California's oldest weekly newspaper saved with owner set to retire

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The Latest on the Mountain Messenger: Owner Don Russell tells FOX40 the Mountain Messanger has been saved. Apparently, a friend of Russell's will be taking over the newspaper.

DOWNIEVILLE, Calif. (KTXL) -- The oldest weekly newspaper in the state of California will be stopping its presses this month.

In 1980, the Mountain Messenger had a staff of 12 but in recent years, there have only been two full-time employees, including the owner.

“I’m the king of dying businesses,” said Mountain Messenger owner and publisher Don Russell. “It’s just another paper going broke.”

When Russell talks about the Mountain Messenger it is like he is talking about an old friend – one who he never wants to see again.

“It was a good gig, I really enjoyed it, but old pappy time,” Russell told FOX40.

Russell bought the paper in the early ‘90s and has covered stories big and small.

“We have barking dogs. We have forest service misbehavior,” he said.

But these days, he said he just doesn’t have the energy to run the paper anymore. After months of trying to sell it, he gave up.

“It’s more work than the paper can afford to pay,” Russell explained.

The Mountain Messenger’s major claim to fame was that Mark Twain wrote for it under his real name, Samuel Clemens, for several weeks in the 1850s. At the time, Russell said Twain was hiding from the law after being challenged to a duel for criticizing the sanitary commission.

“Nevada had just outlawed dueling. And the governor, for whom Twain’s brother worked for, said, ‘I’ll give you 24 hours but you've got to get out of town,’” Russell told FOX40.

There is still a paper that covers Sierra County, the Sierra Booster, but it comes out twice a month.

People in town said it is a huge loss for them, especially since their town has already seen the closure of a bank and a gas station.

“You got to read the sheriff’s blotter and then ‘100 years ago today’ and that’ll catch you up on 90% of your gossip in town,” said Downieville resident Billy Epps. “Yeah, it’s pretty much the only news outlet that we have up here.”

Russell said he does not want to advertise exactly how many more papers he will publish to ensure advertisers still pay him what he is owed. But he said there will not be any after January unless someone else buys the paper.

“It is a drag but, yeah, 30 years I’ve done it,” Russell said.

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