September 2013

Ten years after

By Gail Binkly

This month’s issue of the Free Press marks a full 10 years of publication. Our first issue was printed in September 2003, and trivia buffs may recall that the type size had to be bumped up a little to make the copy fill our pages.

So this is our 121st issue, and we’re proud of the fact that despite some ups and downs for our core staff (three back surgeries, three eye surgeries, one depression, one crushed foot and a few other major blows that fragile flesh is heir to), we never failed to publish. And we’re still here, except for Jim, who jumped ship and went to the Journal. (We miss you, buddy.)

Evaluating our performance over the past decade, I realize I inevitably let some readers down because of a shortage of time and personnel. Over the years, various folks have called us with story ideas – sometimes practically begging us to expose an injustice or investigate fraud – and we’ve assured them that, yes, their idea was good, only to find ourselves with no means of following up.

Well-established daily and weekly newspapers with full-time staffs have had to cut back on their own investigative work because of declining revenues, so for us it has been impossible to do all the deep, probing articles we would have liked to do. I apologize to those people who were disappointed when we couldn’t bring their story ideas to fruition.

One thing I find amusing is the fact that people often believe our operation is much larger than it is. “I came to your office Wednesday afternoon and there was no one there!” they’ll say, shocked. We’ll explain that the Free Press has no full-time staff and we all do other work to make ends meet, but many people remain skeptical. Once, I was even told there was a rumor that we were buying the former First National Bank building, an idea that made us giggle – buying a Tuff Shed would stretch our resources. But it’s flattering to know that people think we are a much larger journalistic entity.

I am personally proud of our reputation for accuracy – in 10 years we’ve had to print only a handful of minor corrections – and thoroughness. I’m proud of the talent of our writers, which is amply demonstrated by the many Society of Professional Journalists awards we’ve won over the years – 21 for 2012 alone.

One major disappointment has been how frequently our paper is stolen from the newsstands. Yes, there is confusion because it’s called a “Free Press” – there are Free Presses that are both free (e.g., the Grand Junction Free Press) and paid (the venerable Detroit Free Press). I naively believed people would understand that the term “free press” (as established by the First Amendment) is different from “free newspaper.” Obviously, not everyone does! So it’s forgivable when tourists mistakenly take an occasional paper, but I don’t think there’s much excuse for locals to do the same. Fifty cents isn’t much to ask for a publication that requires hundreds of hours of work. All those lost quarters would have helped us actually write some of those probing stories. Still, we really appreciate the many honest people who do pay.

Everybody’s least-favorite part of presentations such as the Academy Awards is the thank-yous, but I can’t let our anniversary slip by without expressing my gratitude to the folks who have helped make the Free Press what it is (with the caveat that I may forget someone and feel terrible). In no particular order, thanks to:

• Galen Larson, who has helped us from Day One in countless ways. At 83 he is still one of our most curmudgeonly and stalwart cornerstones.

• Marilyn Boynton, who used to distribute the paper in Southeast Utah until she suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm more than a year ago. Miraculously, she survived and clawed her way back to health. She is her old self again, smart, stubborn, and sassy.

• Ed Lord, who does our accounting, an immeasurable aid. (Going to lunch with him and his wife, Ruth, is always a pleasure.)

• Our advertisers, generous and supportive beyond words. Please thank them and patronize them. They’re the foundation on which we rest.

• Our faithful subscribers, our readers, and the establishments that sell our papers or host our racks.

• Susan Matteson, former ad designer/ computer guru; Ginnie Dunlop, the ad designer and computer whiz who succeeded Susan; Carolyn Dunmire, contributor and former ad salesperson; and Rosie Carter, who drew us some great graphics.

• Our many proofreaders over the years, especially Angi Sauk and Lori Mott.

• Our news and feature writers, including the incredible Anne Minard and the late Connie Gotsch; and the really fine columnists we’ve had the privilege to publish over the past decade. I can’t possibly name them all, but I especially want to thank David Feela, whose musings on life are little gems; the outrageously funny Suzanne Strazza; Art Goodtimes, who has enough personality for three separate people; Tim Cooper; Curt Melliger; Travis Kelly; Katharhynn Heidelberg, who’s going to win a Pulitzer some day; John Christian Hopkins; Peter Miesler; and Ed and Roxanne Lord.

• Long-time friends such as Bob Slough (and for years his late wife, Twila), Ric Plese, and Nick and Chris Nicholl, whose encouragement and humor help keep our spirits up.

• Wendy Davis and Nancy Schaufele, columnists and personal friends.

• My sister, Rhonda, whom I call whenever I need a clever idea for a headline; and my late mother, the nicest person who ever lived.

• Sonja Horoshko, an incredibly talented “jane” of all trades – news writer, arts writer, photographer, artist, and another true friend.

• My husband, David Long, who writes “Crime Waves,” plus news and opinion columns. He wields words like a chess master’s pawns and knights. His insights into crime, politics, and human behavior are sharper than anyone else’s. And, equally important, he’s the only one who can keep our coin-operated vending machines going.

• Last, my co-owner, Wendy Mimiaga. For 10 years we’ve been like roommates crowded into a small space, but we’ve always gotten along well. She does whatever it takes to keep the paper going – photography, ad design, ad sales, tech support, layout. Through a retinal detachment and three extremely painful eye surgeries, she never slackened her pace. There isn’t a harder worker or a more loyal person anywhere.

What lies in the future? We’d like to be around another 10 years, but it will be an uphill battle. Times are tough in the journalism industry and they aren’t likely to improve. On the other hand, we didn’t go into this expecting to get rich (and we haven’t, believe me!).

Whatever happens, it’s been a fun ride – rewarding in ways that words, of all things, fail to adequately express.

Gail Binkly is editor of the Free Press.