This Sierra Retiree Stepped in to Rescue a 167-Year-Old Newspaper from Ceasing Press

What’s next for the The Mountain Messenger?

Carl Butz, a 71-year-old widow and retiree of Downieville in the Sierra, weighed his options for his years ahead. Europe, perhaps? Instead, he chose to buy a local newspaper started in 1853 to save it from extinction.

According to the New York Times, Mark Twain was one of The Mountain Messengers’ most famous writers. But like many rural area newspapers, the publication had fallen on hard times. Enter Mr. Butz.

“The obituaries for the paper had already been written. 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.

“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.

“Still, Mr. Russell, an old friend of Mr. Butz’s, was a reluctant seller. ‘His position was, it’s a losing proposition and someone who’d want it would be crazy,’ Mr. Butz said. ‘He called me a romantic idealist and a nut case. And that’s not a paraphrase, but a direct quote.’

Butz prevailed, and the paper now runs under his ownership. Find out how the fourth-generation Californian and a former computer programmer and labor economist gave a local treasure a lifeline here.

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