The rebel years: 1977-1980
No matter how much time passes, when the story of the Chico News & Review is told, it’s the first four years of the paper’s history that typically gets the most attention. For good reason. The tale of the staff of the Wildcat newspaper breaking from Chico State and going independent makes for a pretty kick-ass origin story. And it’s not only about the birth of this weekly newspaper (actually, it came out Tuesdays and Thursdays for the first two years), it’s also a story of the birth of liberalism in Chico. The progressive streak that has run through the newspaper and this community has a direct line to the fiercely independent hippies and other rebels of those first four years (Robert Speer, Mark McKinnon, Kim Weir, Kevin Jeys, to name a few) who ran the paper as a collective as long as they could.
Back in the heyday: 1980s & 1990s
As the 1970s wound down, the CN&R was going broke. No-frills salesman Jeff vonKaenel came to the paper from Santa Barbara in 1980—and soon after so too did his wife, woman-of-many-hats Deborah Redmond, and editor George Thurlow—to help right the ship. And despite a split with the editorial staff at the time, they did. With co-founder Robert Speer returning, the CN&R grew rapidly, both in size and circulation in the ’80s.
In 1989, the new ownership left for Sacramento to start the SN&R, and in 1991, Thurlow returned to Santa Barbara, and despite a much more volatile economic climate in the 1990s, a succession of editors—Speer, Joe Martin and Tom Gascoyne—guided the newspaper through another decade of success, gaining readers and many more awards with a cast of colorful characters covering big issues (more wildfires!) and a flourishing music and arts scene.
Adapting in the digital age: 2000s
This was a rough decade for print media in the U.S., especially daily newspapers, whose revenues in 2010 were nearly half of what they were 10 years earlier. As digital media took hold, newsrooms were decimated, papers were shuttered and others were swallowed up by conglomerates. Alternative weeklies, with their emphasis on community journalism, fared better. But it was still a challenging time.
At the News & Review, the Great Recession hit hard. All three of the company’s newspapers—in Chico, Sacramento and Reno—had a dramatic reduction in advertising and experienced temporary pay cuts and some dramatic changes in staffing. With a stubborn devotion to print, the papers survived and published many important stories, winning CNPA awards for general excellence, column-writing and arts coverage along the way.
Disaster and unrest—bumpy road for a new generation: 2010s
For the CN&R and the people of Butte County, nothing was as big as the Camp Fire. The 2018 disaster that destroyed Paradise and Concow defined the community and this paper for more than a year. The 200-plus stories on the wildfire and recovery produced by the devoted editorial staff—led by Editor Melissa Daugherty—between 2018 and 2020 were among the most important in the CN&R’s history.
Even with the Great Recession behind us, the country and the community had plenty to worry about. Societal inequalities, ongoing environmental crises and the circus of partisan politics were global and local issues that continued to give this paper tons write about.
Despite all the upheaval and the fact that the conversation in the country was increasingly taking place online, our community was still picking up a physical paper at numbers comparable to those of the CN&R’s 1980s heyday. Aside from a couple of dips, circulation managed to hover around the 40,000 mark for 30-plus years. That is, until …
End of one era; start of another: 2020-
For three-and-a-half years during and after the COVID pandemic the CN&R persevered, publishing monthly with the hope that ad sales would bounce back. Unfortunately, they didn’t, and as of January, 2024, the paper ceased print publication, ending a 46-year run on racks and stands in Butte County.
The paper is still here though. The CN&R’s mission will persist online, where we will channel our resources toward enhancing coverage of local government and continuing as the go-to resource for local arts information.
Others have done great online work, and we are striving to as well.