CEO Jeff jeff vonKaenel on 25 years of publishing SN&R
This week, 25 years ago, the Sacramento News & Review came into the world. Weighing only a few ounces, 22 inches long, with tens of thousands of identical brothers and sisters, the newborn SN&R could barely hold up its head, woke up its parents during the nights, was often colicky and needed constant changing. Finally, it started to grow. Our little baby put on extra pages and started to come alive with its own personality.
All of us at SN&R work on different parts of the paper, but each week the paper comes out as a whole. A whole that is bigger than all the parts. A whole that has its own voice and its own point of view.
Winston Churchill once said that, “We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.” The same is true about newspapers. Working at the paper, and working with the people working at the paper, has made me a better person. I care more about people and community, less about money, and have joy that my life has a meaning beyond just a paycheck. I am very grateful.
For me, this journey started in December 1988, when my wife, Deborah Redmond, and I moved down from Chico with our 6-month-old baby to launch SN&R. Deborah and I, the majority owners of the weekly Chico News & Review, played the role of Lewis and Clark, quickly trying to understand a new community. In the few months before the first issue, I met with more than 300 very different Sacramento residents. It was through this process that I started to love and care deeply about Sacramento.
But first, we had to assemble a team that would produce the paper. In January 1989, before we even had an office, we worked from our family home. Every weekday morning, our new baby would wake us early. Next, Tom Johnson, our associate editor, would rise up from his bed—which was our couch. Then, the rest of our team would show up: Melinda Welsh, our editor; Laurie Waters, our advertising manager; and Chuck Leishman, our national-advertising manager. We sat around the kitchen table to make plans.
I knew we would be able to put out a successful paper in Sacramento. At our first meeting, I said that after we succeeded, there would be those who would give me credit. But I wanted everyone at the table to know that I would not deserve that credit. I knew then, and I know now, that the group around the table would be responsible for our success.
Our first office was at the corner of V and 20th streets, then we spent many years in Midtown. In 2009, we moved to our own building on Del Paso Boulevard. This building is larger and the conference tables are longer, but the philosophy is still the same: We expect our people to figure things out.
My office is the exact same size as my executive assistant’s office. In fact, we recently switched offices. Office size is a small thing, but believing that every position is critical is a big thing. A big thing that has gotten us through the last 25 years, and I expect will get us through the next 25.
Since 1989, we have been through recessions and booms. Each week, we’ve gone on, putting out another paper. We’ve never missed an issue, a bank payment or a payroll. In this space, I cannot thank everyone who has made a difference. But I would like to mention a few people.
On the editorial side, longtime editor Melinda Welsh has been and still represents the heart and soul of the paper. She, more than anyone, established the paper’s DNA. And now, Rachel Leibrock and Nick Miller, the paper’s co-editors, have continued and enhanced the tradition.
On the design side: Don Button, who gave the paper its look; Anne Lesemann, who ran the design department for many years; and our current design manager Priscilla Garcia, who not only runs the production department, but has also created the look for our custom publications division.
On the business side: Tanja Poley, who is hands down our best-ever human-resource manager, and Grant Rosenquist, who has the business office running like clockwork.
In the operations department, we were lucky to have Ric Marques and Glenn May, who both left a legacy behind, passing the baton to our current amazing team.
I must have done something pretty wonderful in a past life to be so lucky as to have Greg Erwin, our distribution manager, at the paper.
In advertising, Rosemarie Messina and Joy Webber have been our foundation, with Kelsi White and Olla Ubay supplying the walls. And the architect for our advertising home has been Rick Brown. His return to the paper has been a godsend. And Will Niespodzinski keeps the wheels on the bus.
All of us at the paper are most grateful to you, the readers. All 350,000 of you who pick up SN&R at least once a month. Our hope is that we do not disappoint, and that within our pages, you feel that your voice is heard. We hope you appreciate the community dialogue. I hope that the paper plays a role in making Sacramento a better place.
And we appreciate our advertising clients. Without you, we could not have a paper. We hope that we can help your business, and we appreciate you helping ours. I want to thank Karen Ewing from Java City for being our first client and for providing the advertising support to help us launch Second Saturday. I’d like to give a shout-out to Russ Solomon of Tower Records, who was our largest advertiser for many years, supporting us when The Sacramento Bee was actively trying to put us out of business. And I’d like to also give a shout-out to the marijuana collectives, who have provided so much support to the paper.
When we moved to Del Paso Boulevard in ’09, Deborah and I took out a 25-year mortgage on our building. I may not be at the News & Review table when it comes time to tear up that lease. But I believe that there will be SN&R staffers at the table, still creating a paper in some form or another. The paper played an important role in 1989. It has an important role in 2014. And it will have an important role in 2039.
At this midpoint between the paper’s birth and its 50th anniversary, I would like to say how much I have appreciated the last 25 years of putting out a paper that I love, with people that I love and in a community that I love.