Rogers: The path to ‘local’ |

Rogers: The path to ‘local’

Aspen Times editor Don Rogers

How’s The Times doing? Still on track to where I believe we’ll land Aug. 1, my annual target when I took this crazy, wonderful, always humbling job.

Around now, “new guy” begins to “get it.” That is, show glimmers of localness, a sacred cloak not easily bestowed, like the green Master’s jacket, which one cannot pick up and don on his or her own, certainly not buy.  

This is part of the Process, as the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers label it. Warm welcomings, sharp elbows, scorn, new friends and catching up with old friends from another place who gravitated here, like me. Steps forward, steps back, clawing, climbing. Familiar markers on the path.

Pretty much on schedule, a key email fluttered into my in-box last Monday following a column about the eternal tilt in ski towns about longtime local character and the business pressures that wax and wane but mostly wax in places like this, maybe here most of all. The City Council had stepped into it, pushed by their two new guys and supported by the mayor in go-along spirit, which I think I understand as his higher responsibility.

Part of checking progress is counting indicators of engagement — letters, submissions from the community, sources willing to give us the time of day. Part is comparing with the competition. Part is more intangible, meta messaging, tonal, reading between the lines.

This email was of a species of communication expressing a budding view of me evolving from new kid to local, or at least starting to get this community.

“But now you have definitely turned the corner for me and I think of you as a true member of this community,” the undisputed member of the community let me know.

Oh, I hear and will continue to hear the flip of that, as well. The rain when I arrived slanted decidedly dreary. The feedback has mostly lightened since, and I took this communication and others with a similar ring lately as harbinger — trusty wind vane beginning to fix on a direction, a change in the community climate I had dared anticipate.

The reality, of course, is I am very much the new guy and will remain so for a long time to come. No rookie mistake about that. Haters still be dancing even as their numbers fade.


My kids grew up mostly in the Vail Valley, my wife the nurse for most of the downvalley schools. She had local cred long before I did. She tended directly to the health of a community, after all. Local journalism is crucial, too, but you need to think through why bearing witness — even incompletely and all too often inaccurately — is so vital.

The number 3 resonates. Holy trinity, triangle, the stable stool, advice in writing. Three sources, three examples. For old-school sextant navigators: Triangulation.

How long does it take to become a local? Three years seems about right. That means the COVID movers should be rounding a real corner about now, which might discomfit long-timers simply by the mass of refugees who piled in all at once.

The pandemic indeed brought big changes, and I suspect localness may prove the most profound of those.

Real estate booms and busts, labor shortages and deeper shortages, winter droughts and dumps more or less cycle through. I’ve endured some of the big events — 9/11, the Great Recession, COVID — myself in ski country. This was a different place prior to each, for sure. But let a few years pass, and those strangers who came then become the community as people who were locals leave.

Journalists, typically the ambitious ones, see a lot of towns, make a lot of moves, especially while their careers are budding. So it was with my family — northern Sierra to Holland, Mich., to the grittier Midwest to upstate New York to San Diego to the Vail Valley and eventually on to … the northern Sierra.

If we stayed in a community three years, those local roots began to grip. But we seldom did, and so I came to understand “new kid” well even as I learned the towns better than most true locals in certain respects. The best way to see America might well be as an itinerant journalist.


What makes the paper more local? Well, more ownership investment in the newsroom (check). More indicators of community engagement through letters and other submissions for publication (check). More coverage of true relevance to the full community. That’s subjective, resistant to objective measure. I’d grade us as better than we were when I started, and less than we’ll be as we fill a couple of positions and gain experience.

How about the editor? Do you recognize him or her as a local, or at least with the heart and maybe courage for local? Nine months in, three quarters gone by, this marker begins to matter. In three years it may matter most.

No, wait. I’m thinking of myself, a mistake, an egoism. What am I or any of the many editors through 142 years of the paper compared to the legacy we inherit and carry forward in little flashes, mere bugs?

However it goes, my turn will end and I’ll hand off to the next editor, whether in three months, three years, three times that or three times more, doddering as I’d surely be.

Still, I’m determined to run my leg well, best I can. Beyond measure.

Aspen Times Editor Don Rogers can be reached at