More than a year since the Camp Fire, we look forward to 2020

Jeff vonKaenel

On December 12, our sister paper, Chico News & Review, had its 44th annual holiday party. It had been 400 days since the Camp Fire in Paradise that killed 85 people, destroyed 18,000 structures and left 30,000 people without housing. For a year and 10 days the Butte County community had dealt with the aftermath of this fire, including disaster relief, a severe housing crisis, businesses upended, legal confusion and grief.

CN&R has produced nearly 300 Camp Fire stories. With an audited circulation of 38,000, compared to an estimated 5,000 for Chico’s daily newspaper (no longer being audited), CN&R is the major source of information for Butte County. While many journalists came to Paradise from around the country in the days immediately after the fire, the CN&R staff provided ongoing coverage on water safety concerns, homeowners’ negotiations with insurance companies and government agencies and the housing crisis. We covered the day-to-day information that was so critical for Butte County residents.

I have attended nearly all of the Chico holiday parties since 1980, when I became publisher of the paper. Most years, the parties are similar. The reporters, ad salespeople, designers, distribution drivers and family members are there. We have dinner, drinks and speeches.

This year, the speeches focused on how much it meant to be part of a team that produced a newspaper that was so important to the community. Staff members who have never said a word at a holiday dinner stood up to speak. Longtime Arts Editor Jason Cassidy gave kudos to Editor Melissa Daugherty for maintaining her high editing standards even under the emotional and deadline pressures of the Camp Fire coverage.

We know that our news stories will have an impact on those we cover and an impact on the community we serve. So it matters that we get it right. Skilled, experienced journalists can sift through confusing, contradictory and often misleading information to figure out what is really happening, which helps our community make wise decisions.

I am also proud of the work that Sacramento News & Review has done over the last 30 years. This coming year in Sacramento, we have many important issues to cover; the housing crisis, the conduct of law enforcement and the budget crisis at Sacramento City Unified School District are just a few.

Over the last three decades in Sacramento, The Sacramento Bee has also been providing accurate information on critical community issues. Even with greatly reduced staff, they still provide some excellent coverage. For example, Sam Stanton and Molly Sullivan’s recently reported on Sacramento County sheriff’s deputies who kept their jobs even after videos showed them abusing prisoners.

Who knows what will happen with The Bee this next year—more cutbacks or even bankruptcy? While SN&R’s difficulties seem small compared to McClatchy’s, we face challenges as well.

Our community, like Butte County, needs reliable information on critical issues. When traditional ways of funding journalism are not sustaining our news organizations, we need to develop new ways. Collaborative partnerships with other media and foundations, along with ongoing support from our readers through our nonprofit fund, could help make our model sustainable.

If you appreciate our coverage, consider making a donation to independentjournalismfund.org. Support our advertisers. And thank you for reading.

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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.