And now, a word from former staffers …

One-time SN&R writers and editors are given a little space to say a lot

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Many dozens of editors, reporters and writers have come and gone from SN&R since the paper’s birth in 1989. In honor of our 20-year anniversary, we decided to ask those of them we could find to join in the celebration by offering a quick reflection on the time they spent at the paper.

I envisioned, for the embryonic SN&R, a combination New Yorker, Wall Street Journal and Rolling Stone: lively, well written, investigative. Nice, said Jeff [vonKaenel, CEO], but we need to make money, too.

The early SN&R worked to overcome the onus of zero recognition. Melinda [Welsh] and I—the editorial department—awkwardly informed sources their information was appearing in a paper that didn’t exist yet. Ad manager Laurie Waters faced a more formidable task: pitching potential clients to cast their money to an unproven revenue generator.

How, Melinda and I wondered, would we ever cover the capital city with a pair of editors and a handful of raw freelancers?

The whole thing turned out to be a consuming—and often successful—attempt to finesse our lack of money and reporters into just a fraction of our absurdly fantastical vision.

Tom Johnson is a private investigator in Sonoma County.

Of all the things I wrote for the News & Review, my psychosexual serial “Two Rivers” elicited the most vociferous responses. People would stop me on the street and demand to know what happened next. At the zenith of the saga, I was invited to a meeting of the Two Rivers Fan Club at the original Java City, where upon delivery of the weekly pile a fan performed the latest episode for a dozen acolytes, and a lively discussion ensued. When the serial was canceled due to insufficient popularity, I ceased going to Java City for fear of reprisals.

Todd Walton, an author and musician, lives in Mendocino County.

Being at SN&R during its early days was many things: exhilarating, fatiguing, challenging, rewarding, fulfilling, uncertain, promising, frustrating, agonizing, joyous. It was a place filled with great camaraderie and conflict and contention and rousing after-work get-togethers. With Tom Johnson’s writing setting the standard for those who followed, we tried, with varying amounts of success from week to week, to be relevant and irreverent, witty and hard-hitting, creative and credible. That and fostering a community of engaged readers to provide the sort of give and take that would lift us all higher. Turning a profit and becoming financially stable was also on the minds of more than a few. And we wanted to have fun while doing it.

When a local grocery store banned distribution of the paper because managers objected to some content, our readers rallied around us, staging a boycott that forced the store to relent and let our racks back in. That was a great moment, because it showed we’d attracted a community of folks who saw that we were willing to fight for them and believed in the paper so much that they were willing to fight for us as well. It doesn’t get more beautiful than that.

Curt Guyette serves as city editor at Metro Times, an alternative weekly in Detroit, Mich.

In 1990, I became SN&R’s photographer. I was new to Sacramento, California and the West. After 36 years east of the mighty Mississippi, I felt disoriented. I had been a fan of and contributor to Chicago’s alternative paper the Reader while living there and was happy to get a job at an alternative. In one motion, it seemed that I had license to explore Sacramento and a cool new community of people to hang with. My seven years at SN&R often felt like an extended party, taking pictures, doing stories, winning awards, meeting people. Good times!

Noel Neuburger, a freelance photographer, lives in Sacramento.

Writing an anonymous column is a little like showing up in a public space dressed in a clown suit and proceeding to make nine kinds of an ass out of yourself—dancing badly, scaring the little children with perilous handstands, singing shrill as Meredith Monk on helium—and then heading home confident, liberated, cathartically purged. It is, as Amanda noted often, a gas, gas, gas. Two memorable comments on Amanda’s identity live on in the foggy dale of memory: “Amanda is a man. Duhhh,” and “Amanda is a large, black woman.” Indeed. While Amanda’s opinions are anything but anonymous, Amanda is anyone you want her to be. Always was. Let’s leave it at that.

Amanda, a weekly columnist in the early years of SN&R, is still kicking around the Sacramento region.

I was in the wilderness, back from a decade in Asia and a misadventure in California radio when SN&R took me in, raising me to editor and breathing life into a career with a weak pulse and flickering eyelids. I discovered Sacramento, made a life, left, sort of came back, learned an enormous amount and came to believe that the “fringes”—alternative weeklies, other stuff—are the best hope for a journalism that even 20 years ago was losing its audience. Further afield now, editing an English-language daily (a startup! The last?) in Indonesia, I still believe the fringes are the hope. A long-gone editor, but still part of the 20, you will get no rant from me. It was a good run, and best wishes for the future.

Lin Neumann is chief editorial adviser at the Jakarta Globe in Indonesia.

“It’s like having a threshing machine at your back.” That’s how my boss at the time described what it was like to publish a 60-page weekly with a seven-person editorial team. A pivotal moment came when I was assigned to produce ArtView, the monthly visual-arts supplement that helped launch Second Saturday. I was already editing half the paper and writing what seemed like a third of it. More work was not what I needed. However, it was that assignment that set me on my present course, as an art critic, proving the old adage: What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger! Happy 20th.

David M. Roth, a senior editor at SN&R in the early ’90s, is a contributing editor at Artweek and a contributing writer at Art Ltd.

I was there from 1991 to 1994, and it was the best first job in the world, especially working for Melinda Welsh and Lin Neumann, along with all my incredibly talented colleagues. I started by screening the talking personals (“I’m sorry, Mr. Jones, but you can’t use the word spank”) and ended up helping launch the Sammies, penning the paper’s first local-music column, seeing Cake perform at Java City, covering the MTV awards, interviewing the likes of Tori Amos and the Violent Femmes, sharing an office with the one and only R.V. Scheide and generally having a blast. Thanks, SN&R!

Rob Turner is founder and co-editor, along with his wife, of Sactown magazine.

My history with the News & Review dates back 15 years—a realization that, frankly, stuns me. A lot has changed in that decade and a half. I’ve changed jobs, moved away, moved back, married, changed jobs again. And yet, despite all the changes, despite all the comings and goings, I still think of the News & Review as a home—a place where I started to grow up and turn into the person I am today.

I left the paper with some great writing experiences—going undercover at a local high school, reporting on foulmouthed bikini babes competing for prizes at a “family-friendly” drag race. But what sticks with me most, 15 years after I received my first SN&R byline are the friends who became family through good times and the bad times (because when you’re family, there are definitely bad times—fights, snits, hurt feelings) and comfort in the knowledge that, 15 years from now, we’ll still be close.

Rachel Leibrock is a writer based in Sacramento.

Every newspaper is an organism, but SN&R was more organic than most. In the mid- to late ’90s, writers, reporters had free rein. Editor Melinda Welsh’s attitude: If it’s important, we’ll make space; we’ll do what it takes to get it in the paper. I remember the people more than anything—Curt Guyette, Marcus Crowder, Laura Compton, Noel Neuburger, Robin Rinaldi, Don Button, Mark Hanzlik, R.V. Scheide, the two Rachels [Leibrock and Orvino], Joe Martin, Cosmo Garvin and everyone else. Tremendous talent and humor, wisdom and generosity. There was heroism, too: whistle-blowers with truths that needed telling. We told a lot of them.

Nick Budnick is a reporter for the Bend Bulletin in central Oregon.

From 1994 to late 1997, I lived, breathed and slept the News & Review. Recruited by my best friend, Rachel Orvino, our adventures included exploring dive bars, covering third-wave “Girl Power” feminism, spending hours tallying “Best of” ballots, never missing the Sammies, appearing on the cover with R.V. Scheide and, of course, the weekly sprint to finish the issue, despite the many last-minute revisions from Nick Budnick and Mike Pulley. But we learned a ton, had a blast, won some awards and formed relationships that endure to this day.

Laura Compton has worked at most of the feature sections at the San Francisco Chronicle, most recently becoming the style section editor, and was still employed as of Easter.

The best part was having freedom to do whatever I could think of with the guidance (Melinda or R.V., more or less) to make it work. So many issues I’m very proud of—“Black like who?” and “Where is David?” most importantly. The arts sections were smoking—we had incredibly creative design and the broadest coverage sensibility the paper had ever had, with the writers to pull it off. When I left, it was time to move on. We had a group of outrageously talented people who are all still good friends, which trumps everything. Also, I met my wife there.

Marcus Crowder is theater critic for The Sacramento Bee.

There aren’t too many people who can say their most memorable career moments include doing a cover photo shoot with their best friends. Twice. Once wearing only underwear. But such a claim is indicative of the Sacramento News & Review as a whole: an unexpected, fun, daring, honest, often in-your-face publication that is also a true voice of the Sacramento community. I was an editor at SN&R for 10 years, joining the staff right out of college. It was a wonderful and educational experience that taught me much about journalism, and even more about life. I worked with a diverse group of truly unique characters throughout the years (Joe Tinker! R.V. Scheide), headed up special issues issue and stories I’m still proud of to this day, and met lifelong friends (not to mention my husband). Happy birthday, SN&R.

Rachel Orvino has been the editorial manager at Entertainment Weekly for going on nine years. She now lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.

I was only with SN&R for a short while in ’90s, but I still think often of the people I worked with and the stories we covered. Lately, with Oprah Winfrey bringing news of Sacramento’s “Tent City” to a scandalized nation, I’ve been thinking of the weeks photographer Noel Neuburger and I spent at Loaves & Fishes, the K Street Mall and along the American River, interviewing people for a story on homelessness. Then, as now, hundreds lived in the area north of downtown in tents and cardboard-box shelters. That was 1996, and times, supposedly, were good.

Joe Martin works in communications at University of the Pacific’s McGeorge School of Law.

Coming from a nationally distributed music monthly to SN&R was a revelation. Instead of getting schmoozed by distant but well-heeled record companies for coverage, suddenly I found myself being lobbied by a more intimate but immediate group of partisans—writers, local musicians, club owners, art-gallery proprietors, theater groups, restaurant owners and citizens (and the occasional weirdo) with that great story idea. I learned fairly fast that you can’t please everybody, and the best strategy is to try to serve the reader with as straight a story as you could muster. Which, occasionally, turned out a bit twisted.

Jackson Griffith is a freelance writer who lives in Sacramento.

In 2000, I stepped into the SN&R lobby for the first time, a pantry cook with a folder of homemade zines in lieu of a writer’s résumé. I exaggerated a passionate interest in Ralph Nader and wrangled a newsroom internship. (Free labor, however unskilled, is hard to resist.) Eight years later, I left with hundreds of published articles, my first gray hair, boundless love for Sacramento culture and the conviction that I really am a writer. The last is worth everything to me. Thanks for taking a chance, SN&R. May Sacramento continue to find its voice through you.

Becca Costello is a freelance writer who lives in Sacramento.

In my status as a former News & Review writer, SN&R editor Melinda Welsh gave me 100 words for “a memory, a rant, a prediction about the future of journalism.” How about all three? A memory: Lots of coffee at New Helvetia with writer Cosmo Garvin. Topics of conversation: hobos, cars that could go underwater and angry badgers. Time well spent. A rant: Imagine if people spent as much time dreaming up ways to improve neighborhoods as they do on basketball arenas. Doesn’t take a strong mayor. A prediction about the future of journalism: Despite financial constraints (or perhaps because of them), journalism will continue to be practiced by misanthropic truth seekers with poor social skills—and we’ll be better off for it. Thank you, News & Review. Keep on truckin’.

Jim Evans serves as communications director for California Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg.

September 11, 2001 was a Tuesday, the last day to gather news for the paper. I was stunned by the attacks, but as the SN&R news editor, I had writers hit the streets for our reaction piece. Two days later, editor Tom Walsh left for a month-long honeymoon, first telling me to “stay the course,” run the band profile on the next cover and “don’t overreact to this.” Again, I was stunned. I shook it off and did what a newspaperman needed to do: I wrote a cover story about 9/11. Walsh later fired me over our differences.

Steve Jones is news editor at the San Francisco Bay Guardian.

In my six years, two of our most talented writers died; another one went to work for Arnold Schwarzenegger; and two editors, personal rivals, moved to San Francisco to edit rival newspapers. The owner gave annual pep talks on the importance of weeklies, News & Review won dozens of writing awards and I envied every one. I met approximately 20 bazillion interesting people, could share only some of their stories with readers and discovered the one great challenge to weekly journalism: telling an endless stream of fascinating, exclusive tales that happen to be true. SN&R’s lifers still bring it, every week!

Chrisanne Beckner will complete a master’s degree in historic preservation at the University of Oregon in Eugene this year.

Top 10 memories from my two years at SN&R:

10. David Jayne, biker shorts … ’nuff said.
9. JVK sidling up behind me like Nosferatu.
8. Kel Munger’s laugh.
7. Staff farewell parties.
6. Playing musical editors.
5. The deep pride in knowing that I could write a headline that offends even R.V. Scheide.
4. Moving to the new building. Oh, wait …
3. The “drinking guide” (March ’08).
2. Working with some great friends.
1. Shit, it’s a d’ART week again already?

Edward Dunn formerly oversaw SN&R’s calendar (amongst other duties). He has since regained his sanity.

Don’t shoot me I’m only the photographer! I thought it would be an easy undertaking, being a photographer for SN&R. Just point the camera, shoot, keep the image in focus, and try to get a shot where the subject has both eyes open. Boy was I wrong. It turned out to be much more about collaborations. Those think tank session with the excellent editorial staff. Those cover story photos shoot with the SN&R Art Directors, David and Don where I learned you can make something out of nothing. I loved it all. And then there were all of the people I met which the articles were based. I encountered many of them in their moments ranging from great jubilation to that of total despair. In most cases I walked away humbled by their courage to push on ahead.

Larry V. Dalton is a Sacramento are freelance photographer.