Andy Stone: A Stone’s Throw
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
I was thinking about writing another column this week on the bizarre, tumor-like expansions planned for our semi-innocent little Aspen airport. And, believe me, more certainly does need to be written about that subject.
I was also thinking seriously about writing on the need to pursue war crimes indictments against George W. Bush and the rest of his gang. Another topic that definitely needs some serious discussion.
But then, just this morning, I read the announcement that Bob Ward will be leaving his job as editor of The Aspen Times.
And that’s something I have to write about right now.
Bob’s escape from the Times is undoubtedly good news for him. He’s been beaten and battered by circumstances beyond his control. I know the boy is tired and sore and I’m sure he’s running for daylight like a prisoner making a break from a penitentiary.
But his departure is sad news for the paper.
I could say a lot of nice things about Bob and embarrass the heck out of him, but I won’t do that. I’ll just say that he’s a stand-up guy – loyal, honest and courageous – and he’s stood up to an awful lot over the past few years.
Those years have been, obviously, tough going for just about every business in this valley.
The collapse of our national economy back in 2008 was triggered by a collapse in the housing and real estate business – and Aspen hitched its economic star to the real estate boom many years ago.
So when real estate crashed, Aspen crashed with it and that meant The Aspen Times took a nasty hit right along with everyone else.
And Bob Ward had the misfortune to be the man on duty, lashed to the wheel as the typhoon hit. Bob had to hang on and keep the paper running as cost-cutting and staff-slashing decrees rained down from above. (I’m tempted to say it was his job to throw cinder blocks to people who were drowning. It’s a good line, but a cheap shot, so I’ll keep it here, in parentheses. Fair enough?)
In recent years, it’s broken my heart to walk into The Aspen Times offices and see the empty desks, the empty echoing spaces where dozens of people used to work.
It was brutal, but through it all Bob managed to keep the paper coming out every day – more than that, he managed to keep a damn good newspaper coming out every day.
I know how hard that was, because I used to have that job. It was a tough job in the best of times and I’ve been amazed and impressed how well Bob handled things in these recent “worst of times.”
(And because we newspaper people are supposed to be scrupulously correct, I have to say that Bob had one heck of a good crew working with him. It wasn’t as if he put the paper out all by his lonesome. But if everything had gone straight to hell, he would have gotten the blame, so I guess he needs to get a big chunk of the credit for keeping it all together.)
I don’t know what the paper’s going to do about replacing him (he can, of course, be replaced, we all can), but I have to say that I detected some ominous overtones in the story announcing his departure.
The story said, “Changes in the Times’ organizational structure are possible going forward.” That sounds innocent enough (for corporate jargon anyway), but it was closely followed by a comment from the publisher, who said, “I do not know that we will hire an editor with a job description identical to Bob’s current one.”
Bob’s job description has been “editor of The Aspen Times.” I worry about how that will be changed for whomever replaces him.
However it may all work out, Bob Ward will be a tough act to follow. He has brought a high level of competence and calm maturity to a difficult and demanding job.
That said, I have to say my concerns about the newspaper grew a little sharper when, reading that story online this morning, my eye automatically went to the bottom of the computer screen to check out the readers’ online comments about Bob’s departure.
Of course, those comments are no longer there.
As many of you well know, the paper’s corporate owners turned off the “comment” feature on the website several weeks ago.
The comments have been replaced with a note that says, “We are working to make this feature of our website better meet the preferences and standards of our readers and our publication.”
In fact, as far as I have been able to learn, no one’s been “working” on it at all. They simply turned off the comments and waited to see if anyone would make a fuss.
Now, weeks later, they are running an online survey, asking if people consider web comments important.
I know that, as a columnist, I considered the comments important – even the ones from all the people who were eager to tell me what an idiot I am. (I still remember, with a curious fondness, a comment on one of my columns that simply said, “How can one person be so completely wrong?” I don’t remember exactly what the column was about – but I sure remember the comment.)
I think feedback the newspaper gets from the community is important. Letters to the editor are great. Rocks through the front window are not. Web comments, in all their unruly anonymity, strike an excellent balance between those two extremes.
I, for one, hope they return.
And now, to end on a positive note, I once again send Bob Ward my congratulations on his escape and best wishes for whatever comes next.
He was a good one. He will be hard to replace.
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