New columnist Kerry Benefield: I want to find the ‘story behind the story.’ But first, I need your help

Kerry Benefield shares how it feels to follow in the footsteps of Gaye LeBaron and Chris Smith as PD’s new columnist.|

My first “job” was at The Press Democrat. Although calling it my job is being pretty generous.

Nearly four decades ago, starting back when we were an afternoon paper, my older brother, Brian, spent years delivering the PD to our neighbors seven days a week. On the rare occasion that he needed a hand or just wilted under intense younger sister pressure to hang around, he let me “help.”

On hands and knees in the garage, we folded the paper into thirds until our hands were black with ink. I remember shoving more papers into that massive canvas poncho with craterous pockets on front and back than physics would deem possible. Then, in another small miracle of physics, we’d lift the poncho over my head and drop it onto my shoulders.

Off I’d waddle, down Hidden Valley Drive, up Hill Side, down Rolling Hill and over to Rancho Cabeza, dropping the newspaper on the porches of our neighbors. Subscription fees were collected mafia-style back then, with a knock on the door and a face-to-face request for money. “Hi, Mrs. So and So, I’m Kerry Benefield from The Press Democrat…”

If a tip was offered, my brother let me keep it.

Forty years later and I’m still knocking on doors, figuratively and otherwise, looking for tips for The Press Democrat. Only now, it is my hope that those tips will turn into stories that you will see here in this column.

Growing up in Santa Rosa, ours was a two-newspaper household. On the kitchen table, every day, I’d see The San Francisco Chronicle folded in quarters to Herb Caen’s column. Next to it was the PD, folded for better ease to read Gaye LeBaron’s column. In high school, my name appeared in her column once — I cut it out and kept it.

It was a big deal.

To follow Gaye, and my dear friend and colleague, Chris Smith, in this space is a personal and professional honor. And an intimidating one.

Sonoma County is a wonderful, diverse, multi-cultural community. We are changing — in some ways quickly and in others at a frustratingly slow pace. To wrap my arms around who we are, what we do and what we are about, I will need your help.

I have spent the past 18 years at The Press Democrat. I have covered schools, breaking news, politics, transportation and then schools again. But my last, pre-pandemic gig was as our high school sports columnist. It was an assignment I loved. For me it was less about the game than the kids who played.

Sent up to Middletown for the first home football game after the devastating Valley fire in 2015, I remember the entire Middletown High School cheerleading squad, whether their homes had burned or not, wore donated uniforms from various decades so as not to signal who had lost theirs in the flames. I remember the Mustangs’ leading rusher was all smiles after the game even though the home team had lost. He knew the night had brought joy to a community that badly needed it.

That kid went to sleep in a campground that night because his house, too, had burned.

Sometimes it’s not about the score of the game and sometimes the best stories are not about the game at all.

In this space I want to keep doing that, trying to find the story behind the story, just on a little broader scale.

I want this column to shine a light on who we are, what makes us a community and all of the things that make us special. It should be a place to tackle the questions that vex us (the funny, the mundane, the irritating) but also look into the questions, and answers, we didn’t know we had. Where we have been and where we are have their place, but what’s next — and who is taking us there — is pretty compelling, too.

Have a story that is wild, wacky, bizarre or beautiful? Tell me about it. Have a question that starts with, “What’s the deal with…?” Let’s figure it out together.

This column will only be as good as its readers — the calls, the emails, the social media contacts. Call me up, and when I blow it, by all means call me out.

Let’s do this together. And let’s have some fun.

5 things few people know about me

As the column explores who we are as a community and as I ask readers to share pieces of their lives, I thought I’d share a few little known facts about me:

  • My dad was the brains behind Clo the Cow billboards and ads for decades.
  • I played Division 1 soccer at Cal. I played forward (not very well) from 1991-94. Go Bears.
  • I love Duran Duran more than I love most things. Asking me to name a favorite song is like asking me which of my two sons I love best — can't be done.
  • I have lied about my height (on official documents and at doctor’s visits) since about the seventh grade, when I realized I had stopped growing. The CHP threatened to not issue my Capitol press pass in 2003 when I claimed to be 5-foot-10.
  • I was student body president of Santa Rosa High School, class of 1991.

You can reach Staff Columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 or On Twitter @benefield.

Kerry Benefield

Columnist, The Press Democrat

Have a story that is wild, wacky, bizarre or beautiful? Tell me about it. Have a question that starts with, “What’s the deal with…?” Let’s figure it out together. This column is about the story behind the story, a place to shine a light on who we are, what makes us a community and all of the things that make us special. With your help, I'll be tackling the questions that vex us: (the funny, the mundane, and the irritating.)

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