Rogers: The thing about fables
You may have noticed last week we published the story a whole world apparently had decided we were “censoring.” Glad to check that one off a long to-do list.
Of course, the actual world cares about Ukraine, Afghanistan, inflation, a former and perhaps future president taking the 5th, climate change … or should. Bless our hearts, we only think Aspen lies at the very center.
As to what the world that’s interested in Aspen’s state of journalism thinks about all this, well, that reminds me most of my son’s family cat Tilly.
Tilly, a gray fluff ball, is an indoor cat who, like other indoor cats, longs most for the outside but enjoys any fresh scrap of excitement. One morning when I stayed over, someone (maybe me) had opened a bedroom window a little wide. My son couldn’t find the cat and was getting increasingly wigged about it. What would he tell his wife when she got home? He’s a bit less aloha generally than his dad, besides.
When I came out of the bathroom, I spotted the cat straight off, a panther atop the kitchen cabinets, watching my son stomp around hollering “Tilly” over and over again, sometimes sweetly, sometimes grumpily, and increasingly with that distinctive whine as panic sets in.
I watched. The cat watched. The son stomped and whined. I nodded at the cat, finally. Sorry, Till. And pointed her out. He expelled a lot of air, fussed and finally laughed.
I care as much as Tilly considered my son about what The New York Times, COLab, Poynter, Editor & Publisher, The Denver Post, The Atlantic and all that world think of The Aspen Times.
I know, terrible of me.
What I do care about is our work. That’s it. That’s my muse, my mission, my mouse.
A FULL TEAM
By work, I don’t mean only the journalism. I mean the people willing to work with me and the many others in different departments. A newsroom is not the whole paper, after all.
Advertising is the fuel, circulation the connector. There’s no newsroom, no paper without them. This trinity needs all its legs. Their work means as much as mine.
The news staffing may be down for the moment — one more person than the full staff now at the daily of the same circ I left — but the other departments are whole.
For all the buzz in board chambers and among insidery wags of boycott, new papers and “punishment,” advertising is up not down, the news racks still fill and then empty out, and by all indicators our 90% readership holds.
I’m pretty sure most observers are like Tilly: interested, sure, maybe bemused, bordering on concerned. But hey, pass the popcorn. Let’s see where this goes.
SEEN, AND NOT LOOKING
In this spirit, I have some observations, too. For instance: The Pitkin County commissioners meant to mete out “punishment” on The Aspen Times for “censorship” by redirecting advertising and giving paper-of-record status to the rival Daily News, which for weeks and then months declared there was nothing to see (one would have to look), until The Times published what it supposedly wouldn’t.
Then, suddenly, apparently there was something to see because the News hustled out a piece the morning The Times story printed.
There’s more to it, I know, between a defamation lawsuit and its settling among all the upset I mostly missed, caught up in my own drama elsewhere.
Even The New York Times eventually got in last week on the ski town fable and all the attendant tropes ripe as plums for the picking.
A mostly empty Aspen Times office described in one dark tale about us had to be from the horrors of new ownership — certainly not COVID-19 and the migration to remote work that has emptied every other newspaper office in America.
And you’d think big league journalists from New York could at least distinguish between an event hall with a historic facade and the office some of us still occasionally work from, never mind manage to count bylines.
Also, just what were the saintly local owners of The Daily News doing with all that time they had to, um, you know, do this important journalism The Aspen Times was “censoring”?
I’m just asking in the spirit of Tilly.
A TRUE FIRST
More seriously, at least philosophically, local government jumped in on all fours, full of bark and bite, maybe not realizing that playing favorites with marketing while sitting in judgment of news coverage and business practices creates a larger question than what boils down to a newspaper’s personnel issues, painful and emotional as they are.
That does finally cause my fur to rise a bit, maybe my back to arch, though I think I understand the impulse.
The county commissioners came right out and said they intended “punishment” as if they understood and were qualified to second-guess a paper that in part, perhaps ironically, was dealing with the publication of internal emails from a particularly sensitive moment. Usually, at least in my experience, governments have quite a different take on punishment when it’s their sensitive internal emails being divulged.
And punish what, exactly? For failure to publish what we … published? Reward the rival for taking very good care not to look? In some worlds, maybe the actual one, that’s known as meddling. Is that local government’s role now?
In the future, are we to toss aside reach and ROI on what used to be marketing decisions in favor of whatever won’t lead to punishment?
OK, maybe I’m hissing back a little. But if anything in this episode actually scratches at a First Amendment issue, it is this.
Aspen Times Editor Don Rogers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s almost time to ring in the new year and if your holiday schedule is shaping up to be as packed as mine, I wish you a well-deserved rest in 2024. In the meantime, it’s our chance to party, and party we shall.