Cheryl Dell graduated from Sacramento State in 1982 with a communications degree, returning to the city in 2008 as publisher and president of The Sacramento Bee. And it all began at a little radio station in Modesto, Calif.
Dell considers Sacramento home but grew up in Modesto, attending Beyer High School, where she joined the debate team and, after school, worked at a local Dairy Queen.
She also took on an internship at radio station KFIV, covering the crime beat and hosting one of the programs. "It was one of those Sunday morning talk shows that nobody listened to, but the FCC required it," Dell says. The work gave her a taste of how the media can make a difference.
After attending Modesto Junior College, Dell set her sights on Sacramento State for a number of reasons. Her high school debate squad had come to the campus for a competition, and she liked what she saw. She also appreciated the University's affordability and, as a communications major, loved the city's media availability with three major network television stations, two newspapers and plenty of radio stations. "It was a great market," she says.
Of all her professors, Dell most remembers Barbara O'Connor, now a professor emeritus, whose insights into politics are still sought by news outlets across the nation. Dell also recalls courses in Logic and Group Communications.
But not all her attention was focused on subjects related to her major. "I remember being fascinated by a world religion class," Dell says. "It was a great chance to learn about the world and how people are very different." That experience led her to seek other classes in subjects such as anthropology and cultural geography.
Dell initially planned to enter the public affairs field when she graduated, but the job market was tight in 1982, and she ended up selling advertising for a company in the Solano-Napa area. After six months on the job, Dean Lesher, owner of the Contra Costa Times and other publications, told her she belonged in newspapers. "So, at 24, that's how I ended up in the newspaper world," Dell says.
Several years and publications later, Dell returned to Sacramento to assume leadership of The Sacramento Bee, the flagship publication of The McClatchy Co. Dell came there after 11 years at four other McClatchy papers in positions such as The Fresno Bee's vice president of Sales and Marketing, and president and publisher of The News Tribune in Tacoma, Wash. "McClatchy is a great match for my values," Dell says. "I really like the core values and the freedom to do a really good job in the community in which you live and work."
It was a challenging time to operate a newspaper. The Bee, like publications across the country, was losing revenue at a rapid rate. Dell points out that the recession was difficult for nearly all businesses in the region. "I'm mindful it is my responsibility to salute The Bee's 156-year history and to ensure that we play the same important role in our community for the next 156 years," she says. "All of the decisions we made were focused on how we manage the short-term economic challenges with the long-term obligation to provide our community with news and information through different means."
There are many more ways to get the news to the public than there were just a few years ago - with online versions of print publications, tweets and more - but Dell doesn't believe that changes the basic job of the journalist. "What they're working toward is high-quality work that gets read. It's just on different platforms. There are many different ways to deliver the story, but reporters spend more time thinking about the story's content and how it will resonate."
Dell doesn't hesitate to point out how The Bee has served and helped the community over the years. Community involvement is something she takes personally. Dell is on the executive committee of the Sacramento Area Commerce & Trade Organization, the boards of MLK 365 and Valley Vision, and is part of the Salvation Army Group.
It takes up a lot of free time that is already precious, but Dell says being a publisher gives a person the privilege of seeing the community a different way. "It seems like it would be a waste to have that opportunity and not use it."
She also recognizes the role Sacramento State plays in the community, and with The Sacramento Bee. Many of the newspaper's reporters graduated from Sacramento State. "A university with the quality of Sac State is part of the fiber of the community," Dell says. "It makes sense that we would have people who were students at the University and who become employees at The Bee."
Becoming the publisher of the paper in your "hometown" is not common, and Dell is aware of the opportunity she has been given.
"I love this area," she says. "I am at home here. That makes it a little more special but, the truth is, publishing newspapers is a great honor anywhere." - Craig Koscho