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John Colson: Hit and Run

John Colson
Aspen Times Weekly

Tornadoes are ripping up homes and warehouses in the Midwest, Iranians are at war with themselves over a possibly stolen election, U.S. health care reform is in desperate trouble, but we’ve got more important devils to tame here in the Roaring Fork Valley. Our newspapers are not being distributed as they used to be.

Just about every day the complaints rain down on me from friends and acquaintances, “Why can’t I get my [either the Aspen Times or the Glenwood Springs Post Independent] in the box where I’ve always gotten it before?”

So, here’s my explanation, for what it’s worth.

The reason for all this is really rather simple – the corporation that owns both papers has concluded that the only way it can weather the current recession is to combine the two papers as a “zoned edition,” printing an upvalley edition with the Aspen Times filling the front few pages and the back few, and a downvalley edition of the Post Independent doing the same.

The middle pages of each day’s papers are identical. The idea is to save paper by printing one run of the middle pages, newsprint having become one of the most costly aspects of the business. To avoid subjecting readers to too much of the resultant duplication, the Times goes to readers upvalley from the Catherine Store, the Post shows up downvalley from the same point.

It’s cumbersome and less than ideal, but it’s the one we’ve got.

One consequence of the recession and the operational changes has been a wholesale reduction in staff in Aspen and Glenwood Springs, meaning fewer reporters to cover an area bigger than some small states. So each of the two papers prints stories from the other, with the idea that readers throughout the valley can still get the news they need regardless of which “zone” of the valley they live in. That leaves it to the editors to decide which stories to reprint, and their choices are never going to please everyone. Live with it.

This duplication of stories is one reason for the split distribution. Readers undoubtedly would be firing off letters and calls of complaint about being forced to read the same stories twice, if they picked up both papers on the same day, so we’ve made that less easy to do than before. 

Again, not a perfect situation, but it’s where we are today. Some of you out there obviously don’t like it, and have said so loudly, hence this column.

People upset by the difficulties of their lives always need a target for their despair and feelings of helplessness, and newspapers are an easy substitute for whatever it is that really bothers such folk. It’s always been that way, at least as far back as I can recall.

As a nation, we are schizophrenic about The Newspaper, which for a century and a half has been an integral part of our daily lives.

On the one hand, newspapers are a business, and until recently they have been a highly profitable business, often returning profits of 25 to 30 percent. But that is a part of the industry that few understand, and even fewer care to think about.

Instead, they view the newspaper as a public service, a constitutionally guaranteed vehicle for the information they crave and demand. The reporters who fill the newspaper columns with the happenings of the day are viewed as public servants. Everybody and their brother feels entitled to tell us how to do our jobs, from those we write about to those who read what we write. That’s just the way it is, and most of us in the business accept that with only minor discomfort, though it’s not easy to have to deal with complaints from 15,000 different bosses (that’s roughly the size of our readership) about one thing or another.

And so it goes today, June 21, 2009. I hope this helps some to a better understanding of the matter. I also hope this will not be a permanent arrangement, and that when the economy rebounds we can get back to normal.

Whatever normal might be.

jcolson@aspentimes.com


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