Editor’s note: This farewell message from Plumas News Editor Debra Moore may be of interest to Lassen News readers.
Tuesdays are the most difficult. Or is it Mondays? But then Sundays are tough also. What am I talking about? Those are the days when my sense of loss is the greatest.
For the past three years, Plumas News has been my focus. Writing, editing, and posting news — whenever it happens and wherever I happen to be. Shopping in Chico with a friend … wait, there’s an active shooter threat at CRC, grab my laptop. Having a sleepover with the grandkids … wait, there’s an apartment fire in East Quincy. And so it goes…
But that’s not the way it used to be. No, there used to be a rhythm to the week. Wake up Wednesday morning with the newspaper freshly published. Smile when I stop at the local coffee shop and see people reading it. Head to the office to plan the next week’s edition.
The news deadline was Friday, but weekend events and late-breaking stories and photos continue into Monday morning. To get a head start on the week, I took the Chester Progressive home over the weekend to hand draw where I wanted the photos and stories to appear on each page. I worked with Sunday Night Football in the background, and now it seems odd to watch a game without my ruler and pencil nearby. The next day it would be time for the Indian Valley Record, the Portola Reporter and Feather River Bulletin — assembled in the order that they would roll off the press. Mondays were busy with everyone working to get the week’s editions out; I loved the steady hum of voices and equipment.
But nothing compared to Tuesday. I never tired of watching the press come to life and seeing the slow chugging of the machine give way to a fast whirr as the pages streamed by; pressmen tweaking the various settings until they reached optimum alignment and color. Watching the front page roll off the press always filled me with a sense of pride and awe — a week ago there was nothing and now there was a finished product valued by the community.
When I walk through the press area now — where the printing press looms tall but silent; where huge rolls of newsprint once stood; where the inserting machine sits idle — I’m filled with a profound sense of loss.
Back on April 8, 2020, we published what would turn out be our last newspaper, though we didn’t know it at the time. We planned a brief hiatus as the world sorted out how to handle this new virus. Everything was shutting down due to COVID, and everyone was laid off at Feather Publishing except for a skeleton crew. We thought the paper might be idle for a month, maybe two, certainly not longer. I admit, a part of me welcomed the respite from the nonstop deadlines. A brief pause from filling news pages would be rejuvenating. I used to lament the editorial page the most, because while I could jockey to fill the rest of the newspaper, there needed to be a weekly editorial to fill its traditional space on the page. More than once, I was tempted to simply print in big type: We Have No Opinion Today.
I came to work for Feather Publishing in 1993 — hired part-time to write soft news, but within a couple of weeks, Jane Braxton Little announced she was heading to the Sacramento Bee, and I assumed coverage of county government, school board and more. I loved my job.
I remember telling former publisher Mike Taborski once that I didn’t care which day of the week it was — Monday or Friday — I loved coming to work. (He questioned whether he needed to pay me if that’s how I felt.) A couple of weeks ago I was up on the second floor of the Feather Publishing building looking at the bound past editions and came across a column that I wrote in April of 1994 after completing my first year. Riding in the Indy 500 pace car down the Canyon; having lunch with Sen. Barbara Boxer when she visited Collins Pines; and entering a burning building during a live training exercise with the Graeagle Fire Department, were some of the standout moments I wrote about. But there was also the interview with the 94-year-old man as he watched the church that he had built 50 years prior be demolished. I wrote: “On what was obviously a sad day, he shared with me the joy he had felt when it was erected. He pointed with pride to the support beams he had placed himself, but which were now being ripped apart by the machinery.”
Sharing the moments of people’s lives from the seemingly mundane to the profound, is one of the great joys of being a journalist. I concluded that column by writing “Thank you for sharing your lives with me and letting me write your story.”
The past three years have been exhilarating and exhausting. So much so that on day 58 of the Dixie Fire, I found myself in the ER unable to form a sentence. Diagnosis: dehydration and exhaustion. I asked for help and a retired Forest Service employee came to my rescue providing some of the daily updates. (Thank you Michael Condon.)
I had to take it down a notch, but that’s not in my nature, and lately I have been unable to do anything the way I truly want. I know what makes a good story — the research, the interviews, the follow-up that’s required — and it isn’t always possible. This is a vast county with several distinct communities, and we were working with a very skeleton crew. We could hold it together during COVID because there weren’t a lot of activities, but now with life relatively back to normal — our model is not sustainable. Particularly when you add in the 24/7 news coverage we have become known for providing.
During the Dixie Fire and other disasters — floods, crumbling canyons, house fires, murders and general mayhem — we took our role of providing timely and accurate news very seriously. During the height of the Dixie Fire, we hit 750,000 page views a week; people were coming to us for critical information.
Someone once told me that when they hear a siren, they go to Plumas News. While flattering, that just upped the pressure to provide that information. Ultimately, there was just too much news and not enough resources. We considered putting up a pay wall but decided against it. It would intensify the expectations, but not provide the funding truly necessary to finance it.
I have known for a while that it was time to pull back, but I didn’t want to abandon the community. Turns out I was abandoning other parts of my life. Ultimately it was my grandson who made my decision. I was hosting a family party for his fifth birthday when the Forest Service called — flooding in the Canyon had washed out Caribou Road and they would be sending details. Could I post it ASAP? Of course.
As the others were eating cake, I was sitting next to the birthday boy, typing into my laptop. “Jamma, it’s my birthday. I don’t want you to work. You are always working.” I stopped, looked at him, said “I’m sorry” and then finished what I was doing. He was right. Even when I was present, I wasn’t truly present.
That will end Aug. 1. But even though it’s the right time, it doesn’t mean it isn’t painful, and the past few weeks have been filled with tears. I will miss the relationships that I have forged over the past three decades — with county and school officials, with contributors, with our readers.
I wanted to acknowledge everyone and started a list, then realized it could go on for pages. And then I remind myself that though I will no longer be maintaining Plumas News, we still will be in the community with our other publications including our monthly magazine High Country Life. Call me old-fashioned, but nothing compares to print. Recently a friend sent me a video of her son turning the pages of the most recent edition of our magazine and crying out in delight when he saw his photo. No doubt it will be clipped for a scrapbook, or the magazine saved in its entirety. With our time and resources freed up from daily reporting duties, that energy now can go into the magazine.
This makes the transition easier because I don’t have to officially say goodbye. I can still work with our reporters and here I do want to give a special shout out to Lauren Westmoreland, Gregg Scott, Meg Upton and Mari Erin Roth for all of their contributions over their years with Feather Publishing, particularly these past three. I know it wasn’t what any of us signed up for or were used to, but they helped keep the news flowing to our readers. I’m happy that they all will be regular contributors to the magazine. And a special thank you to my two publishers — first Mike Taborski and now Cobey Brown — we have enjoyed a unique relationship over the years. I’m a writer but words can’t adequately express what you have meant to me.
And that pertains to all of you as well. I have been trying to find the words to describe how much this job has meant to me and how privileged I have felt to be able to do it for so long, but I can’t. So, I will simply reiterate the words that I wrote three decades ago: “Thank you for sharing your lives with me and letting me write your story.”