By Mark Esper
It was about a year ago when the new publisher of the Telluride Daily Planet (and the Silverton Standard) called me up on the phone.
He was looking at the 2009 budget and had decided we needed to close the Standard’s office up at the old Miners Union Hospital. I would have to produce the Standard from home.
This was similar to the arrangement the Planet had recently concluded for the Norwood Post.
The Standard’s former editor, Deb Dion, was made a part-time employee, the Post’s office was closed and the Norwood newspaper itself became essentially a four-page insert once a week in the Daily Planet.
I suddenly realized how bleak the Standard’s future looked.
In fact it seemed quite likely that I was about to become the Standard’s last editor and 134 years of journalism in San Juan County was soon to come to an end.
I shared my concerns with, among others, San Juan County Historical Society President Bev Rich, a devoted newspaper reader.
I remember asking her what she thought of the idea of the historical society taking over the Standard.
She seemed a bit taken aback at first.
I told her to keep it in the back of her mind — that it might come to that.
I then managed to convince Telluride not to close the Standard’s office, but the writing was on the wall.
Within weeks, the Planet’s owner, Randy Miller of Boulder, made it clear that he certainly wanted to get rid of this newspaper, which was weighing down his sleeker Telluride-based operation.
I mentioned to Randy that perhaps a local nonprofit organization would be interested in taking over the newspaper. He said he’d be willing to donate it to a nonprofit, for the tax benefit.
Talks began and on May 1, 2009, the San Juan County Historical Society became the proud owner of the Silverton Standard & the Miner.
The historical society inherited a newspaper that was not exactly making money. And it didn’t even have a business office in Silverton anymore. All the bookkeeping had been transferred to Telluride a few years earlier.
We were fortunate to enlist Gina Rosato, a talented designer, to produce our advertising and manage the business end of things. She, by the way, is the real hero here. Meanwhile I concentrated on news (and my paper route).
And we ended up having a pretty good year — circulation has risen, advertising revenue is up, despite the very challenging economy.
The Standard is demonstrating that it can be a viable business, albeit not a lucrative one.
Even so, it’s been clear all along that the Standard has become something different.
We are now “Silverton Public Newspaper,” as I sometimes call it, along the model of National Public Radio.
Donations from groups, students and individuals helped us re-establish the business office here and got us off to a great start.
We had a few fund-raisers that were tremendously successful. (By the way, we still have a few of our popular 2010 calendars left, so give us a call.)
But we have also learned exactly how challenging the newspaper business is these days.
Our big upcoming project is to produce a summer vacation guide for San Juan County. Hopefully we can launch a winter version too to spread the word that Silverton is even more amazing during that time of year.
It’s an example of what the Standard can do for Silverton. We want to help businesses and nonprofit groups. We want to get the word out about Silverton being such a spectacular place with spectacular events and amazing people.
As Silverton Public Newspaper, we won’t be going anywhere. But we will still need support from our readers.
The most humbling moment of this whole experience was when students at Silverton School came up to our office last spring and donated $2,000 to our cause.
Seeking donations and grants and conducting fund-raisers has been a whole new adventure.
A year ago, the Standard was on the brink. Thanks to the community’s support (including our vast Silverton diaspora), we have survived.
We have survived to continue telling the amazing story of Silverton — its past, its present and its hopes for the future.
We couldn’t have done it without you.
The Standard & the Miner managed to endure an incredibly challenging year. And we emerged with community ownership restored and as a revitalized institution ready to continue our role as a beacon for the town.
Through all of this, I keep thinking of John Curry who started it all back in 1875 when he managed to haul what was even then an antique press over Stony Pass by pack train.
I imagine what was going through his head on that amazing trek into the wilderness. I think of that journey of his often, just to keep things in perspective — the hardships he went through to establish this historic newspaper and keep it afloat.
I can sometimes almost hear him saying it: “Keep going!”
This summer, we will conclude our 135th year. And then we’ll keep going.
Mark Esper is editor and publisher of the Silverton Standard & the Miner.