Aspen Daily News owner moonlighting as publisher at paper in New Mexico
Aspen Daily News owner David Cook has extra time on his hands, or did. The Durango Herald this week announced Cook as publisher of a new daily in northwestern New Mexico, which printed its first edition Monday.
The Herald featured a congratulatory story on its owner venturing into the Farmington area with a “publication as a mission-driven effort to fill a gap in local news reporting created after the Farmington Daily Times was acquired by media giant Gannett in 2015,” and hiring him.
He said he took on a consultancy project and spent most of a year in community outreach to figure out what readers there want.
Wouldn’t you know it, they said local news.
More seriously, this is true because the Daily Times has retreated so far from providing quality, local journalism, Cook said Friday.
San Juan County has the fifth-largest population in New Mexico, he said. He had made serving underserved communities a big part of his career, his purpose, and here was a big one. The Ballantines, owners of The Durango Herald, were convinced, too. And so Farmington joins Aspen among no more than a handful of small communities across the country with daily newspapers competing head to head.
The Tri City Record aims to serve 70,000 people — about twice the Roaring Fork Valley population, including Aspen. The print edition will run Mondays through Fridays and publish daily online at tricityrecordnm.com. It promises to cover topics relevant to the greater San Juan County region, including economic development, water, education, sports, and city and county governments in Farmington, Aztec, Bloomfield, Kirtland, Shiprock, and the Navajo Nation.
The Friday edition, running 24 pages, is locally-focused up front and ends with state, national and world news. The typography is different, but a knowledgeable reader will see similarities to Cook’s paper in Aspen.
The initial plan is to distribute 5,000 copies at more than 75 central locations at no charge, then increase to 7,500 copies soon, and home and business delivery is planned, according to a news release The Herald received, presumably from its owner.
“One of my slogans as a newsman is that I don’t care how people digest the content. I care that they digest the content,” Cook said. “I don’t prioritize medium. I prioritize that everyone has access to it.”
He said he wasn’t sure whether the paper and/or website would distribute for free in the long term, but they are starting out that way.
Free papers to the consumer is new to the Ballantine organization but very familiar to Cook and the Colorado ski towns. He said it will be an experiment in traditional communities, but well worth trying.
He said the business of local newspapers, as well as other local news media, has to be nimble with the breakneck pace of change.
But it all follows quality local journalism, he insisted. Get that universal right and the rest follows, in his experience.
Cook has ties to the Four Corners, as he is a Fort Lewis College graduate. He got to know the Ballantine family while student general manager of the school paper, The Independent. Eventually, in 2021, he joined the Ballantine Communications Inc. board, one of three non-family members.
Ballantine Board Chairman Richard G. Ballantine said Cook’s knowledge of the area was among the reasons the company selected him to be the publisher of the newspaper.
Cook said he would stay on with the new paper until it is well-established. Home remains Aspen, he said, with a robust family life that comes with three young children and a busy mom/wife who is also a journalist, Christine Benedetti. Along with the occasional foray outside for professional development and scratching that notorious itch, opportunity, which just might help the local journalism industry solve those devastating business riddles.
He started at the Aspen Daily News in 2002, has been publisher since 2004, and was able to buy it in 2017 with business partner Spencer McKnight. They also own and operate the television station Aspen 82.
Cook said in a column in the Daily News in 2017 after the purchase from original owner Dan Danforth that he had begun his news media career large, with a Fortune 500 conglomerate, then eventually scaled down to working for one person. Then he scaled down one more big step.
“I care so deeply about what I do,” he said Friday. “I feel honored to be able to do this.”
Asher on Aspen: All in a New York minute
Stepping out into the smoggy late-night streets while hailing down a cab from LaGuardia Airport, I knew I was a long way from home. The bright lights and bustling city noise kept me alert after a long day of travel. It was almost as if I had been shaken awake from the snow globe dream I was living in after what felt like a never-ending winter in Aspen. We pulled up to my sister’s apartment in Astoria and I was immediately welcomed by a familiar face.