Summit Daily marks two decades in Summit County
FRISCO – “The competition hated us.”That’s the recollection of Curtis Robinson, the first editor of the Summit Daily News. In August of 1989, the established newspapers were the paid, twice-weekly Summit Sentinel and the weekly Summit County Journal. Also on the scene were the Frisco-based Ten Mile Times weekly and the Breck-based Quandary Times. From over the pass came the crazy notion of a free daily (well, five days to start), originally tested successfully with the Vail Daily. Within months of its launch, Robinson recalled, the Summit Daily was the talk of the town for a number of reasons.”The Summit Daily really proved the power of the free model,” said Robinson, who’s recently launched another free daily – The Portland Daily Sun – in Maine and is also writing a book about “sustainable journalism” and free dailies. “We also had the two ‘F-Bombs’: M. John Fayhee and Mark Fox.”Robinson said Fayhee, currently editor of the Mountain Gazette magazine and living in Silver City, N.M., wrote in an informal, conversational manner markedly different from traditional newspaper style. “It was really almost blog-like,” Robinson said. A tireless worker who could produce several stories a day with his staccato, two-finger typing style, Fayhee would typically have 200 stories floating around in his mind at any given time, Robinson said.As for Fox, who’s been back with the Daily for a few years now, Robinson said they just lucked into getting him on board.”It turned out he’s one of the premiere high country news photographers,” Robinson said. “Who knew?”Fox recalls having to drive to the Vail Daily office every day to print photos in the first month of the Summit Daily’s existence. Soon thereafter, a makeshift photo lab was set up in a converted laundry room of a Frisco motel.”It was a learning process,” Fox said. “But we had a good time, and it didn’t take people very long to realize we had a different flavor. We were a little bit out there, a little bit gonzo – and we weren’t afraid to talk about beer.”
Fayhee recalls that publisher Jim Pavelich made the decision to publish the Summit paper only a few weeks before it actually launched. Then, he saturated the county with the Daily’s signature blue boxes to ensure no one was ever very far from a free paper.”I think Pavelich recognized that Summit County was changing,” Fayhee said. “The papers in existence weren’t contemporary or reflecting the new realities. We looked at ourselves as trying to reflect the bohemian fun factor of the county.”Fayhee said the Sentinel folks were “vicious” toward Daily staffers.”They were repulsed by us,” he said. “We talked to them once about maybe putting together a newspaper sports team of some sort, and they made the sign of the cross.”While Fayhee admits the early staffers at the Daily were silly and as likely to be found on a barstool as at the keyboard, he said they also took the job seriously. Part of that was making sure they were out in the community meeting people, asking about what was going on and getting even little things in the paper.”Curtis and I really took the socialization component of our positions pretty seriously – going out to bars and restaurants and being ambassadors of the operation,” Fayhee recalled, adding that readers really responded to the fun stuff they put in as well.”We’d go through the AP photos and find the best-looking business woman and do the ‘Business Babe,'” he said. “We’d make up cutline for photos, Summit Up was out of control in those days. We really had no direct adult supervision.”But Fayhee concedes that “college paper” approach was ultimately unsustainable.”By the time Pavelich sold the paper, it was probably about time to get a bit more grown up,” he said.
The success of the Vail and Summit papers eventually caught the attention of Swift Communications, which purchased the papers in the fall of 1993. The following year, Worrell Publishing sold the Sentinel building and all interest in Summit Newspapers to Swift. In the ensuing years, Reno-based, family-owned Swift has continued its interest in the free daily model and now owns such papers in Aspen, Glenwood Springs, Winter Park and Grand Junction.”Swift is the chain that made free dailies work,” Robinson said. “It has really taken a deep breath and jumped in by purchasing papers, making money and hiring journalists.”As far as Robinson is concerned, that kind of success is emblematic of where the newspaper industry is headed. He poo-poos the notion that newspapers are “in trouble,” pointing out that the ones that have closed recently were components of large chains or joint operating agreements. Community papers – especially free ones owned by the journalists themselves or family-owned chains – have a greater chance at success and relevance.Fayhee said the free model can’t be underestimated, noting that in 1989, the Summit Daily, Vail Daily and Aspen Daily News were some of the only free dailies in the country.”We even had some guy from Editor & Publisher magazine show up to interview us,” he said. “You could see him smirking the whole time.”Robinson remains bullish on the free concept and predicts many more newspapers of this type will come into being in the years to come.”I was just talking to some people in Manhattan last week about free dailies, and the success of the Summit Daily is always part of those discussions,” he said. Helping to launch the paper 20 years ago defined his career, Robinson said.”It was a grand adventure,” he concluded.
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