Friday, 2:02 p.m. A bearded man wearing wire-framed glasses breezes out of the Arcata Police Department. The man wears a dark purple shirt with an awkwardly mended sleeve and a gray fleece vest. He's carrying a sheaf of papers recording recent events in the city's crime continuum.
He plops the printed stack atop a nearby refuse receptacle and begins to riffle through 'em, looking for juicy tidbits. This is Kevin L. Hoover, former editor of the Arcata Eye, which closed at September's end. Hoover's explaining the genius he brings to his renowned weekly police log, which now runs in the Mad River Union.
"I tend to look for the more interesting or lighthearted ones, or those with poetic potential," he says. "I'm not a stenographer."
Not everything makes it into Hoover's log. He never derives comedy from human tragedy. That said, Arcata's police records are rich with material. From the Oct. 9 Union — the paper's second edition:
"1:51 p.m. A white pickup truck on Union Street hosted four cannabis-medicated souls in its bed, the pipe seen passing from hand to hand. Stopped on D Street, all but one were released on foot. One DUI suspect went to jail via the hospital; his bed, bud and a bong-mobile was towed."
Hoover says his creative approach makes repetitive crimes — like "bongo upheavals on the plaza" — more engaging.
"The thing about the police log is that so much of what people do is based on short-term exigency," he says. "'I'm going to steal tips off the bar and get arrested in five minutes. But I'm going to do it anyway, or go in and chug some tequila and be arrested.' It's all about short-term gratification."
As we walk the couple blocks between police headquarters and the Mad River Union's new office in the Jacoby's Storehouse building, Hoover describes how he ended up in Arcata in 1985. While working at a Radio Shack in Hayward, Hoover read an Arcata-related snippet in National Lampoon. The story, lifted from the Arcata Union, described vandalism involving curdled dairy products and the cranial orifices of William McKinley's statue on the plaza. Hoover came for a visit and liked what he saw. Hoover transferred to Arcata's Radio Shack and eventually landed a production job at the Arcata Union, which gasped its last in 1995. One day, strapped for time, his editor asked Hoover to write the police log.
Final issues of the Arcata Eye sold for a buck around town and could be picked up free at Humboldt State University. The paper's look — from its creepy eyeball logo to miasmic modular layout — made it the second-quirkiest paper I've encountered. (First place goes to Piss Clear, Black Rock City's also-now-defunct paper of record.)
Since 1854, Hoover says, residents of Arcata have had some type of news publication.
"There's always been an office where the average schmuck could walk in and complain ... or bring in a photo of his kid," Hoover says. "I didn't want to be the end of that."
But he couldn't see how to keep the Eye open. The paper was scheduled to close in February 2014. Then a plan to mate the Eye with the McKinleyville Press was concocted over lunch at Humboldt Brews. Mixing metaphors made sense.
Hoover and Press editor Jack Durham worked together two decades ago at the Arcata Union, where Durham had been news editor.
After the Arcata Union closed its doors, Durham started the McKinleyville Press. He crafted the Press masthead using discarded bits of type rescued from the Arcata Union's Dumpster. For its nearly 900 editions, the Press was a one-man show with Durham as publisher, editor, reporter, page designer, ad sales guy and delivery dude. Durham credits contributors with making the paper possible.
Like the Eye, the Press also stopped publication at September's end. The first edition of the Mad River Union landed in the McKinleyville Press' old news boxes on Oct. 2.
As a journalism educator, I've endured endless speculation regarding news media's future. Which is digital and online. Delivered to mobile devices. With pay walls or micropayments or subscription apps. In these circles, the word "newspaper" — as in soy ink on newsprint — is synonymous with "corpse."
A few years back, media monstrosities tossed around the term "hyperlocal" and hired (often inexperienced) community reporters to do neighborhood inserts built from puff pieces and pet photos. When these insipid sections were delivered free to non-subscribers, folks called to complain about litter on their driveways.
The Mad River Union's not that kind of hyperlocal. Here's why this might work:
The Union's content is generated locally. No Associated Press wire reports.
Durham and Hoover say they're often the only reporters covering local meetings in Arcata, McKinleyville and Trinidad. The two men possess encyclopedias of institutional knowledge.
Readers are freakishly loyal. Advertisers are supportive. The Oct. 9 edition bulged with two sections of content, ads and inserts. Durham had a hard time fitting 1,700 papers into his Scion to mail to subscribers.
"We're idealists, but pragmatic," Hoover says.
In the Mad River Union's new office, an eye-catching slogan's posted on the back of an iMac: "Read a fucking book."
The space is larger than former offices of either Durham or Hoover, who'd been upstairs in a poorly lighted closet.
"I like it dark and gloomy," Hoover says. His corner of the new office features numerous assemblage pieces — bugs and (plastic) body parts — by Arcata outsider artist Brian Sproul.
Durham's wall sports a framed first edition of the McKinleyville Press and another newspaper announcing Elvis' death. Film cameras collected from yard sales and thrift shops rest on a shelf. Durham hasn't had time to try them out.
The Union staff looks forward to devoting less attention to getting the biz off the ground and more to the paper itself.
"When we are able to focus, it's going to roar," Hoover says.
Deidre Pike's best job in print journalism ended when she graduated from college and had to quit editing and reporting for the student newspaper. She envies Durham and Hoover who've figured out a way to keep the print gig fun for decades. She doesn't envy their workload.