How tiny Silverton, Colo., saved its newspaper (and ended up on the 'Today' show)

"Today" (via Al Tompkins)

Silverton, Colo., has a population of 637 in the last census, but it didn't let its newspaper die, Bob Dotson reports on "Today." The San Juan County Historical Society agreed in 2009 to become publisher of the Silverton Standard. "History and news are really the same thing," Standard editor/reporter/circulation manager Mark Esper tells Dotson. "It's just a matter of what time it is."

The Standard was presented with a historical marker by the Society of Professional Journalists last week. In his account of the ceremony, Esper quotes himself telling the crowd, "I don’t want to be the last editor of the Silverton Standard.” Esper convinced the historical society to take over ownership after becoming concerned that the previous owner, which also owned the Telluride Daily Planet and the Norwood Post, was going to shut down the paper. Area schoolchildren, Dotson reports, raised $2,000 to keep the paper going.

Reached by telephone, Esper says the Standard got on "Today"'s radar after Sonya Doctorian made a video about the paper's survival. Doctorian, now deputy director of photography at The Washington Post, was based in Denver at the time having worked at the Rocky Mountain News. A producer from "Today" happened to see Doctorian's video, Esper says, and the story was recorded in Silverton over four days in March. Esper says the attention has been exciting for the town, though "there's some disappointment," he says, "because a lot of people didn't make the final cut."

Esper's last job was at the Traverse City Record-Eagle in Michigan; he's also worked at The St. Ignace News. Silverton's population swells in the summertime when the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad deposits tourists into the town daily. Rack sales double in the summer, Esper says. The paper's published every Thursday; every week Esper drives over two mountain passes each way to Durango, Colo., about 50 miles away, to pick up the printed papers.

In 2009, former Rocky Mountain News editor John Temple, who is also now at The Washington Post, wrote that the Standard's newspaper box was the last one in town after The Denver Post and The Durango Herald pulled out: "The Post's owner had always vowed to deliver his print paper all across the state, but his stance apparently changed once the Rocky died."

Local ownership makes a big difference to people in town. Doctorian interviewed kids on Razor scooters who told her everyone reads the paper. Wiley Carmack, owner of the local shop Outdoor World, said of the paper: "I want this to be a living, breathing organism that ticks people off now and then and other times they can applaud it."

One of the Standard's verticals is news about kids in town; reporter Kacey Foster tells Dotson, "We all just really like looking at it, seeing ourselves in it." There's also a poetic weather column written by Freddie Canfield, "otherwise known as the guy at the dump," Esper told Doctorian. Subscriptions have doubled in the past year, Esper says in the "Today" segment, and the paper made a profit of $236. When Dotson laughs, Esper says, "Hey, that's more money than a lot of big metros make. Don't sneeze at that."

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Doctorian's docs:

  • Andrew Beaujon

    Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at and managing editor of Washington City Paper. He's the author of the 2006 book "Body Piercing Saved My Life," about Christian rock and evangelical Christian culture.


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