Sacramento Observer president reflects on paper’s legacy, looks toward the future

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) — The Sacramento Observer will raise its price from 25 cents to a dollar after nearly 60 years in print.

The change comes with a new logo, a new look and a new home for the capital city’s African American newspaper, one that’s captured and honored Sacramento’s Black history while becoming an icon in and of itself.

“In the mid-60s or early 60s in Sacramento, there was not a place where the African American voice was present,” Larry Lee, the paper’s president, said. “It is based out of the experience of white supremacy and that the African American experience is not valuable.”

But in 28 to 40 pages per week for more than 3,100 weeks, the Observer has printed the value of a life lived in skin that’s often misinterpreted, misdirected and misconstrued.

“The disparities are so great. The need is so great and the necessity for an understanding and a sensitivity to the impact that race plays in our culture is what is needed,” Lee said. “My dad went to his grave, he literally said right before passing, he’s like, ‘Man, the Observer is needed more now today than it has ever been in its entire almost 60 years.’”

Dr. William Lee, the last of the paper’s original founders, died in 2019, with the Observer having long been the passion project of him and his wife, Kathryn.

Even as they monitor the headlines today in spirit, theirs is a paper some may have never seen but presuppose what its pages contain.

“I say you got to read the Observer each and every week, and really kind of see how we tell really the whole story,” Lee said.

Lee says that “whole story” provides more context faster than other publications, like acknowledging the racial underpinnings of former President Donald Trump’s push to invalidate so many November votes.

That consistent offering of deep context, with stories like the killing of George Floyd and police treatment of unarmed Black men in Sacramento, has attracted readers in spots many might think wouldn’t reach out for the Observer.

“Granite Bay, Roseville,” Lee said.

Those new subscribers helped sell out the paper’s always popular Person of the Year edition, which for 2020, included a mirror on the cover, giving the coveted title to the reader.

“Going through the year that people went through in 2020 in Sacramento, in our community: wildfires, pandemic, racial upheaval, economic collapse, all these things. We felt there was not a better person to choose,” Lee said.

All types of newspapers have struggled and folded during the pandemic.

The same kind of vision that started the Observer in the first place forced it into a kind of reckoning five years ago — the type of reckoning other publications are doing right now.

The Observer trimmed staff to just five full-time positions and committed to a move that would help the paper pivot into a more secure future.

“That will allow us to grow and do amazing things for our community,” Lee said. “I just hope and pray that our community appreciates it and embraces it like I  think that they will.”

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