Rogers: ATW, Aspen continue to buck national media trends
The Aspen Times Weekly has languished for a long time. Call it Sisyphus.
I watched from that other valley for nearly two decades as the ATW flagged, then was reborn, re-energized, surely for good this time, at last, things looking up. Only to slip and the cycle begin again.
No effort for a publication was more stubborn and enduring than Aspen’s.
And here we are again.
Starting this week, we’re tucking ATW back into The Aspen Times as a section, a seasonal move. ATW has played peekaboo in recent years, especially with the pandemic, between running as a part of the daily Aspen Times and standing alone as its own weekly publication, sometimes a gorgeous one at that.
The journalists and contributors tend to love ATW, and from their perspective what’s not to love? They get to go long and really dig in with cover stories. Their work is showcased beautifully with large photos, clean and artful design, and pages and pages uncluttered by intrusive ads. Like Montana and Wyoming, the ATW is all about wide open spaces.
If only readers and advertisers could muster the same enthusiasm. They should.
They should, indeed, which is the basic problem with philosophy and empty pages. If only …
Maybe we could try this, revamp that, go even cleaner with design, run bigger and better pictures, longer and deeper stories, get more artful in an art town. Then, maybe then.
The similarly artful weeklies are long gone in the other ski towns with dailies. The reason has nothing to do with the journalism.
Once, nearly every city had two or more competing newspapers. The larger ones had at least two metro dailies. Denver had The Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News until 2009, when the Rocky closed.
Among communities large and small now, Aspen stands out almost alone with daily competition alive and well. Two dailies in a community this small is unheard of, outside of maybe Crawfordsville, Indiana. Consider that cities as large as Salt Lake City and New Orleans don’t have any.
There was a time when evening newspapers dominated, and we’re not all that far removed from those days. I helped put out p.m. editions into 1997, all morning papers now, the ones that still exist.
Really, only the reputation of newspapers is stagnant. I began in the days of paste-up and a whole department lined with light tables and pros armed with scalpels. It’s click and go today from anywhere with a wifi connection. Every year has brought unimaginable advances, which quickly became routine until the next unimaginable advance. Until here we are, always at the virtual office, as likely as not in our PJs.
The Aspen Weekly Times continued until 1988. The, ahem, Daily News was the disruptor then and historically speaking, qualifies as the elder daily in town. A sort of high country cousin, The Vail Trail, didn’t turn daily until 1998, settled back into a weekly by 2004, then tottered along for four more years until the Great Recession. By then no one missed it, not even the original owners. The world had long since moved on.
Newspapers have been disrupted by other newspapers as well as by radio, television, the internet, social media and mainly, I would say, the portable nature of the smart phone. That’s the real killer.
In any case, the problem with newspapers has little to do with the journalism itself, which is more in demand than ever. More viewers and readers than ever suck up every blot of news and views they can find. They just don’t want to pay for it.
This is nothing to wax sentimental, philosophical or political about. This is all about the business of newspapers, and by extension, the business of media generally. The problem is entirely practical.
The ATW has been walking dead from a business sense for at least a decade, maybe longer. At least as far as advertisers supporting it and enough readers picking it up for the venture to work.
THAT SOMETHING SPECIAL
The nostalgic spirit of the old-goat, remember-when ski bum lingers. You can read all about it in the grumpy old guy columns in the other paper, constantly decrying: “Aspen has changed.” But when was it ever not changing? The kids today are having these guys’ yesteryear fun now.
One person’s golden age is another’s horror at how things have … changed. Maybe that’s the one thing that hasn’t changed.
You know the old goats in 1980s were complaining about having to read the town’s news daily, for chrissakes. Why couldn’t weekly be enough for these greed heads anyway? Weekly should be enough, more than enough.
Old goatish myself, I want to hang onto The Aspen Times Weekly, too. At least the flavor.
Well, more than the flavor, more mere philosophy. I mean the content. WineInk, BarTalk, FoodStuff, cover stories, the outside adventures, society photos, all of it.
So for now we’ll do the section, plot a return of the ATW as its own publication, think about other ways to keep it alive. Maybe online, the direction everything seems to be going.
Except, maybe, in Aspen.