Newspaper celebrates 125 years amid tough times

phjeffburkheadThis week marks a milestone in the life of the Herald Times.
On Saturday, the newspaper will begin its 125th year in business. The town of Meeker will also start its 125th year, beginning in November. So the newspaper is a few months older than the town.
James Lyttle published the first issue of the Meeker Herald on Aug. 15, 1885.
In more recent history, the first copy of the Rangely News was published in 1945. The two papers from opposite ends of the county were merged in 2000.
In the inaugural edition of the Meeker Herald, Lyttle introduced the town’s first newspaper this way:
“After a short visit to Meeker some time ago, we concluded the country was good enough for us, and the consequence is — the Meeker Herald, which is now before the citizens of Meeker and the White River country as a candidate for their support and patronage.
“The Herald will be not be run in the interest of the ‘rascals’ out or the ‘rascals’ in. We will confine ourselves to the local interests of Meeker and the White River valley, and we will at all times, to the best of our ability, promote and protect the same.
“The Herald will not be the medium through which private parties can air their grievances. We are not here exclusively for the benefit of our health, although we will have to acknowledge that the climate is delightful and the balmy and exhilarating air all that could be desired. The Herald will be conducted as a business enterprise.”
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When I started my first journalism job in 1980, I figured newspapers would always be around.
But the industry has been having a rough time of late.
Struggling to find a business model to compete with the loss of advertising revenue to the Internet, some newspapers, especially ones in big-city markets, are struggling.
The demise earlier this year of the Rocky Mountain News, just shy of its 150th birthday, is an example. Seattle and Tucson also both lost newspapers.
There are many other examples of newspapers trying to adapt to the digital age, including the highly respected Christian Science Monitor and Detroit Free Press, both which are publishing digital-only versions of their daily newspapers.
Daily papers all over the country have reduced staff, often in their newsrooms — the thinking being they don’t generate revenue — in an effort to improve the bottom line and respond to the tough economic times.
Generally, smaller-market community papers are faring better. While in some respects weekly papers are weathering the storm in better shape than their big-city counterparts, they are hardly unaffected by the economic realties. Take the weekly Carbondale Valley Journal, for example, which shut down this year.
But newspapers have long endured changing economic times and competition from new mediums — first radio, then television and now the Internet.
And they have managed to survive, even thrive.
The glory days of newspapers may be a thing of the past, when even small towns had multiple papers, often affiliated with one political party or the other.
But one thing is certain: People will always want and need information about their community, where they live and work and play. Weekly newspapers fill that need particularly well, since their niche is covering local news and events. And there will always be a need for a credible news source to gather and report news about community happenings.
Newspapers are also figuring out how to better utilize the Internet. The Herald Times, for example, has seen significant growth in its online readership. Just in the last 30 days or so, there have been nearly 5,000 visits to the site, with more than 21,000 page views, from visitors in 48 states. There have been more than 2,000 Web site visits from Colorado, with the most popular concentration in the state coming from the Denver metro area, with more than 825 visits. That shows there are a lot of people out there who have ties to the area, and are turning to the online newspaper as a way to stay connected to their hometown.
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As with any other business, newspapers struggling to survive during tough economic times is not a new thing.
Recently, Mitch Bettis, current owner/publisher of the Herald Times, came across an article by James Lyttle, written in 1892, seven years after he founded the Meeker Herald.
In the article, Lyttle openly bemoaned the paper’s financial troubles, and revealed the paper was changing hands.
“The present request to liquidate … told us in unmistakable terms that we had about reached the end of our rope in the glorious but profitless career of running a live and progressive paper for the constituency who, judging by the slowness manifested in paying their subscription and other accounts, must have thought that the Herald could exist on beautiful scenery and a salubrious climate alone. This was a mistaken idea. It takes money to run a newspaper, same as any other business …”
A short time later, thanks to “the instrumentality of a number of friends … to raise funds,” Lyttle was reinstated as editor of the paper. The paper remained in the family for some 70 plus years.
Interestingly, Lyttle was a staunch Democrat.
I also found it interesting that in the debut edition of the Meeker Herald, Piceance was spelled “Pice-ance.”
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In the “farewell” article Lyttle wrote in 1892, he thanked his supporters, while taking a parting shot at his critics.
“During the seven years and seven weeks that we have ran the Herald we have made many warm friends and some enemies (Jesus Christ himself couldn’t run a country newspaper seven years and seven weeks without making a few enemies), but we have the proud satisfaction of knowing that the former are largely in the majority, and to them we return sincere thanks for their patronage and friendship. And to our enemies … well, we’ll leave them to be dealt with by time — the great leveler of all things.”
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Who knows what changes are in store for newspapers? But while talking with someone about the future of the industry at the annual Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation dinner in April, he said, “Long live newspapers.” Amen.
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I can relate to Jim Ruckman, who did the woodwork on the new stained glass window for the front of the Holy Family Catholic Church in Meeker, when he said he’s never satisfied. I’m the same way. I’m my own worst critic.
While the goal every week is to put out a perfect paper, I know it will never happen. But that’s what keeps us motivated — to do better next time.
So, while we strive to put out a perfect paper, I hope we never do it. Just don’t tell my boss I said that.
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Tim Webber, director of the Western Rio Blanco Recreation and Park District, and Eric Hejl, also with the recreation district, exchanged in some good-natured banter in advance of this week’s men’s softball league championship in Rangely.
“We’re considered the Yankees of the league,” Webber said of his team.
“And like the Yankees, they underachieve,” said Hejl, who plays for a different team.
Webber helped to organized a golf tournament last week at Cedar Ridges for representatives of the construction and architecture companies involved in the remodeling of the Rangely Recreation Center.
“It went really well,” Webber said of the tournament, which included 18 four-man teams.
One of those teams was Hejl’s.
“He (Webber) named us the Sandbaggers,” Hejl said. “We had no say in it.”
Hejl’s team, which included Terrell Lowry, Tim Spach with FCI Constructors of Grand Junction, and Billy Cox, also with FCI, had the final say as they won the tournament.
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Meeker’s Golf Course hosted a couples tournament last weekend. One of the teams featured former Meeker resident Rod Crawford, who now lives in Fort Collins. His playing partner was Patty Edwards of Meeker.
“He has double myeloma cancer in his spine,” said Irven Griffin of the Meeker Golf Course Board of Directors. “He just came back from two years of stem cell transplants. About a month and a half ago we almost lost him, he was in such bad shape.”
Crawford and Edwards won second gross in their flight.
“Which is real commendable for him not being able to golf for two years,” Griffin said. “His love is golf. This guy has just shown tremendous strength to play two days of 18 holes each day.”
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Rio Blanco County loaned NC Telecom $1 million in start-up money in 1999. So, when NC Telecom went through bankruptcy last year, there was some question whether the county would get back any of its investment.
“In return for the money advanced by the county for the construction of NC Telecom’s facilities, the county received credits for future services for various public entities in the county,” said County Attorney Kent Borchard. “As part of the bankruptcy, a settlement was reached whereby the county’s credit balance will be 100 percent assumed and honored by UBET Wireless, the company that acquired NC Telecom’s assets.”
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Congratulations to the 4-H Extension staff and all of the 4-H leaders and exhibitors as well as FFA members and a whole host of volunteers who put in countless hours at the county fair.
Copies of photos from the fair are available at the Herald Times Web site — www.theheraldtimes.com. Just click on “Photos” in the bar menu at the top of the home page.
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Taking pictures for a story about Alisha Rodebaugh of Meeker, who played this summer on a fast-pitch softball team in Grand Junction, I knelt behind the left shoulder of her mom Cathy, who was catching for Alisha while she practiced pitching.
The first pitch was a little outside and low. But thankfully Cathy made a nice stop. Otherwise, there’s no way I could’ve got out of the way in time to avoid getting hit by the ball … right where it hurts. Let’s just say, there’s a reason catchers wear a protective cup.
“That would’ve got you,” Cathy said. “You would’ve been hurtin.’
Just thinking about it makes me cringe.
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Talking with someone at the Lions Club dinner Saturday night at the county fair, sponsored by First National Bank of the Rockies, he said, “Good thing you’re not a preacher.”
“Why’s that?” I asked.
“You’d be pretty longwinded,” he said.
I think he was trying to tell me something.

Jeff Burkhead is editor of the Herald Times. You may e-mail him at jeff@theheraldtimes.com.