Thanks again, Bob Speer

Jeff vonKaenel

Bob Speer, who served as the SN&R’s interim editor since February, has re-retired. This eliminates his need to spend eight hours a week on Highway 99, commuting between Chico and Sacramento. It was fun working with Bob again, something I have done on and off since 1980.

With Bob’s help, we put out some good papers this year. But, as important as Bob’s contributions have been over the last five months, his most significant impact goes much deeper, to the actual bones of the paper. He’s had quite an impact on all three of our papers (in Chico, Sacramento and Reno).

Next month, the Chico News & Review will be celebrating its 40th anniversary. Back in 1977, Bob was the editor of the Chico State University student paper, The Wildcat, which ran stories that so angered the college administration that it wanted to shut down the paper. In a grand compromise, The Wildcat moved off campus, and became the Chico News & Review. And Bob was the first editor.

So Bob was there at the very beginning. More than anyone, he put the initial bones into the body of the paper. Many components of his original vision remain as key parts of our newspaper’s current culture. Here are some of the “bones” that our culture was built on.

Bob believed that stories matter. Things happen when a spotlight that reaches hundreds of thousands of people is focused on an individual or an institution. With that power comes responsibility. The responsibility to be fair, to be careful and to put the spotlight on things that will help create a better community.

Bob also believed that the paper has a relationship with the readers that is more important than aligning the paper with one or another political candidate or party. Politicians are temporary. Our paper will still have a relationship with the readers after the elected have moved on. The newspaper’s relationship with the readers is critical.

Here’s an example of this in action. In Chico in 1992, there was a very conservative Republican Assembly candidate, Bernie Richter, who was so opposed to the News & Review that he funded a right-wing alternative newspaper to try to put us out of business. Fortunately, that effort and his paper failed.

Meanwhile, the Democrats started running a smear campaign saying that Richter was selling pornography, because Richter was the owner of a liquor store that sold Playboy. Bob wrote a strong editorial in the Chico News & Review, arguing that while we were not crazy about Bernie’s politics, selling Playboy in his liquor store did not make him a pornographer.

Richter told me later that Bob’s editorial saved his campaign. I was not thrilled with this result. But I was pleased that we were willing to stand up and defend someone whose politics we disagreed with, because he was being attacked unfairly.

This week we have a new editor at the SN&R, Eric Johnson. He not only started his own paper in Missoula, Mont., but has edited solid alternative weekly newspapers in San Jose, Monterey and Santa Cruz. And his reputation is of being a strong editor as well as a heck of a nice guy. This is not that common a combination. I am confident that you will enjoy the meat that Eric puts onto the News & Review’s bones.

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About the Author

Jeff vonKaenel
Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno.