Carl Butz ponders what to put in his first edition of the Mountain Messenger. (New York Times photo by Jenna Schoenfeld)
Tim Arango of The New York Times went to Downieville, Calif., population 300, to tell the story of Carl Butz, who saved the Mountain Messenger, the state's oldest weekly newspaper, from closing.

"Don Russell, the hard-drinking, chain-smoking editor with a blunt writing style who had owned and run the paper for nearly three decades, was retiring, and he seemed happy enough for the paper to die with his retirement," Arango reports. "And then one night Mr. Butz was watching 'Citizen Kane' on cable and thought, 'I can do that.' He made the deal quickly, paying a price in the 'four figures,' he said, plus the assumption of some debts, without even looking at the books."

Sierra County; Plumas is to its north
(Wikipedia map)
Butz says Russell was a reluctant seller: “His position was, it’s a losing proposition and someone who’d want it would be crazy. He called me a romantic idealist and a nut case. And that’s not a paraphrase, but a direct quote.” Arango reports that Butz a still-grieving widower whose wife died in 2017, and quotes him as saying that he didn't save the paper: “It’s saving me.”

Butz told his readers in an introductory letter that he bought the paper because “The horrible thought of this venerable institution folding up and vanishing after 166 years of continuous operation was simply more than I could bear” and the paper is “something we need in order to know ourselves.” The Messenger is the only paper in Sierra County, pop. 3,240, but also serves part of Plumas County. It "relies mostly on publishing legal notices from the county and other government offices, which brings in about $50,000 a year, for the bulk of its revenue," Arango reports.