What a long strange trip it's been

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 operation.

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 then.

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 will continue 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.

Jen Reeder



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