Letter from the Publisher: ‘I believe I see the future of the News-Ledger’


A proposal to take the News-Ledger into the distant future — with ambitious plans and true local control.

With this edition of the News-Ledger, we begin our 49th year of service to West Sacramento. Milestones like this always cause me to reflect.

I’ve been the publisher and editor here for over 20 years (a thousand Wednesdays!) and I became the majority owner of the News-Ledger following the death of owner Michael Garten several years ago. Michael and the late Julius Feher founded the News-Ledger in 1964, and it’s been publishing “the first draft of history” in West Sacramento ever since.

Julius Feher — in case you didn’t know this — was a very remarkable man. Newspaper ink was in his blood, it seems. Julius started his first West Sacramento newspaper at age 12. It was no “kiddie” paper; it was the real thing — he wrote the news articles, sold ads, and distributed the paper himself. Julius was written up for his youthful efforts in “Boys Life” magazine and in “Ripley’s Believe It Or Not.”

First edition of West Sacramento's News-Ledger, from 1964. Subscription rate was one dollar a year. (News-Ledger archives)

Feher’s newspapering career was interrupted several times, including by wartime service in the Army. But for Julius, running a newspaper that served his beloved town was always in his heart. As a reporter and editor, Julius earned a reputation as being careful with the facts and scrupulously fair, even when sharing his own opinions in a newspaper editorial.

His business partner Michael Garten had a different temperament — one full of fire. Michael enjoyed a good argument more than just about anything else. Michael once recounted to me something like this:

“After some local community meeting would go wrong, Julius would be up all night in the office, typing a great editorial,” said Mike. “He’d hold nothing back. He’d really blast the bad guys. It would be perfect — and then he’d tear it up and he’d rewrite the editorial from scratch, and the new version would be the epitome of reason and diplomacy. What a tragedy!”

JULIUS FEHER, in a photo take several decades ago. The founding editor of this newspaper was dedicated to serving his hometown. (News-Ledger archives)

This newspaper has always tried to inform the public and to serve as a local watchdog when needed, and to provide a little entertainment from time to time. We’ve been here through various developer wars, through drinking water troubles, the city’s incorporation, the master planning of Southport, casino proposals, troubles in the school district. A lot of water has flowed under the bridge in 49 years.

Since becoming the majority owner of this newspaper, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about its past and its future. In the meantime, the world has been doing a lot of changing. Julius didn’t live long enough see either the wonders of the Internet or how it would squeeze his beloved industry, but the web is here and it has taught us some things. And the rise of other media (as well as other cultural changes and the Great Recession) have reduced the number of people who read newspapers since Julius’s day.

Yet, there is good news for us, too. We know that local papers are doing better than the big ones, and they will probably continue to do so. We know that the Internet and social media present great opportunities for a news organization to expand and attract readers.

And we know that even in this new era, people still value good journalism. If you make good, relevant news reporting easy for people to get on their smartphone or computer, or on their driveway or in their mailbox, they’ll want to read it. As a lot of websites have learned the hard way, “content” still matters.

The News-Ledger is in great position to expand its role as West Sacramento’s best-trusted source of news and local information, in print and on the web. But what the News-Ledger needs most is even more professional journalism, along with more “content” of other kinds. A great city needs at least one news source staffed professional journalists with good skills and high standards — other things can augment good reporting, but nothing has been invented to replace it.

So the News-Ledger needs to grow. It needs to be bigger, to do more, and to reach more people in more ways.

There are different ways to reach these goals. But my purpose today is to tell you about the path I’m pursuing as a first choice. It’s this:

What if we plan for the News-Ledger to be taken over some day by you? How about if we create a nonprofit organization to run West Sacramento’s newspaper (including its digital media)? What if everyone in West Sacramento could be part of this nonprofit, and each of them would have a vote on how the news organization should do its job?

The new organization would be loyal to West Sacramento because it is operated by West Sacramento — and not by some special interest group or out-of-town corporation. It would be free of the need to earn profits to send back to corporate headquarters. It would have a wide base of support from its members in the community. And it would be able to accept grant money and tax-deductible gifts to help make ends meet.

A small group of people has been helping me flesh out this idea over the past couple of years. We’re in the process of creating this nonprofit organization right now. We hope this future nonprofit will acquire the News-Ledger (and the WestSac.com website, and so forth) and build on the assets already in place. We hope it will turn a pretty good little paper into a really great bigger paper. We believe it will help knit together West Sacramento as an online information source as well as a traditional newspaper. We expect it to support local journalism classes and projects, and maybe offer a “Julius A. Feher Journalism Scholarship” someday.

As with most ventures, money matters to this project. The nonprofit will need cash. One vital way you can help is by considering a donation or a gift from your estate. The new nonprofit isn’t ready to accept donations directly, but the well-respected West Sacramento Foundation has graciously agreed to accept any gifts, donations or bequests for this venture through a new “Julius A. Feher Fund” at the West Sacramento Foundation. Contact me or the Foundation for information.

There will be other ways you can help the new organization.  We’ll keep you informed.

So what do you think?

I think that a news organization “by West Sacramento, for West Sacramento” born to serve and connect this community is a terrific idea. It’s not the only choice for the future of the News-Ledger, but it’s absolutely my first choice.

I’d be proud of this new West Sacramento community venture. And I think that Julius and Michael would be proud of it, too.

The News-Ledger
Aug. 8, 2012

  To comment on this article, please visit the same article at WestSac.com by clicking here. Your comment may be published in the News-Ledger.

Copyright News-Ledger 2012

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