Gary Hubbell: The Redneck Tree Hugger
Aspen Times Weekly
“Check this out,” I told my sons the other day, holding a copy of The Denver Post in my hand. “It’s a newspaper. Remember this, because they won’t be around very long. You’re seeing the last of an era.”
I love newspapers. I always have. I like the feel and smell of them, the surprises that greet me every time I read one, the opinions, the discourse. I was a senior in high school when I first walked up the creaky stairs above the Village Smithy in Carbondale to the offices of The Valley Journal and interviewed for a newspaper job. I had no appointment. I simply asked for the editor, and they pointed to Pat Noel, who was a thin man with a scraggly gray beard, John Lennon glasses and a greasy ball cap dangling a Mepps spinner.
“I want to be your sports reporter,” I said.
“Okay, you got it.” he said. “Who are you?”
That was in 1980.
The Valley Journal folded last year. I was sad to see it go, but I wasn’t that surprised. You see, most newspapers have pursued a failing business model for the past 20 years. And what is that? Well, it’s a function of simultaneously ignoring the wishes of readers, the juggernaut of technology, a big dose of laziness, and a chilly divorce between the editorial arm and the money-making side of the business.
For several decades, newspaper pages were filled with a big dose of AP wire stories and syndicated columns, and precious little local content other than town council meetings and high school basketball games. Our valley was flooded with a massive wave of illegal immigrants who entirely changed the culture of our community and, in my opinion, in a very negative sense. School test scores plummeted, sports teams collapsed, crime increased, and no one wrote about it. No one wrote about the emerging gang culture and the criminal culture, the networks of coyotes supplying labor to greedy employers eager to pay low wages, and the backroom deals made to grease the wheels for the next round of subdivision approvals. But the newspapers were full of real estate ads for one subdivision after the next, and times were fat.
On both a national and local level, journalists tendered their own opinions disguised as objective journalism, and readers got turned off. Readers were exposed to more freak shows than they ever thought possible and, guess what, they didn’t really sign up for two lesbians adopting children, atheists fighting to take the words “under God” out of the Pledge of Allegiance, and illegal aliens signing up for welfare benefits, all presented as if it were normal, wholesome, and good. Good investigative journalism was practically non-existent, and the things Americans care about – our sovereignty, our currency, our natural resources, our patriotism – were trivialized in print as old-fashioned and out of touch.
In the meanwhile, the Internet descended on print journalism like a freight train, and all the rules on objectivity were off. No worries there – your slant is your bias is your opinion, and why try to disguise it? Advertisers signed on to the web and canceled their print campaigns, and the newspapers began to lose money by the bucketful.
Now an even loopier trend is starting to emerge, much like GM is now Government Motors. That’s the “community development” newspaper, kinda like Pravda. I mean, who pays for an ad in Pravda?
One of the first examples in western Colorado is the Crystal Valley Echo, which was funded by a 20th Century Grant administered by the State of Colorado. The Marble Charter School originally started the newspaper, which was all about touchy-feely stuff like little kids visiting old folks at the nursing home and picking up trash along the road. They asked me to write a piece for the paper, which I did – my opinion that Gunnison County treats Marble like a red-headed stepchild. Both the editor and the school principal chastised me, after they had printed the piece, for being “too hard-core,” to which I replied, “Then why the hell did you publish it? Didn’t you read it first?”
Ultimately the grant money ran out and the Marble Charter School Board voted to outright give the newspaper to the editor, complete with a new iMac G5 computer and a digital camera, because they liked her, and she was also a school board member. To me, that stunk to high heaven and seemed to be not only a serious conflict of interest but a possibly criminal act. But hey, why pick a fight with someone we like? None of the local newspapers covered it.
The latest example is the Sopris Sun, a Carbondale paper “organized under the 501c3 nonprofit structure of the Roaring Fork Community Development Corporation.” Ironically, it fills the void left by The Valley Journal. Boy, oh boy. Talk about freakin’ at the freaker’s ball. If you were from Iowa and picked up a copy of this paper, you would think it was published by the local insane asylum for communist hippies.
All the politically correct buzzwords were duly noted: “honoring”, “centering” and “grounding”; “celebrating diversity,” “tolerance,” “gender neutral.” There were many pictures of people in bizarre costumes dancing in celebration of dandelions. They wrote of accessory dwelling units, energy advisory boards, and weeds. Lots of stories about weeds. They applauded the middle school for “teaching by level, not by grade.” Most of the ads were placed by non-profits and government agencies, such as a half-page ad by Pitkin County telling you how to beat the swine flu. Sheesh.
Look, I know that publishing a newspaper is hard work and you don’t make a lot of money. Anyone who is brave enough to do it has my support. But why don’t we go back to an age-old concept: report the NEWS. Dig up the tough stories, hold someone’s feet to the fire. Give us the big picture, not just the day-to-day details of what happened to whom. Give us some historical perspective, and try to give us a look into the future. Don’t worry about offending someone. They’ll get over it. Try to be fair, and if you have an ax to grind and want to state an opinion, put it in an editorial. If you do that, guess what? The advertisers will come back, and you’ll make money. What a concept.
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It’s that time of year — hikers and mountain bikers must be aware that seasonal closures are taking effect on multiple trails in the area today for the winter for the benefit of wildlife.