Ever heard of a “news desert”? It’s what happens when a county loses all of its newspapers – a reality for 200 American counties (12% of the USA). In less than twenty years, we’ve lost a quarter of our local newspapers.
When we lose our local news, civic engagement decreases precipitously, and we collectively forget what it takes to achieve governance “by the people.” Without local news, we lose much of our hometown connectivity, our accountability to each other, and our local pride in the unique character of our neighbors and neighborhoods.
Last month, we almost lost California’s oldest newspaper, The Mountain Messenger, based out of Downieville, a tiny town in Sierra County nestled along the North Fork of the Yuba River. The Messenger had been in publication since 1853, and its latest editor had committed almost half his life to the paper.
As Tim Arango wrote in his February 10, 2020 New York Times article, “…the hard-drinking, chain-smoking editor with a blunt writing style who had owned and run the paper for nearly thirty decades, was retiring, and he seemed happy enough for the paper to die with his retirement.”
Then local resident Carl Butz – while watching Citizen Kane on cable TV – decided to buy and run the newspaper while assuming the debts, the cluttered office, the outdated software, and a plethora of accompanying headaches and detritus. Accompanied by a small team of devotees, he hit the ground running and thus far, has met all his February deadlines.
After reading the NY Times article I got in touch with Carl, in part because of my 2020-vow-to-self to do whatever I can, wherever possible, to promote a more active and informed citizenry. It’s my way of confronting the degradation of our civic values by the current administration.
So I spent some time in Downieville with Carl and his crew. We’re planning a fundraiser for this April. And I’m thrilled to announce that one of my poems, “A Two-Legged’s Regret,” was just published in the February 20, 2020 edition, on Page 2.