In the year 2014 of Our Lord, the Ballantine family, longtime owners and publishers of The Durango Herald, purchased the Pine River Times from its last local owners-publishers, Melanie Brubaker Mazur and Robert Mazur. Melanie was retained as the editor, but the CEO of Ballantine Communications, was a young hotshot marketing whiz with scant journalism experience. His first directives came down almost immediately - no general-topic editorial; leave national and international themes to the Herald; stick to strictly local topics. This fiat was aimed, rather transparently, at the PRT's long-time sole reporter, Carole McWilliams, whose hard-hitting, wide-ranging, left-leaning editorials apparently didn't sit well with the new business model.
In one fell swoop, the most knowledgeable, dedicated, critical news reporter in La Plata County was effectively half-muzzled.
To those of us on the rural East Side, who had stayed with the PRT through thick and thin, first with its founding publishers Stephen and Lynda Cannon (1985-1987), then with the fiercely-engaged Ann McCoy (1987-2002), and then with the equally engaged Mel Mazur, the new publisher's business model was an unmistakable signal - you country bumpkins better stick to what you know best: local sports, schools and PTA, church, family, weddings and funerals.
Leave the wider horizons of state, nation and world to us savvy city slickers. Above all, let our new business model drive your journalism, as it drives ours; let us tell you what your community needs to read, or talk about.
When an editorial by the CEO was published in PRT's Jan. 11, 2019, issue, those of us who have been watching his tenure at Ballantine Communications and the Herald were not surprised. Indeed, for five years we have been holding our breath, waiting for the other shoe to drop. And drop it did, with sleek corporate speak about "changes" that "better reflect the needs of the community and our own business." With warm assurances of how "we are committed to keeping the residents informed with news, features and local stories." With soothing pablum of how "the Herald will have a full-time reporter covering the Pine River Valley."
"A reporter residing where?" we wanted to ask. Who knows who or what? On the East Side, our experience with Herald reporters has been one of revolving doors, of innocent beginners that come and go and go, who have no time to develop an understanding of who we are and what animates or ails us. The final dismissal rang just as disingenuous: "We thank Melanie Brubaker Mazur for her loyalty, professionalism and dedication ..."
To anyone who follows corporate exploits nationally and internationally, the demise of the Pine River Times sounds only too familiar: Acquire, squeeze, slash and burn. Damn the customers, damn the community. And if you make no profit, at least you accrue a healthy tax-break.
Some of us still remember Morley Ballantine, that towering newspaper lady who came here to join a community, to learn and understand, and above all, to care and serve. Her business model was simple: A paper was a citizen of its community. We still miss her, as we hear the bell tolling.
It tolls to thee, The Durango Herald; for the business model has you in its sight next.