The Post perseveres

Photo by Robert Speer

Rick Silva, editor of a paper with no readers immediately following the Camp Fire, continues to tell his town’s stories.

On Nov. 7, 2018, Rick Silva was editor of the Paradise Post, a twice-weekly newspaper that for 74 years had served the residents and businesses on the Ridge. By the end of the next day, Nov. 8, Silva was editor of a newspaper serving a town that, because of the Camp Fire, had no residents—and, thus, no readers.

At 6:30 on the morning of the fire, Silva was awakened when his phone signaled receipt of a tweet. It advised him that a fire had broken out in the Feather River Canyon and was moving toward Paradise.

He dressed and raced to the offices of the Chico Enterprise-Record, where for the last several years, since the closure of the Post’s Paradise offices, its small editorial staff had shared work space with their E-R colleagues. (The publications are among several Sacramento Valley newspapers, including the Oroville Mercury-Register and the Red Bluff Daily News, owned by MediaNews Group, which also owns the Bay Area News Group.)

The newsroom was buzzing. Everybody sensed that this story was huge—bigger even than the 2017 Oroville Dam spillway story, which chronicled the evacuation of more than 180,000 people under threat of dam collapse.

Of all the people gathered at the E-R that morning, none was as strongly connected to the Paradise community as Silva. Back in 1994, freshly graduated from Chico State, he had applied for a sports reporting job at the Post. Much to his surprise, he got it. He’s since worked there for 25 years, 17 of them as editor.

He’d covered Paradise-area fires before, most notably the Humboldt Fire of 2008. Determined to get as close as possible to the blaze, Silva had gotten lost in the smoky darkness and begun to think he was done for when two Paradise residents stepped out of the murk and directed him to Chico. “I was so unprepared for that fire,” he said, lamenting especially the lack of a gas mask.

In 2008, the Post’s editorial staff numbered 11 and was housed in a large building on Clark Road in Paradise. By the time of the Camp Fire, however, budget cuts had made the paper a shadow of its former self. Its editorial staff was down to just two people—Silva and reporter Amanda Hovik—and the whole operation had been moved to Chico.

Fortunately, they weren’t alone in covering the Camp Fire. E-R reporters and editors pitched in, and crews from the Bay Area News Group arrived to help out. Their work was invaluable. “There’s no way we would have been able to do what we did without their help,” Silva said.

For his part, Silva took advantage of his media access and spent nearly a week driving around Paradise with a video camera, documenting the disaster and posting the videos on YouTube and his Facebook page. He helped hundreds of people learn the fate of their homes—those he could find, that is. Landmarks and street signs, like everything else, were burned beyond recognition. He also accumulated more than 3,000 new Facebook friends.

Since the fire, a kind of new normal has settled in at the Post. The staff—since Hovik left, it’s mostly Silva, though he does get some backup from the E-R and other sister papers—has had to learn how to put out a newspaper in a town that has almost no residents. To that end, they made one especially smart decision: to insert a four-page version of the Post into the E-R twice a week, on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

It’s an unconventional distribution system, but it has attracted subscribers and even a few advertisers, giving the Post a new, if fragile, lease on life.

As for Rick Silva, these days he’s not only the Post’s editor, he’s also its staff reporter, covering meetings of the Town Council, the Paradise Irrigation District and the school board as these entities struggle to bring their town back to life.

He is determined to keep the Post alive to benefit the people of Paradise, whom he knows so well. “The last thing I want to be,” he said, “is the last editor of the Paradise Post.”