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News, Aspen style

Su Lum

Back in Boonton, N.J., visiting my mother for three weeks, I had lots of time to toodle around in my rental car.Something I began to notice was large banners at the foot of Main Street, announcing various upcoming events: a farmers’ market, a Boonton Day celebration, a benefit dinner. Unlike our banners across our Main Street, these were not put up to alert tourists – Boonton is not a destination resort or even en route to other destinations – they were to inform the locals.I also noticed thickets of garage sale and craft show signs, 15 of them one Saturday morning at the top of the hill from my mother’s house, and thought, “This is a very inefficient way to advertise!”Then I took a look at the local papers and could under-stand why: There was one bad daily paper distributed in Morris County (consisting of 50 or more towns), and a dreadful weekly paper that supposedly covered Boonton and three other nearby towns.There were plenty of radio stations jampacked together, plenty of newspapers coming out of New York City and Newark, plenty of TV channels, but there was no central source of information in Boonton, and no affordable outlet for local advertisers, except for the crappy local weekly paper, which nobody read.This observation gave me a new appreciation for news as we know it in Aspen.When Bil Dunaway bought The Aspen Times in 1956, it was every bit as crappy a rag as the Boonton weekly is now, but he changed that. Investigating a water rumor, he climbed the ladder to the water tower and photographed floating dead rats. He attended every City Council meeting and told readers what was going on.By the time I started working there in 1965, readers were lined up around the block every Thursday afternoon, waiting for the paper to come out, wanting to get first crack at rental ads in the classifieds, to see which candidates and issues he endorsed, to read the details behind the rumors.Bil changed the way locals looked at the newspaper, the way they came to expect to read the local news. That he had a receptive and eager audience in Aspen – something that might not fly in Boonton, N.J., no matter how it is presented – is undeniable, but it worked.Aspen had the Times weekly as its primary news source and the post office as the congregating spot for gossip and politicking, but the latter was wiped out due to relocation, bureaucracy and home mail delivery.Dave Danforth took matters a step further with the Aspen Daily News, we retaliated by adding the daily edition of The Aspen Times, and the surprising upshot is that all three newspapers survived, plus we have GrassRoots TV and local radio stations, and Aspen has benefited by being the most politically informed and involved little community on the planet.Contentious? So be it. I’d rather see contention than apathy or ignorance. I didn’t fully realize what we have here until I spent time in Boonton and realized what they don’t have.Su Lum is a longtime local who has a new appreciation for our local media. Her column appears every Wednesday in The Aspen Times.


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