Category Archives: Benicia Herald

News desert avoided: California’s oldest weekly newspaper saved from closure

Restart the presses: California’s oldest weekly newspaper saved

The Los Angeles Times, by Brittny Mejia, January 7, 2020
Don Russell
Don Russell works in the Mountain Messenger newsroom in Downieville, Calif.(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

The state’s oldest weekly newspaper, which once published Mark Twain, will keep printing after a California retiree stepped in to save the day.

Carl Butz, a fourth-generation native Californian, is taking over the Mountain Messenger, which is based out of his hometown of Downieville.

The 71-year-old has been friends with Don Russell, the editor-publisher of the paper, since moving to the town in the 1990s and was aware of his troubles trying to sell the paper over the last year.

Russell planned to retire by the middle of January. On Thursday, he told the printer the paper would soon cease publication. Russell ran the numbers and told Butz, “It’s hopeless … don’t do this.”

The next day, Butz came in with a check.

“I said, ‘OK, it’s not going to cost that much — I’m going to save it,’” Butz said. “I’m going to try and make sure the thing survives.”

Butz is aiming for a nonprofit model and wants to rely on more volunteers to help fill the paper, which for a long time has fallen on the paper’s two full-time employees, Russell and Jill Tahija.

He’s already found a woman in Sierra City who wants to cover the Board of Supervisors meetings, he said, and staff will send out subscription renewal cards once more.

Mountain Messenger newspaper
Copies of the Mountain Messenger. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

As newspapers shut down nationwide, Butz is happy to keep the Mountain Messenger going.

 The Martinez News-Gazette  printed its final edition last week, after 161 years of publishing. The paper, which covered the city of Martinez, the seat of Contra Costa County, had been losing money.

“There’s just been this rash of these things across the country; you lose the community,” Butz said. “I think we need to have newspapers.”

The Mountain Messenger, which publishes on Thursdays, has a circulation of about 2,400. The paper dates to 1853, when it was started as a twice-monthly publication.

It became the Mountain Messenger in 1854 or 1855 and moved to La Porte, and then to Downieville, a Gold Rush community about 110 miles northeast of Sacramento.

The paper’s claim to fame is that Twain once wrote there while hiding out from the law. He was only there for a couple of weeks, writing under his real name, Sam Clemens, according to Russell, who read some of his articles on microfilm.

“They were awful,” Russell said in a previous interview with The Times. “They were just local stories, as I recall, written by a guy with a hangover.”

Russell became co-owner of the paper, known around the area as the “Mountain Mess,” in the early 1990s. The Jan. 16 edition will be his last in his current role.

“I don’t have to clean out the office. That’s a huge relief,” Russell said. He is planning to take a vacation with his wife on the 20th, but his association with the paper “will continue for the foreseeable future.”

“It’s the absolute best thing I could have hoped for,” he said. “I get to do the stuff I like to do and not have to do the stuff I don’t like to do.”

Also… as appearing in the Vallejo Times-Herald:

Man saves California’s oldest weekly newspaper from closure

Associated Press, January 8, 2020

In this Dec. 13, 2018, photo, press operators check the freshly printed issue of The Mountain Messenger, California’s oldest weekly newspaper, at the pressroom of Feather Publishing Co., in Quincy, Calif. The paper began in 1853 as a twice-per-month publication; its claim to fame is that Mark Twain once wrote there under his real name, Sam Clemens. (Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via AP)

DOWNIEVILLE, Calif. (AP) — A retiree has canceled an around-the-world trip to save California’s oldest weekly newspaper, which was set to shut down when its editor retires this month.

The paper began in 1853 as a twice-per-month publication; its claim to fame is that Mark Twain once wrote there under his real name, Sam Clemens. He was there hiding out from authorities in Nevada, where he had accepted a challenge to a duel after dueling had been outlawed, Don Russell, 70, the current publisher who is retiring told SFGate.

Carl Butz, 71, says he is taking over the Mountain Messenger, which is based out of his hometown of Downieville and covers two rural counties northeast of Sacramento. Terms of the deal were not immediately disclosed.

“I’ve been a widower for three years and this is a new chapter in my life,” Butz, who lives in an off-the-grid cabin, told SFGate. “What am I going to do? Go on another trip around the world? Instead, I’m doing something good for the community, and I feel good about it.”

Known around the area as the “Mountain Mess,” the paper covers school board meetings, federal land use and other issues.

Russell, the Mountain Messenger’s editor-publisher, told The Los Angeles Times he is planning to retire soon and had spent the past year trying to sell the paper but hadn’t received any offers.

Russell became co-owner of the paper in the early 1990s. The Jan. 16 edition will be his last in his current role but he said he plans to continue his association with the paper after he takes a vacation with his wife.

“It’s the absolute best thing I could have hoped for,” he said. “I get to do the stuff I like to do and not have to do the stuff I don’t like to do.”

A retired independent software consultant, Butz plans to run the weekly as a nonprofit and do some writing and editing. He will rely on volunteers to help fill the paper. He’s already found a woman who wants to cover the Board of Supervisors meetings, he said.

As newspapers shut down nationwide, Butz says he is happy to keep the Mountain Messenger going.

“There’s just been this rash of these things across the country; you lose the community,” Butz said.


    Benicia Herald: Misleading letter attacking Bernie Sanders

    As published in the Benicia Herald, by Roger Straw, January 5, 2020
    Roger Straw, The Benicia Independent

    First, please note that I have not been a Bernie Sanders activist or supporter.  I am among the huge number of Democrats who have taken the Indivisible Pledge: to support the eventual Democratic nominee in order to be rid of an incompetent, lawless and immoral first-term president.

    But I was shocked at the attack published on the Benicia Herald’s Forum page on January 3.  For some reason, Arcata resident Jake Pickering was featured there, bashing Senator Sanders with four damning and salacious charges.

    I had to wonder if this was one of the Russians’ faked attempts at stirring up internal dissention among Trump’s opposition.  But I did a little googling of Mr. Pickering in Arcata, and discovered that he is real, and a supporter of Elizabeth Warren – and highly critical of the current president.

    Next I got busy on Snopes, fact-checking Mr. Pickering’s charges against Bernie.

    To go through the charges one by one here, in public, would probably only add to the misinformation by repetition.  So I’ll refrain from detailing and debunking each one.

    Suffice to say that Senator Sanders describes himself as a Democratic Socialist.  Wikipedia states that Sanders is “an admirer of aspects of social democracy as practiced in the Scandinavian countries. In an address on his political philosophy given at Georgetown University in November 2015, Sanders identified his conception of ‘democratic socialism’ with Franklin D. Roosevelt’s proposal for a Second Bill of Rights, saying that democratic socialism means creating ‘an economy that works for all, not just the very wealthy,’ reforming the political system (which Sanders says is ‘grossly unfair’ and ‘in many respects, corrupt’), recognizing health care and education as rights, protecting the environment, and creating a ‘vibrant democracy based on the principle of one person, one vote.’ He explained that democratic socialism is not tied to Marxism or the abolition of capitalism but rather describes a program of extensive social benefits, funded by broad-based taxes.”  [Wikipedia]

    The Wikipedia article also states that “Multiple commentators have examined Sanders’ characterization of his political platform and ideology as ‘socialism’ and generally found it to support tax-funded social benefits rather than social ownership of the means of production.”

    Mr. Pickering levels ancient charges stemming from Senator Sanders’ life and words back in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.  Snopes confirms that Sanders wrote an unfortunate essay in 1972 which has been characterized as misogynist. But the gist of Sanders’ article was “to attack gender stereotypes of the ’70s”, pointing out that long-held patriarchal gender stereotypes have kept both men and women from full and equal relationships.  Sanders “explains his ideas about gender roles and eventually gets at a sharper point — that traditional gender roles help create troubling dynamics.” []

    It’s a given that electoral campaigns must draw distinctions between candidates, but voters should be wary of overstated attacks of any one supporter on their competition.

    Each and every one of the huge field of Democrats running for president would be a great and welcome improvement over the Russian stooge we elected in 2016.


      Martinez News-Gazette To End Publishing

      [BenIndy Editor – Question: will Gibson Publishing ALSO shut down the struggling Benicia Herald? No word on this as yet. Will keep you posted… More on the story in area news outlets here.  – R.S.]

      The current editor of the 161-year-old newspaper said he isn’t sure whether the paper will continue as an online-only endeavor.

      By California News Wire Services, News Partner
      Repost from
      Martinez News-Gazette, 802 Alhambra Ave., Martinez
      Martinez News-Gazette, 802 Alhambra Ave., Martinez (Google Maps Street View)
      MARTINEZ, CA — The Martinez News-Gazette, which proudly boasts it has been published continuously since September 1858, told its readers Sunday morning that it will cease publishing, at least in print, with its Dec. 29 edition.
      The news came in a front-page story Sunday, which also was published on the newspaper’s website and its Facebook page.
      Rick Jones, the Gazette’s editor the past six years, said on Sunday that he isn’t sure whether the paper will continue as an online-only endeavor. The Gazette has been sustained largely by paid legal advertising, which Jones said would not carry over to online.”We do have a decent online presence and an active Facebook page,” Jones said. He said it’s hard to find longtime Martinez residents who haven’t either been loyal Gazette readers, or worked as delivery carriers for the paper, which is published twice a week.”This paper means a lot to the community,” Jones said.The Gazette’s closure announcement caused a stir on a local Facebook page called Martinez Rants and Raves. Among many members there, Sunday’s announcement came as a shock.”I am sad to hear the Martinez Gazette will not be there for our city to share local events and for parents to clip out articles and pictures about their kids activities and sports,” Martinez resident Bob DiBetta posted there. “Growing up I remember, I felt proud when my family clipped the article about our second-grade class making puppets for a local show.”The Gazette’s announcement comes after the regional East Bay Times has cut back on coverage in Martinez and other nearby cities, and after at least two upstart local print newspapers have come and gone.The Gazette is owned by Vallejo-based Gibson Radio and Publishing, which also owns newspapers in Benicia and Dixon. Jones said the Gazette has somewhere between 4,000 and 4,500 subscribers. There are only two full-time employees — Jones is one of them — and three part-timers.

      Jones said he knows he has local support; “Every person has asked me, ‘What can we do to save it?’

      “I’m really trying to get over the emotional part of it and trying to be more pragmatic about it,” he said.

      —Bay City News Service


        Nick Sestanovich says good-bye…

        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.]

        Nick Sestanovich's Profile Photo, No automatic alt text available.  Nick Sestanovich

        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!

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