SAN FRANCISCO — Tim Crews, a longtime Northern California newspaperman who relentlessly filed public records requests and even did a five-day stint in jail rather than give up anonymous sources, has died at age 77.
Crews died Nov. 12 at Shasta Regional Medical Center in Redding, after weeks in the hospital. The cause of death was sepsis, said his wife, Donna Settle.
Tributes poured in on the Facebook page of The Sacramento Valley Mirror, a twice-weekly newspaper in Glenn County that Crews founded, published and wrote for, even delivering copies. It has no online presence other than on Facebook.
Readers and friends called him a true original, an old-time community journalist who stood up for regular people and published obituaries, even long ones, for free. He dashed about the town of Willows, population 6,000, in red suspenders and with a bushy white beard, covering crime and politics but also community events.
“His biggest priority was his newspaper. It was basically his baby,” said Larry Judkins, copy editor of the Sacramento Valley Mirror, to the Chico Enterprise-Record.
He loved to write and help people and he disliked government officials who didn’t want the public to know what they were up to, said Settle, who operated the newspaper with her husband.
“He just wanted to do well for the community, and I think that’s true with a lot of people in journalism,” she said.
Crews was born Oct. 10, 1943 in Aberdeen, Washington and by his teens, he had a darkroom in his basement and was selling photos of sporting events to the local newspaper, Settle said. Crews worked at various newspapers in several states before landing at the Willows Journal. In 1991, he started the Sacramento Valley Mirror.
In 2000, Crews kissed Settle and waved to onlookers before stepping into the Tehama County jail, about 200 miles (320 kilometers) northeast of San Francisco, to serve time for contempt of court. “I’m at peace,” he said.
A judge had ordered him jailed, indicating that his refusal to divulge sources for a weapon-theft story had jeopardized the defendant’s constitutional right to a fair trial , according to The Associated Press. The defendant was a former California Highway Patrol officer.
Crews said in a 2017 interview with Poynter that his newspaper files an average of more than 20 state records requests a year, going to court at times to fight for public access.
“If someone is messing with you, you have to fight back. It’s just the American way,” he said.
Crews received a slew of awards for his contributions to journalism and the First Amendment, including the California Press Association’s Newspaper Executive of the Year Award in 2009 and the California News Publishers Association Freedom of Information Award in 2013.