WARNING: the following sentimental diatribe may be tl;dr
Being born and raised in Willows, CA, a forlorn outpost of a town known mostly to the outside world as a place to score Taco Bell or Starbucks on Interstate-5 between Sacramento and Portland, I had the good fortune to enjoy the sort of quaint small-town upbringing that many of my more urban rooted friends and associates know only from books and movies. Though the list of things that rule about life in Willows is too long to denote here, I can say that one of the more unique, and perhaps quixotic, aspects of Willows is the Sacramento Valley Mirror, a twice-weekly newspaper that acts as a foil to the local McPaper, the Willows Journal, and more importantly, as an implement of epic shit stirring. Owner / Editor Tim Crews is possibly the most despised in the entirety of Glenn County and for good reason: he’s successfully taken on almost every aspect of the local government, the cops, the County Supervisors, the School District and has somehow always come out relatively unscathed. As a kid in Willows though, I cared less about the uncovering of corruption and graft within local politics than I did the weekly rundown of Police Calls, which ensured that no domestic dispute or Drug bust would go unrecorded. Many lulz were had reading about a buddy’s older brother getting popped for Meth or the high school gym teacher roughing up his old lady. The Valley Mirror is the type of paper that every small town needs, but hardly any have. It has thus earned a surprising amount of accolades from the journalism world at large. Last year, I almost shit myself when I picked up my morning copy of the San Francisco Chronicle and saw the above picture of Crews strolling through Downtown Willows (at an intersection from which one of the five sets of stoplights in the entire town was recently removed, if that tells you anything about Willows). The accompanying story was quite laudatory, painting Crews as the protagonist in the David vs. Goliath fight of investigative journalism versus the corporate news world in the internet age:
The kind of scrappy journalism Crews does may become harder to find if current media trends continue. With classified advertising usurped by the Internet, newspapers across the country are facing mounting losses and, in many cases, cuts in staff and resources. First Amendment scholars fear that investigative journalism may die as newsprint fades away. Crews won’t have any of it. He is a country editor whose little paper is influencing public opinion on a shoestring budget. A maverick, old-school muckraker, Crews is notorious in this rural farming community of 6,220 people and the governmental center of Glenn County.
However, much to the chagrin of those who’d like to see the paper go the way of the dodo, the Sacramento Valley Mirror is now online, providing me with the weekly dose of the small town drama I’ve been missing. A quick run down of this week’s news shows the the Valley Mirror is still doing its thing. The leading editorial “Yes, we owe Glenn County taxes, and Glenn County owes us a fair shake” takes a recent disclosing of the paper’s outstanding property tax bill and turns it into a rather stirring run down of the various intimidation tactics used against the paper since it’s formation:
The paper is founded. In the first three years we have some 30 break-ins, cases of vandalism, or car burglaries. Most reports not even logged.
fter a several such, Sheriff Roger Roberts, beleaguered and looking tired, visited. Hands down on the counter, slumped shouldered, he said, â€œI just don’t know whom I can trust. But do this, clean the bottom of those computers real well so we can get some prints.â€ And so we did, with carbon tet. Clean as a phonied up narcotics case. A week or later we had another burglary. Our landlord had heard a scanner in the office â€“ we didn’t have a base then â€” but wasn’t quick enough to catch anyone. We called it in. Lots of deleted files and searched files. The machine showed when they were entered. Then deputy, and now Glenn County Sheriff’s Lieutenant, Phil Revolinsky was there working when the Glenn County District Attorney investigators arrived.
â€œI’ll just go get my fingerprint kit it out of my car,â€ Deputy Revolinsky told Chief Investigator Mike Murray.
â€œNo you won’t,â€ Lt. Revolinsky recalls the chief investigator saying. And so, no prints were taken.
Sand in the valve cover, water in the gas, .22 hole in a door, the list dragged on until a call to Congressman Vic Fazio’s office prompted the feds to make an appearance. And it all stopped. Three years and 30 or so events. If one lives with this kind of nonsense long enough, it becomes somewhat irritating. There was never one investigation by Glenn County. Those were different times, we are glad to say. [Memo to Willows Police Department: Any progress on the arson fire here 16 months ago?]
Elsewhere however, the mood is lighter with headlines such as the epic “Dog Bites Patrol Car.” And though the Willows Police Logs are seemingly yet to be online, there is at least the rundown of Glenn County’s Most Wanted, which from time to time includes any number of childhood friends and dudes I used to smoke weed with in high school. Ah, Willows! One day I shall make my return!