Rick Jones, managing editor of the Martinez News-Gazette, standing next to a stack of archival copies of the paper, which has been publishing since 1858. (Ericka Cruz Guevarra/KQED)
The Martinez News-Gazette has been publishing for so long, it once sent a reporter to cover the Civil War.
Now, one of California’s oldest-running newspapers will meet the same fate of hundreds of other local news organizations throughout the country, and shutter its newsroom before year’s end.
“Not to pat ourselves and say we’re winning Pulitzers, but we are covering those issues that nobody else is covering at all,” said Rick Jones, managing editor of the News-Gazette. “Anything happening now, unfortunately, it's not going to be covered. That's the news hole.”
First established in 1858, just eight years after California became a state, the paper will print its final issue on Sunday, Dec. 29, ending a 161-year run covering the county seat of Contra Costa. The issue will feature the contributions of longtime reporters and columnists, underscoring the paper's deep involvement in the community, Jones said.
“We’re trying to find a way to do [the paper] justice,” Jones said. “We don’t have the staff, we don’t have the tools, if you will, to give it a big send off.”
The paper, run by six staffers, has continued to publish on a biweekly basis despite years of cutbacks and diminishing resources. Its single news reporter works only part time, and it hasn’t had a sales representative for over a year.
“You’re not replacing reporters that leave, you’re not hiring an ad guy, you’re not putting any money at all into the paper,” said Jones. “The writing was on the wall. We all knew it was a matter of time.”
Longtime subscribers were saddened and shocked by news of the paper’s closure. Since the announcement was made, a number of residents have come into the office asking how it might be saved, Jones said.
Gibson Publishing, which owns the News-Gazette and the now-shuttered Rio Vista News-Herald, does not appear interested in selling the paper, he added. The company did not respond to a request for comment.
“I think it's sad for the city,” said Barbara Cetko, 93, who has worked for the paper for nearly 40 years and now documents legal notices. “The paper was always meant to be, as I understood it, a local newspaper. Local news, local doings, local happening. And the people really wanted it that way, and they’re going to miss it.”
The paper’s closure comes as Martinez, a suburban East Bay city on the edge of the increasingly unaffordable Bay Area, confronts big decisions about its own growth and development. In 2018, the city switched from an at-large voting system to one with four council districts, raising questions about how the new maps would be drawn and how the community would be sliced up and represented. This year, Martinez also took a major step toward bringing the cannabis industry into the city. Affordable housing, too, has become a major issue, particularly in light of the county’s dramatic spike in homelessness in recent years.
The paper recently published a survey asking community members for ideas about how to create an online news site to at least partially fill the imminent void in local coverage.
“The activity is going to be here,” Jones said. “It's gonna be right in the heart of downtown. It's just, who's going to cover it?”