Mother, survivor, teacher, community activist, writer and editor Tanya Canino passed away on Friday, Sept. 9. She was 55.

By Andrew J. Pridgen

It was no secret that Tanya Canino and I didn’t share the same newsroom philosophy. Also, she took my job. So, yeah, we had kind of a rough start.

For most of 2007, I was interim editor of the North Lake Tahoe Bonanza, a community newspaper which covers the comings and goings of the residents (both full- and part-time) of the tony nearly gated community of Incline Village, Nevada.

The paper, never known for its activism, was the parent company’s cash cow prior to the housing crash of 2008. Then a three-times-weekly publication, the heft of at least two of the editions buoyed by magazine-sized real estate inserts, rivaled that of the Sac Bee or the San Francisco Chronicle.

Inside its pages, there was always revolving door of lake-oriented, environmental and development issues that — depending on the week you were having or who needed skewering — provided the aging and gossipy little lakeside town plenty of fodder and outrage-worthy material to generate fifty-plus inches of letters to the editor with which to fill the space between the ads.

Add to that a column or two per week to stir the cauldron and, well, there was always someone poking their head through the door of the office opposite Raley’s and demanding justice or a correction or a retraction …or an extra copy or three.

I had found a home at the Bonanza a couple years prior after coming up to stay with my dad in Tahoe to regroup in the wake of a failed relationship. As I was packing to go back home to the Bay Area, my father placed the paper in front of me circling his finger over an ad for a news editor opening. Kismet.

Though I was a few years older than most of the staff — many of whom I still consider my best friends and favorite people today — I just kind of slipped into a Tahoe-type existence. No newsroom on a powder day, in other words.

This happy little family cruised along, until it didn’t. Our editor left for a job in San Francisco. Our publisher was promoted to company HQ in Reno and in her place another publisher was hired from out of the area. Though it was never quite explained to me this way, the new guard was appraised of the situation at the Bonanza, that there really was no adult in the room.

Enter Tanya.

After some initial grousing, I came to understand pretty quickly why the company had selected Tanya as the editor. She was calm, measured and deeply ingrained in the community with a husband, a beloved teacher at the local high school, and three stand-out children. Plus, she already had a spotless two-decade run with the company. Tanya was the natural choice to lead a newsroom of young, eager workers.

We both came to our first meeting extending an olive branch. She, I think, had been told that I had overstepped my bounds on occasion editorially and needed some reigning in. I respected her body of work as her byline showed up often when diving into the morgue.

And so, we got the compliments out of the way and were on our way. I filled her in on some work I’d been doing trying to get to the bottom of what actual good the Southern Nevada Public Lands Management Act (the fire sell of big swaths of federal land outside Vegas, ostensibly for development; those monies to be used to purchase and protect other, more scenic corridors mostly in the Northern part of the state) was doing. She humored me and said she would look into it.

I already had an editorial ready to go for this week, I told her.

“Like I said, I’ll look into it.”

Tanya shelved my piece and instead wrote the kind of fluffy editor’s intro column that had me dragging the trash can nearer with my foot in case I was going to be sick.

That’s fine. One mulligan.

But then another. And another. And another.

Tanya, from my point of view, wasn’t getting anywhere. Yes, I got it. She was doing the right thing. She was playing nice. She was obeying their rules…but where was the outrage? Where was the sticking up for the little guy? Where was the — journalism?

I got a call about a month later from the editor of the Nevada Appeal, the state capital paper down in Carson City owned by the same group, and would I like to come down as a weekend editor and features reporter? Hell yes!

Tanya could have her bake sales and rubber ducky race fundraisers, I was off to go toe to toe with the man who loved to assault cocktail waitresses in casino parking lots, then-guv Jim Gibbons.

Within a year, I had left the paper group entirely to start a 24-hour streaming regional news service. While the company lasted only a half-decade, I’d like to think it created a more urgent culture for reporting in the region. Or maybe it was just an annoying scroll people are glad they’re no longer subjected to.

In that time, Tanya’s voice also grew stronger, more aggressive. She, in the end, not only picked up where I left off with environmental and development issues, but took them a step further. I grew jealous, then came to admire her tenacity and thoroughness. Whereas, I was out trying to sell ads and do reporting and write and edit a little, she was busy being a journalist, narrowly focused on one issue at a time and getting different answers from the same sources I had attempted to mine over and over and over — and gotten nothing from.

How was she doing it, I wondered. Was it the fact that she had lived in the Basin for so long? Did she know these folks on a personal level? Did they trust her more?

The answer was all three.

Another important thing happened in Canino’s newsroom. She hired and built a staff in her image. In the years that followed my departure, she took raw talent straight from undergrad — like her, from the Midwest — and turned them into the same dogged, grinding, muckraking reporters that she had become. She taught them how to deploy a deft and light touch when dealing with people in the community. She showed them how to cultivate resources with honey and then wait for the moment, the exact right moment, to strike.

If my news reporting style is camping out at the blackjack table seeing how many seven and sevens I can get in my system before running through my stack, Tanya is posted up at the poker table, big blind, small blind, check, check, check all night long — until she gets that one winning hand. And then without warning, she’s all in.

What came from Tanya and that generation — including now group editor Kevin MacMillan, who does more with less resource in the Basin than anyone before him, and my partner here at DPB Kyle Magin, who can shift gears with voice and tone better than any outdoor and sports-centric essayist I know — was a newsroom run right. Beyond her work, which was always a simple and direct distillation of complex issues, it was the people she molded that will be her legacy.

During this time, she also battled — and beat — breast cancer. But the grind of the newsroom and being a mother and fighting the disease was too much. So she spent the last half-decade of her professional career doing what she did best, training the next generation, this time as a journalism instructor at Sierra Nevada College. She turned the campus paper, essentially a free-credits elective, into a full-blown community sounding board which became one of the most important and recognizable products from the small private mountain school still seeking a defining program.

Over the weekend, Kyle texted me that she had succumbed to a second battle with cancer.

I was speechless. And I cried.

I never got to tell Tanya how I felt about the work she did or the careers she shaped. I never apologized for my curt exit or the fact that we never really connected. Though I’m not sure I had to.

Once, about two years after I left the paper, I got an email from her on a story I did (and beat her on.) She managed to advance the story during the ensuing weeks and eventually won a couple awards for it. The note was to the point and dry as toast, just like everything Tanya wrote.

It said: “Hey Andrew, great story! Next time, have your follow-up ready.” — T

A celebration of Tanya Canino’s life will take place 5 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 15 at the Cornerstone Church in Incline Village.

Image: tanycanino.com

Andrew J. Pridgen is the author of “Burgundy Upholstery Sky.”

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