In a totalitarian land you can be rendered a non-person at the stroke of a despot’s pen. In a small town like Aspen, you run the risk of a complete disappearance if you goad the powers that be.
That’s the only way I can explain what happened Wednesday morning in the Aspen Times’s coverage of election night 2006. There I was after midnight at Jimmy’s downtown, yakking and yukking it up with Jerry Bovino after four-plus hours yakking and yukking it up with him and Shellie Roy on GrassRoots TV. A Times photographer took a picture, and yo that was me above the fold on the front page, smack in the middle of Bovino and Rachel Richards, now the inbound Pitkin County Commissioner.
It wasn’t until I read the caption that I realized I had ceased to exist.
“Richards wins,” it read in toto. “County commissioner-elect Rachel Richards, right, has a laugh with Jerry Bovino at Jimmy’s Tuesday night after her slim election victory.”
No mention of yours truly. Like I said: I get it: I don’t exist. But my disappearance might be an omen for what’s happening to newspapers across the country. At the rate they’re going, they will cease to exist if things don’t change like now.
I can’t say I was surprised at the Aspen Times—no, that’s not true: I was surprised. The commandments of journalism begin with the question “Who?”—and to ignore it with such brio left me with the distinct impression that my extinction had to be personal.
Now that made perfect sense. I’ve been sticking it to the local newspapers about their non-coverage of Sheriff Bob Braudis and the drug issue in the race for Pitkin County Sheriff. Before that, I stuck it to the Times in a column I wrote for the Aspen Daily News that managed to get people at both papers pissed off.
But the really weird thing is the Aspen Times has had the hardest time mentioning me or Aspen Post, the new blog in town, by name. For example, they managed to do a story on talk radio in the Roaring Fork Valley without even talking to me, an amazing feat when you consider I have the only full-time talk show in the Roaring Fork Valley, with the show “Con Games” on KNFO 106.1 FM. And three separate columnists have written about blogging with nary a mention of Aspen Post: one of them even quoted me directly in the Times without attribution. One time an Aspen Times reporter mentioned my name–in a letter-to-the-editor in the Aspen Daily News, where he somehow neglected to mention his affialtion with the Times.
So I am a non-person in a non-paper. And that’s the point: newspapers don’t stand for much of anything any more, and not just here in Aspen. Disagree with them at your own peril.
Two of the proudest newspaper companies—Knight-Ridder and Tribune Co.—have been forced to dismember themselves as display and classified advertising declines have accompanied the shift of readers and advertisers to the Web. And more to the point, Gannett Co. just announced the company is embracing blogging with a vengeance in a desperate attempt to survive.
“Gannett Co., the nation’s largest newspaper chain, plans to create stories with information from bloggers, people who post in Internet discussion groups and other non-journalists,” according to the Associated Press, “in hopes of winning readers from the Internet, television and other news sources, officials with the company said.”
In other words, they have seen the enemy and it is us here at Aspen Post, Snowmass Post, Skiing Post, and more Posts to come. They hate us for our freedom, and so they use freedom of the press here in Aspen to ignore us as they might an illegitimate child. But like Republicans who come out of the closet, it won’t be long before the local newspapers follow the lead of Gannett and realize they have no choice but to embrace what we have already done here in the valley.
Some people want their picture on the cover of the Rolling Stone, but my ambition is more modest: to have my name spelled correctly one day in the Aspen Times. Gonna send five copies to my mother.