Reporter leaves her mark in one unforgettable year | Editor’s notes – Chico Enterprise-Record

Imagine you’re coming to a town you’ve never been to before, for a newspaper job with a group of people you’ve never met. Now, imagine that your job — for one year — is to cover the biggest story in the 166-year history of the newspaper.

Just for good measure, throw in the fact that the man who had guided the newspaper for the past 20 years just stepped down; most of the staff had recently departed to take on new challenges; and your boss will be some new guy who’s still trying to figure out how to unlock his desk while explaining to readers how he let a phrase like “ice-cream Nazi” slip into the newspaper.

(Uh, that last part is me, by the way.)

Sounds a little intimidating, doesn’t it?

Not if you’re Camille von Kaenel.

This is a tough column to write, because it’s running May 31 — officially, Camille’s last day at our newspaper. She’s been here most of the time I’ve been editor, including the entire time after I finally figured out how to unlock my desk.

We were lucky to have her, and the fact we got her here at all says something about the challenges of small-town journalism these days.

First — about the program that led us to Camille. We got her through Report for America, an initiative of the nonprofit media organization The GroundTruth Project. Its mission: “restore journalism from the ground up by supporting the next generation of journalists through field reporting that serves under-covered corners of the United States and the world.”

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In other words, they place reporters — and even pick up most of the cost — at media outlets that are in need of additional help to cover all-important stories. (Which, in the wake of the Camp Fire, was perfect for us.)

Our NorCal newspaper group had applied for a RFA reporter to help with wildfire coverage. After the Camp Fire hit, it became obvious that we needed that help in the Chico-Paradise area more than anywhere else.

From the get-go, it was obvious Camille was the right person for the job.

She came here with great credentials — an environmental reporter who had covered climate change policy for E&E News in Washington, D.C. with a bachelor’s in international relations from the University of Geneva and a master’s in journalism from Columbia University in New York.

Now all she had to do was figure out how to cover Camp Fire recovery efforts in a newsroom that had lost at least two-thirds of its Camp Fire coverage experience.

She did it the right way — by visiting the area, making a lot of contacts and doing a great amount of research before ever writing a story. By the time she had her first byline in the paper — on Paradise High’s graduation — she’d already developed a good grasp of the magnitude of the disaster, as well as a deep sense of empathy for the people it so harshly impacted.

Four hundred or so bylines later, that never changed.

I always like to say that you’ve got to love this job to do it — otherwise, I’m not sure why anyone would even want to try. Camille has shown that every step of the way. She showed it in a year of Camp Fire-related stories, she showed it in the countless times she got asked to help on other beats because of breaking news and, especially, she showed it again the past three months when “coronavirus coverage” suddenly got added to everybody’s plate.

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Best of all, she did it with a pleasant demeanor and always with a smile on her face — and left a fantastic impression on our readers along the way.

Thus, it came as no surprise when, after asking what her immediate plans would be, she said she’d like to cover Paradise’s graduation for us as a correspondent — wrapping the year up exactly as she started it.

From there, she’ll be off for San Diego, where her new beat with RFA is covering growth and development in San Diego County’s backcountry for inewsource.

It sounds like a tough job to me, but I know she’ll be more than ready to handle anything they throw her way.

In that way, and many others, she reminds me an awful lot of the communities she was hired to help us cover in the first place.

Now it’s left to the rest of us to continue her outstanding work — and we will. Thank you, Camille, for setting the bar so high and giving the toughest job we’ve ever had all the care and empathy it deserved.

Mike Wolcott is editor of the Enterprise-Record. You can follow him on Twitter @m_mwolcott or reach him via email at







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