By Ron Angle
My father would always warn, “If you have nothing good to say, say nothing.” Unfortunately, his son eventually became a journalist, and as we all know journalists always have something to say.
In the past, I would write commentary pieces regularly for the print edition of the Chico News & Review. After Doomsday, when the CN&R ceased coming off print presses, I thought I had won the jackpot.
In print journalism, every item that is published has preset criteria called “column inches.” A 48-page publication has a finite amount of available column inches. A good editor will fill every available inch with either text or advertising. To make this happen, each writer is assigned a word limit. For the CN&R’s print standard, the limit for the commentary section was 340 words. Long ago, it was 500 words.
Advertising always comes first. It pays for the newsprint and the production, including salaries for the full-time staff and one-time payments for submissions by contributors. Those payments are based on column inches. Whither goes the advertising, also goes the column inches … and the $$.
A lot of the CN&R’s advertising was generated by Chico’s entertainment and hospitality sectors. With the spread and threat of COVID-19, those sectors disappeared. Publisher Jeff vonKaenel had little option but to cease publication until the advertising returns. For now, everyone holds their breath while waiting.
In online publishing, there is no newsprint and there are no printing presses. Essentially, there is no tangible cost associated with online publishing. That is why we have blogs, one form of online publishing.
How hard is it to publish your own online newspaper? Not too difficult. Within five hours of the announcement that the CN&R was terminating the print edition and its associated paid staff, by myself I brought online a replacement version. This was not a challenge to CN&R parent company Chico Community Publishing; rather it was a Plan B. I purchased two URLs, using the phrase “BNR,” reconfigured my server, created an initial edition, and sat back to wait. All before midnight.
Fortunately, the CN&R’s editor was also spending her time productively. The excellent Plan A result is chico.newsreview.com. It is still a community newspaper, albeit one that you cannot hold in your hands. It is still very much capable of both informing and provoking the community.
Sadly, there is one task that Plan A is not able to accomplish. It cannot write paychecks.
The (former) CN&R paid staff put in this work while unpaid. But that staff still has bills to pay and mouths to feed. The Usual Suspects are still putting words together, skillfully and accurately. Loyal readers, now viewers, are contributing to the support of Chico’s Plan A. Here is how you can help.
As to that jackpot I referred to earlier, I am now at nearly 500 words for this commentary and I have not yet run out of space. And Plan B is happily only waiting in the wings.