My work day begins by staring into the faces of my staff — even though we’re not in the same room anymore.
The Enterprise-Record news department has an online video conference every morning. There, with faces boxed together like some sort of modern-day Brady Bunch, we follow the same routine we did pre-pandemic: Reporters pitch their stories, city editor Dan Reidel and I respond and pitch some ideas, we go over concerns or ongoing work items from recent days and we go forth, knowing full well that breaking news could send our best-laid plans into the trash heap at any moment.
(I often wonder if this makes me Mr. Brady, or maybe Alice.)
In either case, almost every day, I’ve had at least one reader reach out to say “It must feel like you’re covering the Camp Fire all over again.” I always say no — that other than the hours we’re putting in, it doesn’t feel anything like that.
Except for those faces.
By the time the Camp Fire changed our lives Nov. 8, 2018, I was attending the morning news meetings — not just to get the lay of the land, but for a daily look into the faces of the news staff. Day by day, there was one inescapable fact — everybody was getting tired, yet nobody was slowing down or taking a break. There was too much news to cover, and our journalists care too much to do anything else.
In that respect, yes, it feels a lot like the Camp Fire. And today, I need to pause and give thanks to our people carrying the burden.
Every day, I am overwhelmed by our staff’s output — to the tune of 10, 12, even 17 locally produced stories. They do this because they care, because there are so many important stories to tell and, frankly, because it’s just not in them to quit.
(Speaking of which — you’ve got to admire the “we don’t quit” spirit of the Chico News & Review, which ceased print publication in mid-March but continues to post stories on their website and a blog, CN&R Extra. You know why they do this? They’re journalists. Jobs or not, they have stories to tell, and nothing’s going to stop them from doing it.)
Anyway, every day, I look at my staff members’ faces. Not just because I’m listening to them as they speak — I’m looking for signs of stress or exhaustion, just as I saw on so many faces 17 months ago.
So, I’ll say something like “I really need each of you to take care of yourselves. Schedule a day off or even a half-day.”
It’s the only thing I ask of my staff that almost nobody ever volunteers to do.
I miss seeing everyone. I miss walking over to Dutch Bros. with them. I miss the camaraderie, the interaction, the running jokes, the look on their faces when I launch into yet another story about the old days (they’re very patient with me that way), the sharing of frustrations and the kind of brainstorming that can happen only with a team of motivated individuals breathing the same air in the same space.
We can’t do that right now. Instead, I look at the faces on my computer screen, wonder how they keep going, and give thanks every single day that they care so much.
They are Dan Reidel, Laura Urseny, Jake Hutchinson, Camille von Kaenel, Natalie Hanson, the sort-of-retired Steve Schoonover, Sharon Martin, Matt Bates, Carin Dorghalli, Mathew Miranda, Sally Mau, Rick Silva, Kyra Gottesman and Anna Maguire, who picked probably the craziest time imaginable to take on an internship. And maybe especially, Will Denner and Justin Couchot — two dedicated writers who, like too many across the land, found themselves on furlough status this week with no sports to cover.
Chico is lucky to have so many journalists — actually drawing a paycheck or not — who are still going the extra mile. They’re all doing it for the same reason: to keep you informed in a way nobody else can.
Let’s remember that now, more than ever, it’s important for the community to return the favor by supporting local journalism. If you don’t think it’s worth it, I dare you to look any of these journalists in the face.
Mike Wolcott is editor of the Enterprise-Record. He can be reached via email at email@example.com, or you can follow him on Twitter @m_mwolcott.