The Benicia Herald is in its 119th year of print publication. This site is a repository of The Herald’s exemplary coverage of Benicia, Calif., including local politics, schools, the arts, sports, upcoming events and more.
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Nick Sestanovich, Editor
David Payne, Publisher
At 112, Herald hitting its stride
By Marc Ethier
On April 9 we celebrated the 112th birthday of this venerable newspaper. Which is not to say that we’ve determined with any degree of exactness just what day The Herald began publishing lo these many years ago — or even, as I wrote in a previous column, whether the number 112 is itself accurate.
In fact it probably isn’t. The history of Benicia journalism is confused with broadsheets of various longevity and impact, as well as the outstanding question of whether the Benicia New Era or Herald, for the sake of posterity, should be considered the parent of the other. A melting pot of competing city newspapers in the latter part of the 19th century made questions of The Herald’s origin all but unanswerable, at least so far as our present incomplete archives inform us (we have copies on file only as far back as 1910). Illumination on these thorny points, perhaps by a knowledgeable reader, would be welcome.
In the meantime, after some deliberation we settled last year on the anniversary of April 9. So that’s our story and we’re sticking to it.
As we look back at the 111th year of The Herald, we see a period of heady change. To my mind, chief among the convulsions and convolutions of a year in daily journalism was the paper’s emergence, however rudimentary, in digital form. It was long past time we had a Web presence and while it’s nothing to write home about, so to speak, it does allow us to post breaking news and, occasionally (as was the case twice this week), news that wouldn’t fit in the print edition.
It also serves as a news generator. Half a dozen times since its launch two months or so ago, our blog, beniciaherald.wordpress.com, has sparked tips that led to news stories. That is a trend I wouldn’t mind seeing continue.
Nor would I mind seeing further exponential growth of the blog’s traffic — approaching 15,000 hits as of this writing. When we reach and surpass the population of the city, I will feel we’ve reached a milestone of sorts.
Moreover, the site has been commended (chiefly for its existence) by city and county officials and other persons who wonder why it took us so long in the first place. I wonder, too. But let’s move on.
Moving on is what a daily newspaper does best. Moving on is also, unfortunately, what employees of a community newspaper do with uncomfortable regularity. For a parallel, think of the minor league baseball conundrum: the more you win, the more likely the majors will call up your best players.
The Herald lost some terrific staff in the last year. Mostly we were saddened by the loss to cancer of our longtime circulation manager, Sam Liron, who died Nov. 14. He is missed.
On the editorial side, we bid farewell to two staff reporters and an assistant editor. The staff I inherited in August 2008 had left me completely by the end of summer 2009.
None can ever be wholly replaced, as each brought to the job unique qualities that helped set the tone for The Herald and shape its coverage of everything from city government to the artists who have burnished Benicia’s credentials as a creative enclave.
That said, our current staff is without a doubt the best we’ve had in my more than 19 months at 820 First St. — not simply because of the skill and professionalism with which they acquit themselves and the talent I see every day brought to what can be a thankless job, but because of the dedication they have to getting it right. Mistakes, in this office, ruin the mood for whole days and bad ones ruin weeks — and that’s exactly as it should be. Journalists at every level should and must strive for excellence. It’s a testament to them that we haven’t had many bad days lately.
One hundred and twelve years in, The Herald still must prove every day to Benicia’s readers (and non-readers — especially them) that it is a crucial component of the conversation. Are we still relevant? Well, my answer is today’s Page A1, and Sunday’s, and Tuesday’s after that — and every day thereafter.
What we hope to demonstrate is the fact, so easily forgotten in the 21st century, that a vibrant newspaper is vital to the health of a community. I’d like to think the doubters’ ranks are daily diminished.