Apr 12, 2024

Cecily Hastings Is an Anomaly: A Successful Newspaper Publisher

The Michigan native presides over a four-paper fiefdom

By Ed Goldman

For 28 years, Cecily Hastings has defied the odds. She’s been a successful newspaper publisher. In that period of time, 2,700 non-daily newspapers have either merged with rivals to mutually survive or simply folded up shop. 

In fact, Hastings publishes four monthly, geographically targeted, neighborhood papers under the rubric of Inside Publications. Three of them are within the Sacramento city limits; the fourth is in an unincorporated segment of Sacramento County. 

Edgy Cartoon

Cecily Hastings. Photo by Aubrey Johansson.

“Twenty percent of each edition carries stories unique to that area,” she says over a recent lunch, “and 80 percent are stories that come under the category of our four pillars: community, local government, small business and the arts.” The papers have a combined circulation of approximately 80,000 per month. Although it has dozens of paid subscribers, it arrives free in your mailbox and can be found in news racks and stores throughout the region.

One of the many agreeable features of each edition is it features a different painting by a local artist, usually depicting amenities like parks, flora and iconic or historical imagery. Given that Hastings holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Michigan in multi-disciplinary design (graphic, interior and industrial), and personally designed the newspaper’s look from Day One, her support for visual arts (and artists) comes as no surprise. 

Hastings herself  has a significant visual presence: tall, athletic and casually stylish, she has a commanding voice and reassuring smile in conversation. At 67, she walks with a bouncing stride which would be the envy of anyone half her age. “I think I must give off a positive vibe,” she says. She pauses for a milli-second and grins broadly. “I think it’s because I am positive,” she says. 

As you might expect from the owner of a community-based and -oriented fiefdom, she makes meeting the public and its leaders a top priority. And she’s always recognized. At our lunch interview, for example, a well-known area developer dropped by our table to congratulate Hastings on “keeping local journalism alive” and handed her a nominal but appreciated cash donation for the newspaper. Hastings blushed slightly with embarrassment and leaned in conspiratorially after the encounter to say, “I didn’t plan that!”

The comment about Hastings’s helping keep local journalism alive isn’t hyperbolic. While starting out as a paper with a folksy chamber-of-commerce friendliness, Inside Publications has evolved into a civil but activistic voice in Sacramento politics and civic engagement, thanks in part to its hiring of former Sacramento Bee reporter R.E. Graswich, never a stranger to courting controversy, a handful of semi-regular columnists, guest opinion pieces and Hastings’s own publisher letters.

“I’ve discovered along the way that people really do care about their neighborhoods,” she says, “and they need to understand how local businesses, the local colleges and the arts provide the fabric that holds them together. Am I a cheerleader for everything local? Absolutely.”

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That boosterism—and more important, Hastings’s reputation for follow-through—has netted her dozens of business and civic awards as well as memberships on significant municipal boards, including the Salvation Army, the city of Sacramento’s Arts, Culture and Creative Economy Commission and the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission. The Sacramento Business Journal named her a winner of its 2017 Women Who Mean Business awards.

Hastings also expanded the footprint of her publications by publishing two editions of a glossy photographic guidebook, “Inside Sacramento: The Most Interesting Neighborhood places in America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital.” “We published 11,000 copies of the books,” she says (in 2016 and 2018) but laments that “During and after COVID, some of the businesses we wrote about disappeared.” 

Hastings was married for 35 years to Jim Hastings, who was her business partner at Inside. After he died at 94 in January 2023—he had suffered a nasty fall some months before and eventually succumbed to dementia—Hastings says she hibernated for a while. Then she found out that her husband, knowing his time was ending, had told the couple’s many friends, “Don’t let Cecily hole up after I’m gone.”

A few months after his passing, Hastings says she decided “to get back among the living.” Her close friend, public relations pro Jane Einhorn—who, during Hastings’s initial period of grieving, “called me every single day to check up on me, asking me what I was watching on TV, if I were eating”—introduced her to Steve Williamson, a widower. What Mario Puzo called “the thunderbolt” in “The Godfather” struck. After their first date, the two have been inseparable.

“I know it wasn’t that long after Jim’s passing, but who makes these rules anyway?” she asks—making it clear that for her, defying the odds means more than being a successful newspaper publisher.

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Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).