibility—to step back and look at the bigger picture. SN&R has remained steadfast challenging readers on the big issues: the environment, immigration, affordable housing and homelessness, underserved and marginalized communities.

Our look has changed over the years. But our core values have not. They stand the test of time.