“Hey, kid. How ya doin’?”
I can hear Tim Crews’ gravelly voice say those exact words, his typical greeting. Though busy as editor and publisher of the twice-weekly Sacramento Valley Mirror, the publication he founded roughly 30 years ago, Tim always made time to call me.
We’d first crossed paths nearly two decades ago when I was a cub reporter at the Chico E-R. My first beats in those days were covering the Paradise Ridge and his territory, Glenn County, a place with scandals as fertile as the fields and orchards that produce the region’s primary commodities. I lived on my late grandparents’ small farm in Hamilton City during college and early in my career, so Tim didn’t look at me as he did other reporters from Butte County, people he largely considered interlopers who’d occasionally roll in from Chico for a big story.
But it wasn’t until I was named the CN&R’s editor-in-chief about eight years ago that Tim and I bonded over our shared love of newspapering. That’s not to say we didn’t gripe about the downside of our jobs, including working ridiculously long hours and being on the receiving end of death threats. I suspect that Tim, dogged reporter to his core, prioritized work over his health.
Which brings me to the point in this belated tribute where I acknowledge—more to myself, so that I can believe it—that Tim died on Nov. 12. He was 77 years old.
I’d heard through the grapevine in October that Tim was ill, but I expected he’d be back at his keyboard any day. It wasn’t until later that I learned he’d been hospitalized since September for several medical issues, including pneumonia. I just couldn’t imagine that anything could keep Glenn County’s tough-as-nails newsman down.
Tim’s efforts to hold powerful people to account are the stuff of legend in the California journalism industry. He earned his reputation through records requests and subsequent legal battles in the pursuit of public documents.
The CN&R has written about numerous such cases, like the time a county judge ruled one of his lawsuits frivolous and ordered him to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars of the opposing party’s legal fees, an amount that would’ve bankrupted his tiny publication. The case had implications for media outlets throughout the state, so a who’s who of newspaper industry professionals and First Amendment advocates came to his aid. The local ruling was successfully appealed and Tim prevailed on countless other cases, making him a hero to the scores of interns he worked with over the decades and a burr in the saddle of government officials.
I’ll never forget visiting the Mirror’s downtown Willows office, a former jewelry store with display cases filled with journalism awards. Among Tim’s many honors was being named the California Press Association’s Newspaper Executive of the Year and receiving the California News Publishers Association’s Freedom of Information Award.
I recently spoke to his life partner and business cohort, Donna Settle, and am happy to report that the Mirror lives on. In fact, the paper hasn’t missed an issue since Tim’s passing. Still, considering the spread of COVID-19 and the subsequent critical need for unflinching accountability journalism, the sad truth is that Tim’s death leaves a crater-like hole in the west part of the valley’s media landscape.
From a personal perspective, I’m pretty darn sad. Tim was among the first people to congratulate me when I was named editor of the CN&R. During his regular phone calls, he’d give me kudos on a particular editorial or story. In Tim-like fashion, when he disagreed with something in the paper, he also felt free to share his criticism. I’ll miss all of that.
I know Tim was pulling for the CN&R to return to publishing weekly, and I’m sorry he won’t get to see that happen. Speaking of the future, I have some news that I hate to report. Like other businesses treading water, this publication can’t afford to sit on real estate it barely uses. Therefore, our building at Second and Flume streets is now on the market. Longtime readers will remember when the paper operated elsewhere downtown, so this doesn’t signal the end of Chico’s lone alternative newspaper. It’s just a transition, albeit a heartbreaking one.