Yes, the Times dogs still crap on the floor
I’ve had a number of newspaper jobs over my 15 years in the business, and I can say without hesitation that The Aspen Times is the only paper I’ve ever loved.Cheesy, I know. But the experience of working at this paper goes beyond practicing community journalism (and I do think The Aspen Times is a fine community newspaper). It’s about the lovable, dysfunctional family of people who work in the building, the dogs they bring to the office, the humor and irreverence, and the nagging, frenetic disorganization that possesses the place despite our sincere efforts to conquer it.Times employees love the century-old heap of a building, even though it’s a firetrap and we may all die in here someday. We love the relics on the walls, from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre photo on the old darkroom door to the leftover handholds on the walls where Climbing magazine once lived. Our august “newsroom” is nothing more than a disheveled enclosure with 20-year-old gray carpet, crammed full of desks, stacks of newspaper and creaking office chairs worthy of a museum.But the last thing these reporters want is to work in a Dilbert cartoon of cubicles and antiseptic workstations.People have reportedly declined job offers from the Times because of the old bathrooms. I can’t vouch for this story personally, but it has the ring of truth. The place is all-out funky, and its laid-back culture helps keep our journalistic priorities straight in a town that gets more sanitized, gentrified and full of itself by the day.The Times, from the faded purple facade to the occasional dog piles on the linoleum (Hear the intercom crackle: “Julie, your dog just left a surprise on the production floor!”), has an element of ski-town soul that’s fading from Aspen. And that’s part of what we’re celebrating in this commemorative issue of the Times Weekly.After several years with the Times, I moved from the Roaring Fork Valley in the late ’90s to take a newspaper job in Utah. While I was gone, the Times was purchased by Swift Newspapers, a company based in Reno, Nev., that runs a few dozen small- to medium-sized newspapers in California, Oregon, Nevada and Colorado. This spooked me, because the Times’ strength, charm and editorial mission were anything but corporate. I feared, as did many in the building, that the place just wouldn’t be the same.Could I still wear jeans with holes in the knees? Could I still make a few turns on powder days? Would the dogs still be there to pee in my office, lighten my mood or steal my lunch?I’m happy to report that Swift lets us be who we are. Sure, some things have changed at the Times. There’s a lot more administrative paperwork, from end-of-month reports to interoffice memos and annual performance reviews. Directives come down from Reno and people grumble. But the good news is that, as long as we turn a reasonable profit (I know what you’re thinking, but it’s modest by industry standards) and put out a good newspaper, Swift lets us make our own decisions, including our own mistakes. We can trust that our paychecks won’t bounce – which was not always the case – and we know that “corporate” is there to back us if times get hard.As editor, I have never been told what to print or what not to print (excepting no F-bombs on the front page); I have never been steered one way or the other editorially or politically. Swift wants to put out quality community newspapers, so it believes in local control.The Aspen Times is now printed at a regional plant in Gypsum and it’s owned by a company in Nevada. But the opinions on the editorial page come from people in this building, there are still Aspenites (with dog treats) in the front office to greet customers, and it’s still Aspen’s newspaper. Lord willing, The Aspen Times will never resort to an automated operator to answer the phones.That’s why I returned to this beautiful valley, and it’s why I’m proud to edit the Times on its 125th birthday.
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