When I made the decision to keep The Mountain Messenger in business at the beginning of 2020, I did not anticipate the action receiving attention by anyone other than the few hundred remaining subscribers. However, on the first morning after I’d given a check to the owner, I took a call from a reporter from SFGate who was following up on a Los Angeles Times story she had read about the paper’s demise. Within seconds she had her lead: 71-year-old retired widower saves local newspaper in northeastern California. The good-news story was quickly picked up by AP, so news outlets across the US and a few in Europe ran it. Within a week, I received a call from Tim Arango, a national correspondent for the New York Times based in Los Angeles. He wanted to visit Downieville for a couple of days, interview me and the local community. Would the paper really become recognized by the nation’s “newspaper of record”? Indeed it did, appearing as the only story on page A12 of the February 10, 2020 edition, and it generated a wave of public recognition. Months later, I learned how a woman in Dartmouth, New Hampshire, having reached page A12, rushed into her husband’s studio to share the news. Christian Wolff, caught in the midst of writing a concerto commissioned by a Swiss symphony (Basel Sinfonietta), a composer whose modern classical work has been likened to a spirited walk through a forested park with a friend, very pleased with the news, decided to name his concerto “The Mountain Messengers” in order to honor my action.
But it didn’t take nearly as long for me to be connected with Lenny Ackerman. No, when the man wants to do something good he acts. On the morning he first learned about the existence of The Mountain Messenger, through the article in the New York Times, Lenny sent a letter of support for my efforts. Not only did the note express encouragement, Lenny immediately purchased a subscription. Indeed, over the course of the following month he gave gift subscriptions to around 30 different members of his family and friends. Yes, Lenny was personally responsible for close to 10 percent of all the new subscribers generated by the publicity wave in early 2020. Moreover, Lenny dives in deep with something he believes in. Through his connection with the paper, Lenny has supported not just the newsroom, but his giving has extended to the local community.
Most telling of all about Lenny’s spirit and generosity is his weekly contribution to the newspaper, his “Here Back East” column. I absolutely love publishing his essays. They are well written descriptions of his experiences, both present and past, that I find consistently endearing. Yes, if his pieces make the journal read more like The Atlantic than what is usually found in a small, local paper, well, so be it.Carl Butz
One of the very best things coming out of my decision to “save the paper” has been the fact I, along with the readers of The Mountain Messenger, have been introduced to Lenny’s realm, a place of boundless positive energy, compassion, sharp observational and communication skills, and gratitude for what the world has to offer us.
Another lover of reading obituaries
Publisher of the Mountain Messenger