Category Archives: Local news media

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.

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    “LOSING THE NEWS – The Decimation of Local Journalism…”

    [Editor: The report below, “Losing the News,” is a really important work for our times.  My home town of Benicia, California, population around 28,000, has suffered cutbacks in all of our local news providers.  Our Benicia Herald is limping along with very little staff, prints on only 3 days per week.  Our next door neighbor, Vallejo, California, population around 122,000, was unable to sustain a Benicia reporter several years ago, and rarely covers news in Benicia.  The Contra Costa Times / East Bay Times quit covering Benicia and other small Bay Area communities long ago.  “News Deserts” are appearing all across the country.  “Losing the News” is a formidable analysis of the phenomenon, including important “big picture solutions” and recommendations.  The report is copyrighted and can’t be reproduced here. Check out the contents below and click to read the report at https://pen.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/Losing-the-News-The-Decimation-of-Local-Journalism-and-the-Search-for-Solutions-Report.pdf  – R.S.]

    LOSING THE NEWS
    The Decimation of Local Journalism and the Search for Solutions

    November 20, 2019, by PEN America

    CONTENTS

    LETTER 4
    INTRODUCTION 5
    WHAT IS A LOCAL NEWS ECOSYSTEM? 7
    WHY LOCAL NEWS MATTERS 8
    CASE STUDY: VIEW FROM SOUTHEASTERN N. CAROLINA  18
    THE DECIMATION OF LOCAL NEWS   24
    SYSTEMIC INEQUITY IN U.S. NEWS MEDIA  33
    CASE STUDY: VIEW FROM DETROIT  37
    INDUSTRY ADAPTATION AND INNOVATION  43
    CASE STUDY: VIEW FROM DENVER  49
    BIG PICTURE SOLUTIONS  56
    RECOMMENDATIONS 76
    ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS 80
    ENDNOTES 81

    Read the report at https://pen.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/Losing-the-News-The-Decimation-of-Local-Journalism-and-the-Search-for-Solutions-Report.pdf

    Cover image: a decommissioned newspaper box abandoned in an alley in California; credit: Robert Alexander / Archive photos via Getty Images

    The report was generously funded by Peter and Pam Barbey.

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      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 Patch.com
      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

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