Paul Andersen: ‘Nothing happened here this week’
Thank god Aspen still has an offseason. Traffic is light enough to jaywalk across Main Street and there’s no waiting line for day-old muffins at Paradise Bakery. As Herman’s Hermits once rhapsodized: “There’s a kind of hush…”
With one exception. The never-ending thrum of construction blights the otherwise tranquil setting of Aspen the mountain town in deference to Aspen the urban resort. Capitalism knows no offseason.
As Bob Mankoff, cartoon editor of the New Yorker, once quipped, “New York will be a nice city when they finish it.” And so will Aspen — once they finish it.
So, what’s a newshound to do with pervasive quiet? Can readers handle the reduced number of pages in the dailies? Thin page counts are a natural adjustment as advertisers pull back, holding out for the crush of summer. Fewer readers means fewer ads means fewer pages.
The Aspen papers still produce enough news to tantalize readers because local journalists are lavishly compensated to dig deep and fill their quotas. If it’s not hard news, then feature articles fill computer screens with the tap-tap-tap of hardworking fingers on keyboards.
Back in the day when I was a reporter for the Aspen Times Weekly, the shrinking of the paper forced my boss, Bil Dunaway, to offer unpaid vacation time to his reporters. It’s not that Bil sympathized with our on-season burn out; it’s that he wanted to cut costs when revenue was down.
I would gently knock on the wall of his cubicle on “Reporter’s Row” in the old, ramshackle Aspen Times building and request permission to fly the coop for a monthlong bike tour in Canyonlands or across the plains of Spain.
Bil would smile at the thought of defraying my paltry salary, but then grimace when I told him of my exotic destinations. Jealousy bubbled to the surface with genuine ire as he cursed me under his breath: “You sonofabitch!”
Aspen has its offseason, but it cannot compare to the offseasons when I ran the newspaper in Crested Butte 35 years ago. Now those were offseasons. A couple of the bars stayed open, but everything else was shuttered as snow-blind, cabin-fevered Crested Buttecians fled for warmer climes.
That was back when winter was real, when 40 below and 300 inches of snow had us longing for dry ground. The shack I rented was so snowbound that I could walk onto the roof from snowdrifts in late May. I would fill my desert cooler with ice from the dams on my sagging eaves. But that was another time.
In the late ’60s, a former editor of the Crested Butte Chronicle wrote a front page headline: “NOTHING HAPPENED HERE THIS WEEK.” While he lamented a lack of qualified “news,” there was a note of celebration to his headline. How comforting it was in a turbulent world to live in a town where, for an entire week, nothing happened worthy of reporting.
Last week, the Crested Butte News affirmed the current offseason by featuring a letter to the editor titled: “Poop problems can be solved.” The letter addressed emergent dog feces during spring thaw in what the writer termed a “minefield of poop” at a popular dog run.
“I tried counting the landmines once and gave up when I reached 100,” the man wrote. There is no better depiction of offseason than a resident counting dog poops and writing about it in the paper.
But the news must go on and, without it, we feel a void, a lack of meaning, a disconnection. Without the news we would miss the daily trials and tribulations of life as told through other people’s dramas and traumas — the news as infotainment.
If something happens but there’s no one there to report it, does it make a sound? Perhaps there is too much reporting today, too much coverage, too much social exposure over stuff that could easily have fallen through the cracks 30 years ago.
The navel-gazing of our socially fixated culture extracts news tidbits that the sage editors of yore would have stifled with a yawn. Reporters then were happy to take long vacations, happy when folks were content that nothing happened here this week.
Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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