The rain was the perfect company as I sat down on the eve of the one-year anniversary of California’s coronavirus lockdown. Not coincidentally, March 19, 2020, was also the day that the CN&R closed its doors.
It wouldn’t seem right if the sun was shining while reflecting on the events of the past year. At least, not the way I’ve felt for much of that time. As regular readers know, our closure a year ago was in some ways temporary. We launched a new website shortly after being shuttered, followed by restarting the presses on a monthly basis roughly four months later.
But in other ways, Covid had a lasting impact.
Case in point: The paper’s beautiful building at the east entrance to downtown will be sold. I was extremely sad when I learned it was going on the market, but that was so long ago now it almost seems insignificant.
Because we work from home, I’ve been into the office only sporadically over the past 12 months. Here and there, I’ve headed in to pick up some remnant in my office. I’d fill a box with old notepads, letters and other newspaper ephemera. Sometimes I’d sit and tinker on my laptop, looking out the window to the roundabout I’ve written about so much.
One of the many things reinforced during these solitary and infrequent melancholic outings is that people are the heart of the CN&R. I mean, I love our building, a second home to me over the years—14 years as of this month, actually—but it doesn’t take brick and mortar to know our community and write about it with care.
Speaking of permanent adjustments, I have to mention the sudden loss of longtime colleagues. I miss every single one of the people I worked with day in and day out. No kidding. I loved being surrounded by others dedicated to journalism, from the reporters in the newsroom to the delivery drivers I’d chat with in the parking lot at the end of their routes each Thursday.
One of the other big toughies for this longtime newshound has been coming to the realization that the CN&R doesn’t have the bandwidth to tell all the stories that deserve to be told about our community. I’ve often felt like I’m letting down our readers.
What I yearn for the most are the in-depth and investigative stories that are the hallmark of the CN&R. Excellent work has been published over the last year, but the deep-dive reporting that’s in our DNA is much more difficult to accomplish with a small and mostly part-time staff.
That includes yours truly. I’m working 10 hours a week, my time mostly devoted to my school-age son. I have no regrets about making him my priority or the boundaries I had to set with the CN&R. I’m still writing my column, the editorials and working with folks who submit guest comments. (Speaking of which, please send me your pitches.) Occasionally, I have time to pitch story ideas and edit the resulting articles. It’s one of the things I miss the most, though longtime Arts Editor Jason Cassidy has done an excellent job since being thrust into the chief editorial position. This is a challenging time to lead a newspaper, especially one that’s gone through so many changes.
From what I’ve read, many other struggling publications have ceased to exist in the Covid era. I get that. The easiest thing for us to have done would have been to give up and move on last March. And I don’t mean to fault the people on staff who had no other choice. Sticking with the CN&R—and somehow eking out a living—is the tougher road.
The handful of us who wouldn’t say die—I feel the urge to throw a Goonies reference in here—haven’t given up hope. And hope is a powerful thing.
Buoying it is the continued community support. The other day, for example, Art Director Tina Flynn texted me to tell me about a couple of checks totaling $300 had arrived in the mail. She wanted to know if I knew the folks who had sent them. You know, because it would make sense that there would be a personal connection for such generosity. Plus, so many of my friends and acquaintances have donated to the CN&R.
Not surprisingly, though, I didn’t know them. This has occurred time and again. Strangers have helped Chico’s scrappy alternative paper scrape by during the biggest health crisis in modern history. I never knew I’d be so grateful for people I’ve never met—whether they donated $100 or $10.
A year later, it’s still scary that I don’t know what the future holds. But what I’ve learned is that it takes a special newspaper—staffed and supported by exceptional people—to be able to carry on through this unmitigated nightmare. And despite it all—the stress, financial strain and uncertainty—I’m proud to be part of the journey.