SN&R’s founding editor Melinda Welsh says goodbye to the paper
Last December I wrote an essay, “The Time I Have Left” (SN&R Essay, December 17, 2015) with thoughts about what to do with my life after being diagnosed with a terminal disease at age 59. Somehow, the piece—which appeared in the Los Angeles Times and SN&R—went viral.
In the weeks that followed, I received a tidal wave of comments and emails from friends, colleagues and many thousands of strangers. It was an unexpected gift, as if I’d been given the chance to be present at my own memorial service with people gathering in cyberspace to share kind reminiscences and thoughts about our common mortality.
My status today: I’m still alive and kicking and fortunate to be involved in immunotherapy clinical trials at UCSF Medical Center. I am responding pretty well to the treatments, which seek to rally my immune system to fight the cancer, and we hope I’ve been granted a wish to enjoy this wonderful life a bit further into the future.
Still, it’s time for me to say farewell in these pages.
I haven’t played a significant role at SN&R since the spring of 2012, so nobody is exactly going to miss me in the lineup. But as the paper’s founding and longtime editor, I thought I’d muse a bit before departing the field.
When Jeff vonKaenel and Deborah Redmond arrived in Sacramento in late 1988 with the goal of starting up an alternative paper, the town’s citizens were not yet familiar with the idea of a free-standing newsweekly that included local reporting, good writing and dazzling design. We attempted to change that. It stuns me now to think how much faith was placed in me and my colleague Tom Johnson to create an editorial vision, build a stable of freelance reporters and writers, lay it all on the line before readers in week after week of the startup Sacramento News & Review.
But that’s what we tried to do.
We scrutinized local government. We wrote about drugs and crime and homelessness. We championed the underdog. We helped spur the thriving of music, entertainment and restaurant scenes. We celebrated community heroes, caused some errant officials’ heads to roll and helped tip the scales as the Sacramento community came together around a few epic accomplishments, such as closing down an incompetently run nuclear power plant.
Mostly, we attempted to provide an alternative—to tell stories that otherwise weren’t being told and create a shared space for new voices to be heard.
As the decades rolled by, SN&R grew and broke through, thrived and survived. It is gratifying all these years later to know that the paper is still busy doing many of the very same things we started out with so long ago.
What do I remember most?
The people. The passions. The projects, like the times we’d convince alternative editors across the country to print stories at the same time on one theme (such as climate change). Challenged to come up with the perfect “cover copy” for SN&R’s 10th anniversary issue—some catchy way to sum it all up—it struck me:
The two words became the company’s slogan; I’m honored that it remains so today.
As part of an attempt to live fully in the present, my husband and I have taken to creating occasions to consider choices we made in the past. For example, we pulled several dozen spidery boxes of old SN&Rs from the garage last fall and stacked their contents—a thousand random issues from 1989 to the present—on every table, bookshelf and countertop in our home for seven days. Each paper was a memory waiting to be peeled back.
I expected this to be a kind of bittersweet, “this is your life” experience, but it wasn’t. Instead, we laughed all week long, recalling the highs and lows, sharing our best finds with others who had been there. To me, the piles of papers were souvenirs that reminded of the creativity, hard work, conviviality and sense of purpose that I’d been immersed in all those years at the SN&R.
They were also a signal of the continuity of things, and how, as Morpheus says in The Matrix Reloaded, “Some things never change. And some things do.”
From where I sit now, life is full of wonder. As I read the headlines on my iPad each morning, I marvel at the merged arguments there for grief and joy, hope and despair.
I’ve come to believe that our challenge as human beings is to embrace that complexity and—from wherever we find ourselves—devise our own best path forward in the finite amount of time we are alive on this Earth.
I consider myself very fortunate that my own life’s “best path” merged for many decades with that of the redoubtable entity that is the News & Review.
As I sign off, let me send a final message of gratitude to the gifted crew of reporters, writers, designers and others I was lucky enough to work with over the years at SN&R. And my devotion to the loyal readers who made our work possible. I owe much appreciation to Rachel Leibrock and Nick Miller, who were unswerving in their support these last few years. And to Jeff and Deborah: heartfelt thanks for taking a chance on me back decades ago, for our partnership over the long years and for standing by me to this day.