Monday, January 05, 2009

Aspen newspaper eliminates Sunday edition

With all of the cities struggling to hold on to just one daily newspaper, Aspen, Colorado is unique — this silver mining town cum star-studded ski resort of 5,804 residents supports two separately owned daily newspapers.

The Aspen Times and the Aspen Daily News, both free dailies, have been battling each other for 20 years in the playground that Robert De Niro, Kevin Costner, Jack Nicholson, Antonio Banderas and Kate Hudson call home.

The competition keeps ad rates low and keeps reporters on their toes, worrying that they might be scooped by the other paper. And, after 20 years, one would assume the papers have been profitable, or why would their owners continue to fight for so long?

On December 31, the Times announced that it was eliminating its Sunday edition but would continue to publish the other six days of the week. Publisher Jenna Weatherred, in a note to readers, said Sunday was the paper's "least profitable edition" of the week.

Not un-profitable, but "least profitable."

At the same time, the chain that owns the Times, Swift Newspapers, pulled the plug on weekly newspapers in two other communities as well as a regional Spanish-language paper. And the Times publisher said she has reduced the staff of her paper by 20 percent, though exact numbers weren't given.

"My hope is that, once this recession turns around and things feel more secure in the valley, we will be able to bring back the Sunday daily and our small community weekly papers," Weatherred said.

Each of the papers are tabloid-sized yet have a strikingly grey layout with small headlines and lots of copy. On many inside pages, copy will run for 14 inches without so much as a subhead or pull-quote interrupting the column of grey. The Times appears to have a few more photos sprinkled among its columns.

The staff boxes of the papers show that each has a newsroom of 12 to 15 people. And though Aspen might seem like a small town, they have plenty of news to cover. Last week, for instance, a 71-year-old former miner killed himself after he forced the evacuation of Aspen's downtown when he planted bombs at four banks and a drinking hole in an extortion plot. The incident forced the town to postpone its New Year's Eve fireworks display, a favorite of tourists.

The would-be bomber, as he was preparing his explosives, left a hand-written letter-to-the-editor at the Times reminiscent of another Aspen resident, the late "gonzo" journalist Hunter S. Thompson. Given the frequent controversies and celebrity sightings in Aspen, the attempted bombing probably was just another day at the office for the journalists at the Daily News and Times.

Aspen, a town with a lot of news, is fortunate to have two newspapers to cover it.