Sept. 29 will be my last day at
the Telegraph , where I've worked since the paper's
beginnings more than two years ago. (The plan is to rent our house
while we go check out the live music and public inebriation of New
Orleans for awhile.) These days, the paper is not only viable, but
strong. I see people reading it all the time in restaurants, coffee
shops, benches, everywhere. People now call us for ads, instead of
the other way around. And, best of all, they say nice things to me
when they find out where I work.
This is music to my
ears, because it hasn't always been this way. As with most new
businesses, the paper faced an uphill battle.
It all started in August
2002. I had worked with Missy Votel in the newsroom at a certain
daily newspaper, where I'd been a freelance reporter and she was an
editor. When I heard she'd left to start a weekly newspaper with
Will Sands, I wanted in. I called her to discuss story ideas, and
she told me that their ad guy had quit before he
started. With only two weeks left to the first
issue, and advertising the only source of revenue, it was not a
good situation. I told her I could probably help out for awhile,
and before I knew it, I was the Telegraph's full-time salesperson.
I also worked as a writer, proofreader, delivery schlep, and
lunch fetcher. There was another part-time ad salesman, and a few
freelance photographers and writers pitching in. I persuaded my
boyfriend and a friend to build a website essentially for free
(possibly my best sale for the paper). It was a pretty bare-bones
But we all believed in the vision for the Telegraph : a newspaper for locals, devoid of
sensationalism, and with a nice dash of humor thrown in. It would
try to highlight more of the flavor of Durango. There would be
in-depth news stories, a crossword puzzle with local clues, an
advice column answered by a different dishwasher each week.
Intelligent and funny. There seemed to be a niche, and we were sure
it would be an instant hit.
But as most small business owners in Durango know, the road to
success/viability sometimes is longer than anticipated. In fact,
failure always seems to be looming just around the corner. And with
a weekly printing bill of four digits, it was a close call.
There were a few early supporters to whom I will always be
grateful, because they were the seeds of hope that kept us going.
It is not easy to sell ads for a publication that does not yet
exist. I sold my very first ad for the independent newspaper to the
independent bookstore, Maria's. Co-owner Peter Schertz listened to
what I had to say, and replied, "I think this is something we
definitely want to be a part of." Then he cut me a check for ads
for the first two issues, and later signed a contract.
I'll never shop at Amazon again.
The first few issues consisted of a handful of legitimate ads,
and a ton of house ads, just to give an idea of what the paper
could be like. Meanwhile, I desperately
worked to convince potential advertisers that I wasn't trying to
con them, and that I was trying to keep something I believed in
alive. This, in turn, led to me doing all kinds of crazy things,
from hand-delivering papers to businesses around town (even the
Tech Center!), to stopping people on the street and asking, "Want a
free paper?" (Often, they wouldn't.)
It was a challenging
time, those first 10 months. Many people would say, "I want to wait
and see if you're around in a year, then maybe I'll advertise."
("How will we make it to a year if everyone waits a year to
advertise?" I wanted to scream.) I had an eyewear company's
marketing guy tell me they'd sign a three-month contract if we'd
write a puff piece about the company. Despite the desperate need
for cash, the paper wisely didn't pander editorial copy for
advertising dollars, and the contract never happened.
Selling ads for the
Telegraph changed Durango for me where I shop,
where I eat. My friends were very tolerant of my obsession with
supporting advertisers and boycotting places that were rude to me.
Consequently, we started drinking at bars that advertised, instead
of our old haunt, which declined. Bryan had the worst of it: We had
to change our car insurance because the manager of the company
(where we'd had two cars insured for more than a year) refused to
even meet with me for two minutes to shake my hand and hear me out.
"I don't care if he buys an ad, but at least give me my dignity!" I
stormed to Bryan, who undoubtedly poured me a drink right
Eventually, however, there were enough people who got the Telegraph , and advertisements started coming in
with more and more frequency.
When we hit our one-year anniversary, the editorial cartoon by
Shan Wells was of a birthday cake with a candle, and a quote by
Oliver Wendell Holmes: "The very aim and end of our institutions is
just this: that we may think what we like, and say what we think."
I cried when I saw the cartoon, which is still hanging over my
desk. The battle to keep the Telegraph afloat seemed a noble goal, one I
believed (and still believe) in.
Since then, things have only gotten better. The Telegraph has a lot of wonderful supporters, and
I've been lucky enough to develop many friendships through work.
I've enjoyed getting to know the people who make this town tick,
and sometimes sharing a drink with them. That part has been fun.
And I still feel a surge of pride whenever I see someone reading
the Telegraph .
With the paper firmly established now, I'm ready to get back to
writing more. I hope that while I'm getting inspired in the Big
Easy, the partnerships and friendships the Telegraph has fostered in Durango
to grow. I also hope that Telegraph readers will continue to support our
advertisers, since they are the reason the paper exists. That's how
it has to work if you want to keep local
businesses/mom-and-pops/independent newspapers alive. We support
the businesses that make Durango unique because we want them to
stick around and maintain the special qualities that made us move
here in the first place. I'm incredibly glad that these days, the
Telegraph is one of them.