Each Thursday for the past 13 years, I’ve walked into the CN&R’s office and grabbed a freshly printed issue of Chico’s trusty alternative weekly.
Yesterday was different. As I swung around the roundabout at Second and Flume streets, I got my first view of our shuttered office and an empty newsstand just outside of the front door. The scene hit me right in the gut, and I fought back tears as I pulled into our parking lot.
Could it be that we actually printed the last issue of Chico’s beloved award-winning paper? Would I never again see readers walk up to the building, eager to read our hardworking staff’s insights into community news and the arts scene?
Days earlier, I’d been interviewed by a reporter from the Christian Science Monitor. It was the fourth interview I’d given in as many days. And let me tell you, after 17 years in newspapers—most of them as an editor—it was surreal being the person asked the questions rather than doing the asking.
Her story came out today. The headline: The other first responders: local journalists. It dives into the economic havoc the coronavirus is wreaking on community newspapers—such as Chico’s 43-year-old weekly—at the very time our work is most critical.
As we reported last week, the CN&R has suspended its print operations. Everyone on our staff has been laid off, including yours truly. But we’re not alone. Many community newspapers around the country have either suspended their operations or have laid off staff and are operating with bare bones.
At the same time, and especially due to this medical health crisis befalling the nation, people are realizing the importance of independent news outlets. We saw that after the Camp Fire as well. As I relayed to the Christian Science Monitor reporter, the CN&R’s reporting on the disaster—especially related to water contamination and poverty issues—remains unparalleled.
More than anything, we want to continue the paper’s long legacy of watchdog reporting.
Many of our readers have sent the kindest notes of encouragement—several of them distraught at the idea of a permanent closure. Someone even dropped off a bouquet of flowers. We started a fundraising drive the day the CN&R went dark. Since then, we’ve received more than $6,000 in donations.
Is that type of reader support the future of community news? Will the CN&R transition to a nonprofit news source? These are but a few of the questions I’ve been asking myself over the past week.
Yesterday, after I pulled into the parking lot and dried my eyes, I ran up to my office and got to work. A few of my former co-workers began trickling in, lifting my spirits. One of them helped us get the hang of our new blog, an effort that is possible because of the aforementioned donations from readers.
Right now, we don’t have nearly enough money to restart the CN&R. But between those of us volunteering our time, and a few others who will be working as contributing writers, we’re doing what we can to serve our community and keep the light on for independent local journalism. I think I speak for all of us at the CN&R when I say that we’ve left the light on in our hearts.