Repost from Nick’s Facebook page
[Editor: Take care, Nick! Indeed it was a tough test here in Benicia, given everything, but you overcame, and you did well. Best to you, and enjoy your work in “CowTown.” – R.S.]
Let me go back to what my life was like in the summer of 2015: I had just gotten laid off from a good position at The Sacramento Bee which I had gotten straight out of college. I still had a backup position at that same paper which I had gotten while still in college, but that too did not last. On top of that, I had gotten into a car accident that left neither party injured but still resulted in my car being totaled. All of these moments triggered a bit of a quarter-life crisis that was not helped by the fact that I was having so much trouble finding another journalism job that I was even applying for retail jobs just so I could be employed. It was a mess.
It was toward the end of this summer that I saw a Craigslist ad for a reporting position at the Benicia Herald, the same paper that I had interned at six summers earlier when I graduated from high school. I figured I would give it a shot. When applying, I decided to go for an assistant editor position instead. Long story short, after a particularly grueling six months for the paper, I was promoted to editor.
I hope people don’t take for granted the importance of community news. The things that happen in Benicia aren’t always covered on CNN or in the New York Times, and the Herald doesn’t have much in the way of competition. The Vallejo Times-Herald is the closest and they do cover Benicia to the best of their ability, but they also have a small staff and are a Vallejo newspaper first and foremost. Patch hasn’t been a real competitor in years, and while “Benicia Happenings” and Nextdoor are great places to discuss news, they are not substitutes for news. My desire to remain a print journalist isn’t even a fight over survival for the medium, it’s a fight for credibility. I wouldn’t mind seeing the newspaper model move to the web where trained journalists write the stories, cover a wide array of beats, and present the news in an accurate but fair way, but not every community has something like that of their own. Until that happens, I say let’s continue to support community newspapers which have proven credibility. There is a lot more to this story, but I just wanted to point out how important the Herald has been for my growth and confidence as a journalist. Despite having very few resources (which also seemed to get even smaller over time), I think I gained a lot of important skills in covering meetings, interviewing, building connections, editing, customer service and more. It was far from an ideal company to work for (to put it mildly), and I’d be lying if I said I was proud of every story I wrote, every issue I put together or even every decision that I made. Still, I think for what I was tasked to do when I took over– take a newspaper that many felt had deteriorated in quality in recent months and return it to form– I’m proud of the overall job I’ve done. It took a long time to get there, but I think the paper throughout 2018 is better than it was in 2017, which was better than it was in 2016, which was better than it was in late 2015. I’ve been glad to oversee or contribute coverage to things like the defeat of the Crude-By-Rail Project, the Valero flareup, the impasse over teacher contract negotiations (both times), one and a half elections and, of course, construction of that infernal stadium. I’m grateful for the people who helped me get in this position, the staff I’ve gotten to work with, the people I’ve gotten to reconnect with, the many amazing people I’ve interviewed or helped arrange for interviews and, of course, the many readers who have supported us even throughout the direst circumstances.
Normally, I would sign off with a goodbye, but I don’t think this is a goodbye. Even when I moved out of Benicia seven years ago, I never entirely stopped visiting and have no plans to do the same when I’m working in Vacaville. (Besides, I want to try that new bakery when it opens.) It has truly been a privilege to return to the community where I spent my adolescence, and please know that the door is not necessarily shut. Thank you for taking the time to read, and play me off, Tom!