The day after the CN&R closed up shop last year due to the statewide shutdown, I sat in our downstairs conference room with a few staffers and former staffers. I’d invited them to the office to brainstorm a plan for saving Chico’s beloved alt-weekly.
I wasn’t about to let it go down on my watch. Pandemic be damned. So, I did what any other stubborn newshound would’ve done. I rolled up my sleeves and got to work. I wrote, I edited, I researched, I networked. Only this time, I wasn’t pulling a paycheck.
For months, I was consumed by this effort. I needed to know that the paper would go on. And it wasn’t about ego or even job security. I wouldn’t give up because our community desperately needs and deserves the kind of reporting that only this publication provides, the type of stories the CN&R has been telling for decades.
I want to make it clear that nobody more than yours truly wants the paper to succeed, as I have some important news to share. This week I’m passing the torch to the paper’s next editor, Jason Cassidy.
Most readers know Jason as the CN&R’s longtime arts editor—curator of all things arts-related in Chico and beyond—and author of the Arts DEVO column. A cornerstone of the paper’s staff for close to two decades, he’s a fixture in the scene.
We recently reminisced about our early days in the newspaper business, both of us getting our start around the same time, me as a staff writer at the Chico Enterprise-Record and Jason as a freelance contributor for that paper’s now-defunct entertainment insert. Jason and I knew each other socially, but it wasn’t until we worked together years later at the CN&R that I got to know him well.
The person I’d come to know is a kind, considerate and evolved human being. He was among the first to congratulate me when I was named editor back in 2013, and he was a dedicated colleague and confidant during my time in the chief’s chair. He’s been equally supportive over the past 14 months, as I’ve worked for the paper part time.
It’s important for readers to know that this change doesn’t signal me giving up on the CN&R. Rather, it makes official what really is an overdue transition. Jason has been serving as interim editor since last July, when the paper started printing monthly.
That’s when I stepped back and took on a helper role. I was dealing with some pressing medical issues and needed time to recover from surgeries. By the time I did, it became clear that I couldn’t jump back in as editor-in-chief. Where I was needed most was at home with my son, who is severely immunocompromised and unable to attend school amid the pandemic.
Switching gears so abruptly was difficult initially. Like many professional women, I’ve been humbled by having to sideline my career, this one 20-plus years in the making. I originally thought I would be home for a few months, mistakenly presuming the country would rise to meet the moment to protect vulnerable people like my son. Turns out, I greatly underestimated America’s empathy deficit and mistrust of science.
What’s been infinitely worse is the grief over my grandfather’s death to the virus. Losing him sent me far lower than I could have imagined, breaking my heart while filling me with rage at society.
The beauty part in all of this—and, believe me, I’ve needed one—is the quality time I’m getting to spend with my son. As a workaholic by nature, I’ve missed many goodnight kisses and morning cuddles over his short life because of my job. I don’t need hindsight to recognize that this time together is a gift.
As for the CN&R, it’s in great hands. Jason has been doing yeoman’s work, including diving into the news side of the paper with many of his own impressive bylines. I’m excited to see what changes he has in store. He’s asked me to stay on in my current role of editor-at-large, so that’s what I’m going to do for the time being. I’ll continue editing certain deep-dive stories, writing a column, and cracking skulls in the editorial space as the occasion arises. Lord knows this town needs a good thumping now and again.
Since this isn’t a farewell column, per se, I’m not going to get too sentimental. But I do want to thank those who’ve encouraged and believed in me over the years. I appreciate every email, hand-written note and phone call, and I hope that those who’ve supported me will receive Jason warmly.
I used to pick up the CN&R just for Second & Flume. Thank you for sharing your wisdom. I’ve missed you. I wish you success and happiness in your life and endeavors.
Melissa, you are a verified and true gem and I’ve so appreciated your work as editor-in-chief of the CN&R.
I’m sorry to hear about your and your son’s medical issues, and I sure do agree with you about all the toxic people out there who don’t believe in masks and vaccinations. I so hope that you stick around here, in some form, because you’ve made a LOT of us appreciate the CN&R, and your writing.
Melissa – I wish you all the best as you pass the torch to Jason. I have so appreciated your years at the helm of CN&R – your devotion to honest, comprehensive reporting, your accessibility, your forthrightness, your courage and devotion to your work, your evident compassion and empathy for the struggles of others – all these and more have made your presence in our community so valuable. I LOVED Kevin Jeys’ story of how he met you and how much he appreciates you, from using CNR paper as a fire starter to having so much respect and affection for you! Many blessings to you and your family!