by JW August, President Emeritus, CalAware

“He stood up for folks who could not stand up for themselves”— Donna Frye, CalAware Board Member

“Tim set a standard for journalists” — Bill Spencer, retired newspaper editor.

Journalist Tim Crews was old school. His tools were sweat, integrity, fearlessness and the desire to find and tell the truth. The 77-year- old publisher of the Sacramento Valley Mirror died recently of sepsis following a one-month hospital stay.

“To say that Tim was unique, would be an understatement” is how many of his colleagues and friends describe him, including Kelly Aviles, an attorney for open government.

Aviles says Crews was “a dead ringer for Santa Claus, with an unrivaled passion for publishing. Tim was undeterred by slammed doors, public records denials, and even the occasional arson attempt. Nothing could stop him from publishing.”

“Whether people liked it or not, he exposed the truth, the whole truth,” one admirer wrote on the Mirror’s Facebook page. The paper’s Facebook page was the only social media the publisher tolerated. Other posts provide a similar glimpse of the man and his life’s work. “He was a true original” and “a warrior for justice.” He was “dedicated to his craft” as a journalist, said another, and a “bulldog of keeping public records public.”

Crews served as a founding member and president of Californians Aware (CalAware), a non-profit based in Sacramento that advocates for open government. He helped guide CalAware in its efforts to compel agencies in California to abide by open government laws.

“Tim dedicated much of his life to publishing a small, local newspaper,” said fellow board member and former San Diego City Councilwoman Donna Frye. It was the public’s right to know and be informed that motivated him; it was never about the money.”

School boards, water boards, planning boards and other agencies will at times deny access or not provide transparency with regard to their actions. Access and transparency in government are the sorts of issues Crews reported on and fought for as a member of CalAware.

Crews was a journalist’s journalist. He used the California Public Records Act to expose public officials’ misdeeds. When agencies would deny him records he believed the public had the right to see, he would take the agency to court. And like any good journalist, he always protected his sources. When a judge demanded in 2000 that he reveal who the source was on a story involving a weapon theft and a former CHP officer, Crews refused to provide the name and was sent to jail where he spent five days.

Terry Francke was the general counsel for CalAware and knew of Crews’ struggles and the obstacles he often faced. “Tim had his office burgled, his building set aflame, his car’s brakes and wheels weakened to the point of failure, his dog poisoned and his front step strewn with an expertly knotted noose, which the district attorney refused to treat as a criminal threat,” Francke recalled.

Crews’ career path to journalism started early, first as a teen who set up a darkroom in his basement and sold photos to a local newspaper in the state of Washington where he was born. As he searched for his life’s mission he would go down different paths, one of them leading to service in the U.S. Marine Corps for three years. He also worked for a logging company, spent some time in commercial fishing and was employed at a steel mill before returning to his first love — journalism.

His first professional reporting job was at the Santa Barbara News & Review. He also held reporting jobs in Texas and Colorado before launching the Mirror in 1991. And there Crews stayed, acquiring a reputation as a fearless journalist, never intimidated by bureaucrats, powerful politicians or uncooperative police, willing to stand up for the average citizen and be the eyes and the ears of his community.

Bill Spencer, the retired editor of The Fort Morgan Times in Colorado, remembers when Crews joined the staff of his paper 40 years ago where he set “a standard for journalists to attain,” and “that’s the same way Crews met his responsibilities all these years later with the Sacramento Valley Mirror,” he said.

Attorney Francke recalls that “Tim’s reporting and editorials not only afflicted the comfortable cowards, they comforted those afflicted above all for want of truth and justice. He was not just a model for journalists; he was truly a mensch among us.”

Crews was founder, publisher, owner, editor and on occasion, sometimes delivery man for the Mirror, which serves the 6,000
residents of Willows, Calif. and the rest of Glenn County. He never bought into having an online edition for his paper. There would be no compromising to get clicks or page views. What mattered was a print edition published twice weekly.

When he created the Mirror he hired an office assistant, who would become his wife and biggest supporter — Donna Settle, the paper’s managing editor, who promises to continue the work that her husband was passionate about.

Crews compared himself to the reporter Dutton Peabody in the film “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.” Peabody was a cantankerous publisher of the Shinebone Star who told the residents of Shinebone, “I’m your watchdog that howls against the wolves.”

The line perfectly captures Tim Crews’ life’s work.

As Donna Frye notes, “Tim’s determination to shine a light on the truth,
combined with his unique brand of humor, made him a most loved and
unforgettable character.”