I don’t think my first day of employment as recorded by the Chico News & Review is correct, but I’m certain about the first story I wrote for the paper. It was an interview with Jimmy Fay and Jerry Morano about the impetus for their long-running local “danceable, groove-heavy” superband Spark ’n’ Cinder, published on June 12, 2003. I was a freelancer then, writing copy for arts editor and lovable cantankerous arts/music critic John Young.
I know my first issue flying solo as John’s successor was Aug. 14 of that year, but I doubt I was on staff for six weeks of training. Whatever the actual start date, this summer marks my 20th anniversary working for the CN&R. [Sound of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale cap popping off!]
As I’ve been looking back at the stories I’ve written and edited—as arts and/or calendar editor for 17 years and editor for the last three—the one that stands out in my mind is a 2005 piece I feared would lead to my dismissal and put an early end to my career in journalism. My copy came in at a mere 51 words, yet I nonetheless managed to get everything in those two inches of print wrong.
The assignment: Take a photo of and write a caption for the man-on-a-bench statue in front of the Chico Area Recreation & Park District building on Vallombrosa Avenue. That’s it.
My photo turned out great. My caption? Not so much. For starters, I misidentified the doctor to whom the bench is dedicated. Instead, I named his son, who was also a doctor, and had recently died. In doing so, I also had the wrong doctor’s specialty and date of death (the father had died 8 years earlier).
And finally, I assumed that the statue was fashioned in the doctor’s likeness. It was not. It is a generic old man standing in for the good doctor: Calvin H. “Doc” Layland, M.D., founder of Mangrove Medical Offices. (Yes, this information comes from primary sources—two obituaries (here and here), one on-site plaque and one published correction in this newspaper.)
When a polite note from the family arrived, I walked into the office of Tom Gascoyne—my editor, friend and the man who hired me—to meet my fate. Tom shrugged, told me to write a correction, and that was the end of it in his eyes.
Not for me, though. I’ve never forgotten that sinking feeling of putting something in print—something about real people’s lives—that was wrong. It was a powerful lesson. I know I haven’t gotten everything correct in the 1,534 pieces I’ve written (and the thousands more I’ve edited) for this newspaper, but since that day even my dumbest mistakes haven’t been for lack of diligence.
Thank you, News & Review, for keeping me around, and thank you readers and supporters of this newspaper for sticking around—mistakes and all.