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Rogers: High on a new staff

Aspen Times editor Don Rogers
Courtesy photo

I’m overexcited about the news staff assembled today, some veterans and most — including me — fresh here.

The crew before us was good and had momentum before the latest upwelling, upset, overturning of ownership, management and staff, though this time only the news staff. Part of the tragedy was the quality of that team, as I saw from afar.

I know from Vail I admired their core, and from Grass Valley their newest editor, David Krause, who began in 2017 and had a longer tenure than most. Their A&E editors — Andrew Travers, and before him Stewart Oksenhorn for two decades — might well have been the best in the biz. I thought so, anyway.



How do you replicate all that? You don’t. OK, replace, then. How do you replace all that?

Well, same as eating an elephant (dear god) or conquering the PCT, Appalachian and Colorado trails. A bite, a step, a lot of patience. And maybe the willpower or dim gumption to focus while critics cast blame in their sense of the sins of others. Or just a very strange compulsion, a sense of mission, the weirdest measure of fun in trying to piece together not a replication, but ultimately a better Aspen Times. Aim high. We can always do better than before.




Opportunity, I’ll call it, always full of ups and downs.

For this moment, some ups:

Let’s start with Sarah Girgis, four-time Emmy award-winning television and film executive, producer, showrunner, director, writer in a 20-year career, and now working with comparative hammer and chisel to scratch at her roots in storytelling.

She easily could run the place, so I make sure to be really good to her in case she becomes my boss. She’s a longtime Aspen visitor who has lived in Old Snowmass for the past couple of years, and for now at least, happy to be free of the Los Angeles scene and running the show vs. exploring and sharing the stories. Art, music, culture, food — all in the wheelhouse.

She began in October. As much as I’m loving her work now, I know she’s only just clearing her throat and figuring out how to make art with the simplest of tools and her creative mind. She has her bachelor’s from San Francisco State and master’s in media studies from New School University.

Josie Taris began just before Election Night, and just in time to begin making a difference. Her education comes from Northwestern’s top-ranked Medill School of Journalism near Chicago. She spent two years with NPR in North Carolina before that proverbial year off in Vail, working at her other love, a top-end restaurant there, before journalism called again. She’s covering the county, midvalley and emergency services as her main beats, with focus on environmental issues, housing and the different populations who make up our community.

Audrey Ryan, fresh from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, is irrepressible. What she lacks in experience today will soon be erased in baseline determination — an athlete’s determination, I suspect — to prevail. She’s quick to share early drafts, and I’m quick to see holes, sometimes with an “oh no, this might be a project” when I send it back. Then the next draft comes in spot on.

She’s already grabbed the bear beat since starting at the end of August and made it hers in her love for them and their stories. She also has skiing, education and Snowmass on her plate. Which also means weather stories, which so far constantly surprise her with how they never fail to top the online charts. People here are crazy for anything to do with snow or bears. The motherlode, it seems, is snowy bears. Only The New York Times mini-crossword might beat that for her. She has a minor in political science to go with her journalism degree and worked at her college paper as well as her hometown paper in Gilroy, California.

Kristen Mohammadi, from Morgantown, West Virginia, quietly stepped into her role as digital engagement editor in August and shows an intellectual touch with more-involved stories she’s taken on, such as with a series we recently did with the Glenwood Springs Post Independent on traumatic brain injuries, a story about social and environmental issues with clothing brands like Patagonia, and concerns about antisemitism among social influencers. Along with digital editing, she is focusing on health, economic trends and social trends and their impact locally. She has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in journalism from the West Virginia University, and has written for Politifact, 5why Magazine in Australia and Post Industrial Magazine in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Even more quietly, which is a clear sign of success, is our copy editor Jonathan Bowers, who began in August shortly after I did. All he does is make sure the paper and website editions come out clean and as free of mistakes as possible in the daily mad dash to deadline, maybe the most challenging and crucial job of all. He’s done this work before, which is obvious to me — at The Durango Herald, Summit Daily News, and the Oregon Daily Emerald. He has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in journalism from the University of Oregon. He’s the only one on staff who doesn’t live locally, but he’s not so far away in Summit County, close to ski slopes and a familiar ski community. We can do this in our remote age, and sometimes that’s what it takes, at least in this role.

While on the quieter but formidable forces in our newsroom, let me mention Austin Colbert, do-everything glue guy who has been the sports editor since 2016, staff photographer since summer, and go-to on the news desk probably forever. He was journalist of the year during his college days at Wichita State, taught himself how to snowboard while sports editor/photographer at the Steamboat Pilot, and kind of an MVP for me since I arrived at the end of July. He’s that no fuss, no drama professional who just gets whatever most needs done … done. A story, a photo, the whole damned paper in a pinch? No worries.

I’d better get in Klara Meyer here, speaking of MVP types. The sophomore at Dartmouth has interned for the fall while waiting to study abroad next semester in New Zealand, working on an anthropological project concerning the Maori. I don’t know much about that, but I do know she’s likely to be all our bosses down the road. You might remember her recent series on local farms and how they survive and thrive in the Roaring Fork Valley on out to Rifle, working with the food pantry Lift Up.

And then the two I consider personal heroes, Rick Carroll and Carolyn Sackariason. They lived through the worst of spring and summer’s troubles, suffered no doubt in the aftermath with our harshest critics their friends, and they kept The Aspen Times going for the sake of the community, however reluctantly.

Rick I knew already as the best investigative writer in the high country, and Carolyn I knew by reputation as an Aspen institution between the Daily News, Aspen Public Radio and The Times. She knows more about the city than anyone at the city, I suspect.

So yeah, getting lucky with new and veteran staff in my first three months, all coming together just in time for Election Night. A definite high point.

But these things are precarious, I know from a career of highs and lows. I told Rick and Carolyn how much I liked working with them for however long that can last. Forever would be great.

Carolyn gave notice a week later. She’s going to work for … the city. I’m glad for her and bummed for us.

She’s still a hero, though yes, this adds steps to the journey.

Aspen Times Editor Don Rogers can be reached at drogers@aspentimes.com