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Reno News & Review halts 3 decades of weekly publications

March 23, 2020 - 5:29 AM

RENO, Nev. - The Reno News & Review has stopped publishing the alternative weekly it has been distributing in the “Biggest Little City” for nearly 30 years.

The alternative weekly suspended the publication indefinitely after issuing Thursday's edition and is laying off all employees, the Reno Gazette Journal reported.

"I'm sad about it obviously, but I'm also really proud of the work we've done," said Editor Brad Bynum, who noted the combined online and print circulation is about 97,000.

The publisher, News & Review newspapers, announced the closure of all three sites in Reno, Sacramento and Chico on Tuesday. Sixty full-time staff and 40 drivers across all sites will be laid off, according to Jeff vonKaenel president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers.

VonKaenel said the weekly newspaper has been struggling for years against the online news consumption habits of audiences, but the publisher ultimately did not have the reserve funding to survive the advertising withdrawal stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The coronavirus-related shutdowns, postponements and cancellations are having a huge impact on these advertisers and our local economy," he said.

With pulled advertising and the business's reliance on distribution at local businesses, many of which are now closed, the weeklies had no chance, said vonKaenel, who started in the business in the 1970s.

"The impact we had. It astounded me in 1970 and it astounded me in 2020," he said.

There is the possibility that the RN&R and the other weeklies may return at a later date, but there is no certainty as to when it would be or whether they'd return as print publications.

"There were a lot of great stories, and I hope that people remember some of them," said Bynum.

The Reno News & Review — known for its arts, entertainment and culture coverage — debuted in 1993 as the Nevada Weekly. In 1995, the current publisher purchased and renamed the paper, which is now distributed not just in Reno, but Sparks, Carson City, Lake Tahoe and surrounding communities.

"One of the things we did really well: We really led the way of arts coverage. We were one of the first media outlets to embrace Burning Man," said Bynum. "People like to think of Reno as an arts destination, and that's because there was a newspaper documenting the arts community."

Like many alt-weeklies, the RN&R gave readers a weekly calendar; movie, theatre and restaurant reviews; colorful writing; and lots of opinion.

"As a newspaper, we were a community conduit," said Bynum. "When people are angry, they send us a letter. When they’re proud of their restaurant, they look to our reviews. When they’re looking for the feelings of the community, they look to us."

The RN&R employed eight full-time staff, all of whom will be laid off, along with one intern and several drivers.

Bynum, who started at the weekly as a freelancer in 2002, looks back and most of his best memories are not necessarily stories, but rather of the people that wrote the stories.

They included Dennis Myers, a longtime respected political journalist in northern Nevada who died last year; former editor D. Brian Burghart, who won national attention for documenting police-involved shooting deaths; and former arts and culture editor Kris Vagner's comprehensive arts coverage and the movie, restaurant and concert reviews.

The RN&R additionally published 95-word fiction pieces from the community, the Best of Northern Nevada awards and community artist illustrations to accompany many of its articles.

The coverage from the RN&R was often subjective, quirky and often biting in the same vein as many alt-weeklies nationwide. It generously used four-letter words and other candid phrases.

"You probably bumped into us at the bars and coffee shops. We’re part of this community," said Bynum. "We weren’t writing about it from the perspective of objective journalists, we’re writing from the perspective of community members."

When vonKaenel started in the industry in the early 1970s, weeklies were all about activism.

"We were dealing with the disillusionment of America and we really wanted to get a different point of view out there," said vonKaenel. "Part of our vision — we were all activists — we formed a group to put out this rag tag paper. We weren’t getting paid. My future wife — I met her at the paper — was living in a car, and I was selling hairbrushes to suburban housewives to afford working at the paper."

The change that a small, grassroots weekly could effect was incredible, he said, and from that culture came the rise of the community weeklies.

"We won city council elections, we got the (district attorney) indicted by speaking the truth and connecting people, from factory workers to students, they could see they were all connected," vonKaenel said. “We were able to form a social movement. It was true then, and it’s true now.”

News from © The Associated Press, 2020
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