Samantha Johnston: On to life’s next chapters, but with some pretty good lessons from The Times |

Samantha Johnston: On to life’s next chapters, but with some pretty good lessons from The Times

Samantha Johnston
Guest commentary
The Aspen Times publisher Samantha Johnston in Aspen, Colorado.

When asked how I made my way to Aspen, I almost always reply with “serendipity.” I was hired by late publisher Gunilla Asher to support her as she fought a battle with terminal cancer. A few days before she passed, she said, “This is my baby. Don’t screw it up.” But if you knew Gunilla, you know that she didn’t say “screw.”

I never forgot those words, but what they meant has changed over the years. At first, I thought she meant running a profitable operation; seeking truth; publishing a daily newspaper the community could take pride in; and fighting to tell the important stories. Now I know that she meant that my only real responsibility to was to take good care of great people. It was really as simple as that. Taking great care of great people is the straightest and smoothest path to achieving all of the other things.

When I moved to Aspen, I didn’t know a single soul. I found myself in a third-floor studio apartment with a fire escape as my outdoor space and the nearest laundromat a couple of miles and lots of quarters away. Then, I couldn’t have imagined all of the ways in which my life would grow and change for the better. I owe most of that to the incredible humans at The Aspen Times who opened their arms to me, gave me an opportunity to earn their trust, stuck with me through my best decisions and my worst decisions and always had my back, even when it would have been easier to walk away.

To say that I’m proud of the work that this team does every day doesn’t do justice to their grit, tenacity, heart and soul. They do what they do for the love of the game. They are in the “service” industry working seven days a week, sometimes 24 hours a day and always when you need them most. There are no holidays or weekends in the daily news business. There are only dedicated professionals who care deeply about the craft.

As I reflect on my next chapter, which begins today, I can’t help but think about how lucky I am to be taking with me the best lessons from the smartest people I know.

Scott Condon: that hard situations are almost always made better with a healthy dose of truth, a good debate, and finding common ground;

Rose Laudicina: to always say “yes” to adventure, shenanigans and fun yet be a silent ninja and the most reliable person in the room;

Amy Laha: that setting personal boundaries, standing up for yourself and living your values is the right way to approach the world;

Carolyn Sackariason: being relentless in the pursuit of a truth is a full-time job and even when the going gets tough, there are is no quitting in community journalism – people depend on it;

David Krause: how you do anything is how you do everything — you have to run through the finish line for every single goal, project and ending; anything short of that is … well … short.

Andrew Travers: to be passionate in all the you do and to never back down in situations where your personal values are compromised; there are absolutely some hills worth dying on.

Dottie Wolcott: that life is what you make it; there will be good days and there will be bad days and you can’t control what happens to you, but you can control how you react;

Jason Auslander: that your word is about the most important thing any of us have, and it’s the only thing that nobody but ourselves can compromise; integrity is everything (well … that and a good margarita at Mi Chola);

Kaya Williams: That a huge smile, positive attitude and hearty laugh are the best medicine for most of what ails us;

Benjamin Welch: that you don’t need to be the loudest guy in the room or the center of attention to be a total rockstar and the kind of person that everyone wants to know better;

Kelsey Brunner: to dream big, always have my eyes up and my heart open for what’s next and to love big;

Rick Carroll: that being authentic might not always make you the most popular person in the room, but it can make you the most respected and you’ll be popular with exactly the right people;

Tim Kurnos: to approach everyday with laughter and a good dog and that life’s too short to sweat the small stuff;

Igor Laray: that life is about how you show up and to never stop learning, growing and becoming our best selves;

Ryan Lesar: not to take myself too seriously and to always make time for bad jokes, witty banter and general nonsense no matter how deep the crap gets;

Beth Albert: to never settle and to always look for the reasons I can be better and do better;

Austin Colbert: to constantly care about how the people are around me are doing and to never be afraid to dig deeper, ask tough questions, and be diligent about making mental health a priority;

Ashton Hewitt: that life is a rollercoaster and if you’re always willing to learn, do better and be better, then it’s a ride worth taking;

Jake Marine: that good music and a wicked sense of humor are the keys to work … and life;

Eric Eckle: that there is always a perspective on life that is different, but equally as valid as my own, and that truly listening to diverse opinions on a topic will help me grow as a human.

Don’t worry, I’m not leaving, leaving. It’s true that neither me nor Ernie the hound will occupy space in an office at 314 E. Hyman anymore (well Ernie might … who knows what that dog has negotiated with the new owners), but my fiancée owns a business in the valley, and we’ve found home here. Someone asked me if there was anything I wouldn’t miss about the best gig on the planet. I considered whether it might be the 3 a.m. phone calls to scare the bears out of the alley for the paper delivery crews, but my love affair with bears even made that a likable part of the job.

Today, my friend and colleague, Allison Pattillo takes the reins. She is smart, funny, empathetic, creative, resilient and an all-around badass. She will get the privilege of working with some of the best humans on the planet; and they get the privilege of learning from and growing with her. A friend said to me this week, “Doesn’t it feel weird that someone else might take over and do it better? Do you worry about that?” To that, I say a resounding, “Hell no.” I expect her to do better. Allison, “Don’t muck it up.”

Samantha Johnston is the former publisher of The Aspen Times.


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