Oh, the places we’ve gone.
Serving as a small-town journalist is much like the role of a tour guide. For the last 12 years, I’ve proudly worn that badge, taking readers to the farthest reaches of the Gunnison Valley, delving into history, stopping in on a lively debate of public policy and introducing you, the reader, to folks you otherwise wouldn’t have met.
But all good things must come to an end. This edition is my last with the Times. I’ll miss the solid crew I leave behind (but know that they’ll not skip a beat). I’ll miss community members I’ve come to know (far too many to name). And I’ll miss leading the tour through time, across breath-taking landscapes and into the unknown of tomorrow.
Alas, adventure calls, and I’ve accepted a role in public relations at Crested Butte Mountain Resort.
But what kind of tour guide would I be without recounting the journey to this point. My time with the Times began in the summer of 2005. An English major who yearned for, shall we say, a practical application of my education after graduation, journalism began calling my name.
I had worked as news editor of the Top O’ the World student newspaper at Western Colorado University the year prior and was preparing to take the helm of the publication as managing editor. That spring semester, I applied for a summer internship through Colorado Press Association (CPA) — the kind of opportunity that pairs students with publications not of their choosing.
Eager nonetheless, I figured I’d be matched with a newspaper in Sterling, Craig or La Junta — some far off corner of the state — when lo and behold, current Times owner Chris Dickey called one day to offer me the CPA internship in Gunnison.
It was great. I got to interview all sorts of people. And cover a myriad of events.
That experience took me to a newspaper group on the Front Range after graduation, but I missed small-town life, and when Chris offered to let me return to the Times in 2007 as a full-time staff writer, the answer was easy.
• • •
If my finger counting is correct, 12 years and eight months have passed since then. That’s 656 editions of the Times. I’ve watched quite a few people come and go in that span — both in the community and at the paper.
That includes former Times co-owner and publisher Stephen Pierotti, who’s departure in 2011 prompted Chris’ move to the publisher position and paved the way for lucky ol’ me to become editor. At the time, the Times had a standout freelance photographer named Chris Rourke.
If you pay a lick of attention to these pages, I don’t need to tell you that she’s an ace behind the lens, but she yearned to spread her wings in the realm of writing. And that she did in the years which followed.
She’s become an ace reporter, knows more people than a Hollywood socialite and doesn’t take B.S. from anyone. In other words, she’ll make a great editor — and will assume that role beginning today.
The transition also will allow for two-time Times summer intern, former Top O’ the World editor and ridiculously reliable freelancer Roberta Marquette to assume a full-time position here.
• • •
Adventure is what first brought me to the Gunnison Valley. And it’s what’s propelled me ever since on the journalistic path. I suppose it’s only natural that the quest for new adventures would one day pull me away.
Clearing my desk in recent days has brought back countless memories. I’m particularly proud of the dedication and talent of the current staff which has resulted in an untold number of honors from the state press association — including the top accolade in our class three of the last four years.
But for every success, we’ve endured an equal number of challenges.
For instance, a few years ago, the Times unsuccessfully attempted to adopt a new content management system. Problems were many. For one, unlike our prior approach, the content itself — the text that makes up articles — was housed on a server in Chicago. Apparently, the electrons couldn’t run through the wires fast enough — they insisted on jogging — and it bogged down the layout process.
To boot, the intricacies of the new system were being taught to us in-house by a fella named Attila from Spain. Atilla spoke little English, and we little Spanish. The plan was for Atilla to help us through a week’s production cycle to learn the system.
As some of you may know, we typically send the weekly newspaper to press on Wednesday evening. This particular week, evening had long since turned to night when the press facility in Salida called to say that if we didn’t send the digital files that would become that week’s newspaper in the next 15 minutes, they weren’t printing us.
It’s the closest I’ve ever come to missing a deadline.
• • •
The Times turns 45 this coming August. Well, it’s actually much older if you consider that the name of the paper as we know it was new upon the 1975 merger of three former Gunnison publications.
I feel lucky to simply be a part of that history, which is a direct result of local news continuing to be the highest priority.
I recall my first assignment after returning to the Times from the Front Range. Following three failed recreation initiatives, community members representing a wide range of interests had come together to propose a new sales tax in the city.
It passed with 65 percent of the vote and in the years that followed resulted in the construction of the community swimming pool, indoor ice rink and a citywide trail system.
In many ways, that story set the stage for my tenure with the Times. It represented all that is good about Gunnison — community members coming together, the making of physical health a top priority, and accomplishing a long-standing goal — and my favorite part of the job: relaying the community’s accomplishments.
You see, deep-seated in every journalist is — or at least should be — a desire to serve. To champion the good. And call out the bad. All in hopes of enriching lives, leaving a community better informed and, in sum, making the world a better place.
An editor is nothing without his or her readers. With that in mind, I bid farewell, faithful followers.
(Will Shoemaker is the former editor of the Gunnison Country Times.)