By Randy Sanders
It was days before Thanksgiving in 1999, when I begin playing around with a logo; two weeks later I had created the Columbia River Reader. By the first of the year in 2000, our first issue hit the streets. I was full of enthusiasm and I wanted to break every story hidden away under the seedy bellies of politico small town America.
I punched out forty-eight issues, in four years, until the day I sold it to its new and current owner, Sue Piper. In that time I grew an appreciation for small town America’s characters and a sour distaste for its politics. Looking back on all the issues that now sit in a box in my office — but have somehow been erased from existence — I have my favorites.
Immediately the one that comes to mind is the four days I spent on the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson, en route back home from its 122 days at sea and 3,500 flown sorties. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine 12 years and two presidents later that we would still be there or that my friend’s son would lose his life there as a Marine only two weeks ago.
Just a reporter
All my photos depict smiling seamen, officers and pilots around F-14 Tomcats (now no longer used) hoisting up rock star-like posters (from the ship’s printing presses — yes, they have a printing press on board) calling this “Operation Enduring Freedom.” As I reflected on that ship — 500 miles off the coast of California — I had no reason not to believe that the war was completed and America would return to its peaceful ways. When the ship made its way through the strait and came to rest in its Bremerton birth, I learned that U.S. Naval ships have a system for sailors to leave the ship once deployment is complete: the first ones to leave are all those men who have become fathers while they were at sea, all the officers and the onboard media. When I stepped off the ship I was pounced on by CNN and Fox News with a live feed and quickly told them “No, I’m just a reporter with The Columbia River Reader.” I couldn’t resist the chance for a cheap plug. I watched as a Chief raised up his little girl and said, “Baby, Daddy’s home.” The next day that very photo graced the cover of the USA Today.
Without a doubt, another one of my favorite issues was the infamous “Elk Boy” sighting. We interviewed those who claimed it to be real and designed the whole issue to look like the grocery store tabloid , National Enquirer. It was by far our best issue (we sold more ads and re-printed another 10,000 copies). I enjoyed watching the Elk Boy float in the St. Helens parade and appeared on an L.A. rock radio station with the two hosts who, after I left the air, told me that I did “awesome, man,” in referencing this fake story. I simply replied that I stand with the people of Columbia and Cowlitz counties and “...even though that Big Foot thing may be fake, this is not!” To this day, I have no idea what those big city DJs meant when they said to me on the phone, off the air, “Dude, that’s excellent, you’re still in character!”
Diggin for dirt: not the gardening column
Those four years of the Reader had me digging through Freedom of Information Act files for dirt on corrupt elected officials, despite anonymous voice mails left on my phone telling me I’d be sorry if I printed “that stuff” and found me backstage at concerts by No Doubt, Radio Head and MatchBox 20, waiting to meet and interview the day’s biggest music stars for features in the Columbia River Reader music section.
There were times when I actually felt as if we did some community good, like when we raised more than $1,500 for the Food Bank after wrestling away the RiverFest advertising section from a very popular Scappoose paper which for years was donating all the money to their own coffers; a feat that earned me a name unsuitable to print by the former publisher and owner.
Passing the torch
After four years, I wanted to move on. It was like I had raised an infant from birth and was now walking it down the aisle where it was to marry its new publisher, Sue Piper. In the years that followed, she has been more than a wonderful steward; she has taken the Reader to new heights and in a new direction.
Like grandparents who love having their grandkids come over so they can spoil them, but love it even more when they go home to their parents; I now get to write my wine column, yet don’t have to stay up till all hours working on the paper to get it to the printer in the light of day.
Here’s to many more years Sue, you’ve really gone beyond my wildest dreams with what was started as a simple logo.
Randy Sanders is the founder and original publisher of Columbia River Reader. He operated Wayne’s Chicago Red Hots in St. Helens and until recently in Portland. A drummer by profession, he loves music, photography, travel and, wine. He regularly writes “Let the People Drink Wine”for CRR. Reach him at Randy.Sanders@Live.com