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If there were only a way to build a garage from old papers

Essay by Ed Quillen

Local media – February 2002 – Colorado Central Magazine

SURE, I ENJOY READING BOOKS — most of them, anyway. But I actually spend more time reading newspapers and magazines, so when Martha asked for the annual “List of Favorites,” I decided to write about periodicals.

Daily Newspapers

I read three; just how thoroughly depends on what else I have to do that day, but they all get at least a skimming.

Of course I scan the home-town daily, the Salida Mountain Mail. That doesn’t take long, though, since more than a quarter of the paper is usually classified advertising. The Mail’s local coverage is generally accurate, but shallow and lacking context. As for the paper’s editorial page, there are too many canned columns, but there are editorials about local issues, and the letters often give you some idea as to what people are upset about.

The local stories, police news, weddings, obituaries and graduation announcements make the Mail fascinating reading for long-term locals, but it probably wouldn’t do much for others.

Then there’s the Denver Post. I write for the Post, so in a way it’s required reading. But I was a subscriber long before I started writing for it.

In general, the Post does a competent but not exceptional job of covering “the Rocky Mountain Empire.” I don’t see the Rocky Mountain News that often, but when I do, its writing seems livelier than the Post’s. But the Post’s news coverage is more thorough.

When some friends see me carrying my third daily, the Wall Street Journal, home from the post office, they ask if I’ve sold out. My jocular reply is that in all battles, it’s important to know what your enemy is doing — it’s called “intelligence.”

Although the Journal’s editorial page is philosophically inconsistent in the usual right-thinking way (government is evil when it regulates business, but the War on Drugs is a just and moral operation), it’s usually interesting. And the Journal’s news and features just sparkle, without any discernible political bias — I’m constantly amazed that a daily newspaper can be so well written.

There are other dailies available here, like the Pueblo Chieftain. However, it doesn’t have much Colorado news that isn’t also in the Post, and when it comes to cities, I’m more interested in Denver than in Pueblo. Further, the Chieftain’s general attitude seems to be “Let’s take an interesting part of the world and try to make it exceedingly dull.” If I knew the word for “the opposite of sensationalism,” I’d apply it to the Chieftain.

USA Today seems to come and go — there will be racks in town, and then there won’t, and then they’ll reappear. When it began, the stories were so terse that we joked that it might someday win the Pulitzer for “Best Interpretive Paragraph.”

It’s gotten a lot better, and I might read it more regularly — if I could find it. But even if it’s got some good stuff, it’s had a bad influence on American journalism. USA Today was the first daily to slather on the color with gaudy charts and maps. Now almost everybody does it — and the papers aren’t a bit more informative. I wish the effort that goes to bad color graphics went to better reporting and writing instead.

Weekly Newspapers

We get weeklies from Saguache County, Leadville, Buena Vista, Westcliffe, and Fairplay.

The Saguache Crescent is the last letterpress newspaper in Colorado, and perhaps the United States. Dean Coombs, its publisher, will be the first to tell you that he’s a printer, not a writer. So the Crescent pretty much prints what comes in the door — for better or worse.

By reading both the weekly Crescent and the monthly Crestone Eagle (and I freely confess that I lack sufficient New Age Enlightenment to make sense out of a great deal of Eagle content), I can usually determine at least the major outlines of what’s going on in Saguache County.

Besides offering the usual mix of news, announcements and editorials, the Eagle includes articles about various religious practices, and its very own, locally prepared horoscope.

The Leadville Herald-Democrat, the Buena Vista Chaffee County Times, and the Fairplay Flume are all owned by Arkansas Valley Publishing, the same chain that publishes the Salida Mountain Mail. The chain is locally owned by the Baranczyk family, who live in Salida (and formerly in Poncha Springs).

The Ark Valley papers all cover the local meetings, and they all seem pretty proficient in providing a forum for local letters, local happenings, high school sports, obituaries, calendars, announcements and the like.

During the past couple of years, the Flume has usually been the best of the lot with good story selection and a real editorial page. It seems to have slipped since Peter John Stone left the staff, but it’s still pretty good.

In my view, community newspapers are supposed to provide some community leadership through their editorial pages, and in that regard, both Leadville and Buena Vista fall down on the job. Along with the Mountain Mail, these papers could also stand to increase their serious news coverage a little.

But that’s not the case in Westcliffe, where the Wet Mountain Tribune publishes an editorial page that is local and lively, and the paper does a good job of covering Custer County.

So if I were giving awards for the best newspapers in Central Colorado, they would go to the Tribune and the Flume.

Other Publications

There are two on the “drop everything else and read this one on the day it comes in” list: High Country News, a bi-weekly from Paonia, and the bi-monthly Canyon Country Zephyr from Moab, Utah.

Both are environmental publications, but both face issues honestly (i.e., is the increase in back-country tourism destroying the attributes that we most like about the back-country?).

High Country News (“A Paper for People who care about the West”) is straight journalism, more or less, while the Zephyr, out of Moab, offers screeds, jeremiads, memoirs, and reflections.

Northern Lights, which is more literary than the preceding two, always gets read, though not necessarily on the day it arrives. It comes out of Montana, and primarily offers essays about life in the Mountain West. It has some great writing — perceptive and provocative — and it also has some stuff that’s pretentious and over-written, but that can be said of almost every publication.

On the other end of the environmental spectrum is Paydirt, a monthly that covers the mining industry. Its news coverage is good; while reading it a year ago, I learned that Frémont County’s last coal mine was closing, and it scooped the Cañon City Daily Record on a story in its own backyard.

Paydirt’s vantage is that radical greenies are destroying America’s industrial vigor, so it rounds out what we read in all the environmental publications. Overall, Paydirt offers interesting and detailed articles about mining, but its layout — with lots of short articles jammed together haphazardly — makes it difficult to find what you’re looking for.

La Jicarita News, a monthly from northern New Mexico, also deals with environmental issues — but from the vantage of small farmers and ranchers who’ve got nothing against grazing and logging as long as it’s done responsibly. That’s pretty much my viewpoint, so of course I think it’s a fine journal. It’s only eight pages per month, but mostly they’re good pages.

The Rocky Mountains produce all kinds of journalism. The Valley Chronicle in Paonia was something of an inspiration for this magazine. Where we lean to cultural coverage and historical articles, it leans toward land-use issues and people profiles. And it’s a tabloid, so it looks different, too. But we still have much in common, at least philosophically.

If anything serious ever appeared in the San Juan Horseshoe, I missed it. It’s all satire — even the ads are usually tongue-in-cheek — and it’s a good respite, especially with all the depressing news we endure.

Inside Outside Southwest, a Durango monthly, offers an energetic look at the San Juans and Four Corners country. Some of its stories are too fluffy to suit me, but there’s also some interesting and edgy stuff from Ken Wright and Rob Schultheis.

There’s also Mountain Gazette, resurrected last year after a 20-year hiatus. Its articles are often worth reading, but they’re not easy to read, on account of excessive wordiness, sans-serif body type, and huge pages. And I can’t say that I like its general attitude, which appears to be “We’re really cool and you’re not.” But I read it nonetheless.

And there’s more. Newsweek, Atlantic Monthly, PC Magazine, Weekly Standard, The New Republic, The Nation, National Review, Washington Monthly — I peruse them all with some regularity, and that may explain why I didn’t read that many books last year. But then again, I’m primarily a journalist, not an author, and perhaps that’s why journals get so much of my attention.

Ed Quillen writes for a living and wishes that his hobby of publishing Colorado Central would also turn into a livelihood.