Carroll: Covering Aspen Skiing Co. like we see it
November 20, 2013
Rarely does Aspen get more widely popular news than that of an early opening for skiing. And after Aspen Skiing Co. announced Nov. 10 that Aspen Mountain would open early on Saturday, locals had nearly one week to relish the event.
Aspen's two daily newspapers certainly capitalized on this welcome news to all, covering the announcement and following up with more details in advance of opening day.
While an early opening was a PR shot in the arm for Aspen and Skico, on Friday, I received a call from a reader who offered a mild complaint, if not just a simple observation about our headline that day, "Weekend Aspen Mountain walk-up rate is $79"
The reader questioned the use of that headline, as opposed to the one that ran currently in the Aspen Daily News: "Top-to-bottom skiing on Aspen Mountain is a go for Saturday"
Neither headline was incorrect, and neither one was misleading.
The reader, however, wondered why we felt it necessary to tout the walk-up price in a headline, which could be perceived as negative publicity, instead of running a more uplifting one like the Daily News used.
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First, I explained, we had reported in our print edition on Nov. 11 that there would be top-to-bottom skiing, so in our minds, that was old news. Yes, there had been some concerns that with the mild weather in the days leading up to Saturday's opening that top-to-bottom skiing would be shelved.
But since it was not, we felt that the walk-up price, which had not been revealed until Skico announced it Thursday, was a stronger news hook. The caller rightly pointed out that season pass-holding locals would be the dominant contingent on Aspen Mountain, so the walk-up price wasn't a big news item.
I disagreed, as pass prices are of public concern, just like RFTA bus fares, downtown parking rates, airline fares, gas prices and the cost of cable.
As benign as the discussion was, it brought to mind the bigger issue of covering Aspen Skiing Co., the purveyors of world-class skiing and snowboarding right in our own backyard.
The easy part of covering Skico is its recreational side, from the events it hosts (the Winter X Games, World Cup, Bud Light Hi-Fi Concert Series, for example), to the on-mountain conditions. And if anybody watched the Broncos-Chiefs game on Sunday night, the video footage of Aspen Mountain provided a seemingly infinite amount of free — and positive — publicity.
Likewise, readers will see a good example of on-mountain highlights this ski season, when The Aspen Times provides online, daily video segments of "On the Hill" with our main host Corby Anderson and occasional host Max Vadnais. The two will give daily reports of what it's like out on our local hills. There's the entertainment value of watching these two taking in the powder and cruising down groomers, and the public benefit (news you can use) as well.
However, covering Skico as a business — that would be the non-fluffy side — is where it gets trickier. As one of the Roaring Fork Valley's largest employers and landlords, the business decisions Skico makes arguably are as important as the ones made by our local governments.
The chief distinction between government and Skico, however, is that government does a majority of its business in public, while Skico does not.
Sure, Skico reveals many of its business decisions through the four corners of press releases telling of season pass prices and capital improvements, among other things.
But as for Skico's financial picture, the press and public will never know that, be it how much Skico pays ESPN to host the Winter X Games or what the company generates annually in walk-up pass revenue or season pass revenue.
And why would Skico want us to be privy to its spreadsheets? It's not publicly traded, so it's not required to disclose its financial information, and there are competitive reasons for withholding those details, as well.
That's not to say the press shouldn't at least ask. And there are a number of other ways to unearth information on Skico as a business, whether it's through public records that can be found through the U.S. Forest Service, our local government, or the state's Department of Regulatory Agencies, among others. And there's that other kind of source — a real, live human being.
There are those who will say that the local press should only cover the good news coming out of Skico. That's because as a community, any positive news for Skico is good for the town, its residents and the economy. Negative news only serves to harm the community as a whole, they contend.
I disagree. Once the press starts spiking stories or massaging headlines because of the potential for bad publicity and fallout — whether it involves Skico, local government, or anyone else — then we've entered the business of public relations, where there's only one side to the story. And that would be much worse for the community than any negative or unbecoming press.
Rick Carroll is editor of The Aspen Times. He takes comments, complaints, questions and news tips at email@example.com.
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