The Sacramento Bee celebrates its 160th anniversary this month much the way it launched in 1857 – firmly committed to serving the community through independent journalism, despite an era of increased partisanship and intense media competition.
The Bee has made this 160-year journey hand-in-hand with the community. Our coverage has reflected the region, whether in moments of joy or absolute horror, in emergencies and periods of calm. We changed as the face of Sacramento, its concerns and social values, changed.
We’ve covered world wars and terrorism attacks. We’ve captured tender moments like the first baby born at the start of each new year and annual traditions like the State Fair. We’ve changed from an institution that editorialized “there was no practical alternative” to the internment of the Japanese community in WWII to one that embraces the widespread diversity of this region and strongly opposes a new ban on refugees in the United States.
We have been recognized with awards including six Pulitzer Prizes for the depth of our journalism. But most gratifying and humbling has been the support for our journalism in recent months from many of you. It has been a vivid reminder of our responsibility to watch the powerful during these turbulent times, especially as they represent California and Sacramento.
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That commitment has been with us since the beginning.
Jim McClatchy, the great-grandson and namesake of The Daily Bee founder James McClatchy, told a group of editors in 1993 that what makes The Bee different is its character.
“The first Bee was founded by men who had a cause, who fervently believed in a just society,” he was quoted as saying in “Papers of Permanence,” a book written by Steve Wiegand for The Bee’s 150th anniversary.
“I believe we must keep the faith with the many people who gave the papers not only integrity and independence, but the extra elements of character and personality and conviction,” McClatchy said.
The first Bee was founded by men who had a cause, who fervently believed in a just society.
Jim McClatchy in 1993
We have held tight to those values, even though today’s Bee might be a wonderment to a reader from decades ago. Our first edition was a four-page newspaper in black and white called The Daily Bee. Now you can read or watch our journalism on your cellphone or computer at Sacbee.com, or continue to read The Sacramento Bee in print.
The Daily Bee was the only McClatchy paper for 65 years. In the period before its launch, 19 newspapers came and went in Sacramento. It then survived a decade in which 22 more papers opened shop. Only The Daily Bee and the Sacramento Union survived, fierce competitors until the Sacramento Union closed its doors in 1994 with a front-page headline declaring, “We’re History.”
If anyone doubted whether independence mattered for The Bee, the demise of the Sacramento Union confirmed it. It died after taking a sharp right turn in its coverage, dictated by new ownership.
Bee reporters instead were encouraged to do tough journalism that held government officials accountable regardless of political leanings.
In his book, Wiegand describes The Bee’s coverage of an outbreak of bubonic plague in San Francisco’s Chinatown district. Gov. Henry Gage and San Francisco officials worked to keep the story quiet and San Francisco newspapers ridiculed it. But when Gage secretly planned to send a delegation to Washington to squelch a report confirming the outbreak, The Bee found out. The paper reported both the findings of the outbreak – and then the secret plan to squash them. And reporters stuck with the story until a cleanup in 1904.
That early commitment to publishing truth in the face of government pressure reminds us of The Bee’s work from 2011 to 2015 to reveal serious safety concerns with the new San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. Charlie Piller investigated quality concerns involving concrete, rust, structural tests and other issues. The initial reaction from Caltrans and Gov. Jerry Brown was that the investigative findings “bordered on malpractice.” Then state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier of Concord launched a Senate investigation that ultimately confirmed The Bee’s reports.
In 1935, The Bee was the first newspaper in California to win the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service
In 1935, The Bee was the first newspaper in California to win the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service, for a series of stories exposing the corrupt boss of a political machine in Nevada and his manipulation of two federal judicial appointments. Because of the coverage, President Franklin D. Roosevelt withdrew both appointments and voters overthrew the political machine.
In 1992, The Bee again won the Public Service award, this time for Tom Knudson’s series of stories called “Sierra in Peril,” which detailed environmental threats to the mountain range. The Bee won a second Pulitzer Prize that same year for science writer Deborah Blum’s coverage of “The Monkey Wars,” a series examining the ethical and moral questions involving primate research.
Other Pulitzers were awarded for work that continued The Bee’s strong journalistic tradition. In 2005, it was for editorials written by Tom Philp urging the reclamation of the Hetch Hetchy Valley, flooded by the reservoir that supplies the Bay Area with water. In 2007, it was for Renée C. Byer’s poignant photography in “A Mother’s Journey,” a series documenting a mother caring for her young son as he died from cancer. And last year it was the editorial cartooning prize to Jack Ohman for his pointed portfolio of drawings commenting on topics including the presidential campaign, gun violence and marriage equality.
On the day The Bee launched, James McClatchy wrote in its first editorial that “The object of this paper is not only independence, but permanence.”
We share that belief. Dramatic societal changes have upended The Bee’s business model just as they have for many other industries, from retail to banking to television. Today, our digital business is growing because we are helping others adapt to – and capitalize on – technology-driven changes.
As we face the future, we bring strength of character, creative brainpower and an unwavering commitment to serve you, our readers and this community.