Getting to know your community journalists

We’re not cyborgs, we promise! (Sounds like something a cyborg would say, right? )

Take a read through this Q and A to get to know a few of us at the HT. You may have noticed we ran out of room for head shots in the print edition this week … which has nothing to do with the fact that we are definitely not cyborgs. 🤖

• NIKI TURNER, OWNER/PUBLISHER AND EDITOR

Niki Turner

I’m too old for a “short” bio, right? I moved to Meeker from Glenwood Springs in 1998 with a husband and four little kids in tow. Newspapers have been part of my life since childhood. My parents delivered multiple papers from Glenwood to Aspen, seven days a week, for more than 30 years. When I got my license I had my own 4:30 a.m. motor route. I wrote for the high school newspaper, and while attending Colorado Mountain College I worked for a weekly shopper. 

Cue marriage and the arrival of four kids in seven years and I became a stay-at-home homeschooling mom. I started at the Herald in 2000. In 2012 we moved back to my parents’ ranch in Garfield County where I continued to work for the Herald remotely doing layout and design. More changes in our household — and changes I was seeing in the paper — prompted me to ask former owner Mitch Bettis if his offer to sell was still on the table, and in 2016 we returned to Meeker. The last five years have been a wild ride, professionally and personally. 

What do you do at the Herald? 

I am the official Worrier-in-Chief. Seriously, I’m co-publisher and editor, which pretty much means I do whatever needs doing at the moment. In the last 20 years I’ve done nearly every task at the paper.

Why do you think community journalism is important?

Independent local journalism is a community’s “first draft” of history. In 25 or 50 or 100 years, I want people to know what was happening in Rio Blanco County in 2021, from decisions made by local government entities to the inception of new businesses to how the school sports teams performed this season.  

What are your favorite things about your job?

I love hearing people’s stories. Covering local meetings and providing essential information reminds me how important it is to have a local paper with local news in it every week. But by far my personal favorite task is digging through our archives for Days Gone By. The more things change, the more they stay the same. And being able to work with two of my adult children is a blessing for which I’m grateful. 

What are your least favorite things?

Making mistakes, obviously. Although I’ve (mostly) learned to accept that every mistake is an opportunity for correction, and as Mitch once told me, mistakes and corrections keep us humble. I’m OK with that. 

What is your favorite part of the paper?

I don’t think I’m allowed to have a favorite part. I like it all, from Days Gone By to finding out what happened at a meeting to the feature stories about our local residents and the interesting things they are doing with their lives. 

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I like to exercise, read and work on my house. In the last year I’ve started working on creating a better work/life balance, spending quality time with friends and family doing interesting things. I hope to get back to creative writing as a hobby once the plethora of “truth is stranger than fiction” events that have occurred in my life of late subsides. 

• LUCAS TURNER, JOURNALIST AND TECH EXTRAORDINAIRE

Lucas Turner

Lucas Turner is a reporter and go-to for all things technical, and all things wizardly, especially technical-wizardry. He grew up in Meeker, Colorado and graduated from Meeker High School in 2012 before attending Colorado Mountain College’s Isaacson School for New Media. At 19 years old he became the general manager of the fledgling college radio station and two years later began teaching multimedia classes at the same college as an adjunct instructor. A few years later he won a shark tank-style business-pitch competition to start a podcasting/multimedia production company, which he used to purchase production equipment, including his prized possession, the production laptop. 

Lucas’ first official foray into journalism was getting hired as the News Director at KDNK Community Access Radio, before eventually making his way back to Meeker to join the rest of the journalism fam (literally) at the Rio Blanco Herald Times. He currently lives in Rifle, CO with his wife, two young children, and neurotic doggo friend Stella.

What do you do at the Herald?

I cover local government, environmental issues, community members, local history and everything in between. This means writing, taking photos, and being a general nuisance to government officials (mainly the ones who won’t answer their phone calls or emails). I also write, record, edit & publish our newscast (Extra! Extra!) every week. Weekly duties aside, I coordinate live-streamed productions, capture videos, and endlessly fiddle with the exact technical specifications of our very awesome state-of-the-art podcast/streaming studio. Sometimes I even do….other stuff. But I’ll leave that stuff a mystery, it sounds cooler that way.

Why do you think community journalism is important?

While it is great to be informed about local issues, national media is not generally connected to the day-to-day lives of most people. Journalists reporting in the White House, for example, are not always accessible to the average citizen. In my estimation, most of those journalists are probably also out of touch with average people.

Community journalists on the other hand are directly tied into the community. They have to be, cause they live there. Additionally, government boards, from county commissioners to special tax districts seem to have a way of…mucking things up when no one is watching. It’s actually astonishing how fast things will go south without a modicum of accountability being dangled over their heads.

Journalism is vital for democracy to function, whether that democracy is national, or local, someone has to keep the taxpayers informed, otherwise you have to rely on the goodness of government officials to do the right thing. And we all know how “good” government officials can be when no one is watching, eh?

What are your favorite things about your job?

I love learning about anything and everything. Gaining a wide variety of perspectives is a great way to prevent rigidity and calcification of my own belief systems. All of this “learning” comes in tandem with meeting and interviewing interesting people, getting access to cover natural disasters, interviewing political candidates, specialists, experts and plenty of people I would have never expected to talk to, much less ask interesting questions.

On the broadcasting/production side, I just love being creative with anything technical. Experimenting and learning how to make productions work seamlessly, even with limited resources, is very rewarding. Lastly, there has always been a bit of a performer in me, so it’s nice to be able to express myself.

What are your least favorite things?

Performing extensive research over a long period of time, conducting interviews and slaving away at complex/nuanced stories just to have people who seemingly don’t read my work accuse me of biased and/or false reporting. Keeping my very opinionated opinions to myself in the public sphere (I think journalists are generally some of the most opinionated people around). Figurin’ out how to use less words to make my point. Why use big word when small word do job?

What is your favorite part of the paper?

I enjoy the opinion section, for the letter to the editor surges that come through on occasion, along with a variety of columns from near and far. I also kinda like that spooky feeling of being in a perpetual time-loop everytime I read the historical “Days Gone By” section. It really depends on the week though! I’m always happy to peruse some good photos, keeping in mind the technical and creative expertise that went into capturing them. I also appreciate the overall layout, easter eggs, color themes, etc.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I like to stream on Twitch, which allows me to keep my broadcasting voice up to snuff, argue with strangers on the internet that I’ll never have to see in real life, and have a good excuse to mess around with my recording gear for the ten-thousandth time. 

I also love spending time with my family, playing drums with my bandmates, crafting fantastical stories for Dungeons & Dragons campaigns, organizing (weird I know), drawing, and like, a billion other things. I have an unsustainable number of hobbies 😀

• CAITLIN WALKER, OWNER/PUBLISHER AND PRODUCTION MANAGER

Caitlin Walker is co-owner and production manager of the Herald Times. She has lived in Rio Blanco County for a combined total of 19 years, and has been working at the Herald off and on since she was 15 (… age 12 if you count babysitting as a job.) She enjoys crocheting nerdy things and hiking in the Flat Tops with her husband Chance, four children, three dogs, two rats, one cat and nine chickens ( … the rats, cat and chickens do not get to go on the hikes.)

What do you do at the Herald?

A better question is what don’t I do at the Herald. I manage classified and display advertising from placement to final proof, build the pages of the paper each week, answer the phone, fight with Quickbooks, take photos, occasionally write stories, do graphic design and printing work for people around town, and make jokes about things I probably shouldn’t.

Why do you think community journalism is important?

A community without a newspaper has no collective voice. It devolves into Facebook comments, gossip at the post office, government entities trying to control the narrative, etc. While that can be entertaining, it’s also extremely unhealthy. I’m also a HUGE believer in government transparency. Local government decisions affect people 1000x more than who the president is, it just isn’t as flashy … or as divisive (usually, anyway.)

What are your favorite things about your job?

Creating a product that is beautiful and functional, featuring cool people, digging into data, and helping people advocate for themselves.

What are your least favorite things?

Getting hate mail, worrying about the future of this 137-year-old community institution, and staying up all night Tuesday to finish the paper.

What is your favorite section of the paper?

I like the ads (I’m partial), the puzzles, and the photos! I also like the thrill of publishing controversial pieces. Just kidding, I actually hate that part. Cue all the anxiety.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

Work … but when I’m not doing that I really enjoy crocheting (especially amigurumi Star Wars characters) and playing board games with my family.

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