You work at SN&R? Are you a writer?
About the rest of us working behind the scenes
In 1973, I was 18, working at an alternative weekly newspaper in Southern California. The Santa Barbara News & Review was founded by idealistic ’60s radicals who hoped to transform the future of the country. When I arrived, the staff was a mix of university students, community organizers, misfits and me—a high-school graduate who wanted to change the world.
The News & Review was a collective. All staffers had an equal say in decision-making. Each staff member was expected to do every job at the paper, from typesetter to managing editor. We called it “rotation.” I soon had experience at many jobs. I drove around town with our distribution manager in a beat-up van. His scroungy dogs watched over him as he put the papers in the stands and collected piles of quarters, nickels and dimes. I struggled to sell subscriptions door to door. I worked as a typesetter and was proud of my ability to manually arrange type in elaborate shapes. I printed photos in the darkroom and developed galleys of type. As a reporter, I covered school board meetings and visited the women’s prison in Chino. But I spent the most time designing ads and covers for the paper with my friend Christine. We worked in a small back room crowded with broken-down news racks. Bits of ceiling fell like snow as we typed ad copy on manual typewriters and drew illustrations for the newspaper’s tiny ads.
The paper made no money. Most of the staff made less than $100 a month and lived off food stamps. I lived in my car for a time, and ate meals with a household who raided Dumpsters for food. But our paper covered important stories, and I worked with a great group of dedicated people.
It was at the Santa Barbara News & Review that I met my future husband and work partner, Jeff vonKaenel. He joined the paper as a labor reporter, but after several “rotations” that left us with no salespeople, he realized that without ad revenues, we would have no paper. In faded blue jeans, with long hair and beard, he became our top sales rep.
In 1980, Jeff was recruited to the Chico News & Review, an unrelated alternative newsweekly that had borrowed its name from the Santa Barbara paper. The Chico paper owed money to the printer, and the IRS had put a lien on the bank account. The staff had been working for months without pay. We borrowed money from friends, family and the bank to pay the print bill, and we bought new computers, nicknamed “death ray tubes” by the reporters. We hired George Thurlow, a scrappy editor we had worked with in Santa Barbara. After struggling for several years, the paper finally took off.
In 1989, we realized that to have a greater impact, we had to look beyond Chico. We moved to Sacramento to found the Sacramento News & Review with editor Melinda Welsh. She has stuck with us, coming out of semi-retirement repeatedly when we needed her help. In 1995, we bought the assets of a small community paper in Reno, Nev., and began working with Brian Burghart, the current editor of the Reno News & Review. Each of these three papers has its own distinct personality and fills a unique niche in its community.
When I tell people I work at the News & Review, the first question I am asked is “Are you a writer?” Our readers might be surprised to know that the editorial department only makes up about one-fifth of the newspaper’s staff. The rest of us work behind the scenes. Designers; salespeople; accountants; systems, distribution and events staff; as well as writers, have made the News & Review what it is today and, more importantly, what it will be tomorrow.
One of those people is Don Button, who I first met in Chico in 1986, when he applied for an internship in the design department. He had just completed his certificate in computer graphics, a new field at that time. Don’s life has woven in and out of the paper’s history. As well as winning awards for his design work at the News & Review and elsewhere, he’s a passionate advocate of many causes, from legalizing marijuana to advocating for free public skate parks in Sacramento.
My first years at the News & Review were spent in the design department, working as a design manager and art director. This gives me great appreciation for Anne Lesemann, our current design director. She has created an atmosphere of mutual respect between the design team and the other departments. Anne and her partner just adopted a wonderful 12-year-old boy, and she brings the same dedication to parenting that she brings to everything in her life.
Our art director, David Jayne, was the drummer for the techno-metal band Hurt in the 1990s. He came to work for us in 1998, but he continues to be involved in the music scene. He says, “Music composition and page design … both require the same care and attention to detail.” He is an avid cyclist, and for many years he rode the bike leg in the Eppie’s Great Race relay with my husband, Jeff, who ran, and another staffer who paddled the kayak.
Our production coordinator, Sharon Wisecarver, has been with us for eight years. Before this, she was a lab technician, then belly dancer and painter, and she lived in Morocco for six years. She is a passionate bird-watcher and cultivates cactus in her spare time.
Marianne Mancina has worked at SN&R since 1998. Before that, she worked as an ice-cream truck driver, a bar waitress, a clothing designer and a teacher. Now, she designs beautiful ads and supplements and is affectionately called “Grandma” by the rest of the design staff. She says, “I’m 61 years old, and my SN&R job is the only one … where I can walk in the door in the morning and still be completely myself.”
Another ad designer, Michele Brown, came to the News & Review nine years ago as a young single mom who helped us with Web design. Now she designs ads and continues to do Web design as a freelancer.
For many people, our distribution drivers are the face of SN&R. Once a week, a driver may visit more than 100 businesses, delivering stacks of freshly printed papers. While our drivers come from diverse backgrounds, many of them have retired from very successful careers, bringing years of experience to the job. Ken Maxwell, 78, is a decorated veteran of the Korean War. Vincent Salas grew up on the island of Guam, lived in a Japanese concentration camp as a boy, served in the U.S. Marine Corps and had a lengthy career as a probation officer. Jack Thorne grew up in Sacramento and remembers when Howe Avenue and Arden Way was a cow pasture. Jack Clifford, one of several drivers who have come to us from Oklahoma, has distributed papers for the News & Review for 12 years.
One of our most senior drivers, Ron Forsberg, served with the U.S. Army in Vietnam and still works for the U.S. government, interviewing welfare recipients. This is his 15th year with the News & Review. He advises the new drivers, “When you go into a restaurant, tell them it smells good.” He reinforces the important role that the drivers play in representing the paper.
Our distribution manager, Michael Billingsley, is younger (he says “much younger”) than most of his staff, but just as dedicated. Once, when an accident stopped traffic on the freeway, he hopped out of his van and passed out the paper to drivers waiting impatiently for the road to clear. Asked about his staff, he says, “I love those guys.”
While the distribution staff visits restaurants, coffee shops and markets, our information technology staff tries to keep a multitude of computers, routers, firewalls and software systems working seamlessly. The door to their office is covered with cartoons that illustrate that challenge. When Ric Marques applied for the systems manager position in 1996, he found computers I had “repaired” with duct tape. At his job interview, he asked about our dress code. He has worn shorts to work every day since. Over the last 10 years, we have been faced with many computer problems. Ric’s initial reaction is usually to shrug and shake his head. Then a few days later, he will show up in my office with an elegant solution.
Kelsey Falle, a Waldorf school graduate, came to SN&R in 2001, bringing with her experience from a variety of jobs. She is one of our best trainers and sets a high standard for herself and the rest of us. She and co-worker Aaron McCormack publish content on the News & Review Web site. She also creates beautiful, moody artwork that has to be seen to be believed. Kelsey’s favorite quote: “All of my heroes have FBI files.”
The core of our sales department over the last 15 years has been three dedicated women, Jinx Liberato, Joy Webber and Rosemarie Messina. They have survived the wrath of every restaurant owner who received a bad review. They have salvaged the ad that arrived as an unreadable mess at deadline. They experience the agony and the ecstasy of their clients, local business owners, day in and day out. Without their efforts, SN&R might not be here today.
Jinx was born in 1967, in the Summer of Love. She received her name from her dad, who jokingly said, “I had four kids before you and wanted to call it quits, but I called you ‘Jinx’ instead.” She is a second-generation Italian who loves local music and the arts and has worked at SN&R for the past 15 years. If you’ve ever attended a concert with Jinx, you have heard her distinctive yodeling cheer.
Joy has worked for SN&R for the past 13 years. She enjoys the fact that her job allows her to learn about different businesses and to be creative in many ways. She says her three sons, who are 20, 23 and 24, think it’s pretty cool that their stepmom works at the “hip alternative weekly” in town.
Rosemarie is the heart and soul of the sales department. For more than 10 years, she has remained constantly upbeat and positive, helping to set the tone for the rest of us. Her clients love her, and I think she’s the only person who routinely calls me “sweetie.”
Amy Nathman, our ad services manager, has held many positions over the past 10 years, and now she is the person we turn to when we need answers. She remembers how things used to be done and knows how things should be done. She is working on a degree in anthropology and secretly dreams of being a redhead. I think she should go for it.
These are just a few of the staffers who are unknown to our readers, but whose intelligence, creativity and individuality have made a huge contribution to the success and survival of our company. Because of their efforts, we have published great newspapers that have survived and endured. Our writers have told stories that would not otherwise have been told; our paper has given unheard voices a forum in which to speak. We have put a spotlight on local music and art. We helped support a coalition of people to build and renovate homes in Oak Park. Our youth-in-the-arts awards show, the Jammies, encourages high-school music. We have made a difference.
I’ve been working for alternative newspapers for the last 35 years. It’s always been challenging, and we’ve been through many hard times. But I’ve had great companions on this journey, and I’ve never been bored. And our goals are the same as they were when we first wrote our mission statement, back in the 1980s: “To publish great newspapers that are successful and enduring. To create a quality work environment that encourages employees to grow professionally while respecting personal welfare. To have a positive impact on our communities and make them better places to live.”