Is SN&R going mainstream?

A reprint from SN&R’s 10th anniversary issue in 1999

I met my second-grader’s P.E. teacher the other day. He asked me about working at the News & Review and complimented the paper. Said he read it every week and really enjoyed the alternative voice. Then he added, “But it’s getting more mainstream, huh. Well, you gotta make money.”


I’ve been with the News &Review for long enough to remember when the mere idea of being called “mainstream” was inconceivable. I started as a graphics intern at the Chico paper in 1986, when there was only a Chico paper. The paper was equally revered and hated in town. It was almost legendary, even though it had only been around for nine years. It seemed as though everybody in Chico, from every walk of life, read CN&R whether they agreed with it or not. It was a true alternative newspaper about eight years before the term “alternative” got co-opted by every marketing agency and media outlet and lost all relevant meaning and context. And it set a standard. Other start-up weeklies around the country looked to us as an example to follow.

There were maybe 40 employees then, and everybody knew everybody else’s families. They worked together, played together and did unmentionable and illegal things together. It was one big, wild and passionate family. It was the stereotypical post-hippie, liberal rebel journalists fighting for the truth. But it was real and it was very alternative to the rest of the Reagan-era nation. And I loved it.

But you can never go home again.

I know it’s a tired cliché, but it’s true.

There are now over 100 employees at the News & Review, with three different newspapers in two states. Many have never met each other. We have millions of dollars in advertising sales and have won dozens of prestigious awards. I now wear a tie by choice. We are not the same company or the same people. There are very few Sacramento employees who have been here more than eight years. Only a handful who know what it was like 10 or 12 years ago.

These changes are bound to have an impact on the image, content and direction of the company and the newspapers.

It’s not that the division between the editorial and sales department has eroded or we’ve deliberately gone soft. The reporters here will still tell you they’re always allowed to write hard-hitting stories, and the editors don’t run from controversy or stories that might upset advertisers. But that kind of story seems to come less frequently now, sandwiched in between the softer Money Guides, Summer Guides, Gift Guides and Academy Award issues. So the accusation of “going mainstream” is a tough one to debate. I can’t say I don’t agree sometimes. I’ve felt that way for a while.

I don’t think we have the edge we used to. We’ve become established, respected and copied. We’ve matured, and sometimes that doesn’t feel like a good thing. But I accept it as inevitable. That’s the way life is. No successful start-up company can really stay the same through 10 years of growth and success. No matter what the business or driving ideology, age and experience have a direct impact on the company’s corporate culture.

So I understand why we seem to have gone mainstream in the eyes of some readers.

Yes, there are newer newspapers that try to be “edgier” to compete with us. And they often succeed in certain ways. But edgy isn’t always pretty. Untrained writers who call themselves journalists, knowing nothing of ethics or libel (not to mention whether or not they have writing skills) imagine they already have the credibility that we have worked hard to earn over the years. Their publications may be edgy and alternative, but otherwise not worth much.

Meanwhile, the true mainstream press in this town—the Bee and especially the local TV news programs—have, over the last 10 years, become utterly soft and worthlessly devoid of real news. So in that in context, the News & Review is still quite alternative.

Ultimately, we still do something great for this community. We still tell important stories that no one else would touch, and I am proud to still be a part of it.